Thursday, May 05, 2005

Computers in the Classroom


The Culture of Life News admits to being rather geeky in outlook. We love computers, especially really good (and perhaps expensive) computers. The better the computer and the better the interface the happier we all are. We look forward to improvement in computer technology, speed of processing, programming break throughs, all of it. The more the better, we say.

But there is a legion of naysayers. They point to the dismal, sad way computers are used in school. Always, the schools vote to use the cheapest systems available. If a child is computer savvy and lives with really up to date systems, using the dinosaurs at school, far from being educational is painful if not utterly infuriating. As my son would say, "Just DO it already, sheesh". Teeth grinding. Nightmarish.

As universities mandate computers, for example, Renssalear Polytech required laptops for all students, the kids would sit in class and multitask. Namely, talk to each other via on line chat systems. My own spawnlings do this all the time. They get bored if they can't do this. Sometimes, they even put up chat for the professor. A good teacher responds.

But this is way out on the outer edge of techyland.">An aquaintance of mine going way back, Todd Oppenheimer, wrote a book a few years ago which tears apart the use of computers in school comparing them to passive systems like movies or TV or other visual aids. This is possible only if one views computers in schools as limited, passive machines feeding information to children and not much else. This ignores the real power of computing: the active interface which extends powers tremendously if used aggressively.

According to the Christian Science Monitor: Mr. Oppenheimer's conclusion: Putting computers in classrooms has been almost entirely wasteful, and the rush to keep schools up-to-date with the latest technology has been largely pointless.

"At this early stage of the personal computer's history, the technology is far too complex and error prone to be smoothly integrated into most classrooms," Oppenheimer writes. "While the technology business is creatively frantic, financially strapped public schools cannot afford to keep up with the innovations."

Of course, this is not the first time US schools have been seduced by new technology, Oppenheimer points out. He summarizes the history of technological innovations in American schools and explains how each (TV among them) has been hailed as education's savior.

And yet, despite technology's lack of success in US classrooms, many Americans still prefer to invest in computers rather than in teachers, Oppenheimer charges.

My son's geek buddies in high school loved doing this. Sometimes they got caught...hacking. Hacking is the dark side of the force. It developed its own community. Its own culture and language. The "error prone" part of computing is disappearing as programmers improve the language tools and the electronic interface changes due to improved chip design and energy travel details are ironed out. But even in the old, "error" prone days, the geeky computer hacker kids that were previously despised by other children far from being deterred by the errors, they reveled in them! At home they would chat online about what happened and solutions or even suggestions for MAKING IT WORSE. For you see, in the 3,000 year old battle of the kids vs the teachers, this was a wonderful tool to run circles around a teacher. I wish I had that.

Teachers often drove me nuts. You can't interrupt them, that is rude and makes a class unruly yet one also wishes the class would take a hike, too. Obviously, many kids are profoundly disinterested in school or learning. So instead of leaping ahead, lights turning on, the class room run by the dictator/teacher is an onerous place to be endured and ditched as quickly as possible.

This really irritated me because I loved to learn stuff. Anything. Just give it over, OK? Instead, the most boring, tedious way to share information, all due to the fact that it was archaic and habitual, passed on generation to generation nearly unchanged since ancient Rome!---when out there, in the other world, there exists an exciting system that has everything, nearly everything!--right there, including contacting humans from far away of like mind....the joy, the sheer joy of the net....way back when we had it only for college kids I started to haunt the net and met...boyfriends who were geek freaks! Precious souls, all! Sigh.

In today's edition of

Recently, I’ve seen a bumper sticker that states, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Each year the first full week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week. There’s more than 3 million teachers in elementary, middle and high school classrooms teaching about 46 million children how to read, write, calculate, conduct experiments, observe the universe, and grow up to be good citizens. That’s a lot of people to thank, but thanks are not enough.

By 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that we will need about 18% more teachers than are in the classroom now. The BLS notes that “Currently, many school districts have difficulty hiring qualified teachers in some subject areas—mathematics, science (especially chemistry and physics), bilingual education, and foreign languages.” Teaching is a growth industry, but will schools be able to attract people to the profession? In particular, will schools be able to attract those trained in mathematics and physical sciences?

