Before I begin, let me make a very clear statement:
I don’t believe that technology in our classrooms is a silver bullet. Adding technology cannot alone increase engagement, empower our students, and lead to academic and life success (during and long after school is over). Yet, the recent set of articles from NPR and Time Magazine (among others) that paint a picture of technology as a detriment to learning is both limited in scope and altogether a one-sided argument that does not allow for a gray area to appear. Technology, as with any other tool used for learning, can be helpful or detrimental depending on how it is used, the purpose, and the connection to what’s happening inside our brain! That being said, our world is flush with technology and it is increasing at an exponential pace. It’s not going away. We can either choose to run from it or choose to leverage it in practical, challenging, inspiring, and useful ways now and in the future.
On August 31st, 2016, right at the cusp of a new school year, Time Magazine released an article by Dr. Kardaras, the author of the new book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids—and How to Break the Trance. The book, which I have recently read, is an eye-opening account of what can happen when kids and adults suffer from technology and video game addiction. Dr. Karadaras goes to lengths to show a connection/correlation between technology and a wide variety of mental health issues that could arise from the overuse as a child or adult. In the book he advocates for a balanced life style and age appropriate exposure to technology.
Just as we have books that believe the role of technology to is to change everyone’s lives for the better (think Bold or Abundance by Peter Diamandis), I guess it is to be expected to have books like Glow Kids that take an opposite and contradictory approach to the benefits and drawbacks of technology.
However, the article, titled “Screens in School are a $60 Billion Hoax”, in Time Magazine is different. It misrepresented technology as a) awful for students all the time, b) implemented by naive educators and administrators who don’t know much about technology, c) having no benefits to learning, and d) only being used in schools because big companies are pushing it on us in the education sector in order to make money.
What really upset me as a father, teacher, and now school administrator is the same things that upset me when I wrote a recent response to an NPR article denigrating technology use in the classroom: There are millions of parents, teachers, and community members that read these articles and use this as their sole reason not to use technology in the classroom, or advocate for school-wide programs that level the digital equity gap we see across this nation.
Furthermore, as I go at length to show below, the entire article is filled with logical fallacies to support the argument against technology.
A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Logical fallacies are like tricks or illusions of thought, and they’re often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people.
I would have liked to point out a few of these logical fallacies to the author in the comments of the article, but comments were not made available on the Time Magazine site, and thus most of the conversation around this piece came on Facebook, Twitter, and other online areas. I welcome comments below and would like to continue a dialogue around this topic!
Below is a list of excerpts from the article I shared above (and feel free to read the entire article on Time Magazine’s website here). Each excerpt is linked to a logical fallacy, which is partly why I take offense to much of the article as a one-sided piece.
The screen revolution has seen pedagogy undergo a seismic shift as technology now dominates the educational landscape. In almost every classroom in America today, you will find some type of screen—smartboards, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones. From inner-city schools to those in rural and remote towns, we have accepted tech in the classroom as a necessary and beneficial evolution in education.
This is a lie.
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: Strawman
You misrepresented someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.
By exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just completely fabricating someone’s argument, it’s much easier to present your own position as being reasonable, but this kind of dishonesty serves to undermine honest rational debate.[/color-box]
Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD,screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.
Education technology is estimated to become a $60 billion industry by 2018. With the advent of the Common Core in 2010, which nationalized curriculum and textbooks standards, the multi-billion-dollar textbook industry became very attractive for educational gunslingers looking to capitalize on the new Wild West of education technology. A tablet with educational software no longer needed state-by-state curricular customization. It could now be sold to the entire country.
This new Gold Rush attracted people like Rupert Murdoch, not otherwise known for his concern for American pedagogy, who would go on to invest over $1 billion into an ed-tech company called Amplify, with the stated mission of selling every student in America their proprietary tablet—for only $199—along with the software and annual licensing fees.
Amplify hired hundreds of video game designers to build educational videogames—while they and other tech entrepreneurs attempted to sell the notion that American students no longer had the attention span for traditional education. Their solution: Educate them in a more stimulating and “engaging” manner.
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: Anecdotal
You used a personal experience or an isolated example instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence.
It’s often much easier for people to believe someone’s testimony as opposed to understanding complex data and variation across a continuum. Quantitative scientific measures are almost always more accurate than personal perceptions and experiences, but our inclination is to believe that which is tangible to us, and/or the word of someone we trust over a more ‘abstract’ statistical reality.[/color-box]
But let’s look more closely at that claim. ADHD rates have indeed exploded by 50 percent over the past 10 years with the CDC indicating that rates continue to rise by five percent per year. Yet many researchers and neuroscientists believe that this ADHD epidemic is a direct result of children being hyper-stimulated. Using hyper-stimulating digital content to “engage” otherwise distracted students exacerbates the problem that it endeavors to solve. It creates a vicious and addictive ADHD cycle: The more a child is stimulated, the more that child needs to keep getting stimulated in order to hold their attention.
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: Composition/division
You assumed that one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it; or that the whole must apply to its parts.
Often when something is true for the part it does also apply to the whole, or vice versa, but the crucial difference is whether there exists good evidence to show that this is the case. Because we observe consistencies in things, our thinking can become biased so that we presume consistency to exist where it does not.[/color-box]
Murdoch’s Amplify wasn’t the only dubious ed-tech cash-grab. The city of Los Angeles had entered into a $1.3 billion contract in 2014 to buy iPads loaded with Pearson educational software for all of its 650,000 K through 12 students—until the FBI investigated its contract and found that now-former Superintendent John Deasy had a close relationship with Apple and Pearson executives. (Before the deal was killed in December 2014, the Pearson platform had incomplete and essentially worthless curriculum and such feeble security restrictions students that bypassed them in weeks.)
