UPDATE and CORRECTION: No Child Left Inside is the name of a movement, but the "book of the same name" is not what I was talking about. I got that mixed up with the book Last Child in the Woods. Sorry for the confusion! I blame the mix of allergies and allergy medicine!
Kids aren't stopping playing outdoors because of video games. Kids are playing video games because they are being prohibited from public spaces. We have taken most of our public spaces away from young people, turned them into malls where you no longer have civil liberties; instead, there's a user agreement over the door that says management has the right to deny entry at any time. [Emphasis mine]
This touches on a concept I've wanted to write about for awhile, but haven't been able to sit down and collect my thoughts enough to pen something that clearly communicates what I want to say. I'm still not sure what I want to say, except that I find some reoccurring and conflicting popular opinions being voiced with respect to the way children should be educated or told to act. I'm using the passive voice on purpose here. Because I think the very notion that there's one right way to educate or bring up children is crap, and I think the notion that children are completely passive in this and have no ability to make productive decisions about how to spend their time is also crap.
Crap aside, there are two things I keep hearing about. One is the No Child Left Inside concept. I would like to point out here that I have not yet read the book of the same name. I am familiar with the concept because I have worked so much in environmental education. A good example of this is the documentary Play Again, which a co-worker lent me a few months ago. This article provides a good summary of the documentary.
The other thing I keep hearing about comes up in discussions about budget cuts to schools and education programs around the country. Many of the educators interviewed lament the loss of funds to provide technology to children. As a result, I've heard about how different elementary and middle school are now than they were when I was a kid. Students watch Internet videos about the rainforests instead of seeing filmstrips. I can't provide a link to the radio program I heard, because I have no idea what it was or when it was, but the teacher being interviewed asserted that because her students were able to see a video of some endangered bird in a rainforest, they felt a connection to the cause of environmental conservation. This is just one example, but not the only one. My teacher and librarian friends tell me how their students make PowerPoint presentations in lieu of papers sometimes, or how libraries are really Media Centers now.
I think a lot of people in the No Child Left Inside camp would balk at this and say you could also get students to feel connected to environmental conservation just by taking them outside, not to the rainforest, but to their own local environment.
What I would say is, my fellow idealistic third graders and I felt compelled to SAVE THE PLANET when we were younger just by seeing a filmstrip about birds in the rainforest, or seeing a picture in a textbook, or by hearing a compelling lecture by a good teacher.
I don't really know what I am trying to say. That's why I never wrote about this before. I don't have a conclusion or a solution to propose. I just think there's some disconnect or conflict here -- many people believe that young people spend too much time looking at "screens", such as computers, television, and phones, but on the other hand, many people feel that technology is necessary to education.
The Cory Doctorow quote above adds another level of understanding to this. Children are being left inside because where else are they going to go? Public outdoor spaces are disappearing. They are told it's unsafe to outside unsupervised and sometimes, that is because it truly is. I'm lucky to live in a neighborhood I can walk in safely, with little crime and lots of sidewalks. This notion of being allowed outside is another layer.
This is not a conclusion, but I don't think technology is essential to education. I think it is a tool like any other, and not the only tool. I think the other tools, such as books, experiences, and most of all, good teachers, are important. I also do not think that technology--"screen time"--and time spent "in nature" are mutually exclusive. This could be my own personal bias--I spend a lot of time on my computer, and when I'm not on my computer I might be texting on my phone or reading something on my Nook, but also I somehow manage to spend a lot of time outdoors! And this is not just because I get Internet signal in my front yard!
What do you think?