Wednesday, July 27, 2005


The next time a politician, school administrator or teachers’ union wonk cries that Nebraskans are cheapskates about spending tax dollars in public schools, slap ‘em. Or stuff a sock in it, anyway.

According to Governing magazine’s Source Book 2005, Nebraska ranks fourth and fifth in the country in two important measurements of expenditures on computers in school. (See
www.governing.com, though the Source Book isn’t available online.)

Nebraska’s numbers:

2.7 students per instructional computer, ranked 4th

2.9 students per Internet-connected computer, ranked 5th

(Figures from Education Week, 2004)

Lest you think this is something of which to be proud, think again. There’s not a shred of evidence that computers make kids smarter, and in fact, the stark truth is that the more computerized K-12 education gets and the more money we spend per pupil on stuff like technology, the less literate and numerate our kids are becoming.

Computers in the K-12 classroom are swiftly transforming education into a materialistic, control-freak, stimulus-response, knee-jerk, anti-knowledge environment. Computerization maximizes how much money it takes to equip a classroom, and minimizes the influence of the teacher and locally-selected curriculum, not to mention locally-elected school boards, locally-paid educators and administrators, and even that last bastion of local control, moms and dads.

Why? Because computer content, especially the Internet, is swiftly becoming king in K-12. Nothing, and nobody, get between the heart and mind of the student, and the computerized curriculum. And that’s very, very bad.

Read why in today’s column:


The Problem With Computer-Based Curriculum

Q. Is it a good thing that schools are using technology, particularly computers, so much in classroom lessons these days?

Not according to teachers like Cliff Stoll, an astrophysicist and author. He wrote in a recent L. A. Times op-ed that computers in the classroom are titanic wastes of money, and ineffective and even counterproductive learning tools.

He wrote, “The computer changes the ecology of the classroom. Attention is diverted away from the teacher and toward the magic screen. Electronic media are emphasized at the expense of the written word. Books feel boring compared with their online competitors. As a result, school libraries have morphed into media centers, where Internet feeds and DVDs push aside books and magazines. Increasingly, schools teach the easy stuff: how to change fonts, surf the Web or make a PowerPoint show.”

He says that a broad knowledge base, general academics, and human relations skills are much more important for a constructive, happy adult life than computer skills, especially since kids are already O.D.’ed on electronics as it is.

He’s among a growing chorus of skeptics who say that computers are a toy, not a legitimate instrument of learning.

“Having judged several science fairs,” Stoll wrote, “I notice plenty of projects with professional graphics yet devoid of creativity and individual initiative. Instead of downloaded images from an orbiting observatory, I'd prefer to see a student's hand-drawn observations of the moons of Jupiter as observed through her backyard telescope.”

He added, “What was once an exciting novelty in education has become a distraction from learning. It's because our future is intertwined with technology that schools should unplug their computers and develop the fundamental qualities and human skills needed to manage our increasingly techno-centric society.”

Concerns go beyond the inferiority of computers compared to teachers, the inaccuracies and quagmires of Internet research, and the detrimental effects on human relationships of what Stoll calls “disembodied network interactions.”

A whole other issue, and a disturbing one, is the specter of government control over computer-delivered curriculum and assessment -- excluding parents, teachers, legislators and taxpayers -- and setting the stage for massive and easy brainwashing of children, an entire generation at a time.

Homework: Hear the warnings of Texas education activist Donna Garner on a radio talk show in this audio (note: more than 30 minutes):


Footnote to Tuesday’s “laptop lament” over the plan by the Omaha Public Schools to spend $259,545 for 220 laptops for fourth-graders in low-income schools this fall. That figures to $1,180 apiece. Meanwhile, a nimble Go Big Ed reader sent me an ad for another laptop, an Inspiron 1200, for $499 – far less than half the price. It has a CD burner, a DVD drive, a 30 gigabyte hard drive, a 15-inch screen, and so on. Now, I know OPS will have to spend money on training and ongoing operations to support those laptops. But . . . jiminy Christmas. Do they not teach the concept of “comparison shopping” in teachers’ college?

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