Take a look at the image above. What do you see? Do you see children who are distracted, lazy, or perhaps even addicted? If yes, you’re not alone. In fact, many parents and educators feel that our children are unable to balance the advantages of technology and that it does more harm than gain. Many seek to blame our children for their reliance on technology and believe that the current generation is deteriorating and incapable.
To be honest, I strongly disagree with this perception and hope the rest of this article opens conversation, dialogue, and perhaps even debate so that educators will stop and think about technology’s implications in the world of chinuch now and in the future.
Unfortunately, a sizable number of adults -- across many generations -- have long viewed the future as bleak. Many parents and grandparents remember their own childhood as the “golden days” and look down upon the current and next generation. Celebrating past generations and recognizing their great contributions is essential, but not the issue here. We stand on the shoulders of those giants. In Judaism we call this, mesorah. The word mesorah, literally refers to that which is passed from one generation to the next. Appreciating mesorah and celebrating the past does not, however, give us a license to scorn the present and future or blame our children which unfortunately, is a theme which has repeated itself for generations.
Socrates said, “Children today have detestable manners, flout authority, and have no respect for their elders. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?” In its July 1859 issue, Scientific American discouraged children playing chess because authorities felt it “robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements.” In 1936, it was determined that children could not resist the “compelling excitement of the loudspeaker” and announcements at school and the radio, itself, were things that students could not overcome.
Unfortunately, this mindset has continued through time. Technology has only increased the trend to blame our kids.
This picture is a perfect example:
When this picture went viral, social media blew up blaming kids for their obsession with their iPhones. Herein lies the issue. While at first glance it seems the observer of this scene is correct, the real details place it in an opposite light.
In the back of the scene is the famous Rembrandt painting, The Night Watch, and this group of students had just observed and discussed the painting. In the past, the field trip would have ended there. If the teacher was more creatively inclined, a follow up lesson would have taken place, but ultimately the painting would slowly drift into the recesses of the students’ memories. However, in this photo, after analyzing the painting in real life, the students were asked to begin researching Rembrandt’s art in totality. Through the use of the museum’s app, the students were able to research more about Rembrandt’s life and works of art to compare, contrast, and critically review the famous work they had just discovered and seen live. At a young age these children were able to think, discover independently, and work collaboratively to deepen their knowledge. This was because of technology, not despite it.
This is only one example.
We are living in an incredible time. The average person holding a cell phone has access to more information than entire generations of people who lived long ago. Our children are learning in ways never before possible. Augmented reality, Coding, Robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality, the list goes on and on! We need to embrace these gifts and reflect on our pedagogical approaches and educational philosophies to maximize and deepen our students learning so that they can soar to new heights while partnering with G-d in creating a world we could have never imagined.
Can children be challenging and lack etiquette at times? Yes, it’s part of the learning curve as they grow up and make mistakes. Can technology be addictive? Yes, we believe the research. But, this should not blind us from seeing the blessing in the current generation. Let’s train our students and ourselves how to use these beautiful G-d-given gifts of knowledge, innovation, and technology in a positive way. Let’s guide our students and teach them how to avoid the pitfalls of technology. And most importantly, let's stop blaming and start celebrating their potential!
Rabbi Zachary Swigard is the Interim Principal and Director of Judaic Studies for Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy’s Middle School. He is a strong advocate for 21st century Judaic Studies education and collaboration; and his Twitter chat, #jschat, provides him with the opportunity to collaborate with Jewish educators all over the world.