"Pretty Dumb"

The Assumption

I was searching for an article that would inspire, but instead came upon one that utterly irritated me. “Dumb But Pretty” by Joanne Jacobs is an article that skewers the existing technology for encouraging children to learn software that makes projects pretty but not substantive.

She writes “Writing is hard. But PowerPoint doesn't require complete sentences. "Kaytelyn" throws in a few bullet points and arrows, perhaps a little animation or a video clip to impress the teacher. If it looks good, it's good enough.”

Ms. Jacobs misses the point of advancing technology; it is the means, not the end. Of course, PowerPoint does not require sentences, that is the teacher’s job. Yes, we still have one. Most of the teachers I know are not dazzled by graphics so much so that they forget to look at the project itself. The teachers she so lovely describes sound a bit contrived and one dimensional to me. Were these the same teachers giving the best grades to reports twenty years ago with the prettiest hand drawn cover?

Again people always want to blame the so-called demise of youth on outside forces from Elvis, to television, to movies and now PowerPoint and technology for god sakes. Yes, we as Americans live in an increasingly superficial society, but that is pervasive at all levels, and we as teachers have the age-old job of teaching critical thinking so that the students can navigate and search for truth over fluff for themselves.

I am also quite suspicious of anyone who hangs a thesis on one opinion as Ms. Jacobs does with this line, “In the Jan. 16 Education Week, Will Fitzhugh, president of the National Writing Board, mourned the demise of the high school history research paper. Among other things, he blames "fascination with PowerPoint presentations, fear of web-facilitated plagiarism and creative writing -- usually about student's feelings.”

Ms. Jacobs has a real problem with student’s feelings (God forbid they have them or express them as she is free to do in this article) and the issue of multiple intelligences which she views as a crutch to explain children who have trouble in traditional approaches to learning. I never once saw the issue of multiple intelligences or looking for a child’s talent as a crutch. I thought the idea was to find a skill that the student could excel at and then have them use that gained confidence to attack a task in another field of learning.

Not true to Ms. Jacobs, I guess she would view that as “coddling”. Beware of this “no-nonsense approach” its agenda talks about back to basics, but what basics exactly? Are we to return to a time where the top five percent of a class were rewarded and the rest of the class were geared into “vocations”? We can all agree with Ms. Jacobs that math reports should not be graded on covers but is technology really to blame? Technology can be used teach both basic writing skills and graphic design, and with it we can reach all types of learners, not just those who succeed through the expected mainstream paths.

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© Gina Coletti 2002