140+: In the Moment


Is the NAEYC Draft Technology Statement really controversial?

Get your point across no matter whatIt’s interesting to see how people who are weary of change react when change becomes inevitable. Take, for example, the recent flap over the draft update to the NAEYC Technology Position Statement. Some very respected leaders in early childhood education, including Diane Levin, Meg Merrill, and Susan Linn, have taken exception to the draft, and have issued a “call to action” to the field to respond to the draft. While I also urge everyone to take (hopefully) one last chance to weigh in on the draft, I (with all due respect) take exception to some of the extreme assertions and misinformation they published about the draft.

Now, bear in mind that this Position Statement has been in the works for more than a year, and there was already one comment period. The authors incorporated the comments into the most recent draft.  In order to accommodate all the viewpoints, another comment period was offered to members. This (hopefully final) comment period ends May 31.

So is all of this much ado about nothing? I think it is. I believe the arguments set forth by many of the “anti-technology” contingent muddle the waters with inapplicable arguments and inaccurate insinuations. While the detractors of the draft statement sometimes make meaningful points to consider, they are obscured within exaggerations and out of context statements. Don’t get me wrong, I think a little refinement might be in order, but many of the statements completely off-target.

Point, Counterpoint: My perspective on the drama

I’ll address the points in the statement entitled “Do preschoolers need mandatory screen time?” on the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website:

If we don’t act now, the pressure on early childcare programs to incorporate screen time into their core curriculum will intensify.  With preschoolers already spending an average of 32 hours per week with screens outside of classrooms, the last thing they need is mandatory screen time in school or daycare.

1) “Pressure” and “screen time”? Position papers do not pressure or direct association members to do anything. They state positions from a high level.  No obligations are stated, implied, or intended in this draft or any other position paper NAEYC has ever issued.

2) If children are already spending time in front of screens at home (which is clearly a class issue) shouldn’t we issue guidance to parents instead of ECE programs? Shouldn’t parents turn off the TV and shut down the computers to spend quality time with their children? Isn’t it more likely that professionals will make constructive use of interactive technology than parents who don’t know a lot about child development? Do we not trust the programs who are members of NAEYC to use technology judiciously?

3) The data, including the statement “32 hours” of “screen time” used out of context. Numbers are bandied about recklessly.  Is this data about children birth to 8? Is the data reflective of TV/Video use or interactive technology, or what? All screens are not made equal. It’s irresponsible to generalize data and use it when it does not apply. That is a tactic for extremists. Extremism is bad for early childhood education.

4) Remember, the concept of Developmentally Appropriate Practice was developed by NAEYC. Clearly NAEYC does not advocate sitting groups of children down for instruction on computers or for anything else.

Prescribes that screen technologies should be included in all early childhood settings, regardless of the age of the children served or type of program.  Even play-based and outdoor preschools will be expected to incorporate screens.

Provides no objective criteria or guidance to educators about whether or when to incorporate screens into their classrooms.

Does not address the growing problem of screen-based commercialism in preschools.

4) The draft does not prescribe anything. It does not “mandate” “screen time”.  It is clear that NAEYC does not and cannot “mandate” anything. It is a voluntary membership organization that  offers high level position statements. How can you make the leap from a position paper from a membership organization to “…expected to…” do anything?

5) In general, position statements are not standards. They simply outline an organization’s position from a very high level. They:

  •  do not include in-depth summaries of research, but do include citations upon which the statement was built.
  •  do not include a lot of direct guidance. They outline the position of the organization, which sets the stage for books, articles, policies, and procedures that will offer more guidance.
  • cannot encompass detailed discussions of every possible negative result, but should offer high level guidance about the possible consequences and problems, as this draft does. Commercialism in media are not a part of a statement intended to discuss the use of interactive technology in the classroom. The authors of this draft  were careful to carve out a specific path to discuss interactive technologies in the classroom to set the position statement apart from discussions about violent and otherwise harmful media and commercialism.

I’m issuing my own call to action: Let’s all agree that we are doing our best to help early childhood educators learn more about how to use interactive technology with intention and responsibility. Let’s take extremism out of the equation, use information in context, and think strategically about how to make progress. While I also urge everyone to send comments, I also urge you to use reason and offer ideas within the context of a position statement. If you need to write a book that builds upon or contradicts NAEYC’s position statement, have at it.

