Tag Archives: Choice

Banning Technology From Children

It seems there’s always a new mobile device, game console, or movie that catches our children’s interest, because they live in the same world we do and we love it! There is increasingly more and more technology piling up all around us. Parents have always worried that their children spend too much time using technology and not enough time exploring the world away from the screens. When I was a boy (cue to rocking chair, beard stroking, and glassy eyed reminisce of the 90’s) my screen-based entertainment options were television and Nintendo. And big screen movies, of course. My parent’s only option was probably the television, but they had the moon landing. So outdoors was more attractive. Now technology is available on such screens that leave television in the dust. Little screens, big screens, touch screens. Screens as big as your head! If the kids are looking at too many screens, should we ban them?

The Huffington Post recently published 10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12. Pediatric occupational therapist, Cris Rowan advocates adherence to published guidelines for technology usage by children and calls on, “parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devises for children under the age of 12 years.” She then lists ten reasons technology is bad for children. Sounds great, and I agree with all of them. Unfortunately, a few unconsidered lines about the responsibility of government to ban something best regulated elsewhere, ruins the heart of the message.

I don’t know the intentions of the author, but it’s possible that the points I rail on here were simply afterthoughts. But they were written, and even in the title. She presents good research on why children should spend less time in front of screens, but then leaves the door open a crack for legislation enthusiasts to start sharpening their pencils. I know I’m reading into what is really a minor angle of the article, but my point is to remember our own responsibility before we start advocating outright bans which negate individual decision making.

A better title would not have begun with the numerical “10” or used the word “Banned.” That reads like check-out line trash. “Coerce your Community in 10 Easy Steps by Imposing Your Values on Them.” As this certainly is not an article about governments or bans, the title is misleading in calling for a “ban” at all. Is the author actually advocating legislation that would make it illegal for people of a certain age to use handheld devices? Not in this article, no. So why say so? Words have meaning, so be careful. What happens in your own house is a rule, not a ban.

The author identifies three distinct groups as the audience for her 10 Reasons, thus indicating that all three share some responsibility on guiding the use of these devices. However, in calling on “parents, teachers and governments,” she is calling on too many people. The government is assumed to be an acceptable authority, casually grouped with parents and teachers.

If the government is any given authority to ban the use of something, then it doesn’t really matter what the parents or the teachers think, so you can’t include them all. And, if the parents are directing the activity of their own children at home, and the teachers are directing the activities of the enrolled students at school – what and where is the government’s place in influence the activities of children?

Not every child is affected equally by their use of technology (gasp!), nor by anything at all. Most importantly, not every child is playing the same games or using the same apps. “Technology” is a really, really big blanket, the four corners of which are not even hinted at in this article. The difference between an action packed racing/shooting/blow ’em up adventure game and a counting/spelling/learn to sing and compose your own music iPad app is measured by the parsec. Case in point: YOU don’t know what a parsec is, do you? You have NO IDEA. Admit it. Something to do with space and distance. Maybe Star Trek. And since you don’t know, your kid won’t know either – since it could be illegal to use a hand held device to look it up.

Click here for more info on parsecs. Must be 12 or older to learn!

My son is three years old and doesn’t play any games involving fast cars, ninjas, or tanks. But he loves his occasional shows and educational games and embraces his limited and supervised time interacting with the computer and iPad. He is learning to spell and count. He gives a monster a hair cut and makes a make-believe sandwich, which he then shares with me. I tried to teach him some basic addition but he wasn’t paying attention, since he is just three and I was just using words. Since I don’t like math I couldn’t make it appealing and was I probably frowning too much.  (Grrr…math). But after some time with a mathematics app involving little animals and lots of bubbles, he recently informed me that 2 and 2 is 4. He preferred to learn it his way.

My son also loves singing and playing music. He has a guitar, and a ukulele, and a harmonica. He is very loud, but he’s also very talented. I don’t love playing music. I don’t have any musical skills at all, but I sing with him anyway and he doesn’t know enough to run away – yet. He’ll only get so far with me as a music teacher, but there’s an app for that. It teaches him how to compose his own music.

If you want to be like these guys, go for it. This family banned all technology invented after 1986. That means Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is Ok, but “Bad” is a no-go in the world of arbitrary dates. They didn’t like the way technology had taken over their lives, so they did something about. Whatever their reasons, that family probably experienced most of the 10 Reasons stated in Rowan’s article and they acted accordingly, for themselves. The danger in suggesting that the government should do the same for all of us, even if presented casually and well intentioned, could rob many children of valid life enriching opportunities. So steer clear of bans!


Portland Public Schools Strike

The teachers of the Portland Public Schools prepare to strike on February 20th in a labor dispute that will affect about 48,000 students.  All schools will be closed during this localized government shutdown, reminding us that not only are labor unions no friend of liberty, they are no friend to our children’s education.

