13.0210 children and the Internet

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 23 Sep 1999 21:37:12 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 210.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Wendy Shaw <wws94@aber.ac.uk> (53)
Subject: Prophylaxis

[2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (64)
Subject: being fruitful and multiplying

[3] From: "Patricia J. Moran" <pjmoran@tsufl.edu> (41)
Subject: Re: 13.0208 children and the Internet

Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 21:30:02 +0100
From: Wendy Shaw <wws94@aber.ac.uk>
Subject: Prophylaxis

I too was in the kitchen on Saturday afternoon and listened to the
very same Radio 4 debate programme. I wished now that I had taped it
for those who missed it. A pity that it was not on a week prior to
the DRH99 conference - that would have been a really stimulating
discussion point at coffee times!
My brief response to yours...
Before I commenced my first degree in 1994, I worked as a qualified
NNEB in a state lower school with deprived children making up a huge
proportion of the numbers (by that I mean socially, financially and
some with hearing problems).
At that time, we had one PC in the corner of the classroom which was
used soley for educational games and drawing packages. None of the
staff were technically minded, and as a result the computer was a fun
thing, for set times with adult help provided. Usually myself, or a
However, technology, such as it was for the school then, was not a
replacement, never should be, never will be. I always read a great
number of books to the 4-5 year old children each day. The school was
a great believer in books. We had new books far more often than
anything else because of the delight that they gave to these
children. It meant that all the class could benefit from that one
printed copy in a cosy corner with cushions. The oversized books
were a particular hit at the end of the school day. Of course, the
member of staff could add sound effects and change voices for
characters. The story Peace at Last! about a bear who couldn't sleep
would not be the same digitally.
Similarly I read bedtime stories to my nephew and niece during the
conference week. A rare treat for them and for me due to geographical
constraints. I couldn't imagine a half hour storytime being quite the
same with a screen and a mouse for stimulation.
A chapter in a book by Miall said,
....An act of reading is a complex process of imagination, in which
ideas, memories, images, feelings are reconfigured, enabling a new
whole to exist with our being. A computer screen is not an
appropriate interface for the primary act of reading.
He finishes with .... a computer method will support, but cannot be a
substitute for the discipline of analysis, discussion and systematic
So, yes, the technology we use with our children and ourselves is
important. We have to think about Miall's four issues of motivation,
method, accountability and authority when we want to use technology
(especially so in English Studies) to avoid confusion.
It will be intersting to see if any other responses are forthcoming.
My points are minimal, but a point none the less,
Best Wishes,
Wendy Shaw

Wendy Shaw, BSc Econ                             wws94@aber.ac.uk
Dept of Information & Library Studies
University of Wales, Llanbadarn Campus, Aberystwyth,
Wales. SY23 3AS   http://www.aber.ac.uk/~wws94
By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.
Quotation and Originality. Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 21:30:32 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: being fruitful and multiplying

In Humanist 13.208, Dan Price asks in regard to my posting in 13.205,

>Can we push the imagination still further? What of the reaction of the >tribal story teller to the advent of new fangled thing called a book and >daring to use it in raising children? Might he say something like "What a >mechanical intrusion on such traditional and even sacred activity? How >crass the use of a material object for the telling of a tale!" > >In other words, to what extent do our perceptions and consequent valuations >depend on personal past experiences? Is this a case simply that it takes >some time for new inventions (such as the book and the Internet) to take >their places within our accustomed habits?

Despite the extravagance ("That wanders out of bounds; straying, roaming, vagrant"), I was trying to be rather careful about this point: not to make any absolute, principled statements, at least not directly, only to observe the current state of affairs and the sometimes uncritical reactions to them. But let me wander again, and return to the point.

