“Grading” the Digital School/Life

In response to the NYTimes, Cathy Davidson writes Stagnant Future, Stagnant Tests. The title is not as representative of the post as it might be, but it is an interesting post.

The NYTimes article looks at a particular class, with

a description of an inventive, imaginative, engaging assignment by seventh-grade teacher Amy Furman who teaches her kids “As You Like It” with all manner not just of technology but of interactivity. The kids are co-creating, they are sharing blogs, and Facebook entries, and finding information on the Internet that applies to interpreting Shakespeare; they are understanding together, they are making connections to their own contemporary culture (Kanye!), and they are doing exactly what seventh-grade kids should be doing for true learning to be happening: they are understanding a complex text and making sense of it within the context of their own lives.

I’m going to agree with Davidson on this. I don’t care if their standardized test scores go up or not, this is going to make them better readers, writers, and citizens. That was intended to be the focus of K-12 at one point.

Keep in mind public, compulsory school was invented in the 19th century because of the industrial age which needed a certain kind of focused worker who understood the new divisions of labor. Keep in mind one product of the industrial age was the steam-powered press and machine made paper and ink that put books into the hands of the middle class for the first time in history. Pundits worried that people wouldn’t know how to read those books wisely and well. No preacher mediated the message. But schools could do just that. If our forefathers mandated school for the first generation of mass readers, why wouldn’t we mandate that schools today address the technology that is in the hands of our students today? Wouldn’t that be utterly irresponsible?

I think much of the technology of the middle class is already being used and parents (not schools) should have the responsibility for making sure that children know the dangers and benefits of the net.

However, for lower income students especially, a project like this would be immensely useful. My students last year, going to college, did not have digital literacy. 10% of them had never touched a computer before arriving in my classroom.

Davidson says of standardized tests that:

They too were invented for the industrial age, and for a model of efficiency exemplified by the Model T. We cannot keep educating kids for the efficiencies of 1914 (when the multiple choice test was invented). We must, if we are responsible, educate them for the world they already inhabit in their play and will soon inhabit in their work.

We are talking in freshman comp tomorrow about the differences between the informational age and the conceptual age. I wonder if I should also explain the industrial age or if that will just confuse them.

the issue of “technology” is inseperable from all the ways we think, communicate, and interact today. Of course we need to teach kids how to be successful in their world.

And that is why we are looking at the conceptual elements AND at the changes across time.

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