The Natives Are Here…And It’s Not What You Think


I hear the term “digital natives” regularly in the education world. A relatively newly coined term to describe millennials who have grown up with technology: the internet, cell phones, smart phones, computers, etc. digital natives are believed to be more tech savvy than their digital immigrant predecessors. Since digital immigrants, the Gen Xers, were born before the internet and all of its offerings, it is a wide spread belief that immigrants just aren’t as quick as the natives, they don’t know as much, can’t do as much as the natives and therefore when the natives enter the work force many people are going to be in for a big surprise, because the natives…aren’t very digital. Let’s see, they can post things to Instagram, they can text, and they love Snapchat. That about covers it. How do I know? I teach them every day.
While attending a conference recently, I heard the woman behind me tell her friend “My three-year-old grandson can turn on the iPad, he’s so smart. These kids know more than their parents do.” Wait, I thought to myself. Your son or daughter, the parent of this amazing grandchild, can’t turn on an iPad? What are you doing at a technology conference, you should be home with that three-year-old. If his parents can’t even manage turning on an iPad I don’t think they’re equipped to take care of a child! Of course that’s not what she meant and I said nothing but here inlays the problem: People assume that if a child is brought up with technology they will automatically be good with technology and being good with technology equates being smart and/or smarter than the generation before them. There are a few problems with this theory, let me point them out:
First of all, by the age of three, I could turn on the television. My mother at the age of three could not turn on a television. But, my mother is a smart woman, she holds three master’s degrees one in classical languages, one in education, and a master’s of divinity. My mother speaks five languages Latin and Hebrew among them. Why in the world couldn’t she handle a simple task like turning on a television? Was she a late bloomer? Because for as intelligent as she is I guarantee you, she couldn’t turn on a television set by the age of three. Her problem wasn’t intellect or dexterity, her problem was she was born in 1942. So realistically, how can we evaluate how intelligent a new generation is based on standards which weren’t even available to the one before?
A second problem: People assume that if you grow up with something you become more adept at using it. But think about it, how many of us (myself included) have grown up with a stove and can’t cook? I can provide a better example: my mother didn’t marry down, my father is equally as talented in his own rite. I’m not bragging here or making any statement about my own brilliance, I was adopted. Nope not kidding or making excuses for my ineptitude. I was legitimately adopted. My father ran a non-for-profit music school, he’s a composer, conductor, and author of several books about music. At one time my family owned 13 pianos including two Steinway concert grands. My grandmother played the piano, my father plays the piano and I…I’ve had lots of lessons. Lots of lessons. It’s not as though I didn’t have the resources. I had everything a person needed to become an excellent pianist except for desire and drive. Learning something, learning anything, takes an interested party who wishes to learn. And, when it comes to using technology for anything other than the aforementioned Instagram, Snapchat, and texting the majority of those digital natives have none.
Therefore, students do not know more than their teachers when it comes to downloading and annotating digital texts, FINDING digital texts (some of them think Google is a reference), using the cloud to store information so that it’s accessible at school. They can upload photos to Instagram but not essays to because that requires two steps…maybe three. I’ve taught kids how to cut, copy, and paste (at least we know they weren’t plagiarizing). Email seems to be particularly difficult for them emailing with attachments, out of the question. Don’t worry, these kids are not dumb, they can learn. The problem is that everyone assumes there’s no need to teach them. They won’t do it on their own. They need teachers because the world assumes that they already can and it’s our job, as teachers, to prepare them for the world.


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