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Explore the real issues: How to evaluate interactive technology

Free webinar

Early Childhood Investigations Webinar SeriesWarren BickleitnerJoin Warren Buckleitner in a webinar that moves beyond this debate on June 1, 2011 at 2 PM EDT.   One of the many webinars in the Early Childhood Investigations Webinar Series.


ECE Tech: Beyond Debate-How To Evaluate Children’s Interactive Technology Tools and Media
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ECE Advocacy- Blown Away by 3-D Vision: Three Lessons from PAES, 2010

“Blown away.” That’s a pretty intense declaration. But, in fact, when it comes to my perceptions of the advocacy landscape for early childhood, I feel as though I have just put on high-def, 3-D glasses.  I can see more clearly than ever. After my experience as a participant at the Partnership for Economic Success National Economic Forum on Early Childhood Investment, I feel as though for the past 25+ years in the field I have been  been working with a unidimensional picture.  Many of the misconceptions I had about business support for early learning initiatives have evaporated. I’m invigorated by what I’ve learned.

The Forum was replete with complex information, facts, and data presented by some of the most influential business leaders, politicians, and early learning experts in the country. The primary goal of the Forum is to offer the early learning sector the tools and information we need to develop coalitions “of business leaders advocating for increased investments in early childhood.” The sessions provided participants with the stories they need to tell, the data they need to show, and the tactics they need to use to build a movement and collation with the support of local and national businesses.

Of course, at the very foundation of the event was the fundamental message we all know and espouse:  The first five years of life are the most crucial years for child development. What happens during these years impacts cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development like no other time in a child’s life. We know this. We live it. We tell the story day after day. But, the Forum shed new light (at least for me) on more compelling ways to tell the story so business leaders will join our movement and become our programmatic partners.

Because I spend most of my time thinking about engagement and communication, I see this as a communication issue. Have we been effectively spinning our stories? Are we bringing the right messages and the right people to the table with us? How can we impart our sense of urgency to legislators and to the public?

Three big takeaways from PAES:

1) There’s significant support in the business community for early learning. This was a huge surprise to me. Business leaders see early learning as a workforce issue. They know the work we do is paramount to developing good workers 15 to 20 years forward. They consider investments in early childhood “front-loading” costs because the investment results in higher returns down the line. Smart business leaders know that paying for high-quality early learning programs results in more well-rounded, prepared workers. They also embrace the research that high-quality programs result in lower rates of incarceration, which saves money “downline.”

There’s nothing to fear from approaching businesses for public and legislative support or programmatic partnerships. The business leaders who presented at PAES were aware of the urgency for support for early learning.   Using the powerful detailed and comprehensive communication tools provided by the Partnership, advocates can and should start building support now. In their toolkit, the partnership has put together everything except the moxie you need to start talking with business leaders in your community. You supply the moxie.

2) Strengthen your advocacy position by keeping business leaders by your side. We all know our congressional leaders have heard our stories and our appeals for legislation before. We’re very good at crafting stories about the impact our programs have on the lives of families and children, and we know enough to bring parents and/or children with us to provide personal testimonials about the impact our programs have on their lives.  But, congressional leaders must put the budget and the economy at the forefront of every appeal for legislation and funding. If we have any hope of breaking through to connect with legislators, we have to use the “3-D version” of the story and bring reinforcements with us.  Armed with great tools like those provided by the Partnership, and a business representative from your community, you can offer a more crystallized and well-rounded story that speaks volumes.

3) We must put aside our differences to come together with a common voice and look for incremental “wins.” Differences? In the early care and learning community? Really? Yes. We’ve heard them all play out when it comes to funding at the local AND national level. We debate: Quality vs. Care for All, Pre-K vs. Child Care vs. Head Start (and on and on.) The patchwork of programs and state implementation has created a natural breeding ground for controversy. It’s natural that we all argue as we clamor for the hard-to-come-by dollars and legislation.  It’s time to set those differences aside, and come together with a common voice to show the economic value and impact of high-quality early childhood programs.

There is a narrow window of time in the US right now. The national spotlight is starting to shine on our sector. We need to speak with one voice on a local, state, and national level and set our sights on smaller, more incremental expectations.

Things to do right now:

Leave a comment for me! Let me know what you think, especially if you attended the conference.

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