In October, as part of Connected Educator’s month, I participated in a series of Campfire Chats hosted on Collaborate. One of the guest speakers for a chat was a man I had listened to my entire childhood. Raffi Cavoukian is a singer and child advocate. His gentle songs, which appeal to many young children, are well known across Canada and the United States. He lives in Canada and has written a book titled”#lightwebdarkweb Three Reasons to Reform Social Media B4 It Reforms Us”. I admit, I have not read his book, but I used to follow Raffi on twitter. I made the difficult choice to unfollow him when I found that his tweets against technology in the classroom were feeling like personal attacks on my teaching practices. I decided to participate in this Campfire Chat to hear his side of the issue and I went in with an open mind, hoping to reclaim some of the respect I had for this childhood icon.
Raffi began by discussing his background and where his concern for technology in the hands of children developed. Many of his statements were ones that I would not argue with. Early on he mentioned being asked during his travels if kids are different now, and his answer “Kids basic needs stay the same, although the world around them changes tremendously” is an answer I wholeheartedly agree with. His 3 main points in his book focus around Safety, Intelligence and Sustainability, and as I listened to the chat again tonight, I found myself nodding in agreement with many of his statements.
Safety: I know that the recent suicides by cyberbullied teenagers in our country have called Raffi to action, and I understand where his statements concerning Social Media, Safety and children are coming from. I share those worries and concerns. I love my friend Mardelle’s saying “we are 3 clicks away from crazy” when on the internet. I understand that people do not get the appeal of sharing tidbits of your day, life, interests and complaints, and I completely agree that the businesses creating these Social Media sites need to create safe places for kids, teens and adults to use them. There is a corporate responsibility to keep the sites safe for kids IF they know that children are using these sites. I can wish that Mark Zuckerburg put a gazillion safety features on Facebook to help prevent the cyberbullying, catch any sexual predators and protect any kids on those sites, but I know that it won’t happen. So where are these kids, and teens, going to learn to be safe online and when using Social Media?
Intelligence: Raffi discussed, in some depth, how this tech revolution should be used to grow intelligence, and to not be the addictive “substance” it has become. I had not heard of “Tech Detox” camps before listening to him, and I was stunned that they exist. He said “What are we really doing here? Where is the restraint going to come from? Where are kids going to learn the digital literacy that allows them to be online safely, but also, as importantly, the restraint. Where are they going to learn the restraint, the discipline with which to put down the devices?”
Sustainability: Raffi did not go into much depth about the sustainable information in his book, but he did touch on the fact that teens in foreign countries are working 10-12 hour days to create the products we are consuming. Again, I cannot look at the factory conditions, low wages and horrible treatment that people go through to create our devices without shuddering. As well, the amount of waste we create by upgrading to the newest device as soon as it comes out is staggering. I see the videos of people lined up for the latest iPhone, Android, PS4, and they are not there because the one they had 20 years ago was broken. They are there because it is new and shiny. It is an environmental nightmare. How can we influence people to not buy the newest “just because”?
I listened to this Campfire Chat and it seemed as though Raffi was asking these questions about safety, intelligence and sustainability with an obvious answer: school. But it wasn’t. After his informative and interesting presentation, he began to question why we were using technology and social media in the classroom. He continued to imply that imagination and creativity were being stifled by the use of devices in early childhood classrooms. Raffi, for all of his questions, did not see that we, as teachers, are able to show and instruct our children on internet safety, using a device to help develop our thinking and to teach others about our learning. He stated, “The formative being that the young child is, what is forming in the early years, it’s not only a sense of self, but what it feels like to be alive, in a relationship to nature, in a relationship to caregivers. There are wonders of the 3 dimensional world to learn about”. I do not dispute this. Young children need to see, hear, feel, taste, smell, giggle, laugh and cry. They need to self-regulate and they need to learn how to function in a group. What Raffi does not understand or see, is that we are teaching these things and experiencing the wonders of the world around us. My students can go outside and create a fantastic nook in the tree with friends and pretend to be creatures in the forest. Back in class, I can tweet the photos and experience with the students, to a child in a place where they have never seen a forest. I can talk to the children about the appropriate language we use, the etiquette of Social Media and remind them of our safety rules when tweeting. I know they are not having this conversation at home, and I know they will be on Social Media in a few years.
I admit, I got frustrated listening to Raffi when he implied that my children are mindless drones who sit in front of a screen all day, and so I spoke up. I tried to have him see that an iPad is often veiwed as a tool in my class; no different than wooden blocks, a listening center or whiteboards. To me, in my classroom, it is the equivalent of a VCR, camera, video camera, stereo system and encyclopedia set in one small tool. If my students are interested in learning about sharks, as my boys are, I can read books and talk to them and discuss sharks till I am blue in the face. We can draw sharks and pretend to be sharks. We can build a tank for sharks to habitat and can look on maps for where sharks live. But I can also, with my “shiny tech” show a video about a shark to take the fear of them away. I can look up information that I don’t have. My students can share their learning with another class, who might also love sharks. They can make connections with kids who live near sharks.
Doing these types of things is not stifling the imagination of young children, it is documenting their experiences and encouraging them to be imaginative. Raffi mentioned that showing a video of an animal prevents the child from imagining the animal’s movements and ways, and my argument then is, why should I let them build with blocks or cook with me? I can’t fathom saying to a child, “imagine baking a pie” when they have no idea what a pie is, or how it looks. I give them the experience. If they choose to create a mud pie outside, or “bake” a vegetable pie in the house center, it is because I have shown them and experienced baking with them. Using a device can show some of our underprivileged children, experiences they may never see. As Matt Gomez typed in the chat box during the conversation, “quality imagination does not just happen”. My ELL students have been able to show us where they come from in India, Korea and Russia. They are able to acquire language through the conversations and work with the device, and being in a lower socio-economic school, our 1 device gives us the opportunity to meet people in our own community, that we would never be able to meet without incurring large costs. For us to chat on twitter with a class in Newfoundland and find out we have similarities, is a joy. For my First Nations students, seeing pictures of drummers and First Nations people in Arizona was a thrill. We could not have had these experiences without some “Shiny Tech”. As Raffi himself once sang:
To everyone in all the world,
I reach my hand I shake their hand.
To everyone in all the world,
I shake my hand like this.
All all together,
The whole wide world around,
I may not know their lingo,
But I can say by jingo,
No matter where you live we can shake hands.
(Raffi, To Everyone In All The World, Baby Beluga Album)
We are shaking hands, and so much more, all on our “Shiny Tech”.