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The Reification Tanks Energizing Schooling Are Empty. Bring on the Toys and Games!

Posted By: Dick Schutz on December 11, 2003
Barrett makes a convincing case that the reified categories created by the government/academic complex which define (dis)ability are bad for both schooling and kids. But these reifications are only one aspect of a larger conceptual morass.

In the “Standards” established by governmental and professional bodies in various school subjects, the terms “domains,” “strands,” and “substrands” provide empty connections and relations among matters of “content.” These fictions impute a coherent, structure to an architecture that is rhetorical rather than operational.

In establishing NCLB “Accountability,” the terms “at grade level,” and “annual yearly progress” determined from ungrounded relative statistical indexes, make national aspirations for schooling a wishful Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.”

In reading instruction, the government/academic complex has brought forth a “new science of reading” based on a few hastily conducted statistical “meta-analyses.” The “new science” declares Reading to be comprised of five critical elements: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Comprehension, Vocabulary, and Fluency. This “science” is as advanced as the four elements of matter: earth, air, water, and fire, and the four humours of human health: blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. Yet billions of dollars are being allocated to “professional development” lecturing school personnel in the “science.”

Although she clearly and cogently describes the present situation re (dis)ability, Barrett fizzles out when proposing ameliorative action, apologizing that she may be part of the problem, and ending with a “out of left field,” let’s pretend that physical education rather than reading and math is the knowledge/performance that matters most. Actually, for many kids that is the present reality.

It’s possible to do better. I cite my TCRecord piece, http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=11024, not for its self-evident intrinsic merit (sic), but as evidence that it is quite feasible to generate operational architectures for schooling that offer attractive social benefits and economic savings. More architectures are needed.

Looking down the pike, I see salvation from an unexpected source: the toy and game industry. Advances in media/information technology, and in interactive text(symbols)-to-speech and speech-to-text(symbols) provide the wherewithal for efficient and effective individualized instruction. These technologies are currently being exploited in what are for the most part poorly-executed routing of telephone calls to corporations with the deep pockets to pay for the applications. But the applications are regularly getting better. The technologies are also being exploited by a few toy companies, such as LeapFrog, in toy devices for little kids and by a large number of companies in game devices for big kids and adults. At present, the instructional substance conveyed by these devices is virtually (and in reality) nil. At most, the little-kid toys purport to promote readiness and/or to supplement instruction. And the big-kid games do not pretend to do more than entertain.

I find it curious that neither the schooling complex nor the industrial complex has noted their mutual potential. The complexes function as two different worlds. Schooling views technology as big T--Technology, equating it with equipment and accompanying accoutrements, rather than as how-to capability. Industry, for its part, views Schooling as small s--schools, to be treated philanthropically rather than in the systematic way it treats other sectors. Dale Mann, Managing Director of Interactive, Inc. www.interactiveinc.org makes the point neatly:
“…the irony is that Microsoft typically does not use technology to teach technology…Instead, [the company relies on labor-intensive, face-to-face interactions that are older than DOS and even less effective.” http://www.eschoolnews.org/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4646&ref=wo
What holds for Microsoft holds for lesser companies.

Although the schooling complex and the industrial complex are currently far apart, my bet is that the two complexes will eventually stumble into each other to mutual advantage. When that happens, it will make current discourse regarding schooling and school improvement seem like baby talk. Bring ‘em on.

Dick Schutz
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 The Reification Tanks Energizing Schooling Are Empty. Bring on the Toys and Games! by Dick Schutz on December 11, 2003
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