I confess that I’m struggling with Diane Ravitch lately (and not for the reasons I struggled back in 2010). I think that she’s a valuable voice in the educational policy landscape and I greatly appreciate her passion and her ability to energize educators and citizens as she speaks up against political and pedagogical abuses of our public schooling system. Heck, I just quoted her three days ago. But, despite her usage and leverage of social media to enhance her own voice and visibility, she’s increasingly appearing very anti-technology:
- On July 18 she said, “The demand for virtual schools is a sure indicator of the dumbing down of the American public and the triumph of American capitalism at its greediest.” In a comment to that post, I asked, “Diane, do you not see any role for online learning in P-12 education?” She replied, “Yes, I see a role for virtual learning. I see no useful role for for-profit schools. I see a very limited role for home kind nonprofit virtual schools.”
- Also on July 18, she blogged that she is against Bill Gates’ statement that educational gaming can be “an adjunct to a serious curriculum.” In a comment to that post, I asked, “Diane, do you not see any role for gaming and simulations in P-12 education?” She replied, “A limited role. Gaming is fun and kids can learn from gaming. But kids need to learn to concentrate and to persist when they are not having fun. Gaming doesn’t teach that. Nor does gaming teach how to understand theory or philosophy or how to read critically or how to understand the reason for the game.” When Moses Wolfenstein pushed back quite thoughtfully on those statements, she said, “Actually an all-game school is perfect for the training of drones.”
- Today she blogged against online education again, stating that she is “old-fashioned.” She went on to say:
there is something having the eye-to-eye contact, the face-to-face contact that is really better for purposes of teaching and learning than sitting alone in front of a computer.
I am not saying this to put down technology. I understand how wonderful it is to see visualizations, dramatizations, to see famous people giving famous speeches instead of reading them, to see events rather than reading about them. All of that can be incorporated into lessons.
My gripe is with the very concept that you can learn just as much sitting alone as you can in a group with a live teacher. It may work with adults (although the author of this article doesn’t think so). But it strikes me as developmentally inappropriate for children.
So I’m struggling with her absolute, categorical refusal to recognize that SOME online learning options might be good for SOME public school children (who, after all, also have learning needs that sometimes would be better met by online courses, just like homeschooled children). Like Diane, I abhor the abuses of the online schools and companies that she so aptly describes on her blog. But there’s a difference between calling for better education / oversight and unilaterally denying the medium itself. Online learning is NEVER a good thing for public school children, under any circumstances? I disagree.
Since she’s willing to rail against educational gaming, I’m also struggling with her lack of understanding of the potential benefits of learning games (and maybe also simulations?). Her statement that educational games don’t teach children how “to concentrate and persist when they’re not having fun” shows an ignorance of children’s experiences in many of those games. Like Moses said in his comment, I’m sure that scholars like James Paul Gee, Kurt Squire, Chris Dede, Constance Steinkuehler, David Shaffer, and others would be glad to remedy her misunderstandings. And I’m guessing that they also might be able to teach her how learning games can do some of the things that she says they can’t.
Diane’s anti-technology rhetoric matters because she has a voice that people listen to and others look to her for guidance. As such, her language is quite dismaying because educational technologies will only proliferate, not diminish. Online learning is here to stay, learning games are here to stay, computer-adaptive learning systems are here to stay, and a whole host of other learning tools are as well. The issue is not – as she seems to believe – that they never have any value. The issues are 1) Under what circumstances do these new learning tools and spaces have value?, and 2) How do we create learning and policy environments in which that value is most likely to be realized? [side note: Larry Cuban, for all of his wonderfulness, also typically fails to make this distinction]
Perhaps Diane will blog her belief system(s) about learning technologies and clarify any misperceptions that I have about what she thinks. But right now her beliefs are not ones that I wish she was espousing…
Image credit: Bigstock, Screaming at the computer [no, the image is NOT of Diane Ravitch!]