Technology versus teachers

How interchangeable are the two?

November 17, 2011

By Cassandra Smith

New technologies like the iPad have incredible potential as educational tools, but can excessive time spent with media have a detrimental effect on a child’s development?

Many child-development experts and contemporary educators agree that excessive time spent with television and computers can have a limiting effect on overall physical health, attention span and creativity.

“The TV screen, video games, movies, apart from the content on the screen, all lay down simple, repetitive neural pathways and actually shut down those areas of the brain that activate higher level thinking skills and powers of discrimination,” explains Shining Mountain Waldorf School of Boulder ’s website.

Dr. Glenda Walden of the sociology department at the University of Colorado said, “For Waldorf folks, the age up until seven is a time for really developing image creativity rather than symbolic creativity.”  When media is substituted for imaginative and creative play, movement is suppressed and the images the child interacts with are forced rather than created.

Some exceptions appear to be Apple’s three new productivity apps for iPad, Pages, Keynote (new version) , and Numbers. These apps are designed to aid teachers and somewhat older students in a two-way education process.  The interactive quality of this technology renders it an entirely novel way to learn.

But, some experts claim excessive time spent with media content that is not educational and interactive is detrimental to both the children and the education system itself.

“Whenever you engage with the media, any media, you begin to take things on faith,” claimed Jerry Mander in his book “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.”

“With television, the images just come,” he continued. “They flow into you at their own speed, and you are hard pressed to know a true image from one which is manufactured.”

Alternatively, when it comes to reading, children must think about the words on the page and mentally interpret the words into coherent meaning.  With one-way media, the interpretation is done for you.

Dr. Jane M. Healy, former teacher and author of “Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think And What We Can Do About It,” argues that television may also account for the decrease of the average attention span among American students.  She writes, “’I’ve modified my teaching methods because of their lack of attention span and their impatience. I don’t do much of the lecture-notetaking method.”

Healy is not alone.  During her research for her book, she found that “dumbing-down” lesson plans and assigning less reading have been trends for American teachers in the past couple decades.

In addition to these educational deficiencies, the content of the media itself may also be causing social problems for children.

“Many violent acts are perpetrated by the ’good guys,’ whom kids have been taught to admire. Even though kids are taught by their parents that it’s not right to hit, television says it’s OK to bite, hit, or kick if you’re the good guy. This can lead to confusion when kids try to understand the difference between right and wrong,” according to, a family and parenting community site.

Carol Springer, Boulder resident and mother of children ages 5 and 7, has seen the effects of both allowing media usage and controlling it.  Early this summer, she and her husband decided to restrict screen time for their children to a half an hour a day or less.

The decision was a result of an argument between her and their seven-year-old, Gabe.  He wanted to play video games instead of hike, and threw a tantrum when told he was not allowed.

“He was so angry, because it was the only thing he wanted to do.  That just happened so much that he shut off other options. It’s almost like he was attached to it, like an addiction or something,” said Springer. She responded by taking away television and video games as options.

Two weeks into the restriction, Springer said her children were extremely happy with the change, “They were like, ‘This is great! This is so much more fun.’  And then we got more engaged with them and started doing things like going to the swimming pool.”

Whether or not the Springer family’s success in attempting to control screen time is normal or not, they show that at least some contemporary children have not lost the urge to play and interact with something other than technology.