The Downside of Computers in the Early Grades

This headline in today’s paper caught my eye:

Auto-everything Hurts Pilot Skills

The story that followed explained that, because of more and more reliance on automated programs on airplanes, pilots are losing the hands-on skills needed in emergencies.

Pilots use automated systems to fly modern airliners for all but about three minutes of a flight: the takeoff and landing….They have few opportunities to maintain their skills by flying manually…

According to the article, “hundreds of people have died over the past five years in ‘loss of control’ accidents in which planes…got into unusual positions that the pilots could not correct.”

What is true with airline pilots is true of every human endeavor that depends upon learning and developing a specific skill:

If you don’t use it, you lose it.

When it comes to the academic skills of reading and writing, children who are exposed too early to computers in the classroom are in danger of never learning them properly.

Even in this computer-driven age, children under the age of nine need to be introduced to the academic skills of reading and writing via paper and pencil.

They need to internalize the connections between speech sounds and letter shapes through their fingers and their brains. They need to learn the conventions of printed books, even if most of their adult reading will be done on computer screens. They need to learn to read fluently, spell the words they use, and write legibly before they are exposed to word processors and spellcheck programs. They need to be given the opportunity to experience the pleasures of reading a book in a quiet, cosy corner before they are thrown into the pinballesque, shortcut-taking environment of computer use.

The “critical thinking skills” that professional educators talk so much about and try to teach as if they constituted some kind of separate school subject are a by-product of learning to read and write “the old-fashioned” way.

And who’s to say that today’s school children will grow up into a world in which computer use remains so easy of access? Just how literate is an adult whose literacy is tied to computer use?

2 comments to The Downside of Computers in the Early Grades

  • Jeremy,
    Good question. I have no experience in what is involved in teaching the blind to read, but from what I’ve read, the process is similar to that of teaching sighted children:

    “Learning braille is a lot like learning print. Neurologists using FMRI scanners have discovered that skilled braille readers use the same parts of their brains (including the vision parts of the brain!) as sighted people do when they read print.” http://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/node/478

  • Jeremy Wheeler

    “children under the age of nine need to be introduced to the academic skills of reading and writing via paper and pencil…The “critical thinking skills” that professional educators talk so much about and try to teach as if they constituted some kind of separate school subject are a by-product of learning to read and write “the old-fashioned” way.”

    The only problem I have with this argument is its reliance on sight. How do blind and partially sighted people develop their critical thinking skills?

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