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Morning over the bay

Technology in Education: Miracle or Madness?

Edmund Shirky

  • Stanley

    What a breath of fresh air-- common christian sense used in a practical and understandable form! I'm 50 and am just now seeing your resources.

  • Nancy R.

    I agree! the world would be a lot simpler without computers!

  • Tim Johnson

    While I agree with much of the thrust of Mr. Shirky's commentary, I cannot help noting that the irony of the fact that I received it over the internet! The problem is less with the technology, on which in any case the genie is out of the bottle, but rather with the mindless way it is too often used by too many. By the way, is the posed picture of the young lad with his laptop a takeoff on the well-known picture of the shoe-shine lad, smilingly greeting a prospective customer with "Shine, Mister?"?.

  • Ken Hougland

    Your points are well taken. However, I find it ironic that your article is published only in an online magazine -- the paper edition of Plough has gone out of existence. I audit a class nearby at Claremont McKenna College where the students do much of their study and research online. When I read an article I wish to share with a friend, even though I have read it in a paper publication, I look for it online to convenient send it to the other person. But no, I do not use Facebook, Twitter, etc. and we do not watch television, except for the DVD's we choose.

  • Stuart

    I think there is some credence in what has been written here, but a very narrow point of view in whole. As a teacher, and a teacher of IT, there is a definite place in today's learning environment for computers and the internet. If a child is not given the grounding in all aspects of education, including books and the written word, and in digital communication, then they run the risk of being holistic in all manner of educational content. I have long been amazed at the dysfunctional students in my classes, as they are in the majority, not able to write very well at all and most just do not like to read even the most basic book or printed word, be it in book or on screen. I think the K-6 part of schooling has a lot to do with the inability of students in our schools not being able to do the basics mentioned above, and need to get a move on to go back to basics for the child's sake. All manner of learning, including digital is needed in today's world if a student is going to get every chance to gain employment in today's job market, which demands skills with technology in most areas of employment, as well as the written word, good speech and pronunciation and skills in basic areas like reading and good spelling. Don't be single minded in thinking that the digital world is no good for a child's education, as they are living in the digital age and it is not going to go away, and as such must be given as as much credence as all the other forms of learning if a child is to have a full resume of skills to take with them out in the world when school is left for further study and work.

  • Ian Gay

    I could make many comments but I'll restrict myself to one observation; nowhere do we get any idea of the childrens' thoughts on this restriction. As a teacher for over 36 years, I have found that most students love the opportunity to 'create' and 'think for themselves' on a computer. Personally I would be surprised if the children were happy about the restrictions placed on them and I also believe they will be sorely disadvantaged in the future.

Education in our schools is in the midst of a technological revolution, where educational media and teaching methods are going digital, where wireless laptops are coming out in waves, and where books and magazines will soon be found only in museums. Our children communicate by texting and on Facebook, and are entertained by digital toys. The world our children enter is being re-created, and by providing the necessary technology, it is argued, we will empower our children to meet the challenges of the future.

I believe this is a big lie. Technology need not nor must not have a central role in children’s education, primary or secondary.

In the last eight years, my children have attended three primary schools and four high schools. While we were living in Australia, the primary schools required computer applications in most subjects, such as cut and paste posters, PowerPoint presentations and clip-art title pages. My wife and I were dismayed to see the stifling effects on our children’s creativity. When we conveyed our concern to the teachers, we were surprised to find that many agreed with us, and were happy to accept handwritten or drawn assignments.

In the high schools it was similar. Teachers were more than willing to work with us, and provided alternatives to computer-based assignments. Our daughter, who completed public high school without using a computer, is now in a university medical program. Another daughter, a senior in a high school in New York that provides a log-in for every student, is completing all her assignments with pen and paper and a word processor with no Internet connection. Her hand-drawn, hand-lettered posters have drawn interest and appreciation from both teachers and students.

Our other children now attend a church-run school that goes up to 10th grade that is completely computer free. The school does an excellent job teaching core subjects and meeting the state required testing without the students using computers. Our children do lots of reading, writing, singing and outdoor afterschool activities. They are busy and happy.

We have found that real learning takes place through much practice and depends on the exercise of both the mind and the hands. It is nurtured through a child’s senses and observation of the real world.

Digital technology threatens to undermine the very way children naturally learn. When children spend hours working on-line, with instant access to and excess of information, they miss other essential things. A monitor cannot inspire, or teach perseverance, empathy, compassion, or dedication. Computers easily isolate children, hindering their ability to relate to peers. It also damages the eyes, the neck, and the brain. And as we have experienced, it kills a student’s true creativity and the ability to think for himself. Today’s craze toward computer learning is putting a whole generation in jeopardy.

I refuse to risk my children’s future for the sake of an educational approach that is unproven but actually endangers a child’s development and innate desire to learn. My wife and I have decided to “just say no” to technology in education.

Parents, don’t believe the lie that unless your child becomes “literate” in the latest technology he or she will lag behind and be hopelessly disadvantaged. And don’t wait for experts to tell you, ten years from now, that the digital education revolution was a tragically flawed experiment, and that your child is a victim, a child robbed of his childhood. Decide what you want for your child and then fight for it. Talk to the teachers, and to the principal. Talk to other parents. Talk to your kids. Then act. Turn off your child’s computer log-in, and help them discover the wonder and benefits of pencil and paper. You will be surprised at how many people will agree with you, support you, and at how happy your children will be.

boy in a man
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