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Week 5: Sesame Street vs Traditional Schooling

Week 5: Sesame Street vs. Traditional Schooling

What constitutes traditional or formal schooling? What Constitutes informal education? Can one type of education undermine another? As society and technology evolve, we often look to new services to provide education beyond the traditional school setting, but how much could these services affect what goes on in the classroom?

Read more: Week 5: Sesame Street vs Traditional Schooling

Neil Postman, noted American author, educator, and critic, wrote often on the state of technology, education, and current events through numerous publications. In one of his more popular books (Amusing Ourselves to Death” Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985,)) Postman commented on the popularity of Sesame Street, and shared his thoughts on the show’s impact on education:

We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.”

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/74034.Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death

This thought proposes several questions.

  • If student’s find a learning method that they enjoy, how will they react when forced to learn from an alternate method?
  • What are the implications of learning that takes place outside the traditional environment, on schools, teachers, and classrooms?
  • How can this quote be extended to the current culture of devices, applications, AV Technologies, or external resources that are available to students inside and outside of the classroom?

The more I begin to unpack this quote, the more I seem to come back to it being primarily about the vast variety of teaching and learning methods that are currently available to students. Being exposed to this variety of methods (both in person and online,) allows students to compare the effectiveness of each method on their own learning and find what truly works for them. However, this comparison also leaves room for potential conflict or disagreement when a student’s desired method does not match with what is offered by an educator, particularly in the traditional school context. While Sesame Street certainly has an educational component to it, the methods they employ vary greatly when compared with teachers in a traditional classroom, and this is where I believe that Postman argues for the potential to undermine the education system. While songs, sketches, and comedy are engaging educational tools for younger students, it can be argued that they are not practical in all traditional situations, particularly as students age.

This thinking can lend itself to more current debates among the employment of technology, and devices in the classroom. For every positive that is argued, a negative can also be discussed. Postman explored this in 1998, when he explained that “… for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost.”  

While this may be the case in many instances, Scott Widman adds to his discussion during his Tedx Talk. He argues that it doesn’t matter if technology is more beneficial or harmful to our students. He explains that due to technology being so common within our society, utilizing technology is less of a choice than it is a responsibly for educators. He continues by explaining that as we are mentors to our students, we should prepare our students for appropriately interacting with the digital world and build Digital Literacy skills as we do so. (If you are interested in more of my thoughts on Digital Literacy, feel free to check out this link to a post from a previous class.)

In today’s age, students are engaging with education materials online, whether teachers encourage it or not. Khan Academy, Crash Course, Udemy, Coursera, Lynda (LinkedIn Learning) are just some of the numerous formal learning academies offered online. There are also an unthinkable number of educational tutorials or walk-throughs available on websites like YouTube or WikiHow. Students that utilize resources like these may enjoy more independent, self-directed learning. On the other hand, some students may find this approach impersonable, boring, or hard to focus on. The clash in preferred learning styles makes it difficult as an educator, as traditional teaching has typically had all students accomplishing nearly the same task in nearly the same way. However, this is where I would argue that teacher’s can and should be creative in the way that they use technology.

Creating small group instruction, varying assessment methods, and utilizing multiple technologies will allow teachers to engage with a larger variety of learning styles and engage a wider breadth of students. While this may take greater startup work, teachers have the potential to see students take greater interest and ownership in their learning.

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3 thoughts on “Week 5: Sesame Street vs Traditional Schooling

  1. Great post Colton. I think you really nailed it! I agree with pretty much everything you said and you did an excellent job unpacking the quote. You are definitely right that what works for one will not always work for another. It is our job as teachers to find ways to reach as many kids as we can in as many ways possible to allow them all to succeed.

    I also really liked when you said “While songs, sketches, and comedy are engaging educational tools for younger students, it can be argued that they are not practical in all traditional situations, particularly as students age.” This lined up a lot with what I wrote in my own post this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Colton, anoter great post! You did a great job unpacking that quote. I really connected with Widman’s Tedx presentaiton and you did a great job summarizing his message that we need to be mentors to our students in terms of navigating the digital age. I keep referring back to a previous class (I think we took together) where there was a comparison made to teaching our young people to swim vs. how to behave propery in our digital world where we weren’t just tossed into the water with a sink or swim mindset. The alarming thing I am noticing when talking to students about how or if they were given any lessons on how to behave with their devices, an astounding number said they were just given the device with little to no guidance.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your post! I also resonated with the notion that technology has now become a responsibility rather than a choice. I fought that for awhile in my career. I started out by throwing as much technology as I could at students, then shifted to absolutely none, to now being of the mindset that we have an obligation to teach responsible usage, and certainly to use them as tools in our life. There’s no getting around it, but as you mentioned, digital literacy is a key component to helping students navigate the world of technology.

    Liked by 1 person

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