It seemed my wife and I were the last to hear about the new technology being used in our daughter Beth's third grade classroom: Each child would be given a personal iPad for use throughout the school year.
We love and trust this Christian school, and we knew that the administration wants what was best for Beth. There must have been a good reason why we had been unaware of the decision, so we wrote a letter asking why such a massive influence and culture shift was being added to our daughter's education and how it was going to be implemented:
"We would like a 'Policy and Procedure' in print concerning the use of the third grade iPads. I think this should include all internet availability and usage. What systems will be used to monitor the iPads once they go into circulation? How will this information be communicated to substitutes in the teacher's absence? It only takes one instance to destroy the innocence and influence we have carefully built for years.
"Using the iPad as a library is very concerning. We feel there is no substitute for visiting the library, thumbing through scores of books, discussing books with the librarian and helping her with her tasks-all the while reading physical books and being surrounded by physical books. When Beth is older she will be able to choose how she reads, but for now we want her influence to be exclusively from actual paper books and physical libraries. In the same way, I want Beth to know her way around an actual Bible, not a virtual Bible on the iPad.
"We would like to know the intentions for using of the iPad for art. We want Beth to use paint, brushes, pencils, paper, scissors, crayons, glue, clay, etc. to create art-not a computer. We hope listening to, making music, and singing as a class will not be replaced by using headphones.
"What will be the use of 'educational games' on the iPads? I would like to know how much and how often this is planned. We can easily provide these ourselves at home if we choose.
"What places will the iPads travel to around campus? I do not want the peer culture for Beth in the library, lunchroom, playground, hallways, chapel, or gym to be dictated by continual electronic distraction.
"I know first-hand through my work in local high schools and their move to laptops how difficult it is to police anything electronic. I have no naivetés about third grade boys or girls-and their big brothers/sisters/cousins, etc.
"Beth has the rest of her life to battle the intrusion and world of evil influences that the internet and the endless supply of electronic gadgetry provides. She has the rest of her life to stare at a computer screen and participate in a virtual life. I want this window of her life to be based on real experiences with real things.
"I believe education must see technology as a tool, not as a gimmick or cool way to relate to children. Apple has been too successful at not just selling their products as good tools, but also as status symbols and fashion statements. As parents we fight and buttress against these shallow temporary influences. When the educational culture pushes them in this direction as little kids-the influence is hard to stop.
"In the end, we are just two parents. I assume most parents are thrilled at this shift and I am sure it will attract some new students. I just want to make sure the risks are all measured and the impulses are kept in check. We feel the perils are too great to not ask questions and receive clarity from you, as well as to make our concerns known."
This is not an advice column. It's just what we did. The school was honest in its response. The letter helped us and the school ask some questions about its policies, instead of the unquestioned plunge into the chic technology merry-go-round.
Devices such as iPads eventually will be replaced by something else … and something else … and something else. But nothing will replace our Beth.