Monday, October 7, 2013

Technology Deserts and Other Imaginaries of Childhood

Notions of childhood morph as rapidly as the technologies that zip in and out of our daily lives in an endless stream of updates: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and so on.  As early childhood teachers, our visions of childhood shape how we teach young children who are living immersed in rapidly shifting technologies, literacies, and global innovation. Our teacher imaginaries about childhood cause us to offer one literacy to children while making another technology-based literacy off-limits. On one hand, visions of developmentally appropriate practice privilege “natural” materials, creating oases in our classrooms from a daily barrage of popular media and glowing screens. On the other hand, a vision of young children as "digital natives" and teachers as "technology laggards" blames teachers for turning the early childhood education landscape into a widespread technology desert. 

However if we recognize that our imaginaries of childhood are dynamic and negotiated ideas, we can open up possibilities to look critically at these visions, question our assumptions, and reconsider ways of doing things. We can question:
  • Can technoliteracies be compatible with developmentally appropriate approaches? Can we argue for digital play spaces as not only appropriate but necessary? 
  • Can we retool an "all-natural" and "commercial-free" classroom to support children's actual popular media knowledge, literacy resources, and technological repertoires? 
  • Do our own assumptions and reluctance to provide experiences with technology in early childhood education perpetuate ongoing digital inequities built upon economic and gender disparity? 
  • Or are early childhood teachers being blamed as technology laggards when the real issue is under-resourced classrooms and over-stretched budgets unable to afford up-to-date iPads and touchscreens?
Digital toys and tools are expensive and out of reach for many families as well as for many early childhood classrooms.  A financial divide separates not only have and have-not households but also early education centers--doubly discouraging as schools are the key site for ensuring equitable and regular access to new literacies for all children.  Recently in Literacy Playshop workshops, I've talked with many preschool teachers excited to try apps, iPads, and filmmaking with young children. Their faces fall when they discover the price of tablets; even the $100 for the now-discontinued  Flip cam would be out-of-reach. These dedicated preschool teachers who fund so much of their curriculum out of their own pockets have no idea how to find the money to bring digital tools into their classrooms. In these cases, we are asking all the wrong questions. The root of technology deserts in early childhood education is not teacher resistance based on a romantic vision of natural child but the pernicious and systemic under-funding of early childhood education.  

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