Teevee not for tots–but online Kindergarten = awesome?

from Adbusters

The American Academy of Pediatrics retrenches in its losing war against putting young children in front of screens:

Parents of infants and toddlers should limit the time their children spend in front of televisions, computers, self-described educational games and even grown-up shows playing in the background, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned on Tuesday. Video screen time provides no educational benefits for children under age 2 and leaves less room for activities that do, like interacting with other people and playing, the group said.

The recommendation, announced at the group’s annual convention in Boston, is less stringent than its first such warning, in 1999, which called on parents of young children to all but ban television watching for children under 2 and to fill out a “media history” for doctor’s office visits. But it also makes clear that there is no such thing as an educational program for such young children, and that leaving the TV on as background noise, as many households do, distracts both children and adults.

And yet, we we hear from Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk that there is such a thing as online Kindergarten curricula, which he (correctly, in my view) calls “child neglect:”

I actually used the word “neglect” very deliberately there. It’s not abuse to stick headphones on kids and ignore them for a little while. [That’s why we got the minivan with the DVD player installed into the headrest of the front seat.] However, the more time kids spend listening and watching, the less time they get to interact with their peers and their teachers. Neglecting them a little is OK. Building a whole elementary school based on keeping them occupied this way is not. Even if there are no physical bruises, an entirely online education at such a young age will leave them socially stunted in the long run.

I can certainly remember bad days in school:  a kid landing on me at the bottom of a slidey pole and smashing my 6-year old face into asphalt and ice; mean girls ca. 5th-8th grade; being threatened with getting “beat up” after school in junior high.  I don’t doubt that many children suffer greatly from peer bullying and teacher neglect.  But I lament the political consequences of post-Columbine widespread fears that schools are dangerous, psychologically and physically violent places and must be avoided at all costs.

Whenever I have visited our public and private local elementary schools, they seem orderly, calm, and fun places of learning.  I realize that the 5- and 6-year old brain is different from the infant and toddler brain, but the advice about media still applies to elementary schoolers:

Recent research makes it clear that young children learn a lot more efficiently from real interactions — with people and things — than from situations appearing on video screens. “We know that some learning can take place from media” for school-age children, said Georgene Troseth, a psychologist at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, “but it’s a lot lower, and it takes a lot longer.”

.       .       .       .       .       .      

“What we know from recent research on language development is that the more language that comes in — from real people — the more language the child understands and produces later on,”said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University.

Why on earth would we deliberately choose the lower-impact and slower route to learning in any institutional or homeschool setting when face-to-face interactions with teachers and children are more effective?

28 thoughts on “Teevee not for tots–but online Kindergarten = awesome?

  1. Because the software is NEW! SHINY! And therefore better, of course. And the people who sell it tell you that it’s better, and doesn’t want a raise, or get sick, or think it knows more about teaching kindergarten than you, because it’s just taught it. And, it’s Excellence Without Money! (Or it says it is, even though it is neither excellent NOR without money…
    Snake oil.


  2. I’m confused. I am fresh from a parent-teacher conference for my 4 year old, where I learned that the main focus at that age (and will be next year in Kindergarten) is not so much intellectual development as it is learning social skills. How to interact with their peers, what it means to be empathetic, what to do if someone reacts negatively to you (ie biting). This isn’t to say that my daughter isn’t learning other things-she can read basic words and knows simple math, but it isn’t the main concern.

    I’m not sure exactly how a child can learn these skills in isolation, sitting in front of a computer or tv.

    And I don’t just think it is the perception that schools are dangerous that is behind this. I think it is also fears of what kids might be learning at schools, and parents wanting control over that.


  3. Some parents stick their kids in front of the TV to get a break and because they have limited alternatives. Only a small minority of parents simply couldn’t care less. Some TV time will not cause any damage and the matter shouldn’t be treated as a kosher/halal issue.

    Online kindergarten is beyond my comprehension. Kids need to play with each other more than anything; there are 12 years to study a head of them, what’s the rush?

