Memorial Day (and technology integration) tokenism

Dog tags

I was raised to honor our military. One of my grandfathers was a Marine sergeant during World War II. The other was an Army lifer who served in three wars and retired at the rank of colonel. My dad would have joined up in the 1960s but he had a heart murmur that prevented him from serving. I spent much of my time with my grandparents reading and listening to military stories, visiting the local commissary and PX, and attending ceremonies on military bases (nothing like seeing the 1812 Overture performed with fireworks and military cannons!).

So maybe that’s why I’m bothered so much by what I call ‘military tokenism.’ When the flight attendant asks us offhand, in between telling us to put up our tray tables and turn off our electronic devices, to please clap for the military personnel on board, that’s tokenism. When we are pitched rubber bracelets for our wrists, magnetic ribbons for our cars, flags for our yards, and other sundry products so that some company can make a profit on the message of ‘Support Our Troops,’ that’s tokenism. When politicians make their yearly speech on Memorial Day about the importance of service to our country while simultaneously ignoring the needs of our military personnel the rest of the year, that’s tokenism. I’m sure that all of these initiatives are heartfelt in their own way, but they don’t feel very sincere to me; appreciation for those who serve has been co-opted for other purposes: “Did I show appreciation for the troops (while simultaneously advancing my own agenda and ignoring them the rest of the time)? Check.” 

Since this blog relates to schools, leadership, and technology, I’ll note that I see similar tokenistic behaviors in this realm as well. I can’t tell you how many schools I’ve visited where the principal proudly tells me, “We’ve got a lot of technology here,” and notes the presence of a computer in every room and a handful of computer labs or rolling laptop carts. There’s rarely mention of how students are using digital technologies and there’s never mention of how regularly and often students get to use them. I don’t care how much technology is in a school if the students don’t get to regularly and frequently use it in meaningful ways. Again, it feels like the principal just wants to check a box and move on: “Can I point to a few pieces of technology in my school (while simultaneously ignoring it the rest of the time)? Check.”

On both the military appreciation and technology integration fronts, we need to get past the checkbox approach. For instance, If we were really appreciative of our military personnel, we’d pay more attention to their physical, psychological, emotional, and family needs during and after their service. Similarly, if we truly cared about technology integration, we’d pay more attention to how regularly, frequently, and meaningfully it occurs within our classrooms.

So on this Memorial Day I hope you’ll give more than a passing thought to the needs of our military and what it means to support them, not just today but every day. And, if you get a chance, think about and act locally upon the technology integration tokenism issue too. Thanks.

Image credit: Military dog tags on star field

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

7 Responses to “Memorial Day (and technology integration) tokenism”

  1. A nice post much appreciated by this retired Navy Commander…on both fronts!

  2. Spot on for tokenism, though I would rather the flight attendant said something in support of the troops on the plane than not, but your point is very well taken. My Memorial Day post was, I think along similar lines: let’s take advantage of deep educational possibilities in reflecting on war, not just check off the holiday as we usually do. And your link to a similar attitude towards use of technology is appropriate and might well be extended to other similar check boxes at school. Thanks for this post.

  3. Hmmmmm…I’m not sure if I agree to your timing on this post. While I think that your post is well intended, and I wholeheartedly agree that we should take care of our military and their families much better than we do, I think the timing of this post was poor. From my point of view, Memorial Day should be reserved solely for remembering our nation’s fallen and not to make analogies or promote any other agenda no matter how important or right. It’s time for solemn reflection, a time to express profound gratitude, a time to honor our nation’s fallen, a time to celebrate the lives and legacies of our fallen heroes, a time to live up to our nation’s commitment to never forget their sacrifices.

    My father served in World War II in the United States Navy, and many of my relatives served in various branches of the service during numerous times since. Many, including my father, saw and experienced unspeakable horrors during wartime. Most, blessedly, did not suffer physical wounds. We remember them with honor, respect, and deep gratitude on Veterans’ Day. However, some were killed in action as was an uncle who was killed during the Battle of the Bulge. Most recently, we lost our beloved nephew, Staff Sergeant Thomas “TJ” Dudley who was killed in action on July 7, 2011 while serving as a United States Marine in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. Our Memorial Day weekend was devoted to honoring, remembering, and giving thanks for all our nation’s fallen heroes. Our family planted a memorial garden for TJ with the help of friends, TJ’s widow, and their three young children. We celebrated his life, and we continued the remember than he was

    Thanks for letting me express my opinion.

  4. I was raised my a Vietnam vet, my dad. And my grandfather served in World War II. I am raising two sons and trying to teach them how important it is to do something for “Our Country”. I agree with you, we need to be more considered with what we are really doing for our troops and their families.
    I am graduating in August with my degree in Elementary Education and I have seen schools just like you talked about. My college is like that. They claim to have technology integration. But I have not been exposed to much. This summer I am taking a computer class to catch up on technology. During my student teaching I was asked to build smart board notebooks and I had no glue how to. So I totally agree with tokenism in the military and in schools. I learned a new word today, thank you!

  5. Hey man those are some good points! May we never take the men and women who server for grant it…or technology for that matter.

  6. Though I do agree with your point about schools not really letting students use the technology they have, I’m not sure I feel the same on the military points. Yes, politicians use other people’s service as a leg to stand on for elections, but flags in the yard or ribbons on the door are seen as symbols of respect where I come from.

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