Thursday, September 23, 2004

(Fourth in a five-part series)

Why all this push toward computers in schools, such as last week’s move by Omaha’s District 66 to be an electronic Santa Claus to its high-school students and give them $3.3 million in Apple laptops?

We already know that only the self-serving computer industry says computers help kids learn better; everybody else knows that they’re causing public schools to spend more time and money, and to employ more people, to teach less.

We already know that educational software is designed to be ‘’teacher-proof,’’ so that nothing -- not even the teacher -- gets in between the curriculum that software is designed to present, and the student. That means teachers are out of the loop along with parents and taxpayers.

We already know too much time on a computer is bad for a child’s physical, mental and emotional health, and can actually hamper or erode his or her thinking ability and knowledge base. Kids used to fast-moving screens have trouble reading and listening for extended periods of time, and therefore they don’t pick up new vocabulary or discern subtleties as well. Meanwhile, computers in school are used for trivial pursuits for the vast majority of time at a cost-per-learning-unit that is many, many times more expensive than the traditional teaching tools of paper, pencil and books.

We’ve known for years that staring at TV and computer screens makes a child passive, reactive, overstimulated and distractible, rather than being the thoughtful, independent initiators of action that we want them to be. It’s as if the cyberworld makes the real world seem boring and irrelevant to them. It’s as if they’re addicted.

The ‘’stimulus-response’’ style of schooling, from computer ‘’prompts’’ to computer-graded standardized tests, values speed of response over quality of judgment. It’s lessening students’ ability to analyze and concentrate, and making them more isolated and single-minded, rather than warmly social, interactive, and open-minded.

We already know there’s a danger that technology will shape our minds and souls along with our schools, instead of the other way around. It’s already happening.

And we know that tens of millions of Americans have mastered the computer in adult life without spending a single day in school learning how to use it -- voila, moi, for example -- so any claim that the kids ‘’have’’ to become computer literate at an early age so that they can succeed in the workworld is ridiculous.

So wuzzup wit all dis fervor over computers in the classroom? Why is ed tech being sold to us parents and taxpayers in such dizzying array? And what are they doing with the mountain range of additional data that these computers are compiling on our kids?

To make a long story short: schools are no longer really about academics, but about political control. We all know information is power. That’s what this is all about. Computers are necessary for data collection . . . data collection is necessary for political control . . . and political control is the end game of wuzzup wit all dese computers in schools.

Computers are in schools not so that kids learn better. They’re there to produce more political control over people.

Now, take a deep breath. I know that’s shocking. But think about it:

-- All 50 states have in recent years adopted cookie-cutter graduation requirements and learning ‘’standards’’ in an array of subject areas that had to be incorporated in the curriculum presented at all grade levels, or the schools would lose their state tax funding. Basically, it’s curriculum written by educrats rather than parents, teachers and scholars. These ‘’standards’’ match from state to state, and amount to a national curriculum that’s pretty much boilerplate from coast to coast. This national curriculum is heavy on multiculturalism, environmentalism and all kinds of other ‘’isms’’ rather than traditional academics. Rather than facts, the kids are tested on ideology, to a large degree.

-- All 50 states are being required to assess their students on those same standards. An ‘’assessment’’ is a measurement, not a test. The purpose of these ‘’assessments’’ is to categorize that student in everything from career direction to character issues to personal demographics . . . a measurement of that student and his or her family’s politicized attitudes, values and beliefs, not academic progress.

-- The data from the ‘’assessments’’ is then compiled and stored for each individual student as well as for each student group, school, district and so on, and tracked for change over time.

-- The computer-based curriculum can easily be changed if the ‘’assessments’’ reflect a stubborn refusal to cave in to certain ideological points that the ‘’assessments’’ hold out as ‘’correct.’’ Students will be put through constant ‘’remediation’’ – something that used to be called ‘’brainwashing’’ – so that they can pass the ‘’assessments’’ eventually and share, at least on paper, the politicized opinions, values and beliefs of the educrats.

-- To make sure educators go along with this, ‘’high stakes’’ are in place that will cost them their jobs, their funding and, presumably, their first-born children, if the kids in their school don’t do ‘’well’’ on the ‘’assessments.’’

-- Our familiar standardized tests, including the Iowa Basics, the ACT, the SAT and the Graduate Record Examination, are all being rewritten to ‘’align’’ the questions to the new national curriculum represented by the ‘’standards.’’ New assessments, including graduation exams and teacher licensing exams, are being introduced to further cement this in place. The hurdle of these politicized ‘’assessments’’ is influencing curriculum in public, private and even homeschools to be more closely aligned with the national curriculum so that kids can do ‘’well’’ on the ‘’assessments’’ . . . which we already know are no longer really academic. But the ‘’assessments’’ are the gatekeepers for continuing education and various career paths, so doing ‘’well’’ on them will be a ‘’must’’ at all levels of schooling.

-- Computer records on each student will follow that student throughout school and for the rest of his or her life. So if you flunked a drug test in high school, or surfed on your school-issued laptop frequently to online gambling sites, school staffers will know, and so will future prospective employers. If your answers to computer-generated tests indicate that you tend to discount authority, you will be ‘’flagged’’ for referral to an in-school anger management class. If you refuse to go, that’ll be on your record, too. If your answers reflect a willingness to compromise your basic beliefs in order to meet the approval of your peers, that’ll be on there. If your answers reflect a strong belief in the Bible and Jesus Christ, complete with all His teachings, you may flunk test questions about ‘’appreciating diversity’’ such as homosexuality, that you believe to be sin. You’ll have to accept a lot of ‘’F’s’’ and be blocked from a good college, or be forced to change your religious views or at least pretend to on test questions. On the other hand, if your computer use indicates that you are questioning any form of religious faith or have adopted atheism, that’ll be on your record, too.

-- So to the extent that the educrats can control the formation of your attitudes, values and beliefs, and control your eventual college admission, graduate-school choice, post-secondary training opportunities and career path, they can control YOU.

So what can we do? Throw all the computers into the Missouri River and go back to one-room schoolhouses with chalk and slates?

Like that will ever happen. And it doesn’t have to.

There are ways to respond to this. There are lots of good things about computers. We can have it all. But we have to be smart. Reboot to the last in this series tomorrow . . . and let’s rebuild our desktops on this vital issue with a plan of action.

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