So here’s the thing that made me finally get off my duff and start posting something. Found this opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle (via this post on Slashdot) questioning the wisdom of schools nationwide spending boatloads of cash on putting computers in classrooms while simultaneously laying off teachers and closing school libraries. Ever since I saw a webcast a few years ago of a speech by Cliff Stoll (author of, among other things, “High Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian“), I’ve had fairly strong reservations about the use of computers in classrooms. I think Oppenheimer hits the major points fairly well here, though if this were a book I would hope to see some specific hard data to back up some of his claims.
What it really comes down to is this: what exactly are you trying to teach the kids? What most people think of as “computer skills” can be taught to kids in much less time and with far fewer resources than we’re throwing at them. Employers can train new hires on the software-du-jour. They can’t (economically, at least) train them to think critically, communicate effectively, or handle numbers accurately. Are we teaching kids skills they can learn just as well later in life at the expense of abilities they only have a short window to develop? There are all kinds of things traditionally available to kids in school that are extremely difficult if not near impossible to pick up as an adult. Think languages, musical instruments, art, etc. These are the things that are losing out in the “budget crunch” while spending on overpriced, short-lived technology continues to go through the roof.
Those of you who know me know that I’m far from a “Luddite.” I’m a programmer, I run Linux, I dig gadgets, etc. But a computer is as much a “good” thing as a gun is a “bad” thing — it’s not. It’s a tool, albeit a rather powerful one. There’s a saying that “when you have a new hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It seems that schools have found a really really expensive hammer, and I’m afraid of what’s getting pounded out of the budget to support it.
Hmm…there’s probably a political cartoon in there somewhere. Too bad I’m not an artist…