    The war on online education is a jihad that fails to understand and help evolve education into a better stage. Simple minded online is just that. Good use of online will emerge with time if we put our minds to it.


  4. You notice how this also ties a parent (usually a mother) to the homefront longer, too? You can’t go back to work if you have to supervise your child in the online kindergarten!


  5. Don’t get me started on the gender politics of homeschooling, Janice! (And it’s not just Kindergarten.) If it’s such important work, where are the homeschooling daddies? If it’s work, why don’t the women and men who do this demand a wage, workman’s comp, payment of social security taxes, and the other things it requires legally to employ someone? Homeschooling feeds the notion that 1) teaching isn’t really work, 2) it’s not a profession–anyone can do it, and 3) women should always volunteer their time rather than demand a living wage.

    koshembos is right that teevee/screen time should not be treated like kosher/halal–one minute of screen time and your kid is doomed. But all parents have to consider the context of that screen time: if a toddler or child is in preschool/school all day and also has time during and after school to run around outside, exercise, and engage in imaginative play, then a little teevee or a computer game will likely not be ruinous to hir development. But, if a child is spending substantial time in front of screens as part of a school curriculum, the permitting teevee after school is using the media in a completely different context.

    And I write this as someone who left to her own devices (as I frequently was, back in the day), watched wayyyyy too many re-runs of Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, Family Affair, The Brady Bunch, and M*A*S*H. (Although it will be my everlasting regret that I remember an embarassing number of entire scripts and subplots of these shows, instead of the details of French verb conjugations.)


  6. Speaking of Gilligan’s Island, every year around this time, I irritate some or all of the people around me by calling apple cider “spider cider”! But, then again, I lived on a farm, and spent huge amounts of time outdoors, running and jumping and injuring myself in various ways (although, actually, I probably got injured less often than me and my brothers deserved).


  7. I want Miss Barbara!!! This stuff is all about *vendors*, as is most everything else in the new edocracy. I was born into a generation for whom tee-vee was supposed to vie with personal helicopters in the driveway for the most transformative innovation to ever hit the planet. Then it didn’t. I had a 15 minute per day “quota” for the stuff (t.v., not ‘copters) which actually averaged out to maybe 45 minutes. This was when Gilligan was still hanging out with Dobie Gillis!

    Not to ignite the server wars again, but the war on codex has descended on a small town in Indiana. The school district has tossed books from the elementary school in favor of school-issued (but parent bought) laptops for all students, because that way you can scroll and click on all sorts of cool stuff. Parents who complained that their kids were already online too much were effectively silenced by the filing of a cyber-harrassment complaint against a parent who sent “too many” dissenting e-mails to the local district’s Director of Tron/tronics. Said director of tron/tron was all but shriekingly dismissive of anyone who thought this wasn’t the only way to go. [This in the NYT today]

    The town is probably in the running to be most wired town in Indiana by the National Council of Vendors.


  8. My bad too. It was seventh graders, on about thirty humming laptops, learning about “energy conservation.” (Parenthetically, I’d like to know whose army it was that was talking about meeting H’ann “after school” back in jr. high school. Bet they didn’t show, which is what will typically happen).


  9. My favorite quotation from the article linked to by Tony Grafton:

    ‘“It didn’t happen overnight for us — it was an incremental change,” said Mark Edwards, Mooresville’s superintendent of schools. “The competency is evolutional.”’

    Classic edu-speak neologisms there. Reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles where one of the townsfolk says how proud he is that the children gathered ’round were able to witness such a display of “genuine frontier gibberish”!


  10. As an undergrad, I took a year of Norwegian (I’m a weird guy). The instructor was a native, so we got to hear a lot about growing up over there. Something that amazed me was that Norwegians don’t start learning to read until age 7 or 8- they don’t start school at all until they’re 6, and the first year or two is about socialization. They don’t start getting grades until they’re 13 or 14. It’s a considerably more relaxed system, and it works- literacy is basically 100%, and a third of Norwegians have college degrees.

