Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Why I Don't Follow Screen-Free Week

My 9 year old working on her Excel spreadsheet this morning

This week is the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's annual Screen-Free Week, designed to get families to connect more in person and rely less on technology. While I can appreciate the initiative, especially in cases when technology may over-run a household to the detriment of human connection and creativity, I don't participate in screen-free week.

I think it's important to be aware of the role of technology in family life, and to be aware if technology is limiting other types of learning and interaction, but I don't think technology should be maligned or otherwise avoided. 

We got rid of our TV and cable several years ago, realizing that we could enjoy the same or greater access to information and entertainment without the commercialism, but we greatly value the role of technology in our living and learning. We see our computers, iPad, and smart-phones as vital tools in our modern culture for information, communication, education, and entertainment.

In his book, Free to Learn, Boston College psychology professor, Peter Gray, agrees strongly that technology, as our modern culture's most important tool, should necessarily be used by children in their play. In his blog, Gray writes: 
"Why would we want to limit a kid's computer time? The computer is, without question, the single most important tool of modern society. Our limiting kids' computer time would be like hunter-gatherer adults limiting their kids' bow-and-arrow time. Children come into the world designed to look around and figure out what they need to know in order to make it in the culture into which they are born."
Now, as Dr. Gray pointed out at the Alternatives To School conference a few years ago, hunter-gatherer cultures made certain that poison arrows were out of reach of their children until they were old enough to understand their inherent dangers. Similarly, we grown-ups can ensure that certain technology programs or applications are out-of-reach of our children until they have similar maturity, but to prevent our children from using the vital tools of our culture, from becoming informed about and skilled in their use and power, runs counter to the practices of human evolution for thousands of years.

The powerful role of technology in learning, particularly in self-directed learning, is vividly highlighted in the award-winning work of Sugata Mitra. Many of you have seen his extraordinary Ted Talks in which he showcases how, by putting computers on the outside wall of his office building in the slums of New Delhi, India, poor, illiterate, non-schooled children worked collaboratively without adult supervision, teaching themselves--within weeks--how to effectively use computer programs they had never seen, create email accounts and send emails, search the Internet for information, learn to read, learn English, and learn all aspects of modern computing--all on their own, all working together in multi-age groups, with no adult intervention. Extraordinary.

Technology and computers and screens-- all of it-- are critical to our modern culture's ability to learn, to share, to communicate, to progress. I want my children to respect and value these important tools and become skilled in their use and promise. 

So, I'm not following screen-free week. But then, I suppose if you're reading this, neither are you.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you have a very balanced approach to technology with your kids. I probably know the answer, but do you place any time limits or otherwise keep an eye on your kids' time using technology? I have four kids under the age of 7, and while it is tempting to let them watch PBS Kids for hours because I know they are learning a lot from it (and I get some time to myself if I don't watch with them), I don't like how it seems to affect them after a time. They seem to need to burn off all the excess energy they were storing up while sitting still, and they seem to have trouble coming up with creative things to do besides watching more episodes. I never seem to be able to find a balance.


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