Imagine you’re a homeowner who wants to calculate what your bank account will look like at the end of the year. If you’re a boomer, you’re pulling out a pencil and a piece of paper and doing some quick math. If you’re a Gen-Xer you’re probably opening Excel. In either case, you’re both most likely employing a basic algebraic formula to perform your calculation. But, if you’re a student in today’s public schools, chances are you’ll never have any idea how to perform that kind of math. Instead, you’ll be really great at using the chat service on your bank’s website to get a customer service representative to do the math for you.
Google is helping to drive a philosophical change in public education — prioritizing training children in skills like teamwork and problem-solving while de-emphasizing the teaching of traditional academic knowledge, like math formulas.
I was working in the public schools when Google first got hot in suburbia roughly five years ago. A colleague of mine then had two children in school: Her son in high school was just old enough to miss out on the new technology initiatives forced on her daughter in middle school. My colleague was up in arms. Her daughter spent her entire 8th grade year learning how to operate a Chromebook and use Google Apps to navigate school life instead of learning actual subject matter. When it came time to conquer state tests, the entire middle school staff went into panic mode. Not only did their kids not know basic facts, most of them still didn’t understand how to look them up using their Chromebooks. What’s more, their ability to look up facts didn’t really matter since they weren’t allowed, at that point, to use their Chromebooks during testing. To say the experiment was a nightmare is an understatement. Yet, educators persist using buzzwords like “teamwork” and “collaboration.” Why?
Children used to learn how to work in teams by doing simple everyday things like playing outside with friends. It’s amazing how quickly children learn how to collaborate and delegate when left to their own devices. Young adults would achieve further mastery in team building skills by getting jobs. It’s amazing how much working a minimum wage job after school and on the weekends can teach you about getting along well with others in a professional environment. These experiences are lost on a new generation forced inside and in front of a screen all day. Increased academic pressures push teens into colleges that train them for middle-management positions they’re expected to enter upon graduating without ever actually having worked a day in their lives.
To be sure, there is a time and place to learn the skill set proffered through Google apps in the classroom. However, parents should be questioning why apps are the only skill set being hammered away at morning, noon, and night, often at the expense of actual learning. What’s more, the Times piece points out that Google isn’t giving away this seemingly “free” technology without exacting a price: Millions of students are being groomed to become future customers whose personal data reaps daily financial rewards for the tech giant. In other words, Google knows these kids are going to be dependent on their products for decades to come, whether it’s to look up a fact, perform a calculation, or simply log into G-chat to catch up with friends. Which should lead parents and educators alike to question whose brain is really growing in this scenario: the student’s or Google’s?