Unplug Education. No Computers In Schools

A hot issue today in education is the usefulness of computers in the classroom. Some people – President Obama among them – argue that increasing resources should be spent to bring more computers and more internet access into schools and integrate them into education. The controversy, whether at the federal level or the local school board level, is usually over whether this is worth the expense. But the reality is that what our kids need most of all from schools – and libraries – is a respite from technology and time to give sustained, uninterrupted attention to learning the academic basics that they can then apply to any technological platform – just like the people who created those platforms in the first place. What we should be demanding from our schools is a computer- and internet-free zone.
The NY Times reports on a study showing that kids age 8-18 spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device. “And because so many of them are multitasking – say, surfing the Internet while listening to music – they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.”
The study then turned to the possible impact of all that time consuming electronic media:

Contrary to popular wisdom, the heaviest media users reported spending a similar amount of time exercising as the light media users. Nonetheless, other studies have established a link between screen time and obesity.
While most of the young people in the study got good grades, 47 percent of the heaviest media users – those who consumed at least 16 hours a day – had mostly C’s or lower, compared with 23 percent of those who typically consumed media three hours a day or less. The heaviest media users were also more likely than the lightest users to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.
The study could not say whether the media use causes problems, or, rather, whether troubled youths turn to heavy media use.

Certainly the latter is a significant possibility – that computers and TV are more readily adopted by preteens and teens who aren’t playing sports or socializing or wooing the opposite sex. But the broader point remains: schools should not be gateways to the internet, an adult medium if ever there was one. They should be a place to ensure that kids learn different skills than the ones they get from playing video games. If kids need to learn to work with computers as a trade, they can do that no sooner than junior/senior year of high school, the same way they would take a shop class. But otherwise, they are mostly being given a crutch that either short-circuits their learning process or the teacher’s teaching process – and reinforces as well the mental habits of overuse of technology.
I’m not one to argue that TV or computers are all bad for kids, although parents have to exercise some responsibility for placing outer limits on time spent on those media and supervise the content kids are exposed to. But school is supposed to ensure that kids get grounded in the basics. Unplugging them for the duration of the school day is the best way to ensure that happens.

6 thoughts on “Unplug Education. No Computers In Schools”

  1. First of all, hello there! I’ve seen your blog and some of its articles a few times already.
    Yeah, I know what you mean about the potential for abuse of computers in public schools.
    By father has been a high school teacher for years now, and he first taught at this special school in our hometown, “The Academy of Information Technology,” the idea being that bright students could go there and utilize computers. Instead, teachers at the other schools in town decided to use it as a dumping ground to get rid of their unwanted, unruly students; so, as a result, the all-around better students continued to study on as normal, while the worse students were rewarded with using computers to screw around all day. (And some of these kids were so bad… let me put it this way: For years now, my father has made a game of looking for former students in the police blotter.)

  2. I would definitely be against removing computers from schools. The issue shouldn’t be whether they are used, but how. Should computers be used for everything? Should kids have internet access at all times of the school day? Of course not. The district Craig mentioned obviously chose the wrong approach.
    The fact that kids outside of school are overusing media for noneducational purposes should not have any bearing on their use in an educationally appropriate manner.

  3. Isn’t this a bit backwards. Your blog, links, and website are a fantastic learning site–it’s instant, connected, and encourages discussions about all sorts of topics. It’s a great example of the possibilities that can be pursued through 21st century technologies and a passion for one’s own learning.
    Do we really want to remove that possibility from all schools and students.
    but if practicing cursive writing and memorizing dates was good enough for our generation, if must be good for the next generation.

  4. My daughter’s using Word to prepare some of her papers–in the 3rd grade. It seems odd to fossill me, but I guess I’d rather see her do that than spend hours practicing cursive.

  5. I have taught in NYC for over 15 years. It is my philosophy that going low-tech (meter sticks and stopwatches) helps the kids see the link between the physical world and mathematics way better than some hardware that will measure the speed of a projectile for them.
    Being able to post lab results or class notes on either the school’s website or on a googledoc makes my life easier.
    Being able to receive and send e-mails to parents, students and other teachers makes my life easier.
    Being able to go to wikipedia in the middle of class to show how the three types of iron oxide look different or to check the boiling point of acetone makes my life easier.
    Being able to use excel to crunch an entire set of class data in seconds makes my life easier.
    The point being; we learn through difficulty, but if everything is difficult, we are limited.
    Educators are figuring this out, and it will eventually become common wisdom by us and money-dolers alike.

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