2/20 Update: A compromise was reached, and the strike didn’t happen.

I don’t have children in the PPS school district, but this does affect me directly because this is my community of neighbors and friends. Because there are few school choice options, many families are affected. While the district and the teachers try to figure out a collective compromise on their disputes over pay, workloads, and health insurance, an entire community of parents is trying to figure out what to do with their children. The implications will trickle down to each parents inability to go to their own job, and this leads to an overall weakened economy as we scramble to right a sinking ship rather than do our own jobs and help make the world turn.

At the recent strike vote, at least one teacher stood amidst a swirling storm of yes votes to admit that the strike is wrong and the school is failing the children by walking out. But there are too few who risk voicing such an opinion, so nothing changes and the union rolls on, crushing those who don’t grasp its mandate.

Unions are fueled by fear and peer pressure. A majority is formed that endangers the rights of the minority. Threats are common, and of course there is a lot of yelling and large painted signs waving along a picket line. Everyone is warned not to cross the picket line. I think there is a lot of hate in that place, and this isn’t something our children need.

Some teachers have said they would not cross the picket line for fear of their jobs. Others say they’re here for the children, not for disagreement. Now we all feel like we have to choose sides, since we’re all affected. But apparently other teachers can and will be hired on a temporary basis, so sending your child to school (and crossing a picket line) is an actual option. A problem with unions is that there is always someone who is willing to do the work but that individual is not allowed to voluntarily associate in a different way than the mandate of the majority.

Higher wages at the expense of fewer jobs. An us vs. them mentality that marginalizes non-members and stifles overall creativity and growth. This is what you can expect while a small group benefits from the influence of the labor union, and a much larger group (the entire remainder of the community) is worse off because of it. So using their own math against them, it is actually the majority of society that is worse off at the expense of the minority.

Meanwhile, a shining light. Voluntary associations are stepping in. Local community members and church groups are offering resources to help parents and children. Some buildings are providing space for childcare and people are organizing activities for children so that parents go to their jobs. These individuals are coming together as a community to do what they need to do to get on with their lives and step around the cumbersome constricts of organized labor.

School Choice

I was asked to review the book School Choice: The Findings by Herbert J. Walberg (2007), which compares the status quo traditional public school system alongside a few alternatives. Though not specifically addressing programs in the state of Oregon nor the Montessori educational approach (topics of personal and community interest), nor saying much about homeschooling (another relevant topic of interest), this book organizes a clear framework for considering potential educational options.

This is a statistics-heavy research-based publication. Parents and students who are able to make a school choice and attend a school other than the default public school in their district are found to be more satisfied with their educational experience. When schooling is detached from random housing boundaries, the results are positive. Consistently, students do as well or better than their peers who are in the nearby government-funded and government-run schools.

In reviewing charter schools (see below), voucher programs (publicly funded scholarships to private schools), and private schools (privately funded and run), the book does not necessarily advocate a singular path away from traditional public school but rather emphasizes choice and the positive effects of available alternatives. All three of these options must be chosen, they cannot fall into the lap of the parent. And each of the three must be given as an available option in order for the choice to be made. Choosing families and non-choosing families in the community are most commonly affected with a positive outcome by the choices the choosers are able to make.

It is suggested that most parents with students in public school do not choose for their children to be there – they just ended up there by default. Either the parents want an alternative to traditional public school and are unable to obtain it, or they simply accept the situation as it is, often with reservations. I don’t think this can be true for everyone, but the research shows it is typical that most parents dislike (to one degree or another) something significant about their public school.

As one of the three options presented by Walberg, Charter Schools are explained as having the benefits of wider accessibility due to their funding source by the state (similar to a public school), and as having the greater economic efficiency and improved academics possible through non-centralized, independent leadership (as often found in private schools). A compromise between extremes, charter schools are popular and they generally accept (by random lottery) only a fraction of those interested. Research shows that enrolled students do well and the charter school raises the local standard of excellence in the community by influencing neighboring public schools to make positive competitive changes.

That charter schools are only a compromise rather than something totally different from a traditional public school is observable from by the following. They are often over-regulated, a quality they were most often founded to avoid, and they receive lower funding than public schools, though funded from the same source. Funding varies widely from state to state and can lag significantly behind the local neighboring public schools. However, as with private schools, charter schools have shown they can do more with less.

Walberg finishes by discussing the positive benefits of competition resulting from school choice and the importance of parental satisfaction with school choice. Hopefully we are moving towards increased freedom of choice, allowing parents to step outside the rigid boundaries of the status quo to make individual decisions about the quality education each wants for their children. In order to do so, it is important that a great many options are made available, in order to make a choice.