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Teachers vs. Kids: Tech Smackdown

That’s just the way it is,
Some things will never change.
That’s just the way it is,
But don’t you believe them.

The Way It Is
Bruce Hornsby

A few weeks back I read a tweet that just burned me up—so much so that I decided, after about 9 years of waffling, that it was time to start blogging…

The originally tweeted article covers how Ohio school children are teaching their teachers about technology and it’s worth a quick read. While I applaud learning, no matter where it comes from, and I’m sure their efforts will improve their school, the look-at-how-much-we’re-changing, back-slapping nature of the article and Jen Petras’s response to my re-titling expose a fatal misconception among educators: “Kids know more than teachers about technology and that’s just the way it is,” and it’s equally fatal corollary, “The solution is to take classes.”

I feel sure that Jen Petras’s attitude is a common one so I don’t mean to pick specifically on her, but I have to say that the statement, “kids will always know more about tech,” is at best defeatist and at worst ignorant. It might be (lamentably) true now, but where is the evidence that it will always be that way? Look, where I come from, you can’t just say whatever you want without justification, even on Twitter.

In fact, since it’s 2012, I would go as far as to argue that teachers should know more than students about technology:

  1. First, teachers should know more simply because they’re supposed to be teaching it to their students! It’s clear to everyone who hasn’t been under a rock for two decades that kids need to learn technology to function in today’s world. And I believe teachers would confess to their responsibility to adequately prepare kids for life after school. Yet, where is the outcry against teachers who haven’t learned the material themselves? If this article was “kids organize geometry class for lagging teachers” or “students found to be best tutors for sentence diagramming,” teachers would freak—yet not when it concerns technology; why is that? Teachers need to see tech as being as important as any other skill (and certainly more important than sentence diagramming).
  2. Teachers really don’t need to know that much to “know enough.” How to keep the classroom free of destructive technological forces (basic security) and how to incorporate some simple technologies (websites, video editing, etc.) is all they need to get kids rolling on inspirational and educational projects.
  3. Finally, and most importantly, teachers possess more learning skills and more motivation to learn technology than kids. There’s no way a 12-year old is better at filtering, connecting and applying information than a teacher. It’s what they do (everyday) and what they teach others to do (again, everyday). Teachers also love learning, probably more than the average 12-year old. Maybe teachers don’t have the money to purchase the latest gadgets (why they don’t have that money is a different discussion), but most of the technologies they need to teach their students are free anyway.

“So,” you might ask, “if there are so many reasons for teachers to know more than kids, why don’t they?” Good question. Salsich takes a beautiful stab at the answer in his post, “Do Teachers Need to Relearn How to Learn?” His conclusion: teachers don’t know tech because they don’t know how to learn in a self-directed manner. Most have only undergraduate- or master’s-level schooling from some occidental university—a system notorious for spoon feeding, and a formula sure to leave graduates addicted to said spoon. Kids, on the other hand, are getting a first-class education in self-directed learning: lots of free time fooling around (due to agrarian school scheduling), making a bunch of mistakes, and showing their friends what they’ve learned and built.

Basically, teachers just don’t do their homework. I know teachers work full-time and are underpaid, and I’d love to fix those problems, but they’re still responsible for keeping up with the times. I’m a software engineer and no one’s lining up to extend me sympathy for the overtime it takes me to learn the latest technologies—it’s part of my job, and I either do it and flourish or I don’t and I get downsized. Simple.

Ok, so how can teachers change? Salsich helps us identify how: first by dispelling the notion that more professional development (a.k.a., “classes taught by kids,” a.k.a., “more spoons”) is the answer to teachers’ persistent tech ignorance. Instead, teachers need to learn how to Google. Yep, that’s it, just learn how to Google. This might sound ridiculous to most “normals,” but any “computer expert” would immediately agree. When I coach the interns at my office, I rarely “instruct” them in the traditional sense (sage on the stage, diagrams and rhetoric), instead I teach them how to search for what they want to know. That’s how I learned 85% of what I know, so it must work. You see, we computer experts (including the kids) learned everything we know from fooling around and asking Google, a process humorously yet accurately depicted in XKCD:

So that’s it. Have a question? Google it. Do some good old-fashion research. And if you’re an educator, please stop believing that kids will always know more than you—about the latest video game, the hottest designer jeans or last night’s dunk contest, sure, but about technology, no way. Take back your classroom and show them who’s the teacher and who’s the student!