    Americans are way too intense about their kids. I know part of this is the way the eduocracy sells this stuff, but they’re not selling anything we don’t want.


  11. I would have never learned how to chew with my mouth shut if I hadn’t gone to preschool.
    My dad thought it was a waste of time to talk to infants and ridiculed my mother for talking to me.


  12. These links are dismaying. Kindergarten teaches you that not everyone is like you, that others can do things better than you can (like skip), and that you’ll survive even if people aren’t friendly (as H’ann described).

    Why is it that American education thinks everything has to be good for everyone at all times, like radioactive water in the 1900s? (http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2004-08/healthy-glow-drink-radiation)

    And why don’t I have a helicopter in my driveway?


  13. OK, online Kindergarten is a baaaaaaaad, idea. But I teach in a school that is about as technologically cutting edge as you can get and sorry Tony Grafton, but I’m looking forward towards electronic textbooks for a variety of reasons. A) Most HS history textbooks suck. It will be possible very, very soon, however, to assemble my own textbooks using bits from out of print versions that I can’t currently buy that are better, college textbooks with specific readable chapters, articles, primary docs, etc. When we can do this and have the kids read and annotate on an i-pad, we’ll move to that model. Bells and whistles are already in most textbooks and many of them are as useless as online bells and whistles. Quite frankly, the laptop ipad gadget for individualized instruction described beats the hell out of the individualized math programs we had in the 70s and 80s with grease pencils and laminated instruction. Notice that this district didn’t think it would be cheap. They poured massive resources into physical plant, teacher re-training, etc. They are doing it right. They’re wasn’t a word in the article about cheaper.

    But online Kindergarten? Blech. In our K-12, the kids in kindergarten use the smartboards and ipads in twos and threes, not alone. And the smarttable really is going to be fantastic for special ed.


  14. I probably have a middling position: Technology isn’t inherently bad. I’d love my son to exchange his 25 lb backpack of textbooks for an ipad. He’d be much more willing to walk the 2K to school — good for the body.

    But, despite liking tech more than H’ann, I’m not at all convinced that technology necessarily adds value — and can subtract. E.g.: the line in Tony’s cited article: “Software wirelessly recorded the children’s performance in a file that the teacher would review that night. [A teacher reports]: “Last year I’d have to walk around and ask every kid how it’s going…”

    The notion that ‘asking kids how it’s going’ (e.g.: interaction) is not a crucial part of teaching is horrifying. How many of us have changed a lecture/discussion upon realizing we weren’t hitting the mark? Or learned more from a discussion with a student than a test result?



  15. But the thing is the walk around the room isn’t efficient if you don’t have the right information. Kids usually have only a vague idea of whether they actually understand something or not, and even when they don’t, they often lie to the teacher because they are embarrassed. Here, the teacher can look over the work the kid did that day, see what the kid did and didn’t get and then walk around the room right then or the next day and say things like, “I saw you were having trouble with quadratic equations, what’s up with that?” and go from there. This is a major improvement. The teacher isn’t monitoring test results, they’re getting feedback from the work down in class that day. Please read the article more carefully. It’s like having the teacher check the hw everyday (shocker) but faster and based on real time feedback (so less copying from the answers in the back or your friend’s hw).

    This is sometimes called “teaching backwards.” Kids learn the content at home, then practice the skill in class. History classes often run this way (kids read a chapter, or some documents then the teacher uses discussion prompts or slides or documents in class to work on a specific skill). While it seems perfectly normal for history classes, and to a certain extent, in Science (think labs) it’s apparently pretty new in math classes although there were earlier attempts at individuated instruction.


  16. Wow, thanks for the reading advice, Dave.

    I’m sure teachers can find ways to use this productively. But for public schools that have, by 7th grade, 35-40 students in a math class, I really doubt that teachers are able to go up to Jimmy and say: gee, my ipad says you are having trouble. Great idea, but not happening in that all-too-common situation.

