Tech with Intention

HotNews Jan 11, 2017

Here we are in Silicon Valley, the neonatal ward of technology that revolutionizes the world, and Peninsula School is decidedly a “low tech” school. How come? I’m asked that often during prospective parent tours. An article in the NYT written by law professor Darren Rosenblum recently provided me with some answers from the college and legal world that are perhaps more relevant to an elementary school in Silicon Valley.

Mr. Rosenblum bemoaned the loss of interactions between professor and student and the dialog students have with each other. This, he reasoned, has been the result of the trance-like focus students have for the laptop screens in front of them in classes. “Education,” he writes, “requires constant interaction in which professor and students are fully present for an exchange.” 

While Rosenblum teaches law, two skills he argues that are essential for budding lawyers are also important for young students no matter what work they imagine doing when they grow up. “Students need two skills to succeed as lawyers and professionals: listening and communicating.” These skills, he writes, are being diminished by laptops. As a result, laptops are banned from Rosenblum’s classroom.

Aside from assistive technology, laptops don’t appear in Peninsula classrooms until 5th grade for the same reason — kids need to have face-to-face interactions. And when they are used in upper school, it’s for less than an hour a day. You see, schools have this incredible opportunity, when children are together as a group, to teach them the importance of community, of collaboration, and of diversity. This is our golden opportunity to help children practice the skills they will need to be productive and compassionate citizens of the world, and we don’t get the opportunity again. 

Not all interactions children have are as positive and productive as one would wish, but the great work of a talented teaching staff comes into play to help students learn that growth comes from being out of one’s comfort zone, when two people face each other and listen to different perspectives. 

As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, we live again in a time when our nation is philosophically polarized. It is a time that requires us to face each other, to listen and reach beyond our comfort zones. Yet as Dr. King demonstrated, these times also require us to engage with others to communicate clearly and precisely, especially about what we passionately believe is just.