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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Do you bring an apple to a robot teacher?

The 21st Century Classroom
By J.T. Caswell, Progressive Charlestown guest columnist
What could possibly go wrong?

Over the next several weeks, public schools across Rhode Island will be administering the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) tests to students. 

If an observer were allowed access to a testing room, he or she would see an educator/proctor walking the room and monitoring the students taking the computerized tests, probably on a Chromebook, which is a laptop device designed specifically for educational purposes.  

Picture the scenario: a roomful of students engaged with their computers with one adult monitoring progress and troubleshooting computer glitches. 

If the corporate education reformers have their way, that scenario is what future classrooms will look like five days a week, 180 or so days a year.

Unlike with test monitoring, however, teachers will be required to offer assistance with content and skills. 

Students will log onto their devices, and the bulk of both the content and the instruction will be delivered online.  

Teachers – most of them recent college graduates -- will become “guides on the side” facilitators. 

Current trends in education are toward “personalized learning,” (student directed), “one-to-one” (one laptop device for every student), the “blended,” (a mix of technology and traditional pedagogy) and the “flipped” (students learn through technological interaction at home, and teachers reinforce the lesson in school) classrooms.  

"You say your dog ate your homework?"
The reformers promulgating the 21st Century learning design will convince you that these pedagogical innovations are necessary to properly prepare students for college and careers.

Those reformers might be right.  Digital technology’s ubiquitous presence, its insidious infiltration into all aspects of modern life, and its domination of the marketplace are unquestionable. 

If anything, its influence is merely burgeoning, and the current educational trend is evidence of that.
That does not guarantee the trend will be beneficial for students’ intellectual, social, or emotional development, however.

For better or worse, the “sage on the stage” teachers are headed for obsolescence. 

Gone will be the substantive interaction between students and knowledgeable, enthusiastic teachers. 

Gone will be the enrichment activities designed for in-depth understanding and hands-on learning. 

Gone will be the group work that fosters social and team-working skills.  Gone will be the Socratic seminars.  

Gone, too, will be the learning games that creative teachers work into their lessons to inject some fun.
In their stead, the school day will feature instructional videos, lesson notes on pdf documents, podcasts, power points and a variety of interactive computer applications. 

Assessments will become mechanized also, and the typical classroom will be robotically lifeless. 
Students will be plugged into machines at least six hours a day, not counting their personal time on their smart phones.

The “modern” educational reform movement dates back at least to the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, but others would mark the demarcation point at the Soviet Union’s launching of Sputnik in 1957. 

Yet, according to statistical comparisons with other nations, the sage opinions of theorists, policy makers, and reformers, our public education continues to flounder and fail our students. 

That makes at least 60 years of “reforms” and major reform movements failing.   

If that doesn’t make one question the reformers and their allegedly remedial innovations, it should. 
It might be wise, also, to question the reformers’ motives. 

Corporate reformers see great profit in educational software and other technological products.  This is nothing new, either. 

Education has always supported a cottage industry of publishers and their products and, coincidentally enough, each new reform has rejuvenated the demand for the latest products.

Democratically elected politicians appoint and hire educational policymakers, so, theoretically, the public should choose what type of schools it wants future generations to attend.    
Like it or not, the time to choose has arrived.