Memorial Day (and technology integration) tokenism

Memorial Day (and technology integration) tokenism

I was raised to honor our military. One of my grandfathers was a Marine sergeant during World War II. The other was an Army lifer who served in three wars and retired at the rank of colonel. My dad would have joined up in the 1960s but he had a heart murmur that prevented him from serving. I spent much of my time with my grandparents reading and listening to military stories, visiting the local commissary and PX, and attending ceremonies on military bases (nothing like seeing the 1812 Overture performed with fireworks and military cannons!).


So maybe that's why I'm bothered so much by what I call 'military tokenism.' When the flight attendant asks us offhand, in between telling us to put up our tray tables and turn off our electronic devices, to please clap for the military personnel on board, that's tokenism. When we are pitched rubber bracelets for our wrists, magnetic ribbons for our cars, flags for our yards, and other sundry products so that some company can make a profit on the message of 'Support Our Troops,' that's tokenism. When politicians make their yearly speech on Memorial Day about the importance of service to our country while simultaneously ignoring the needs of our military personnel the rest of the year, that's tokenism. I'm sure that all of these initiatives are heartfelt in their own way, but they don't feel very sincere to me; appreciation for those who serve has been co-opted for other purposes: "Did I show appreciation for the troops (while simultaneously advancing my own agenda and ignoring them the rest of the time)? Check." 

Since this blog relates to schools, leadership, and technology, I'll note that I see similar tokenistic behaviors in this realm as well. I can't tell you how many schools I've visited where the principal proudly tells me, "We've got a lot of technology here," and notes the presence of a computer in every room and a handful of computer labs or rolling laptop carts. There's rarely mention of how students are using digital technologies and there's never mention of how regularly and often students get to use them. I don't care how much technology is in a school if the students don't get to regularly and frequently use it in meaningful ways. Again, it feels like the principal just wants to check a box and move on: "Can I point to a few pieces of technology in my school (while simultaneously ignoring it the rest of the time)? Check."

On both the military appreciation and technology integration fronts, we need to get past the checkbox approach. For instance, If we were really appreciative of our military personnel, we'd pay more attention to their physical, psychological, emotional, and family needs during and after their service. Similarly, if we truly cared about technology integration, we'd pay more attention to how regularly, frequently, and meaningfully it occurs within our classrooms.

So on this Memorial Day I hope you'll give more than a passing thought to the needs of our military and what it means to support them, not just today but every day. And, if you get a chance, think about and act locally upon the technology integration tokenism issue too. Thanks.

Image credit: Military dog tags on star field

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