A few weeks ago at the Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009 institute in Manchester, NH, I needed to make some copies. I walked down the quaint main street of this lovely New England town and found the local copy store.
Inside, the machine wasn’t working so the owner came over to help. We started talking and he asked me what I was doing in Manchester. I told him I was at a workshop with teachers learning about how to use computers in school. He immediately said something to the effect of, “That’s funny! Why don’t you have students teach the teachers, the kids know everything about technology already!”
We both laughed, sorted out the copying mess, and I walked back to the hotel meeting room where teachers were intently building robots, making movies, programing, creating art, building webpages, and more. Suddenly, it struck me. How wonderful is it that society actually believes that children are competent at something. Here in Everytown, USA, a random guy in a random moment confirmed a commonly held societal belief that children are competent human beings, in fact, MORE competent than adults. And better yet, competent at something important.
We see it in commercials where the exasperated parents hand the new, incomprehensible cell phone to their five year old to figure out. We hear ordinary people joke about getting their grandchild to set the blinking 12:00 on any appliance. And we all know that TV commercials and marketing professionals are very adept at mirroring the “norms” of society. Mention some problem using technology and more likely than not, someone will say, “Ha! You need to find a ten year old!” It’s always good for a chuckle when you tap into commonly held beliefs.
Of course this isn’t a sophisticated or deeply thought-out conclusion. There are underlying contradictions, simplifications and outright myths. The “digital native vs digital immigrant” slogan is a symptom of buying too deeply into this belief.
But what irony and what opportunity this is! What a gift that society actually thinks that children are competent at something, anything, especially something that is so vital for the future. When does this ever happen?
How can advocates for using technology to enhance learning leverage this gift to advance the cause?
I don’t think the answer is to lean on this myth or use it to justify NOT teaching students about technology. My main criticism of the digital native/immigrant metaphor is that it is used in just this way. (See my post Digital natives/immigrants – how much do we love this slogan?)
I DO think we need to find ways to build on this gift, to acknowledge that yes, indeed, kids do know a lot about technology, and that school must take that natural talent and nurture it into something MORE valuable for the student and for society.
So thank you, Madison Avenue, for helping portray children as competent individuals. Now, what can we do with this gift?