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: Black-or-White
You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities when in fact more possibilities exist.
Also known as the false dilemma, this insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented. Binary, black-or-white thinking doesn’t allow for the many different variables, conditions, and contexts in which there would exist more than just the two possibilities put forth. It frames the argument misleadingly and obscures rational, honest debate.[/color-box]
Despite the Amplify and LA debacles, others still seek to convince naïve school administrators that screens are the educational panacea. Yet as more American schools lay off teachers while setting aside scarce budget dollars for tech, many educators and parents alike have begun to ask: Do any of these hypnotic marvels of the digital age actually produce better educational outcomes for the kids who use them?
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Emotion
You attempted to manipulate an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument.
Appeals to emotion include appeals to fear, envy, hatred, pity, pride, and more. It’s important to note that sometimes a logically coherent argument may inspire emotion or have an emotional aspect, but the problem and fallacy occurs when emotion is used instead of a logical argument, or to obscure the fact that no compelling rational reason exists for one’s position. Everyone, bar sociopaths, is affected by emotion, and so appeals to emotion are a very common and effective argument tactic, but they’re ultimately flawed, dishonest, and tend to make one’s opponents justifiably emotional.[/color-box]
We could look to Finland, whose school system routinely ranks toward the top globally and has chosen to skip the tech and standardized testing. Instead, Finnish students are given as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, regardless of the weather—while here, a sedentary American child sitting in front of a glowing screen playing edu-games while over-scheduled and stressed by standardized testing is seen as the Holy Grail.
Dr. Kentaro Toyama, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, once believed that technology in the classroom could solve the problems of modern urban education. No Luddite, he had received his Ph.D. in computer science from Yale and had moved to India in 2004 to help found a new research lab for Microsoft; while there, he became interested in how computers, mobile phones and other technologies could help educate India’s billion-plus population.
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: Appeal to authority
You said that because an authority thinks something, it must therefore be true.
It’s important to note that this fallacy should not be used to dismiss the claims of experts, or scientific consensus. Appeals to authority are not valid arguments, but nor is it reasonable to disregard the claims of experts who have a demonstrated depth of knowledge unless one has a similar level of understanding and/or access to empirical evidence. However it is, entirely possible that the opinion of a person or institution of authority is wrong; therefore the authority that such a person or institution holds does not have any intrinsic bearing upon whether their claims are true or not.[/color-box]
The list of supporting education experts and researchers is long:
- The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes” and that: “In the end, technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”
- An exhaustive meta-study conducted by Durham University in 2012 that systemically reviewed 48 studies examining technology’s impact on learning found that “technology-based interventions tend toproduce just slightly lower levels of improvement when compared with other researched interventions and approaches.”
- The Alliance for Children, a consortium of some of the nation’s top educators and professors, in a 2000 report concluded: “School reform is a social challenge, not a technological problem…a high-tech agenda for children seems likely to erode our most precious long-term intellectual reserves—our children’s minds.”
- Patricia Greenfield, distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA, analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and points out that reading for pleasure among young people has decreased in recent decades, which is problematic because “studies show that reading develops imagination, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary…in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not.”
- Education psychologist and author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds Jane Healy spent years doing research into computer use in schools and, while she expected to find that computers in the classroom would be beneficial, now feels that “time on the computer might interfere with development of everything from the young child’s motor skills to his or her ability to think logically and distinguish between reality and fantasy.”
John Vallance, a Cambridge scholar and headmaster of Australia’s top K-through-12 school, Sydney Grammer, has said: “I think when people come to write the history of this period in education…this investment in classroom technology is going to be seen as a huge fraud.”
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: The Texas sharpshooter
You cherry-picked a data cluster to suit your argument, or found a pattern to fit a presumption.
This ‘false cause’ fallacy is coined after a marksman shooting randomly at barns and then painting bullseye targets around the spot where the most bullet holes appear, making it appear as if he’s a really good shot. Clusters naturally appear by chance, but don’t necessarily indicate that there is a causal relationship.[/color-box]
There has also been surprising research coming out of Canada: Students don’t even prefer e-learning over traditional education. In a 2011 study, researchers found that students actually preferred “ordinary, real-life lessons” to using technology. Those results surprised the researchers: “It is not the portrait that we expected, whereby students would embrace anything that happens on a more highly technological level. On the contrary—they really seem to like access to human interaction, a smart person at the front of the classroom.”
We are projecting our own infatuation with shiny technology, assuming our little digital natives would rather learn using gadgets—while what they crave and need is human contact with flesh-and-blood educators.
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: The fallacy fallacy
You presumed that because a claim has been poorly argued, or a fallacy has been made, that the claim itself must be wrong.
It is entirely possible to make a claim that is false yet argue with logical coherency for that claim, just as is possible to make a claim that is true and justify it with various fallacies and poor arguments.[/color-box]
Schools need to heed this research in order to truly understand how to best nurture real intrinsic learning and not fall for the Siren song of the tech companies—and all of their hypnotic screens.
At the risk of committing the same logical fallacies in my argument (see below for the possible logical fallacy I could commit!) I avoided combatting cherry-picked research above with my own cherry-picked research for the benefit of technology in schools (i.e. Project Red).
This post was more about looking at how we can talk about issues like this, and bring up valid research on both sides of the fence, without taking a one-sided approach and stance on an issue that is going to impact our kids in schools around the country.
Would love to hear your comments below, but try not to commit “tu quoque” in your comment 🙂
[color-box]Logical Fallacy: tu quoque
You avoided having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser – you answered criticism with criticism.
Pronounced too–kwo–kwee. Literally translating as ‘you too’ this fallacy is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. It is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism.[/color-box]
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