In the primal experience of reading to my own children, beginning before the first of them was (in the usual sense) able to understand what was being read, I was reaching for the orality that Dan speaks of, mediated by the book and so changed profoundly by that technology, no question. We can reasonably suppose that an oral storyteller, a Homer, might have looked on the newfangled written medium with disfavour and, from a not indefensible perspective, condemned it. ("Damned commercial nonsense brought by those shifty Phoenicians!") Plato did, as we all know -- though not in propria persona. We are, right now, where and how we are, not where and how we will be, as that imagined storyteller was. Right now, if I want to introduce a young child to the narrative dimensions of the human imagination, I will sit somewhere comfortable with him or her, open up a book, and read out loud, not go to a computer and click on a link. With an older child, I'd think that both would be part of the evening wind-down. The point, however, is not to war over what technologies we use but to think about the qualities of the experience, whether the tool as it is now really fits the job we want to do, which is more intelligently to think about what job the tool (mouth, hands, book, computer) is doing, in the case of the new tool, how it is transforming what we have grown up with. As computing humanists our job (if I may say so) is to observe and understand that transformation; as very privileged members of society, mirabile dictu *paid to think about and make things with this tool*, it is to communicate what we understand to be happening, to say, hey, look here at what we are doing! Do we *want* to be doing this?

Two very simple points, really: first, that we're still running around with our new hammer, not yet having understood, or not always, that it's for hitting long, thin pointy things made of hard metal, not everything that can be hit; second, that we have a choice -- and (forgive the Wesley in me, my heart being "strangely warmed" this morning), a moral obligation to pay attention and call others to pay attention. To carry intimate knowledge of what is happening with computers in the humanities out to those who rightly spend their time trying to make ends meet in other ways than we do.

My children sat on my lap when they first tapped at a computer keyboard (an Osborne, remember that?). Couldn't find any stories to read on it then, but I think the human-machine bond was shaped by the lap-sitting warmth of the encounter. Now, a couple of decades later, with nine time-zones separating me from the elder and five from the younger, we use the machine in ways difficult to imagine then, deeply, intimately human ways, in response to a separation that would not have happened were it not for the computer. And I'm hardly unique in how profoundly the computer has altered my life. My point here is that we're right where the action is happening. What a story to tell.

Yours, WM - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London voice: +44 (0)171 848 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 848 5081 <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/> maui gratia

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 21:31:52 +0100 From: "Patricia J. Moran" <pjmoran@tsufl.edu> Subject: Re: 13.0208 children and the Internet

> > Date: Thursday, September 23 > From: Patricia J. Moran, pjm0362@mailer.fsu.edu > Random responses:

Teaching inner-city San Antonians high school English, I tried to get through to Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Americans who were of Mexican descent (but refused to be called anything by American), Chicanos, Koreans, and African-Americans the fact that Standard English grammar is a tool. Though they came from different neighborhoods and had begun forming their idiolect in various locations, they now needed to master a different tool--Standard English.

Now I would tell them that, though they began with books, there is another tool they must master if they want a certain result--and that tool is the computer with Internet.

It is not that any of us leave behind completely the language we started with. It is, rather, that we hone it as we grow, adding to our word repertoire.

Isn't our task to add to the repertoire of our students (if we are teachers)-- to provide more and superior tools for dealing with the universe? The Internet is a tool. If it is appropriate (and if the electricity is on), use the Internet. If it is not appropriate, don't.

I read aloud to 8th graders in Mississippi in 1979 and 9-12th graders in Texas in 1973-1975. I have read to college students since 1983. Television is television. Live performance is live performance. For some students, television (the computer) is the right tool. For others, live performance (an adult reading to children at night or college instructors to adults) is correct.

Luckily we do not yet have to choose between the two, but can apply either medium to the given student.

Also, though "we" have only been on the Internet in such numbers for seven years, it is incumbent upon us to remember that those seven years are 100% of the lives of Kindergarteners, first graders, and some second graders--and students in middle school have had knowledge of the Internet for 100% of their school careers. "Only seven years" has little validity for them.

Pat Moran Student: FSU Adjunct Faculty: TSUFL pjmoran@tsufl.edu

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