Slow seeing

If you want to kill a child's interest in astronomy, buy her the biggest piece of glass you can afford the first hour she expresses any interest in the stars. Make sure it's got a computer-guided star finder, and that it "talks" to her as she explores the skies. Better yet, have her log onto a remote telescope where she can "guide" the scope to spectacular deep sky objects, seeing details on a screen that would dazzle Galileo himself.

I wouldn't give a child on a tricycle the keys to a Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300R just because she's decided she want to advance to a bicycle (even if motorcycles did come with training wheels).

There is a push, a huge push, to digitize classrooms, to get connected, to leap into the 21st century. It's all quite exciting, and there's plenty of money to be made, and ooh, shiny, shiny!

Many of those who hawk promote the digital classroom, presumably for the best interests of the children, seem particularly prone to a binary view of the universe. If you're not with us, you're against us.

I know they are busy people--so many new gadgets, so little time to master the New Best Thing--but they're screwing up the ed world a bit with their listlessness. I'll make this quick.

A child who cannot see the grace of a caterpillar using only her eyes and enough free time to think will not benefit from a magnifying glass.

A child who cannot see the finer details offered by a magnifying glass, a tool used with the caterpillar still whole (and alive), will gain nothing by looking at a slide of caterpillar tissue under a microscope, and the child might reasonably ask if you really needed to kill the caterpillar.

Gypsy moth caterpillar, by Materialscientist

Here's my point. Put down the iPad for a moment, stop texting, let your scattered thoughts dissipate.

Humans have the same cognitive and sensory tools today that we had a few generations ago. Observing the world is an acquired skill that cannot be learned through a screen. It requires interest, it requires time, and it requires building an internal scaffold that allows the child to make some sense of this universe.

Very few high school sophomores observe well, and it's to our shame that those who do, often do despite their formal education. My best students of the natural world are often the least able to function in a classroom.

Before you jam down the latest version of the Graflex Schoolmaster 750 filmstrip projector into my classroom--and when you get down to it, the Smart Board doesn't add a whole lot to the original concept--make sure you have given me enough time and space to teach the children how to see.

Give that much room, then you can have them to manipulate as you will. If I have done my work well, their excrement detectors will scream at the crap that passes for rational discourse these days. Good teachers--parents, neighbors, school teachers, librarians, the corner philosopher ranting at the #34 NJ Transit bus every time it rolls by--focus on meeting a child where she is in the universe, and just about all children are a decade or two away from mastering a scanning electron microscope or a raging road bike like the Suzuki Hayabusa GSX1300. Some of them will never be ready for either, and that's OK, too.

Ironically, anyone who takes the time to look around can see that we are blindly headed to catastrophe. We cannot afford another generation of Americans who think they'd rather not think.

The Suzuki phot came from Motorcycle Best Picture blog--don't know yet who to credit.
The caterpillar is from Wikipedia by Materialscientist, released under GNU FDL
The Brayco Projector ad taken from The Bray Animation Project, permission pending

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