Monday, July 2, 2007

A Progressive Parent's Pondering

Parenting is not a dichotomy of traditional versus progressive. I believe few things in life are. But if I would have to choose where I lie on that spectrum as a parent, I would say it would be closer to progressive.

Just because I set high expectations for my children, stress the importance of the basics, and want them to develop a work ethic does not make me old school. I’d like to think of those qualities as timeless, classic and above all, crucial to sending self-sufficient, responsible, compassionate people out into the world. I consider that my job and I work diligently at it everyday. Many parents do.

Nevertheless, it would be hypocritical for me to say that education shouldn’t evolve. My education was not like my parent’s and my children’s is unlike my own. There are too many variables to account for this to list here, but I would like to think that it comes down to each generation sincerely wanting something better for their own children. That’s what I want, anyway. That’s what I consider progress.

If I were old school in the strict interpretation dictated by the dichotomy of progressive versus traditional, I don’t think I’d understand the value of a blog, google, or youtube. I wouldn’t depend on TiVo, billpay or for services and products I find I enjoy having only a keystroke away. I would not be here wishing I could upgrade my computer to something better, faster, and more plugged-in. While I'm wishing, an iPhone would be nice too. How could I not want technology to enhance my children’s lives as well?

Technology enriches learning in our home at every turn. My oldest child completes her Singapore Math assignment and Kumon worksheets with a pencil (the yellow kind you have to sharpen), and then further enriches the learning experience with some computer math games or even better, a visit to HeyMath. Some of it she considers “work” and may even grumble about (worksheets) and some of it is “fun” (computers) but because life is neither exclusively one nor the other, it’s important that she experience both. Life is not a dichotomy. Life is balance and I believe it’s important that children learn that lesson early on.

Foundations are good. Learning to type accurately allows you to write more fluidly, blog more quickly and empty your mind of all the wonderful ideas that dance around in your head. But is learning to type fun? Not really. There are computer programs that attempt to make it so and they work up to a point, but in the end you have to practice over and over to be really masterful at typing. I know…. you don’t have to be a good typist to be a good writer and conversely, you don’t have to be a good writer to be a good typist. There is always voice recognition software, people who transcribe your taped ideas into typed words, and other such advancements we could use instead. However, for most of us, typing the words and learning to edit our writing allows us to express ourselves quickly, accurately, and with relative ease via a medium that has become part and parcel of our culture. Another “foundation” that opens the door to bigger ideas.

Just last week I was reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick to my children, and upon finishing it we promptly watched a clip of A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès to enrich what we had experienced in that wonderful book. I love that we can learn together like that, first with printed words and images on paper and then time traveling via technology. Had we not watched the movie would the book still be interesting? Absolutely. But adding the film to the mix enriched the story on so many levels. We went on to watch Un homme de têtes and marvel over the magic of Méliès. Technology can certainly open the door to so many new ideas, approaches and understanding when you know when and how to use it.

Being progressive does not mean we have the luxury to forgo building strong foundations, or that technology can somehow replace this need. I do believe that assuring that my children have a strong foundation will allow them to access technology in an empowering manner while at the same time develop the perspective to assess the technology for whatever value it may have at each turn. For them to become completely dependent on technology so that they cannot function without it would be limiting indeed. Instead, I wish for my children to learn to manipulate the tools of progress in order for them to forge their own limitless destiny.

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.
--B. F. Skinner


Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog as of a few weeks ago...believe I stumbled across the link in a Yahoo group. This is a great post. I too lean quite progressive in most areas of life which seems to be in conflict with how I have been feeling lately about the education of my daughters(just completed 3rd and 5th grade in MN at a TERC school). Keep up the great writing!

Anonymous said...

I agree too. And because I'm fighting TERC Investigations, I'm misunderstood. I'm not anti-progressive or anti-reform.

I'm anti-bad-math.

Great post. Keep up the musings.

concernedCTparent said...

Thank you!

I like that... anti-bad-math. That's what I am too. That's what we should all be.

There really has to be a better way and I hope we get there soon.