‘I Don’t Have Time for This Nonsense’

Via Diane Ravitch’s blog I’ve been learning more about the Gates Foundation desire to explore galvanic skin-response monitors as a classroom tool. Ravitch links to an article providing a hint of the rationale:

Gates officials hope the devices, known as Q Sensors, can become a common classroom tool, enabling teachers to see, in real time, which kids are tuned in and which are zoned out.

Any good teacher in a classroom with a reasonable number of students can already do this, of course. Any sort of an ‘assist’ of this nature is simply an insertion between teacher and student, removing the teacher one step further from the necessary personal interaction that is the heart of teaching. Focusing directly on the students as people takes almost all of the teacher’s classroom time. Teachers don’t have time for something that will distract them from this primary task. However:

To Sandi Jacobs, the promise of such technology outweighs the vague fear that it might be used in the future to punish teachers who fail to engage their students’ Q Sensors.

Any device that helps a teacher identify and meet student needs “is a good thing,” said Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group that receives funding from the Gates Foundation. “We have to be really open to what technology can bring.”

Even when it distracts us from our task? Come on!

I am all for using technology when it broadens our possibilities, when it adds tools without taking away from procedures that are effective and necessary. When technology makes teachers pay more attention to the technology than to the student, as would happen (to some degree, at least) with monitoring the skin-response bracelets, I am much more hesitant.

In his book When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy, Ira Shor writes of ‘Siberia,’ the place in the classroom furthest from the teacher, where certain students go to zone out. Shor’s strategy (one of them, actually) is to go to Siberia, to sit next to the students and coordinate the class from there. He couldn’t do this were he tied to any sort of monitoring station. He wouldn’t have time for it–the nonsense would have taken over.

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