When Charter Schools Meet Video Games
By way of Freakonomics, I found this Economist article about a new charter school that includes video games in the curriculum. The thinking behind this is that students are immersed in digital media outside of school and unengaged in traditional classrooms, so bringing games into their schoolwork is the best way to grab their attention.
I love charter schools, but I’m fond of books and paper, too. Here are some reasons I’m wary of the video game school concept:
- Video games are fascinating and mysterious to adults; kids think they’re normal. Contrary to what tech-phobic adults imagine, kids are not drawn to all video games by an inexorable pull. Kids choose to play the games that are the most fun. To hold students’ interest, it’s not enough to translate a science curriculum into video game format. You have to make it as good as the best video games — a formidable challenge for a video game producer, let alone a school.
- The rest of the world is not a video game. The charter school’s stated goal is to prepare students for college; its future graduates may be in for a rude awakening, however, when they discover colleges rely on textbooks and lectures. I’m not one to say students should study note-taking for the sake of note-taking, but I wonder whether the graduates would be able to pay attention when professors teach in traditional ways.
- An emphasis on gaming may keep kids happy at the expense of developing academic skills. How do you learn to read Shakespeare from a game?
And here are some reasons the school looks promising:
- It’s not the same as every other school. Charters should experiment, and that includes trying things that are radical or outrageous (as long as they’re legal). Unsuccessful programs won’t last.
- It defies stereotypes about charters. The most visible charters are the ones with extended school days and math drills. Occasionally, a charter receives news coverage for its environmental theme or language-immersion program. When people hear about the game-based charter, they may revise what they think about charter schools.
- It leaves little of the learning experience to chance. The typical school buys textbooks, writes a list of main topics students are supposed to study, and then turns responsibility for students’ learning over to the teachers. It’s no wonder that studies find teacher quality to be so important! A charter school that designs classroom activities ahead of time, in the form of digital games and projects, can fine-tune students’ educations without firing anyone.