A photo on the front page of my newspaper prompted this post: eighth-grade students in a classroom, sitting isolated in their rows, staring at the screens of school-issued Chromebooks.
The article quotes various educators who express the view that the higher number of computers, the higher the quality of education.
One school is held up as a particularly fine example because “all students in grades K-2 have iPad Minis and all students grades 3-12 have Chromebooks.”
It’s a grave mistake to equate the provision of individual computers for all students K-12 with educational quality.
One administrator justifies the emphasis on computers in the classroom by the fact that children are using them outside the classroom:
Today’s students are coming from a background in technology. You see a 2-year-old in a grocery cart at the store playing with an iPhone. You go to the airport and see kids using a device while waiting for their plane.
The fact that children are using computers outside of school is no reason to immerse them in their use during the school day.
Indeed, concern is growing that children under the age of ten are especially susceptible to acquiring what is being called “digital addiction.” Also called “internet addiction,” the condition is not recognized officially by the US mental health establishment, but it has been recognized by many other countries and by the World Health Organization.
Even in the United States, a growing industry offers “detox” programs for children and adults whose preoccupation with video games, texting, and social media has become a disorder as debilitating as gambling or cocaine addiction.
Just because parents are quieting their babies with cellphone and iPad apps doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing or
that public schools should put iPads into the hands of kindergartners.
At the same time public school administrators are shelling out millions of tax dollars to equip five-year-olds with iPads, high-tech-savvy parents in Silicon Valley send their children to expensive private schools in which computer-use is delayed until seventh grade.
The learning needs of children Grades K-3 are quite different from those of students Grades 4-6, Grades 7-8, and Grades 9-12.
Children between the ages of five and ten need to be learning and perfecting skills best taught with paper and pencil. Even older children need to organize their thoughts on paper before producing a finished product with a computer.
Paper and pencil promote creative thought in a way that computers do not. When a thinking creature puts pencil to paper to draw letters or objects, as in doodling during a lecture, the mind becomes attentive in a way that it does not when tapping on a keyboard.
One of the teachers quoted in the article that prompted this post uses a computer to review her students’ writing and send comments to them “in real time.” She says, “It’s a more private way of communicating with students in class, which is good for those students who are shy about raising their hands.”
One of the most important functions of the classroom is to teach students to deal with their shyness. Using computers to shield eighth-graders from having to speak aloud in the classroom produces young adults who require “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” when they go to college or enter the work force.
More and more, we are seeing our society devolve into a collection of individuals trapped inside their own heads. Human beings are social beings. To be mentally healthy, they must interact agreeably with their fellow creatures. A new generation steeped in digital communication apparently can’t stand the intimacy of a telephone call. Witness television commercials that now offer ways of ordering products impersonally, “without ever having to talk to another human being.”
If computer use in the classroom stunts the development of other forms of learning and healthy human development, then the fact that “all students in grades K-2 have iPad Minis and all students grades 3-12 have Chromebooks” is nothing to brag about.