Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Finale

Of course we don’t feel drugged when cruising in cyberspace or playing a video game. Nor am I saying schools are not teaching history or providing solid language arts. I’m speaking of the proverbial frog in the water that’s getting unnoticeably hot. When kids go full throttle in all things virtual, it fosters a habit of the mind, affects how hospitable their brain grows to the rigors of reasoning that enables ease of articulation. Inhospitality in this case makes for inefficient learning, academic ill ease. Because you just can’t get the results in some things but through the old-fashioned road of exertion. How do you build muscle? Strength? There is no shortcut for the consistency of an hour’s sweat, four times a week. The sweat is proof of progress. The body can’t fool itself, so why do we think any differently of the developing mind? It is one thing to welcome structural and organizational timesavers in teaching and even in methodology. The features of Gmail alone can help streamline teaching beautifully. I would love to learn more ways to harness both wired and wireless power to facilitate instruction. It is a different story, though, when it comes to content and the discipline of the mind, what we expose eyes and brains to on a regular basis. Machines can’t think for us, at least in all the shades and emotional context the human brain functions. Quality books challenge the mind to hold something deep and expansive, along with sophisticated syntax and diction. We let Johnny off the hook in some tasks that require straightforward verbal and auditory attention. But I’ve always wondered to what extent we ourselves have been creating visual learners hooked on pictures that speak the 1000 words they’re becoming less capable of producing. Have we written off trained hypersensitivity to visual stimulation as a matter of learning style?

I am quite happy with my electricity and computer. And I don’t have muscle enough to survive on the prairie. For sure, technology has enhanced how broadly we communicate, relate, and learn. But I fear, at a price. The practice of waiting characterized life on the prairie. Season into season, the kids grew up hoping, anticipating, predicting things about the crop they had helped sow that was to be their very survival and nourishment. What is it that today’s youth have to wait for? Given over to machines in play and study, kids could end up paying for the efficiency we buy into with a laziness of the mind. We underestimate what our children are capable of, both the responsibilities they should bear and the skills they can apply themselves to. It is the Tiger Mom’s question I circle back to, the line I at times can’t easily make out between pushing too hard and encouraging too little.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 4

Will kids accustomed to virtual magic tricks readily invite self-discipline, the handmaid of hard work? We express ourself through the click of likes and flurry of fingers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (not saying I object to your liking this post). The breeziness with which kids are talking online from a progressively younger age will wear on their ability to articulate themselves on important matters. To frame an opinion, analysis, insight on literature, politics, faith. Navigating gizmos well does not mean they will be unable to communicate effectively. But obviously, times have changed.

P1030705Life is far different today from the Prairie Days when, sun-up to sun-down, physical exertion and problem-solving called upon both young and old. Though limited schooling often gave way to marriage or a trade in the pioneer days, when children did study they did not read and write clipped thoughts. Those able to pursue an education learned proper grammar and speech, were taught to recite the history of their nation so they could understand their place in the world, joined the Great Conversation of literature. That is, students took in and engaged written works that were a complete thought. Edith Schaeffer has said, “They need to love books, for books are the basis of literature, composition, history, world events, vocabulary, and everything else.”  There was an organic wholeness to the process of formal learning, of building the stamina called for in the training of the mind. Students did not have the option of flipping channels, websites, or even their own book pages every 30 seconds, dissatisfied with pictures or content that did not titillate. Rather than take the time to sit and drink in great works, more and more postmodern kids are looking to quench their thirst for visual excitement. The next hit. We don’t read LOTR and indulge our imagination anymore. We watch the epic and let the screen tell us what Middle-earth looked like. With each generation becoming literally more restless from the luxurious feast of options, how will it develop the patience needed to examine, ponder, question, argue, reason?

In his keen social commentary Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman teases out the effects of television viewing on the mind. In the briefest window of time, you can go from a news segment to a commercial to a soap opera, each presentation itself spliced by dizzying action, noise, and change of scenes. The watching brain gets a string of disjointed messages that remain incoherent together. Postman asserts that the problem of television is not what we watch but that we do. I suggest that with the infinite number of channels procurable on YouTube alone now, not to mention the 3-D magnetism of so-called kids’ movies, what the mind experiences is like the discrete, disconnected, visual provocation of the TV, on amphetamines.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 3

angry_birdIn my lifetime, global tech advancement turned a corner, and a sharp one at that. For all their benefits, the microwave, internet, multipurpose cell phone have accelerated the pace of living. When I was in elementary school, a digital Hello Kitty watch was hot stuff. Today, I sight at least 3 kids out of 5 with an iSomething in their hand. Only, they’re not the ones really holding the machine. It is the kids who are held captive by their tablet, their iPOD. As technology serves our demand for instant amusement and excitement, our dependency grows.  With the computer literally shrinking, more compact and portable every year, our minimachines ironically are not an accessory but a necessity. Left unchecked, the reliance has the potential of tailspinning into an addiction. The South Korean government is scrambling toward yet another law to constrain the number of hours kids under 16 can play virtual games within a 24-hour period. The nation whose youth has been known for its academic ambitions is buckling under the weight of her children’s virtual obsessions. I can only imagine how the typical gaming brain of the Korean student has rewired. It has become a product of clicking for instant gratification, not of laboring to produce something deep, meaningful, or imaginative.

As a former teacher in the public schools, I know enjoyment enables and enhances learning. But the world of video gaming has redefined fun. Our young ones are not inherently different from kids two hundred years ago. Our physical apparatus has not changed. The parenting, the environmental influences we watchdog or don’t, condition our children’s preferences. So, at least from observing my own son, it seems to me kids still can get quite a kick out of the incarnations they can summon out of a cardboard box – were it not for the etoys readily put in front of them.

