John Deasy’s ipad fiasco is not just a roadbump on the path to Reform that has triggered an irrational “emotional opposition” as the LA Daily News complains.  Objecting to any number of insupportable dimensions embedded in this boondoggle does not an obstructionist make.

First of all, what does an “opponent” of ipads look like?  Is this a luddite objecting to the advent of any form of technology?  I’ve seen little evidence of any opposition from this front.  Every single member of the school board has been immaculately clear that they are united in the axiom that technology is integral to modern life and children must learn from within its framework.  There is little need of parading a dog and pony show starring children who enjoy ipads to the LAUSD school board or Bond Oversight Committee or even to the public directly.  No one contends the technology is not alluring, no one contends it is bereft of educational potential.

The objection is to the mindless plastering of one-size-fits-all implementation of a poorly-conceived and equally poorly-understood technology plan for all children of all ages and all capacities across a hugely diverse universe of need.

Wrestling so many different components into one plan driven foremost by an ulterior profit-making agenda of corporate testmaking (Pearson software) and testtaking (Apple hardware) leaves our children casualties of an educational-industrial complex rather than the beneficiaries of a modern pedagogical update.

It is possible to question the wholesale use of tablets across all grade levels and still withhold card-carrying luddite-status.  I do not think kindergarteners need to be playing with electronics to accomplish their age-appropriate learning.  I am not a professional educator, I simply know the feel of life living with a growing child.  Young bodies, it seems to me, have among other of their imperatives the need to develop coordination of both their physical actions and their emotional reactions.  This requires actual bodily movement on the playground, physical interactions between peers, between authority-figures, to play, experiment and learn the limits of their prerogative.  Channeling all of that through an electronic device feels to me like harnessing, not unleashing potential.  Muscles need growing and training, emotions need interactive practice.  And the hard, hard work of learning to align shape and sound and meaning of symbols aka reading and mathematics, precursors to the study of art and philosophy and science – all the spoonsful of sugar in the world of immersive, passive visual stimuli will not change the reality that internalizing new, unlearned matter is work.  Deep, authentic motivators of work it seems to me, come nearly always – not always-always, as there are rare individuals who learn in an isolated bubble of their own experience exclusively – but far more typically most young people are seen to be motivated to work from through the experience of a guiding teacher.  Human beings are social creatures by nature I presume; I see their motivation coming from progenitors, not protons or electrons.

Technology and tools can provide the opportunity for rote practice or a field for construction.  But they cannot do the work of learning itself, and they cannot motivate it.  They are to be tools under our control, harnessed to our needs.  I worry that introducing its siren “retina display” before children have developed their own internal map of knowledge or pattern of how to organize the effort of acquiring knowledge, will leave them vulnerable to being controlled by this technology rather than capable of corralling its potential to their own control.

It is a red herring to equate publicly funded electronic testing equipment with poverty-politics!  Of course today’s modern child must eventually learn to use the tools of learned activity.  Computers are undeniably integral to modern life.  But how they are raised into adulthood is the question, not whether they have the tools of privilege provided in a vacuous learning environment (the Isolated Problem trap).

The children of privilege have as a symptom of their condition, large numbers of computers at their disposal.  But the computers are tools utilized as an integral part of their life, not as substitutes for teachers or babysitters.  On the contrary, the children of privilege have at their disposal phalanxes of teachers, different ones for myriad subjects who model and stimulate and evaluate their pupils, they even have teachers with different labels for coaching physical pursuits, which their schools do not deny them.  Their babysitters are not electronic, they are human nannies who school their charges in human interactions.  Their computers are one of myriad tools that inform a rich environment, they are not substitutes for enrichment in a depauperized world.  Merely handing over the tools of privilege cannot substitute for the integral elements of it.  Association is not causation.

This is therefore, and as always, a question of priorities.  A world of learning should properly house a functional physical environment.  There should be play equipment that will not maim, there should be heating and cooling to maintain a tolerable atmosphere, there should be implements for personal hygiene that prevent sickness, there should be balm for the aesthetics that soothe and encourage creativity.  These are all essential amenities that the wealthy also have at their disposal.  It is not just computers that define the “opportunity gap”.  Computers are merely the commercialized component of the disconnect, the part of the equation that an organized group of individuals can manipulate their own coincident profit while satisfying.

But what of the rest of it?  The physical surrounds, the human mentors, the stimulating, enabling amenities like libraries, and counselors and copy clerks and cleanliness?  These are not commoditizable and are therefore neglected.  And therein lies the deep shame of it all.  Because contrary to what the Daily News claims, those public bond monies now appropriated for personal profit, could have been, should have been and were intended by voters to have been utilized for all this ‘other’ stuff.  For repairing dangerous, condemned, toxic, decaying, maiming infrastructure – the treacherous playing fields and equipment, the crumbling and toxic buildings, the broken and hazardous paraphernalia.  Not for “additional staff and other improvements, or simply returned to the public” – this was never the objection.  That Schools Construction Bond Money was intended exclusively to provide money protected from the vicissitudes of politics for affording our children schools with acceptable physical conditions.

This is the real “opportunity gap”. I defy you to walk into certain public LAUSD schools and assert the conditions found there in any way mimic the verdant, safe, stimulating, enriched – in short learning conditions where privileged children spend all the time of all their days.  And the voters’ bond money was appropriated specifically and pointedly to remedy this imbalance, to close this “infrastructure” gap, consisting of facilities, personnel and environment.  Not tools or toys.  We all know instinctively, intuitively, in our gut, that from teachers, operating from out of humane, even beautiful conditions, is how we learn:  that is the milieu we choose when money is no object.  These bond monies were intended to redress the true conditions that so achingly set poor apart from the privileged.

And so what is so deeply offensive about this money-grab supervised by our school’s superintendent, is that insane amounts of money ($1B + $60M annually + …. ad infinitum) have been diverted to metallic hardware in preference to human and physical capital.  We voters painfully approved monies specifically to hold our children in an environment that was not depleted when pressures to divert that money were politically overpowering.  It matters to be not-sardined into filthy classrooms run by a teacher run ragged for want of support and excessive work and inhumane working conditions, a teacher of whom the impossible is asked.  It is simply humanly impossible to control and conduct a classroom of 40-50 youngsters.  These teachers have been asked to become mechanized robotic overseerers seemingly in preparation for substitution with an actual machine.  And we citizens should scream out our objections — our pedagogical, political objections to this, from the top of the highest non-crumbling building around.

ipads are just one packet within a river of ever-more swiftly changing technology.  We cannot let it carry the baby out with the bathwater:  teachers teach and technology assists learning.  Without infrastructural support for teachers, there is no educational institution.  And that is why we voted money to protect our infrastructure.  Not to undermine it.