Jane M. Healy, PhD
Jane M. Healy, PhD spoke to me in many different ways in her book, Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds- and What We Can Do About It. As I read this book I made notes regarding topics that stood out to me. When I read her story on “Connecting or Disconnecting” on page 169-170 tears came to my eyes and all arguments were put to rest. This concept totally completed the picture of the role technology is top play in society. Before I say anymore about this moment I will try to establish my thoughts throughout this book and this semester to see how it comes together with Dr. Healy’s touching story.
Our children are our future. This is a statement that is always true. It doesn’t matter what generation we are living in it is always the truth. Understanding this we are faced with the responsibility of making the best decisions for our children. Dr. Healy makes a wonderful attempt to help educate us, as parents and teachers, to make the best decisions. “Kids are always learning, but they’re not always learning what we think they’re learning- even with the help of technology!”(p.24) There will never be one idea or concept that totally solves all the problems of the world.
“In the United States, children are getting less fit by the year, and obesity rates among the young are increasing even more rapidly than among their parents. Teachers report they find many of today’s children overly stressed and anxious, and they blame lack of exercise for some cases of hyperactive behavior. Rushed lifestyles, pressure to do will in school, too many “lessons”, organized competitive sports, and scheduled activities add to their share of stress.”(p.121) I agree and disagree with this statement. I have commented on this previously in my reaction to Marshall McLuhan. This responsibility falls on the parents. I am a parent, physical education teacher, and a coach. The biggest obstacle that I face in my classroom is the lack of significance that is placed on exercise. If a student needs to be pulled out of class for tutoring or another “academic” need they are pulled out of physical education. This is a contradicting act. We write up students who do not dress out because they do not have the necessary class supplies, yet we take them out of class for something more important. Our children need to be fit and healthy. If they are not healthy they will shorten their life span. That doesn’t seem to be a fair trade. I disagree with the part of the statement “too many ‘lessons’, organized competitive sports, and scheduled activities add to their stress.”(p.121) How is a child supposed to learn how to play a game, understand a game, and be a good sport in the game without a “lesson”? I take offense in that statement. My class is just as important in a school day as any other class. If a classroom teacher were to tell his/her students that a lesson was no longer important he/she would have a hard time keeping a job. What’s the difference? As far as organized competitive sports goes they are not ‘bad’. Some children may not get any other exposure to exercise if it weren’t for organized sports. These organized sports teach our children many necessary life skills, also. The socialization skills that are taught are crucial for children. One argument against technology is the lack of socialization skills that are taught; yet they are critiquing one of the tools that can be used for that purpose. Sportsmanship is another aspect of team sports. We want our children to get along well with others whether we win or lose. These are just a few examples of how organized sport can be used as a positive rather than a negative.
The way that people talk about technology it seems that they expect our society to turn into a world of zombies. Technology is portrayed as something that will cause the world to lose its ability for us to be individuals. The image that comes to my mind from all that I have read is that people will do nothing except sit in front of a computer and work all day. God has given everyone a unique gift. This gift enables us to have a functioning society. If we all had the same gift then we wouldn’t have a complete society. We must all do our part to make this world be the best that it can be.
As with anything we must investigate the good and bad before we make any decisions. Technology is no different. There are many ideas out there on how the use of technology affects our health. One area of great concern is our eyesight. I can appreciate this concern because I have poor vision. However, my vision was poor before I began using computers. That is a factor that needs to be considered. There are many factors that contribute to poor vision other than technology. Dr. Healy says, “When asking Dr. Raymond Neutro at the California Department of Health Services to give some advice to pass along to parents he said ‘There’s a lot of controversy about this, so how careful are you going to be?”(p.119) That is the question that can only be answered by a parent. We are constantly finding out new information that may change what we’ve always thought. “We do know something about children’s exposure nowadays, and if children are three feet away from the computer- or from the TV, for that matter- they’re probably safe, he concluded.” (p.119) That only goes to prove that research findings are always changing, so we should try to base our decisions on what we feel is best for our children.
Having discussed these differences in people’s perspectives and opinions I will share with you how I feel the world should come together with technology. In order to fully comprehend the effect of this story I need to quote this entire passage.
“Connecting or Disconnecting”
“It is hot in the computer room this May morning in central Pennsylvania, but no one seems to notice. At each machine three heads bend earnestly over the keyboard, and today gray and white heads mingle with those of the children. Several ‘students” occupy wheelchairs. I am observing the eagerly anticipated “Elder-Kids Connection,” when nine- and ten-year-olds entertain their new friends from a nearby retirement home. Each elder faces a computer, with student teachers flanking each side.
‘I’ll never get it,’ sighs a crinkly-eyed grandmother. ‘These old hands and this old brain just can’t…’
‘Here, I’ll help you.’ A young hand guides hers. ‘It’s OK, you’ll get it, you’re doing great! Everyone has trouble the first time.’
A robust lady across the room is telling an enthralled audience about her early life in this part of Pennsylvania. ‘Well, when I was in school, if you were bad the teacher put a pointed hat on you and made you sit in the corner!’ She chuckles to the delighted horror of her young partners. ‘These days that teacher’s probably get sued.’
Farther down the line, a small boy strokes the hand of an elderly man, who smiles broadly as he puts his other arm around the child’s shoulder.
‘Wow!’ whispers the associate from the retirement home. ‘That fellow hasn’t smiled for months, and look at him. He’s grinning from ear to ear.’
The children’s teacher has tears in her eyes as she watches a lady in a wheelchair exchanging a gentle hug with two youngsters. They have been doing mental math problems; the kids have discovered their guest is faster than they are at this form of ‘computing’. The teacher draws me aside. ‘I can’t believe it. Some of these kids act barley human most of the time, but they’re the best ones.’
Judy Ulrich, technology coordinator for the district, agrees. ‘By the end of the day last year we were all in tears. The kids are studying Pennsylvania history, and these elders have so much to contribute. First they meet and the kids interview them about the history of the area. Then they help the elders compose a short personal history on the computers. But the best thing is just seeing the responses. Even with troubled kids, their compassionate human side just comes out in buckets and barrels.’
Ever the practical observer, I ask, ‘Of course, you wouldn’t have to use computers to get this kind of interaction, would you?’
‘Certainly not. But the elders love it, and the kids are so proud of being teachers. Now, if they get the home up on e-mail, we’re going to start writing to each other.’”
Maybe this spoke to me so much because my grandparents are in a nursing home. I frequently visit the home with my family. I watch the elderly people and to see the look of excitement on their face to see young children. I allow my children to brighten the day of these people. That is what life is all about. The young and the old are what this country is made of. The picture that this story paints for me is like a work of art. The children and the elderly sharing life stories showing where our country has been and where it is going utilizing tools that society is providing.
Healy, Jane M. Failure to Connect-How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds- and
What We Can Do About It. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1999.