Wrong tool for the job?

You may already had the experience of replacing a car battery when the alternator, generator or ignition switch needed replacing. Like me years ago, you may have tried to get a ton of school work done by staying up all night when the work would have been done faster and better with more sleep. Every problem situation challenges us to make a correct diagnosis. When we fail to identify the job that really needs to be done, we have set ourselves up to select the wrong tool, remedy, solution or intervention.

Situations where student disengagement appears to be a problem are rife with opportunities to unwittingly make a misdiagnosis. We won't realize how disengagement is not the real problem. We won't consider the network of related problems. We'll become overconfident that the student disengagement is the real problem to be solved. It will seem obvious to us that "tools for engagement" will solve the problem.

There are many other problems for which student disengagement is merely a warning sign, symptom or lagging indicator. Here are some of those possible real problems indicated by evidence of student disengagement:
  1. "learned helplessness" or "morbid dependency on authority figures following years of getting told to comply with classroom dictates
  2. chronic anxiety tied to pending crises in other contexts which interferes with paying attention, making a contribution and subsequent reflection upon new information
  3. insatiable addictions to escapes from burdensome obligations offered by socializing, gaming, media consumption or substance abuse
  4. loss of reading comprehension from prolonged and repeated exposure to audio-visual, conversational and micro-text communications
  5. devotion to a counter-dependent stance that gains approval from a peer group whenever choosing to act defiant, deviant or disinterested
  6. internalized damage from abusive relationships which dismisses personal validity, voice, viewpoint and receptivity to recognition
  7. repeated incidents of confusion, disorientation and defeat from under developed resources for critical thinking and conceptual manipulations
If any combination of these dynamics are functioning as the real problem, then wiki, blogs, and comment boxes are the wrong tools for the job. No amount of open-access opportunities to contribute, collaborate and learn in public view -- will alleviate or remediate these problems.

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