In one of the classes I teach we spend the better part of three class periods learning about logical fallacies. Straw man, red herring, proving a negative, ad hominem, etc. I PowerPoint my students to death on the first day (sorry, constructivists), and then have them quiz each other the second. On the third day, I quiz them. The idea is that they avoid logical fallacies in their arguments, as I only half-facetiously tell them, “from now until the end of time.” As part of my teacherly song and dance, I point out to my students that, armed with the list of logical fallacies, they’ll be able to pick faulty arguments out wherever they find them: in advertising, in politics, in parental commands (I”m still waiting for a phone call about this last one). And so it is with great delight that I point out an example of a logical fallacy I have identified from my own profession. For me, the debate about technology in the classroom is a red herring: it misses the mark entirely.
Should we teach Macbeth from textbooks or from iPads? Should we have students respond to the questions we pose in class on paper or on e-polling software? Should we ask students to turn to a peer and discuss or to turn to an iPhone and tweet? I’d like to respond to all of these questions with a resounding, “Who cares?” I’m not saying it makes zero difference whether we incorporate technology into our classrooms. Might technology be a wee bit more engaging for our teens? Perhaps. Might there be a time during which we rely on technology more than we should? Sure. But arguing about technology in the classroom, about who is using it and who is not, about one-to-one initiatives and iPods is like debating the color of military uniforms when there’s a war going on. And yes, if you must you can call me on my false analogy fallacy, but I don’t think I’m far off.
Instead of spending so much of our precious and limited energies and funding on technology, I humbly advocate that we spend it elsewhere. Teaching is tough. We could be talking about best practices. We could be collaborating on how to bump that sophomore boy out of the orbit he’s now on, the one we all know will lead him to dropout and despair. We could even be talking about the technology we use in our classrooms, but with the knowledge that it only matters when it matters, and that all of the shiny brilliance of new gadgets and gizmos have never, not once, made a weak teacher shine brilliantly, nor their lack a strong teacher fade into darkness.