Kennedy: Why do we need this Boyd dude?

Kennedy: Why do we need this Boyd dude?

August 17th, 2014 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

A couple of weeks ago, I read on page one in this newspaper that my son's middle school is about to become a pilot site for BYOD.

My first reaction: Who is Boyd?

The other people who live at my house quickly explained to me that BYOD -- not Boyd -- stands for Bring Your Own Device, which means you can now take your smartphone or portable computer to school if you live in our little corner of suburbia on Signal Mountain.

So let's review. Parents today think raising academic standards is a government plot, but they're willing to let their children carry around tablet computers, giving them fingertip access to the Internet which, along with all the good stuff, is also a card catalog to every evil impulse known to mankind?

Yeah, that sounds like a plan.

How else are kids going to grow up to be proper middle managers who melt into a puddle when you take away their email? If we're being honest here, iPhones are ADD on a stick.

Of course, we are promised that risky applications -- such as texting, social networking and taking photos -- will be forbidden during school hours. Good luck with that. Here's the reality: In suburbia, kids barely watch TV anymore. Instead, they retire to their Wi-Fi saturated bedrooms with their iPads and their Instagrams and their I-don't-know-what-alls.

At the end of the day, I guess my real moral reservation about this new school policy boils down to one central question: What is it going to cost me?

I somehow knew that, even though our family room looks like an Apple orchard -- we've got iPhones, iPods, iPads and MacBooks out the wazoo -- this new school policy was going to necessitate a trip to the computer store. We need a punch card: Buy nine iPads, get the 10th one free!

Yes, Apple products are magical, but they also become practically obsolete after about three years. This is by design. I was informed by our sons that their iPads are first-generation models -- museum pieces, really -- and that taking them to school would be tantamount to wearing stinky, hand-me-down clothes. They don't even download modern apps anymore, I was told. Gosh, dad.

"God bless us, everyone," I thought.

I should note that my 12-year-old son is not technically a beggar. He has been taught that money doesn't grow on trees. Until a couple of years ago, though, he did believe money was printed by elves at the North Pole. As I have pointed out before, we live in a little community where parents sometimes have the birds-and-the-bees talk and the Santa Claus talk on the same day. When I was growing up, they were eight years apart.

So my older son and I had a tacit agreement that we would put off the new iPad acquisition until Christmas. But then, like all soft parents left to stew in the juices of shame and guilt, I caved.

"Do most of the kids at school have new iPads?" I asked my older son last Saturday.

"Some do, not all," he said, honestly.

By nightfall, we were headed to Hamilton Place and I was already feeling about $450 lighter in the wallet.

Kidding aside, if the new policy cuts down on dead trees and lightens my son's backpack by eliminating some textbooks, it's probably money well spent. But everything I think I know tells me that equipping kids with tablet computers at school is not -- repeat, not -- a game changer.

I lived through the 1970s when pocket calculators were supposed to revolutionize math instruction. Not so much. (Quick: What's six times eight?)

I covered education as a school-beat reporter in the 1980s when equipping every classroom with one primitive Macintosh desktop computer was going to change education as we knew it. Didn't happen.

Then, in the 1990s, the Internet promised to usher in a quantum leap in human consciousness. Still waiting for that. Twitter, anyone? TMZ?

Technology is great -- but microwave-oven great, not Einstein great.

Kids learn from reading books and being read to. They learn from a parent who takes a few minutes every day to practice calendar facts with a second-grader or to explain the bombings in Gaza to a pre-teen. They learn from a dedicated teacher who hovers around a kid's desk a few minutes after the bell rings to help him grasp that tricky algebra equation.

There are no shortcuts to a good education, no magic boxes. Just open-minded kids, determined parents and caring teachers.

If you don't believe me, Google it.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.