My daughter told me a very interesting story the other day. The children were given iPads so they could use them as thesauruses to look up synonyms during writer’s workshop. The problem was that there was a video that played in the sidebar of the thesaurus webpage, and it was distracting her. The students were all laughing about the ad, because it just kept playing over and over again, and they found that really funny. Finally, Evelyn got curious about what the ad was for and watched it until it said, “Toyota: Let’s Go Places”, and then she paused it so it would stop looping.
She told me this as she would tell me any anecdote from her day, but it made me profoundly uncomfortable. The teacher, in her position of authority, put advertising in front of the kids. Okay, okay, so Evelyn is not likely to buy a Toyota, but who is vetting these commercials? Nobody, obviously. I mean, I’m not worried that the thesaurus page is going to start showing porn or “Miley Cyrus twerks the hits” ads or something; I’m not really comfortable with school giving my children *any* advertising. I don’t want school endorsing-by-proxy that you should buy legos, or eat at McDonalds, or watch “Murder McGunshot tonight on NBC!” Even aside from any specific product, I don’t like my children to have someone whispering “BUY BUY BUY BUY” in their ear while they are supposed to be learning.
Quite frankly, I’m starting to think these advertisers don’t have my child’s best interest at heart.
I wish my children didn’t have to see advertisements anywhere, but I’m not COMPLETELY naive. Still, I thought school was at least an ad-free zone. But again, it’s not necessarily about the advertisement (I highly doubt the Toyota commercial was objectionable), but it is about the advertising itself. It’s about the TECHNOLOGY itself.
Evelyn told me that one of her friends lost iPad privileges because she just plays with emoji. OF COURSE she just plays with emoji! These kids are 7 and 8 years old. I’m a 35 year old man, and when I sit down to check the weather, 10 minutes later I’m on Facebook and Twitter and 5 tabs deep on a wikipedia article about robotic jockeys racing camels. The computer is a distraction machine. We’re in the middle of an ADHD epidemic, and you want kids to pay attention to the thesaurus while a video ad plays in the sidebar? That would be like trying to teach the kids math while I stood in the corner waving my hands and shouting “HEY HEY LOOK AT ME HEY”. You can’t give the kids the Internet and then blame them for watching the ad. You can’t give an 8 year old the Internet at all, if you want them to pay attention. It’s like dropping them off by themselves in downtown Las Vegas and making them promise to go straight to the library.
Look, ya’ll, we’ve been on the Internet. It’s generally a terrible place. I’m not just talking about all the porn and racial slurs, I’m talking about everything. I’m talking about the average comment thread at the bottom of the average news article. I’m talking about body shaming, and cyberbullying and consumerism. I’m talking about knowing the difference between Buzzfeed and a legitimate news site (or for that matter, the difference between The Onion and a legitimate news site, something that a few adults I know haven’t mastered yet). I’m talking about not knowing that advertising in the sidebar is not part of the article, and should be ignored. I’m talking about them not being an adult.
Despite that fact that there is practically nobody sorting the apps that are actually educational from those that actually hinder your intellectual growth, there doesn’t seem to be any thought whatsoever given to how to use technology in the classroom. Technology seems to be the end goal in and of itself.
School: “We’re excited to announce that every classroom is going to have iPads this year!!”
School: “Did you not hear us? iPads! Why do you not look excited right now?”
The time the kids skyped with the biologist about butterfly lifecycles? Awesome. The time the kids talked to their pen pal class in India? Awesome. Watching cute baby animal videos? Okay, maybe of some use? Somehow? But if you want me to accept the fact that the thesaurus is going to distract my kid with ads in the sidebar, then explain to me the big advantage of using a thesaurus on the Internet versus in an ad-free book. You can’t. There isn’t one. If anything, learning to use an actual thesaurus teaches you things that using the iPad cannot (how to spell without auto-correct for starters). So I’m being asked to let you distract my kids with ads so that they can *also* not learn how to spell?
I don’t think this is being done maliciously, I think people just don’t think about it. I think adults don’t notice ads anymore, and know how to navigate the Internet to avoid the things they want to avoid, and how to focus on the right thing and ignore the rest. I think they expect 8 year olds to be able to do the same (while also complaining that kids grow up too fast these days). I think that‘s not fair to our kids.
Might be time to donate a bunch of thesauruses to school.