It was the summer of 1979, and I sat cross-legged less than two feet from my grandparents' television watching Wonder Woman. Linda Carter was magnificent, and every time she spun around, I scooted closer. "Don't sit so close Raquel, you'll ruin your eyesight and your brain will turn to mush," my grandmother yelled. I quickly ran to her purse, fished out her sunglasses, put them on and scooted closer. When she walked by, she hollered to my grandfather: "Come see the zombie with sunglasses, that idiot box will ruin an entire generation." "She'll be fine," he said as he patted my head. "No more TV after Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl." My grandfather was right, despite countless hours watching Wonder Woman, Gidget, The Monkees and The Lawrence Welk Show, I survived my childhood and at 38, still have 20/20 vision. But today, as I watch my children transition seamlessly from computer to tablet to smart phone, I recall my grandmother's concerns.
In fact, as any parent who has had their smartphone, tablet or iTunes account locked and/or hacked by a toddler will confirm, Marc Prensky hit the nail on the head in 2001 when he stated that our children are digital natives and the rest of us are digital immigrants. And maybe that is why while we all agree that they need technological access to compete in the global market, we are concerned about the effect that so much technology will have on this so called "touch screen generation."
Meanwhile, this week in classrooms all over Florida, children sat at computer stations and took the FCAT. No pencils, no paper, just a mouse and a computer screen. Earlier that same week, Governor Scott signed legislation that not only created the first digital learning university but also created the Florida Cyber Security Recognition and Florida Digital Arts recognition for elementary schools, the Florida Digital Tools Certificate for middle schools and a separate degree track for technical training that includes programing and software development. Thanks to legislation passed two years ago, every child attending a public school must take a digital course to graduate, and Florida has followed the lead of states like Colorado and approved purely cyber education from K to 12.
At Miami-Dade County Public Schools, as a result of the 222 bond initiative and the federal E-Rate program, we will not just repair our aging schools, but will also bridge the digital divide by outfitting them with Wi-Fi and creating digitally interactive classrooms in every school in every neighborhood. As we say farewell to the FCAT and transition to Core, we will also be able to use video content like TED Talks and Khan Academy alongside the Discovery Channel and PBS. We will shift gears and teach our students problem solving, not just route memorization. As a result, the classroom of tomorrow will encourage collaboration and teamwork and enable our students to navigate the sea of information that technology has placed at their fingertips.
But as parents, educators and Floridians, we need to do more. It is not enough that we provide students with access to technology. We also need to teach them how the technology works. We need to foster curiosity about the devices that are shaping their generation. Beyond the trite conversations about Tech Hubs, the State of Florida needs to add computer programing and tech labs to its mandatory curriculum. Just like our students virtually dissect a frog, they should also take apart a smart phone and learn how it works, know about the transition from static television to interactive devices, and the basics of computer programing.
That afternoon, after Wonder Woman ended, I unplugged the television and sat between it and the living room wall. I carefully took off the back cover and stared at the many colored wires, wondered how the image of Wonder Woman made it from those tiny wires to the large screen. "What are you doing now? You'll get electrocuted," my grandmother asked. "Just looking; do you know how this works grandmother?" "Modern magic," she said. "Why don't you look it up in the World Book Encyclopedia in the den?" I did, and today I thank my grandmother for encouraging my curiosity even though she personally feared the impact that technology would have on my future. Because despite the physical and ideological differences that separated my generation from hers, she recognized that childhood is, and will always be, about Wonder.