Friday, March 8, 2013

Incredible Changes in Our Classrooms

"Strawman" is a term from rhetoric that refers to to someone mis-characterizing or exaggerating his/her opponents' arguments so as to make it easier to respond to. It it is low and dishonest strategy, infuriating and all too common. Luckily for those of us who think that the transformative power and usefulness of tablet computing and computer in the classroom is has been massively overhyped, we have Rupert Murdoch; we don't need a straw man.

I learned this morning that Rupert Murdoch (Chairman and CEO of News Corp), who has a new tablet to sell to schools, said two years ago,  "Today's classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front of a roomful of kids with only a textbook, a blackboard, and a piece of chalk."

This just shows how little he -- and far too many who cheerlead for spending more on computer technology in the classroom -- know about the massive changes to our classrooms in the last 100-175 years. (Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901.)

* Now, virtually all children go to school through the middle of their teenage years, not merely the children of the rich.

* Now, most students are educated away from the oversight of the church.

* Now, every student has his/her own textbook. Every students has his/her own textbooks.

* Now, we have ballpoint, gel and other easy to use pens instead of inkwells. We have plentiful pencils. We even crappy erasable pens.

* Now, schools have central heating, and perhaps air conditioning too.

* Now, our schools have running water and flush toilets

* Now, our classrooms have electricity and electric lights.

* Blackboards and chalkdust? Disappearing. Now, we have had dry erase white boards and even fancy digital White Boards.

* Now, even in the absence of fancy digital White Boards, we have overhead projectors.

* Now, we have filmstrips, movie projectors, televisions and DVD players. We have a rich array of audio players, as well.

* Now, we have plentiful supplies of paper. Even our poorest classrooms are far richer in arts and craft materials than those of the Victoria era.

* Now, we've moved entirely past the age of dittos -- which came long after the Victorian era -- and are moving beyond the photocopy era. 

* Now, children are divided into classrooms by age or grade.

* Now, we have so many books that classrooms are expected to have their own, "classroom libraries."

* Now, the norm is 20-25 younger students in a class, or 30-35 older students, compared to the 40-50 or more of the past.

* Now, chairs and desks are not nailed to floor, all facing forward in rows.

* Now, students often face each other, rather than the front of the room. Now, in some classrooms, the basic arrangement is to face each other in clusters of desks or at tables, rather than in rows.

* Now, children of all colors, backgrounds and origins can be found in the same classroom.

* Now, the walls of many classrooms are covered with student work, word walls and/or (hopefully) useful posters.

* Now, we might find multiple adults in the same room, especially when students with special needs are in the class -- students who we would not have seen in classrooms during the Victorian Age.

That's just off the top of my head, and I am not education historian. That is just a list of a few things are are obviously different upon visual inspection. We a visitor to listen, s/he would many other differences.

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