Preoccupation in the virtual sphere can redefine not only amusement but reality.  How many of us believe it’s healthy to keep lost in a world of fantasy? The transfixed gamer not only loses time and opportunity to engage the real world and people, but becomes enamored with a place that does not exist in nature and with powers he in fact does not have. The gamer enjoys the delusionary high of being able to make cool things happen quickly and easily – whenever he wants. It is the omnipotence of the Hero who’s simply changed costume every decade, the Lone Ranger, Superman, Ninja Turtles, the Incredibles: we love being able to manipulate boundaries, play God. Where we are not careful, we could be nurturing impatience and restlessness of character and thought in our children.

Technology: The Dark Side of Efficiency, Part 2

A friend called herself lazy in telling me she replaced her laptop with her mobile because her phone finishes her word for her as she types. I’d say that’s being efficient. But it is a fuzzy line between efficiency and laziness, isn’t it? We are today surrounded by machines dedicated to saving us time because we really are so busy. I, notoriously so. My husband has come to see I honestly don’t have a New York Minute. So if you offer me something to maximize my time, I’m in. But I wonder about the aggregate impact of a tech-dependent culture on our kids’ capacity to learn. How will children who’re used to commanding entertainment and sensory incitement at the touch of a button grow up to embrace endeavors that require simple patience and dogged commitment?

The boundless places we can go and things we can do in cyberspace are technology’s version of fast food. Speedy, convenient, satisfying service. Our powers on the internet embody the antithesis of what took time to clean, chop, simmer properly for health’s sake. Only there is no hassle of a drive-thru, the kids are behind the dash, and for many of them, it’s free. Not unlike the sugar they prefer over whole foods, their online fun is a saccharin pleasure. The body becomes sedentary, the mind grows numb. Antisocial Networking, a 2010 NY Times article by Hilary Stout, mentions kindergarteners buried in their technological fixations during playdates. In the knowledge that sensory experiences grow and direct cognitive neural pathways, researchers believe that brains will be rewired. What are the implications for learning in our tech-crazed culture?

Architecting Numbers – at the Lower Grades

Here’s a glimpse of the wonderful ways you can use Cuisenaire Rods to enhance comprehension of number concepts while fostering creativity.

There is just no end to what you can do with the rods across the grade levels (up to the age kids are no longer enthralled by colorful miniblocks). Sorting, counting, crunching all the operations, geometry, odds and evens conception, patterning, money reinforcement. Today Tennyson rehearsed (precise) counting past 35, while exercising visuospatial skills and creativity. After exploring linear designs with the rods when he first got them (say, with different rods lined up like a train), he started going multidimensional.  So we “built the number 36” in all directions (horizontally, vertically and up).

Note: If you’re viewing from your phone, the photos may reformat.

1. After establishing that a yellow stick equals five ones (the white center cube being a unit of one as you can see in the first photo), we first practiced counting by 5s.  Rather than take the time to write out 5, 10, 15, 20 to help him keep track of the sequence, I grabbed some clothespins already marked so (from other math activities) right off the table. P1030493

2. Counting the cube in the center, we get 21.

3.  Add a cube to each yellow, for a picture of 21 + 4 = 25


4. My little student saw the green rod = 3 ones.  So he laid it down, counting 28.  Add two white cubes to the green, and you get 30 (see next photo).


5. He inserted another green rod running north and south between the top two cubes (the next photo below).  The last green rod that roofs the structure gives us 36 (last large photo). So today’s math was a multisensory play with numbers (which he saw, touched, talked through) that normally might extend beyond a kindergartener’s understanding.  Yes, plenty of kinders can

P1030500count well beyond 40, but a firm concrete grasp of what things beyond 20 can look can come alive this way. I procured the rods from

The company provides great customer service and some of the best prices online. I made my first purchase after comparing RR with about ten other merchants.  The company beats Amazon’s prices on a lot of products.



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On another day, Tennyson arranged the rods systematically.  We discussed symmetry and examined number sequence.  It all started from free play and experimentation with size and color (as with the last photo from a different day). Kids will also understand odd vs. even with the help of the red that represents two units (that is, fits two white cubes).

My Son in a Child Study [Thoughts on the Effect of the Spirit on the Mind]

Tennyson and I participated in a child study at the University of CA Riverside Developmental Psychology Lab last week. We’ve done at least five of these the last few years, a chance to contribute to research in a range of child development inquiries, from the effects of media on learning to how children apprehend what they read. The last study happened to be on the question of how children understand prayer. It was a very interesting opportunity to lend perspective on our prayer practices and for me to give voice to my perspective on the role of prayer in parenting.

This time, after completing a questionnaire while Tennyson was busy with questions from a researcher, I was taped in interview.  The interviewer asked me some things I had never given thought to, and I in turn offered answers she had never gotten.

Do I believe spiritual development affects cognitive growth?  If so, how?

Yes, the nurture of the inner life is very much a work in abstractions. Children are taught to pray to a God who is invisible, learn of a man who lived an infinity and many cultures away.  In the field of education, the ability to grasp abstractions is said to be a function of higher order thinking. That is, to conceptualize the unseen requires more brain voltage than to regurgitate facts.  (Ah, I thought: hence Tennyson’s attempt back in February to wrap his brain around how God watches him, cast in familiar concrete things.) So maturity in spiritual sensitivity and understanding will challenge and encourage cognitive faculty.

Not surprising because obedience to God always bear rewards, often unimagined.  What’s more, smarts are a favorable part of spiritual development by simple virtue of our design.  We are mind, body, spirit, heart and what each aspect processes affects the rest.

Tennyson pocketed the $20 he earned and put it in his bank when we got home. I wondered why in the world I had thought I could bribe him with a quarter a few months back when the boy has more cash than I do.

Local parents interested in future studies can write me for information.