The aggregate impact of individual choices
Individual choices add up. For example, at the moment when I eat something unhealthy, it seems like a fairly trivial thing. Over time, however, those calories and pounds add up and one day I look in the mirror and have to admit to myself that I seriously need to lose some weight.
Individual choices have collective impacts on society too. For example, the decision of an individual family to move from the city to the suburbs may be a completely rational decision, made in that family’s self-interest as it looks for a nicer house, a bigger yard, etc. But over time, the collective impact of those choices in most cities is white flight and a concentration of economically-disadvantaged families in city neighborhoods and schools. Similarly, as this PowerPoint shows, individual family choices to have a student attend a new magnet school can result in other schools having greater concentrations of students with lower social capital (because the other students’ families often don’t have the means to navigate the magnet school choice system).
We see the same thing when it comes to technology usage by teachers. A few days ago I asked this question:
Given the realities of our modern age and the demands of our children’s future, is it really okay to allow teachers to choose whether or not they incorporate modern technologies into their instruction?
Many of the comments to that post rightfully insisted that teachers must make the decision whether or not it makes sense to utilize digital technologies for an individual lesson or unit. No one wants teachers to use technology for technology’s sake and no one wants digital technologies used in inappropriate ways.
But the collective impact of all of these individual teacher choices, often made by teachers with little pedagogical fluency with digital technologies, is much like my weight loss example above (or Mike Schmoker’s example of the ‘Crayola Curriculum’). Any individual choice seems quite rational and/or trivial at the time. At the end of the year, however, we look back and see that most students have little meaningful or substantive interaction with learning technologies, which of course is of particular concern for disadvantaged students who have limited opportunities outside of school to use technology at all, much less in creative, interesting ways.
So I think we need to be more purposeful. We need mechanisms for reminding ourselves that being relevant to students’ technology-suffused, globally-interconnected futures is important for schools, and we need a greater shared commitment to make deliberate, intentional choices to seek out opportunities to integrate digital technologies into lessons. Sure, we can teach any individual lesson or unit without incorporating much technology. And, to be honest, for many teachers this would be much easier and more efficient / effective, at least in the short term. But if we don’t pay more attention to this issue and change our practices and our mindsets, we will continue to look back at the end of each year and realize that we let our students down yet again when it comes to their 21st century learning needs.