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The Arts and Play as Educational Media in the Digital Age

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Robert Albrecht and Carmine Tabone

The digital revolution we are now entering as educators is an unchartered sea pregnant with wondrous possibilities but laden with a minefield of unforeseen consequences. A pedagogy that overlooks or downplays the disruptive and often dangerous influence of digital media on childhood development is necessarily a very shortsighted one.

More than just highlighting our misgivings about digital media, however, this book has a purpose far more ambitious and infinitely more useful. Based upon 45 years of work with young people in Jersey City classrooms, day camps, housing projects, libraries, church basements and community centers, the authors propose a pedagogical strategy that uses hands-on experiences in the arts as a strategy to offset and counterbalance the dominance of digital media in the lives of children.

Rather than call for the elimination of digital media—clearly an impossibility even if it were desirable—the authors maintain that children need to be exposed to non-digital, non-electronic experiences that cultivate alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. In sum, the book does not call for an end to the digital, but outlines ways in which the arts and creative forms of play help to establish a balance in the education and socialization of children as we enter more deeply into the Digital Age.

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Prologue

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This book marks the meeting of two different worlds. One world lives in the academy and conducts scholarship, publishes articles and presents papers at conferences. Its ranks include luminaries such as Elizabeth Eisenstein, Walter Ong, Lewis Mumford, Eric Havelock, Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan. The other world lives in the primary school classroom and uses the arts and play as a way of transforming the educational environment of children. This world is populated with anonymous teachers who go to work each morning and attempt to guide young people in the difficult processes of learning. One world represents a field of inquiry that demands we ask the big questions; the other is a method of teaching that uses the arts to inspire children to write well and read closely. One of these worlds is called “media ecology”; the other is called “the educational arts.” Both are deeply concerned with the dramatic consequences of the electronic media revolution. They need to talk to each other. That’s what this book is about.

For those unfamiliar with the term, media ecology is an approach to the study of human communication that aims to make us more aware and more critical of the technologies that form our environment and socialize our patterns of thought, feeling and interaction. These techniques and technologies—the human tool kit—mediate not only our relationships with the natural world that surrounds us but also transform how we think, feel, perceive and interact with others. A person...

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