This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a press release warning parents and caregivers that babies and toddlers should learn from play, not screens. While I appreciate the pro-play stance, the AAP continues to frame children's interactions with media as "exposure"--a term that connotes radiation. However, the research cited in an AAP press presentation shows their concern is not medical but educational, focusing on potential harm to language and literacy development.
RELYING ON OUTDATED MODELS OF LITERACY
The AAP's pathologization of children's media consumption links to a narrow definition of early literacy that devolves to that which can be easily counted or measured. For example, in the AAP's statement, the quality of language interaction is defined by "talk time", measured by counting the number of words spoken between parent and child. In this view, language = words only. There is a zero sum game going on here where language/literacy development depends on attending to auditory information but making sense of visual information on a screen is a distraction. No semiotic value is attached to a child's reading of screen animation in this very passive view of children as language and literacy learners, media consumers, and technology users. P. David Pearson and Richard Allington, noted early literacy scholars, discuss the impact of similar constrained views of children's reading in a podcast on the Casualties of Policy on Early Literacy Development.
In contrast, educational research on new literacies now recognizes an expanded view of language and literacy. We've moved on from Back to Basics (Literacy 1.0 such as video flash cards) to New Basics (Literacy 2.0 such as interactive social media). Recent research on Literacy 2.0 shows that texts are moving from primarily verbal messages on a page to complex assemblages on screens that use many modes, including verbal, image, gesture, animation, etc. In fact, Apple is exploring gesture-based controls for technology devices (via CNN).
SOCIAL CLASS AND THE APP GAP
The AAP targets television only, taking an agnostic position on apps and iPads, citing a lack of research: "We just don't know yet." However, TV is the dominant (maybe the only) screen for most low income children according to 0 to 8 research by Victoria Rideout. This produces an "app gap" when young children in affluent families have 24/7 access to interactive apps where they can not only consume but more important, produce and share their own media texts while low-income families with young children are urged to turn off their primary source of media, including PBS and educational programming.
If affluent households provide abundant apps and low-income households are screen-deprived, it will once again fall to the schools to provide some sort of technological equity for young children. However, few preschool and kindergarten teachers currently have the resources to do this. Even innovative teachers who find resources face filters, firewalls, and no Facebook policies that discourage rather than encourage young children's use of new media.
To see a kindergarten that shows the possibilities of teaching with screens, check out the Precious Moments blog in my Blog List on the right. You'll notice that this classroom is not located in the U.S. Another indication that it's time for American policymakers to move beyond guilty-until-proven-innocent approaches to technology use in early childhood?