It isn’t them, it’s us: How technology has changed communication in school

I went to the dentist today to get my 6-month cleaning. My delightful dentist was talking about how she knows a teacher couple where the wife is just done, she’s leaving teaching for good. The husband is teaching a 4/5 blend and loves it, and my dentist says that the teacher is exceptional. And yet even he is saying, “yeah, I can do a few more years and then I’m probably done.”


The idea here is that “kids are too different now, and parents don’t do their job.”  Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve heard this and it won’t be the last time.

Yes, parenting helps a lot. BUT parenting is NOT why teaching/learning is so different now. I got on my high horse for a second, but then the technician needed to keep cleaning so I had to stop.

Here’s the thing. We have changed completely as a culture and society since my children started school. Piper started Kindergarten the year of 9/11. She’d been my precious little Kinder for about four days before that terrifying day when I went to drop her off at school (because I had to go to work and tell parents to “go home, no class today” at the children’s art studio I taught at) and her school was shut tight. Being a large west coast city, San Francisco was on alert, and we didn’t know if the planes being headed to us was anything significant at the time. It turns out, it just meant they were full of a lot of fuel.

Piper’s generation grew up in a “new normal.” They have been taught to do lock down drills and have carried an extra weight on them as children that no other cohort had carried. As parents and teachers we have equipped them with cell phones and iPods touch and Nintendo DS and XBox and Playstation and everything is on Bluetooth or Wifi.  There is an ever expanding connection to new tech. This new tech has grown at a pace in their generation on the scale of the industrial revolution.

They are used to being part of big brother. They have no concept for what it was like before you could call/text someone that you are running late. They don’t know how to use pay phones, they seamlessly do work on laptops or phones or tablets, and they know the language of each platform just fine. When in doubt, they just click or swipe and the job is done.

For 15 years we have been raising a different kind of child and teaching a different kind of student. I use my cell phone in class to take photos, check email, communicate with administration, and to communicate with parents. I was using my phone a few days ago to text a photo of a kiddo to their parent during a reading group. The children started talking about how their parents use their phones whenever the family, or the parent alone, watches TV. This is something almost all of us do. We don’t know how to not constantly be stimulated by some sort of technology response that engages us, and so when the commercials come on or just when we are bored, we scroll social media or check our email. We have learned to do “down time” differently than we did 15-20 years ago when we probably had a beer in the kitchen and talked to our partner, or watched a show with them on TV and were not distracted by other tech.

I don’t say this to make any of us feel guilty.

However. WHY ARE WE BLAMING THIS CHANGE IN SOCIETY’S COMMUNICATION HABITS ON THE CHILDREN THAT HAVE NO FINANCIAL POWER TO MAKE THIS CHANGE? We are the ones that changed it, folks. We as a society and culture decided that this was what was important to us. We bought the phone, the laptop, the gadget, and we let it be part of our communication with each other.

It’s not bad. I personally love my technology. I don’t want it to go away at all. I learn from it, grow from it, revel in it. It is a new way to communicate and it is very powerful. And today’s children communicate differently because they have been raised in a completely different world.

If we want school to feel right for them, we are going to have to make communicating with technology a rigorous and palpable change in every classroom. Children should be using tech to communicate every day, their hands should be in it, making and creating, not simply passively sitting there when the teacher is talking.

It’s up to us, as a culture, to accept there has been a change, and to change schools to be realistic to the children we are raising.


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