    The online Math Program they mention, Pearson’s Digits has a tag line of: “Optimize Time” and “Personalize Learning”. Seems to me both of those are ways to remove the teacher from the equation — just shove more kids in the classroom with a laptop and have them teach themselves.

    My point is: I fear that this technology just allows oversized classes to provide another form of ‘evidence’ of teaching via student performance, as well as replaces an actual investment in teaching and teachers.

    Like I said, I love technology, but it gets credited with magically solving a lot more than it actually does. And I don’t even want to get into the proprietary and monetary issues associated with all of this… e.g.: prepackaged programs are a far cry from your great idea of constructing your own textbook for classes (something I’ve been doing for 15 years, and my kids’ teacher does with paper…).


  17. Meh. David Sirota needs to pull up his Pull Ups. Yes, the money in politics is a big problem–but because the Supreme Court of the U.S. has said that money = speech, AND the fact that his wife’s opponent is a well-connected money guy, Sirota surely can’t be surprised that he’s playing to win.

    My bet is that Emily Sirota’s opponent knows that her husband has *four hours* on commercial radio every weekday here in Metro Denver. I don’t listen to his show, but how is that not a huge (and hugely unfair) advantage to a candidate also named Sirota? Funny he doesn’t mention that.

    (N.B. I would vote for Sirota over her opponent if I lived in Denver. It’s the whining I object to, not the fact that David Sirota wrote a column about the money being poured into a school board race. How couldn’t they see it coming?)


  18. Pingback: Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education

  19. Wow – a lot of online school/homeschool bashing going on here. I come from a family of brick & mortar teachers going back several generations on both sides, but my husband (also a brick & mortar educator with a parent who was a brick & mortar educator) and I pulled our 7th grader out of the local public school and enrolled her in online public school this year. Why? She wanted to learn MORE – but not more of what daily interaction in the “Lord of the Flies” environment of middle school teaches.

    She wanted to learn CONTENT, KNOWLEDGE, INFORMATION, and USEFUL SKILLS. Being in a classroom with 30 kids and walking the halls with hundreds was teaching her which clothes and labels were “in,” which teenage boy singers were “hot,” which kids had access to drugs and were having sex, and which bullies (many of whom had been bullying since elementary school) the school was going to ignore. It was also teaching her to be passive about her education and that her future in this system was going to be determined by someone’s assessment of how well she played the school “game.”

    Her elementary school was fantastic, yet kindergarten and first grade were an educational waste. The social “skills” she learned were how to do what the person in charge tells you to do, how creativity will generally get you into trouble, and how the kids who disrupt the class have the power to gain the attention they crave and ruin the educational environment for the rest of the students.

    Frankly, I wish I would have blinked away the brick and mortar hypnosis a LONG time ago. She is now WAY more responsible for her own learning, spending much MORE time in meaningful curriculum with a learning network that challenges her to improve where she is already strong and helps her further develop those areas where she is weak.

    Is she socially backward? Her girl scout troop members and leaders don’t think so. Neither do the people with whom she horse-back rides and skis, those to whom she serves dinner at the homeless shelter in the neighboring town every month or the kids she helps entertain at our church’s Kids Club each week. She can comfortably interact with all ages of people – both younger and older – and has a respect for everyone’s individual talents and skills, not a desire to be someone she is not.

    There are no easy answers to these educational dilemmas – and no answer will be right for every child. Our other child is very happy in a brick and mortar public school (although NOT our local school system). But please don’t condemn from your own ignorance what is working very effectively for some parents and children who care PASSIONATELY about their education and for whom local brick and mortar public school environment just doesn’t work.


  20. It’s worth noting that life is Lord of the Flies, plenty of grown women obsess over clothing labels and celebrity gossip, adult bullies abound, drugs and sex remain popular, and most jobs reward obedience and punish creativity and socially aberrant behavior.

    Disliking society’s major drawbacks isn’t necessarily an argument about school itself.

    It’s always odd to me when people deliberately remove their children from mainstream cultural influences and then turn around and claim that those children do NOT have trouble relating to their peers.

    I guess it makes me wonder why they care.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.