Sunday, November 13, 2011

Is There an App for That?

When I first saw the headline in the Wall Street Journal this morning, I thought I could just avoid it. Then, my husband placed it in the middle of my breakfast spot. "I thought you'd want to read that," he told me. I most emphatically did NOT want to read an article titled, "My Teacher is an App," but I decided I should be a grown-up and see what it had to say.

Reading it offered no real surprises but it was depressing. Education, I've learned, is full of the fad, and technology, from the radio to the movie reel to the tablet, makes for great fads. It wows people into thinking teachers might just be obsolete. Of course, as Lev Vygotsky might tell you, people really need other people to learn and deepen their thinking, but who cares about all that when you're talking about what matters in schools? And apps?

Becoming a teacher makes me feel nothing so much as cognitive dissonance. I can hardly think of an endeavor that's at once so pressured to be seen as professionalized and so infantilized. For every reformer who says the key to great school is amazing teachers, there's another scripting lessons. For every tool meant to foster a culture of critical thinking, there's a sheet of bubbles waiting to be filled in.

Fortunately, though, for all the abstract contradictions, and concrete absurdities, becoming a teacher means I spend one day a week student teaching (next semester it will be four). And there, the kids are funny and confounding and engaging and earnest; the cooperating teacher is marvelous and gives me something to think about every time I'm in the classroom. Granted, some weeks I think about how overwhelming the task of teaching is, but I also remain deeply curious about it. Which is lucky, because if I just read the paper, I'd think there's an app out there ready to teach for me.

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