But he is wrong about banning mobiles in school – and his views are hurting more than the debate about BYOD.
I have read his articles since the 90s, as I was a big fan of the writing of Julie Burchill and could not avoid bumping into his views and vitriol. Anyone who has followed him over the years knows that he has carved out a special niche in our journalism, for tearing into the lazy left. I have always loved the iconoclasts and the disruptive voices, and have come to seek his articles out – though I rarely agree with him. However low his actual hit rate is (in terms of being ‘fair’ or ‘right’) people like Toby Young are (to my mind) essential and necessarily painful. We need people to prick our comfortable consensus. This was especially true in the broadly left wing discourse of the 90s and early 00’s.
However, Toby Young is no longer the thorn in the side of the establishment, ripping into flabby thinking. He is increasingly in the role of an attack dog for Tory party; off the leash – spreading ill-informed fear and beating a path for the most reactionary part of the establishment.
I rarely interact with Toby on Twitter, except to retweet his tweets encouraging other ‘Free Schools’ – and sharing information about this policy. I am leading a free school proposal group in Oxford – ONSchool – with the specialism of Innovation, and a focus in excellence in use of technology to support learning.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post.
I tried to explain why and show why his comment was ‘out of date’.
This prompted a further tweet from Toby asking if I would allow DSs into schools, which led me to point to the wealth of great practice on Games Based Learning, starting with Derek Robertson and Dawn Hallybone.
The debate blossomed into an increasingly ridiculous and entrenched argument about the value of technology in schools, largely with the hectoring and closed minded Andrew Old, the details of which are in the public stream.
Thanks to my much smarter and more informed PLN, I had support from many edtech teachers supporting my view and tackling the claims of Andrew Old. Andrew made so many mistakes in his responses, including relying on research that was over 10 years old to back up his claim that technology was a distraction from learning.
Toby made a lot of a false dichotomy between technology that is for ‘learning’ and devices that are ‘distractions’ . This is what worries me. When Toby Young’s scattergun contrariness hits a target, it does not matter if he aimed at it or not. The damage is done. Even Michael Gove, in his speech at BETT 2012, recognised the disruptive and engaging potential of digital tools to support learning – and how hard it is to legislate for these boundaries.
As I have said in recent posts, I fear that ICT (the term) has damaged more than the cause of edtech, and is allowing the reactionary voices to pull us back to a model of education that never worked, even in its heyday – except for the the most privileged.
Sloppy thinking about the relationship between Innovation, Technology and Educational Excellence has meant that clever and hopeful people like Toby Young – who cared enough about education to set up a school – can support a views of edtech that risks damaging kids outcomes.
These are not woolly liberals, or entrenched and lazy public sector unionistas. These are the voices from the leading edge of best practice. The teachers who have demonstrated that edtech is NOT a token of progressive teaching – but a vital aspect of school life – just as technology is in ‘real life’.
To ban technology in schools (whether ‘intended for learning’ or not) is to harm the learning that could take place in schools. To think that it is possible to ban it (effectively) is ridiculous – and indicative of why the traditional view of education is so inappropriate to the reality of our modern lives.
It is not that I disagree with Toby that bothers me – as this is quite common.
It is that Toby has become flabby and so comfortable that his points are not being sharpened by the whetstone of informed debate.
He is becoming lazy and falling on to tracks of party line and nostalgia – because he is supported by the weight of the establishment – and is not fighting against it.
Toby’s work on Free Schools is to be commended – in that he has fought for a space for parents to make decisions about the schools that their kids can learn in. But, his ill-informed comments on GBL and BYOD, and in favour of ‘traditionalism’ feeds policies from the coalition, must be challenged (more competently) by those who must interpret them into the complex lives of our kids . Those of us who believe and have evidence that edtech (in the broadest sense) belongs in schools need to demonstrate a more coherent challenge. If we want to allow DSs or smart phones in school – we should be free to do so.
These decisions belong to professionals who work with children, who are empowered to be make judgements that lead to the best possible outcomes for the young people they work with. Toby’s comments feed a media frenzy of moral panic that ill befits a man with a legacy of intellectual independence and clarity.
I, for one, would like to see Toby Young back on form, and bring his phone into a few classrooms where he can tweet, photograph and investigate with the teachers and kids making 3rd Millenium education a reality now.
He needs help to learn why so many of us are so passionate about the place of technology as a transformative force for educational excellence. I want Toby Young to see what we see. So let’s help him.