Chapter 9. Educational Provocations

Chapter 9. Educational Provocations

I have, in the following collection of short statements, attempted to gather some thoughts that could usefully stimulate discussion among school board members, parents, and teachers, as well as students in the upper grades. I certainly cannot claim whole, or even part, ownership for many of these statements. I have sifted the underlying truths from my own experience, from conversations with friends and colleagues, and from the educational literature. Here I have tried to formulate each point as generally and simply and sometimes as offensively as possible, without any effort to supply supporting references. It is for the reader to discover and qualify the many ramifications of each statement.

  • Lack of information has not been the bottleneck in education for decades, or even centuries. Rather, the task for the teacher is to take the infinitesimal slice of available information that can actually be used in the classroom and find some way to bring students into living connection with it.

  • The single thing children suffer from most in today's society is the lack of close relationships with caring adult mentors.

  • Given how many hours a day children pursue mediated experience through cinema screens, television screens, cell phone screens, and video game screens, it hardly makes sense to add a computer screen to the mix while saying reassuringly, "Let's make sure the children use it in a balanced way."

  • Computer labs have been displacing art, music, craft, and physical education classes. Does anyone pretend to have shown that the exchange is beneficial?

  • Money going toward computers could have been used for reducing class size.

  • The huge amounts of time teachers must spend learning to adapt their curriculum to the computer, and themselves to the latest software, could have been devoted to a livelier understanding of the subjects they teach.

  • Children, whose developing bodies need vigorous and varied physical activity, already spend too much sedentary time in cars, classrooms, and in front of televisions, contributing to an epidemic of obesity, among other things. Why are we now urging them to spend more time sitting in front of computers?

  • The claim that computers can stimulate kids, if true, hardly points to the decisive need for an overstimulated and hyperactive generation. Everything hinges on the kind of stimulation.

  • The quality of kids' play is correlated with their later cognitive, aesthetic, and social skills. There is, on the other hand, no demonstrated positive connection between these skills and early computer use and there may be a pronounced negative connection.

  • How can we encourage the child's attentive love for the natural world? Studies have shown that naturalists, ecologists, and environmental activists, together with teachers in these fields, have had, more than most people, childhood experiences in wild places with adult mentors.

  • If it's impossible to love mankind without loving the people around you, it's also impossible for computer-wielding children to love the Amazon rain forest, African wildlife, and the environment in general without learning to love the bits of nature immediately around them in yard, street, and park.

  • Internet-based multicultural programs in our schools are often more a celebration of electronic monoculture triumphant than of the invisible local cultures that technology is so efficiently marginalizing. Children in the United States end up communicating with their peers in wealthy families in technologically sophisticated, westernized schools with access to technology not the children in poor villages without electric outlets.

  • Literacy depends much more deeply upon the child's powers of attention, language-use skills, imagination, and questioning strategies than it does on the alphabetic-sound and word drills computers are so often used for. We can reasonably ask whether the drills weaken the more fundamental capacities.

  • For most people the computer, whether inside the classroom or outside, stands as an image of the human mind. But, for all its increasing presence in the lives of children, it presents an extremely one-sided, limiting, and distorted image of the mind.

  • Using the computer without understanding it encourages children to defer to it inappropriately, as when many say the computer never makes mistakes and is therefore more authoritative than their teacher.

  • Teaching the principles of computation, in any full sense, is best deferred until secondary school. These schools, however, are widely failing in their responsibility to teach students about digital technologies. They substitute computer use and online experience for a many-sided, socially and psychologically aware understanding of the technology.

  • Parents pushing for computer use in schools are often driven by fears for their child's employability and by an undue respect for the computer as a glamorous emblem of technical expertise.

  • Pressure to use computers in the classroom comes from the massively funded marketing arms of high-tech corporations, which are perfectly happy for the public educational system to condition the interests and buying habits of their future customers and oversee the vocational training of their future employees.

  • Elementary schools should not be vocational training centers.

  • It is well-known that even the knowledge of graduates in computer science becomes largely obsolete within five years of graduation. What, then, is the sense in "training" fourth or fifth graders for their future work with computers?

  • The task of schools is to encourage the development of children who can decide what sorts of job are worth having in the coming century, not to train children to fit whatever jobs the system happens to crank out.

  • A great deal of computer-based learning turns out to be more about creating nifty computer effects than about learning the subject at hand.

  • The computer is often used as a gimmick to lend a touch of glamor or excitement to a subject. Why is this artificial glamorization more appealing than making the subject itself exciting something good teachers have no difficulty doing?

  • As computer exposure among the young increases, the glamor factor is progressively losing its effectiveness. Therefore we see escalating competition among web sites and software makers to deliver novel entertainment value, much as we have seen in television and cinema. Indeed, turning children over to the computer for their education is much like turning them over to television. Babysitters have long appreciated the convenience of this.

  • More and more children's web sites have the same purpose as Saturday morning television: to keep children glued to the screen until they see the next commercial a task on which vastly more psychological expertise is brought to bear than is ever available to schools pursuing the child's inner development.

  • Parents who are impressed that their tube-bound kids are so focused should ask themselves whether "focused" means "mesmerized" and whether hyperactivity is the flip side of mesmerization.

  • The computer has been embraced as an all-purpose answer without the educational problems for which it is the needed answer ever having been articulated and in willful ignorance of all the problems the computer itself introduces.

  • What do you think?

(For a listing of the articles from which many of these thoughts were extracted, see the "Education and computers" entry in the NetFuture topical index: ( For substantive, well-referenced treatments of many of the questions raised here, get in touch with the Alliance for Childhood, (

Devices of the Soul. Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines
ISBN: 0596526806
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2007
Pages: 122
Authors: Steve Talbott © 2008-2017.
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