Ouch. So many things wrong, I don't know where to start. Did any of the readers of this blog learn to read IN SCHOOL? I certainly did not. Nor did any of my brothers or sisters. Mom taught us and we taught each other in turn. When I learned, I couldn't wait to enlighten my littler brothers and sister. My mother was yelled at for teaching my eldest sister (super computer geek today) to read so she didn't teach my older brother and was reprimanded by the teacher because "he was refusing to learn how to read" so she taught him, too. And gave up listening to teachers.

I was reading as a three year old so books and I became friends long before teachers and I became alienated advesaries.

I taught my children how to read. At home. No "system" was required. We read books. Lots and lots of books. Together. My daughter even told her teacher in school she couldn't read simply because she wanted to read with someone and not alone!

When we began to use computers at home all the time as various systems came out that were useable, we found that our interaction with each other increased. When the internet (thank you, Gore!) became available at home, as my kids left home, we were never far apart thanks to the internet. I know my kids communicate all the time every day via the net. Just like this community here on line talks, every day. We love this. And the quality of writing?

WOW!!! I know my speed of writing and ability to frame an article has shot up thanks to interacting on the net. I have learned so much because we tell each other about mistakes, errors, unreasonable conclusions, all the pitfalls of writing are immediately critiqued and the feedback loop is very intense. I love this!

Every day is a lesson.

The article above goes to the usual canards: we need more "teachers" and they need better salaries (yeah, like I can pay another $5000 in property taxes each year?) and computers are OK but can't teach like the old fashioned classroom dicators I fondly do not want to remember? Yeah, you know, I have learned so much about many things thanks not only to computers but interacting with intelligent people AS AN EQUAL. When this happens, you are not resentful or angry or imposed upon and learning is a cup of tea. For two.

In a sane system, all students learn from computer physics, really easy to do. The "teacher" can cover many students over great distances via computer. The kids would have to learn to log on and frame questions using the human languages they use and this helps develop and extend the critical writing abilities. Use it or lose it.

The ability to write improves as one uses it to write and the thing most American students seldom do is...write. I taught my kids how to write. They had to write things all the time. I insisted on it. Now they are good writers. Nothing magical. But what gave this all a big boost was the internet. Today, the illiterate scratchings I used to see all the time are clearing up! People in general write better than ten years ago. Seriously better.

Today, on CNN, is an article about test cheating thanks to the stupid "Leave No Child Behind Act" which terrorizes teachers and the system into desperate measures to pass through children who are profoundly disinterested in learning anything, just so they get more tax money and can keep getting pay checks!

The Houston district began an internal investigation four months ago after finding unexplained jumps in scores and statistical irregularities on standardized tests at 23 schools, Saavedra said.

Two months into the investigation, Saavedra announced the district had identified two teachers at an elementary school who assisted students on the state exam. The district has recommended those teachers be fired, and has demoted the school's principal.

Kids hate tests. So do most sane creatures. Not all do, of course. "99 percentile" kids, those who are at the top, love tests. It is a break in a normally hideously boring day. I once had a teacher tell me, "If you don't do this, I will give you a test". I said, "That's great! I accept the challenge!" I was so happy. After three punishment tests, he decided to surrender.

In closing, there is the debate about teaching evolution which, as usual, centers in Kansas. "What is the matter with Kansas" indeed! I think Kansas is brain dead. I went to Kansas University for one summer and outside of the campus enclave, it was an intellectual desert. Some people want to kill off all knowledge and being dictator types feel they can do this by muzzling teachers. Of course, any sane, enterprising student can go around this feeble barrier but they don't care. They simply want to have the schoolroom dictator spout complete nonsense and force kids to parrot it back.

This teaches nothing but how to be stupid. Not that anyone cares. What they want are automatic responses to see if the propaganda or social controls work. "How many fingers to you see, Mr. Smith Jr," says O'Brien waving his hand, glaring. The cage of rats squeaking in terror and hunger is nearby.

to see the cartoon better: Tole's homepage

Note how even the cartoonist thinks we will use the most archaic form of writing on the SAT tests! Why not use cuniform? Or illustrate it like the monks did in the Middle Ages?

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