All day, every day video game based schooling. Great.
A Popular Science article (print version, Jan 2010) extolls the virtues of a recently opened school in Manhattan designed around a spanking new videogame curricula. Called Quest to Learn (Q2L) the school is heavily funded by interests (such as Intel) outside the NYC school district. And yes, every subject is taught via the medium of video games.
Another oh-gosh-isn’t-this-fabulous article appeared in the mass market magazine Parade and the flurry of media attention continues to accelerate. Soon every school child will be agitating to replace the boredom of classwork with the excitement of gaming.
Their eagerness will be nothing compared to the frenzy of those who make Big Decisions in education. Anything having to do with technology seems to make these folks feel they’re finally hip. Actually, they toss money at any curricula that promises to keep the little darlings quiet, busy and able to pass proficiency tests. In a few years you won’t be able to spit without hitting a school district boasting a version of this all day, every day video game schooling. Just great.
Q2L sounds impressive. Designed by the (soon to be rolling in bucks) Institute of Play, its curricula isn’t structured around ordinary educational games. Learning is integrated between subjects, offers hands-on components and promises to put the student in charge of his or her education. Q2L promotional materials assure parents their kids won’t be glassy-eyed screen droolers. But, and this is a huge but, it’s all day, every day.
Research tells us that high quality video games are known to promote rapid decision-making, logic, visual-spatial skills, risk assessment and intense focus. Author Steven Johnson notes in Everything Bad is Good for You that today’s technologies offer complex intellectual challenges that engage students in ways never before seen. All great. Except for a little thing we call balance.
Candy substituted for every meal, even with all the required vitamins, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids packed into it by a clever non-profit candy making institute, may make kids wildly happy but it still isn’t a real meal. An all day video gaming educational model may be new, shiny and sound perfectly thrilling but without balance it’s simply another way to train the next generation of workers to ignore the vital need for balance in their lives.
A truly balanced education is one that can’t be prescribed or predetermined by any curricula developer because each child is different. That’s that beauty of Democractic Schools, relaxed styles of homeschooling and unschooling. Those of us who educate this way know from experience that children, when raised in an atmosphere of loving trust and fully involved in the life of the community around them, tend naturally toward balance.
Video games may indeed be a wonderful way to learn but not all day, every day. They can be part of a wider concept of education. It would be wonderful to see schools reverse the trends that have segregated and stymied the maturation of young people ever since modernization forced them into mandatory schooling.
For starters, today’s students could use a whole lot more of these missing elements to restore balance in each educational day.
Play. Not the sort of play that happens on carefully designed liability-friendly playgrounds or within the limits of supervised games, but unstructured free play. This sort of fun is actually essential for the development of imagination and innovative thinking as well as social and cognitive maturation.
Creative, hands-on engagement in open-ended work. The high scoring Icelandic and Finnish schools that keep our educational Big Deciders in a jealous froth aren’t test happy. Instead they include daily arts such as knitting, woodwork and felting while U.S. school kids rarely get to work with metal or wood in shop class let alone have the opportunity to paint at an easel.
Pursuit of interests. There may be no greater motivator than the ability to engage in one’s interests for hours, days, weeks or longer plus the freedom to move on when those interests are depleted.
Community involvement. Schools segregate young people from vibrant adults in the community precisely at the developmental stages when kids are primed to imitate, help and adhere to role models. No rote field trip or Skype interview can come close to collaboration and engagement in the real world around them.
Nature. People of all ages are missing out on the invigorating and focusing effects of spending regular time in nature. Most of us suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder without recognizing how much is missing from our lives. Even our eyes indicate that we’re intrinsically structured to be outdoors. New research indicates children who spend more time outdoors are much less likely to need eyeglasses. Something about the intensity of sunlight or the benefits of looking across wide open spaces seems to be a protective factor.
All day, every day video game based schooling. Another example of an educational trend taken too far in one direction. How great is that?
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