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For the last twenty-five years, computers have been the economic and educational focus of public schools.  Economic focus included having enough machines and qualified instructors to teach young people how to make the most of this educational tool.  Expensive and fragile, the machines would become obsolete within a year or two as technology evolved.  There were infrastructure demands:  many public schools constructed during the 1950’s and 1960’s had two electrical outlets in each classroom.  Early machines would generate a lot of heat, requiring ventilation and cooling beyond the capacity of ancient ductwork. Teachers, most of whom remembered when the mechanical pencil was the epitome of technological advancement, found themselves required to learn a skill for which they had no basic knowledge.  Children, with their malleable and uncluttered brains, adapted much faster than adults. By the year 2000, every school budget in the United States had a large sum dedicated to technology and all its attendant costs: Hardware, software, IT personnel, infrastructure.  There also emerged a growing concern about appropriate content, in loco parentis, and quantitative concerns.

Screen capture of Acellus online educational software.

Not really a substitute for a classroom

So much, so fast.  In less than a second, one can access dozens of articles and websites regarding the health benefits of green tea.  How is the fifteen year old to know that the article claiming that one cup of green tea each day will make his voice stop cracking is nonsense? Schools continue to lose the battle against misinformation.  The companies making and marketing video games, from simple solitaire to interactive war games with vivid graphics, were far ahead of educators at creating appealing content.  

You can find anything online.

Ten years ago, the tablet, with its long battery life and large memory, rendered the textbook obsolete.  Hundreds of books can be stored and accessed on one device.  Updating – always a concern in science where advances in knowledge rendered textbooks obsolete before the glue was dry – can be accomplished instantly and remotely.  There was hue and cry to eliminate textbooks entirely, eliminate the classroom entirely, eliminate teachers entirely, and rely entirely on the computer.

There were two apparent drawbacks: Schools are the largest childcare providers in this country, and those schools provide two meals each day for the food insecure.  Most agreed with the concept that brick and mortar schools weren’t really necessary for educating so much as safe places for children to learn. The pandemic response tested this concept: Given the ubiquity of educational technology, will students learn more and better without going to school?

Screen capture of an online meeting window waiting for the participants to join.

Is anyone out there?

The short answer is a resounding “No.” The long explanation, distilled to one sentence, is this: The institution of school provides invaluable social interaction that cannot be separated from subject matter.  Most students struggled and suffered with online instruction.  Their struggles were not, for the most part, related to the technology. A pre-recorded lecture on the themes of Romeo and Juliet followed by a Zoom breakout discussion is not a substitute for a teacher noticing the confused glances of several students at the phrase “forbidden love” and adapting.  Whereas the Zoom meeting is attended by avatars (the actual students are muted and playing World of Warcraft offscreen), a live classroom discussion has inherent accountability. Because the school lockdowns lasted a year or more, the concept of recency has students experiencing anxiety, fear, eagerness  – at competing levels. Both eager and terrified to return to a noisy classroom, students desperately need a smooth transition.

Photo of a sticker of a black and white teacup illustration.

Summer school starts in four days.  On day one, I am meeting in person with three students.  Sitting a safe distance apart, I will make and share tea with them.  We will talk about the tea as we sip.  They will share their previous tea experiences.  Easing into goal-setting and journal writing, we will exchange phone numbers.  In this fashion, I will meet with twelve students each day of the first week.  Tea will be the vehicle rolling us slowly toward full integration and teamwork. 

I think matcha genmaicha is the right choice.  Wish me luck.

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