Great Letter from a Maryland Parent

The author,Morna McDermott, wrote a letter to Baltimore County Public Schools and published at her blog, Educationalchemy.  It's titled, "Letter for BCPS Parents: My Child is Not a Pipeline."  (Thanks to parent, Carolyn Leith, for the heads up.)

Like this mom, it's super important to be asking these questions NOW.

Dear County Council Members,

I am writing on behalf of concerned BCPS parents regarding the newest rounds of BCPS policy involving STAT (specially the leasing of 1:1 devices, the amount of assessment and instructional time spent on devices, and data privacy).
  • We, the community, know there is something fundamentally wrong with the increased push toward technology based instruction and assessments in lieu of human and collaborative interactions. Yet, our voices are being ignored.
  • There is no data to suggest that moving away from existing models of instruction and assessment and toward (so called) “personalized” device driven instruction is any better for children.
  • There is ample evidence suggesting that the switch toward more online providers for teaching and learning are driven by economics (saving money for the district and profits for the companies who lobbied for the policies) thus outing money over human health and well-being. The people directly involved with education technology industry and policy are quick to tell you that every child “needs” 21st century skills, that they “need” to be educated more and more via online methods. Yet, they have NO evidence to show this is in fact “necessary.” So ask….WHY? It’s on YOU, the BCPS policy makers to pause and ask yourselves this question.
Because here’s what we DO know. Online device-driven instruction leads to:
  • Increased risks of obesity-increased seat time
  • Reduction of opportunities to engage with multiple learning styles: kinesthetic, social, verbal, environmental…all reduced to visual screen time.
  • Loss of socialization and development of social cuing.
“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” said Yalda Uhls, a senior researcher with UCLA’s Children’s Digital Media Center, in a news release. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”

Kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens, and it may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions, according to new research out of the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Damage to eyes, hands/wrists, and neck.
“Children can develop pain in their fingers and wrists, narrowed blood vessels in their eyes (the long-term consequences of which are unknown), and neck and back pain from being slumped over their phones, tablets and computers.”
  • Loss of data privacy = online platforms delivered to third party organizations who track every response and behavior your child makes in their learning process. Every bit tracked and monitored and managed. My child is not an unwilling consumer forced to share private information simply because a private company (like Pearson or KIPP) has been made an LEA.
  • Increases ADHD-like symptoms. “Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.”
  • An adrenaline driven mentality to learning (like addiction). As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome.These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention…excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties
So please, as you decide to vote to spend more monies on technology (simply because it seems like the “in” thing or “cool” thing to do because well, “everybody’s doing it”) consider this: Years from now, after learning has been destroyed for a generation of our children because of the lack of thought you put into the decisions you are making for them today, you may find yourselves taking a stand. We, the community will be demanding  from you an account for your ignorance and negligence in the face of facts, concerns, and plain common sense which we are presenting to you today. If we learn from anything from history its how not to repeat the same mistakes. Don’t destroy a generation of our children for the sake of politics and power. Schools should not be a pipeline of profit (and surveillance) between our children’s data and corporations. Be better than that. Hit the pause button and learn the facts before making decisions that will lead to irreparable harm for our children and our public schools.

Morna McDermott McNulty
BCPS parent and Professor of Education, Towson University


Anonymous said…
Yes. Thank you.

-NW Mom
chunga said…
Terrific letter!

Technology is great and I think can have a place in education, but so much is profit drive and divorced from sound educational practices.
z said…
This connects with another post here on this blog about Sacajawea getting one-to-one computing for all 3rd, 4th, 5th graders.

This is really troubling. As parents, we have to stand up and push back against these initiatives. There is likely no meaningful benefit, and a lot of risks (as explained in this very post, above), and the district's IT dept just wants to keep throwing more and more tech into classrooms without any real, public, plan on how it's to be used.

Seriously, kids as young as 8 years old? We need to start making waves, pushing back to find out what the plans are for using this tech in elementary school. Having computers available in the library for occasional supervised research is one thing, but one-to-one implies a very different model.

What software will the kids be allowed (or forced?) to use? How are the risks above addressed (socialization, hands/wrists, obesity, ADHD, brain development)? How do we prevent our very young children from having their behavior and personality traits tracked by outside companies?

If we sit back idly and ignore this stuff as it weaves its way into the fabric of our young childrens' education model, it's going to be nearly impossible to get control of later.
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