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No-Tech Schools In Tech Land 538

manyoso writes: "This article in the Oregonian tells how some hi-tech parents at Intel are opting for a school without computers for their children. From the article: 'Conventional wisdom holds that children can only benefit from exposure to technology', but children, 'shouldn't spend first-grade skipping coloring and learning to keyboard... Emphasizing computers doesn't seem to enhance students' creativity and could even stifle it... We want them to eventually see what a computer can do for them, but only after they know what they can do for themselves.'" Clifford Stoll has argued and written along similar lines.
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No-Tech Schools In Tech Land

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  • I agree. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @09:46PM (#2997853) Homepage Journal
    By the time we finally learned how to use a computer (in 7th and 8th grade, and we learned BASIC programming on TRS-80s), anything we'd learned was already obsolete. Those of us who already knew computers couldn't care less about what we were "learning" in class, and everyone else just saw no point to it. All it really did was take time away from actually learning real shit. Teaching kids how to use a word processor or "research" things on the Internet gives them no advantage at all over somebody who's spent most of their school life in more creative endeavors.

    I'm glad I didn't bother learning how to use a PC until I felt like it.

    - A.P.
  • by bobetov ( 448774 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @09:47PM (#2997858) Homepage
    It seems to me learning how to do things "the old fashioned way" is how we broaden our minds. A computer is a tool, and a narrow one, for interfacing with and manipulating certain types of information. As much as I love my Athlon 1800+, Photoshop is no substitute for for learning how to paint.

    You exercise different parts of your brain doing different things, and much of art and engineering are built on the lessons we learned playing with clay, Lego's and blocks as children. Actually dissecting a frog teaches a hell of a lot more than using an "interactive" multimedia CD on the subject. Doing long-division by hand is the only way to really understand what that division key on the calculator really does.

    Let's keep it real, folks. :-) That being said, typing classes should be mandated by law. Heheh.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @09:48PM (#2997865)
    If anything, I think that computers encourage creativity. If you have a fast mind, the computer might be the only thing that can keep up with you, and think of all the possibilities on a computer!

    Take an example, such as powerpoint. Since powerpoint went mainstream, we have seen the same 50 clipart pics with the same 50 slide changes over and over again. I served as a student teacher (at an inner city Atlanta school) for about 3 months (in order to get a teaching minor), and the worst mistake I ever did was say that kids could use powerpoint for a science project (unofficial) i told them to do. The next day, 80% of my class brought something in on powerpoint. The worst part was they all expected a high grade because they used computers.

    The fact is, computers are good as a tool. However, they are not good when they actually start to become the only tool. Kids these days are now thinking within terms of Power Point... "Oh cool, i can use the sliding fade here into the next scene." They are no longer thinking outside of the box.
  • by GlobalEcho ( 26240 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @09:49PM (#2997870)
    I've noticed that the more a parent spends time with computers, the less important they think it is for their children to use one.

    As a parent who spends all day on the computer, I feel they are nearly useless as teaching aids (except for programming, naturally). That's particularly true for small children.

    People who don't spend time with computers tend to (it seems) mystify them. Perhaps they think there's some profound skill in moving a mouse around.

  • by parliboy ( 233658 ) <parliboy AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @09:55PM (#2997913) Homepage
    I spent my "formidable years" in small religious private schools of varying quality. The one consistency amongst them was the shunning-upon of calculators and other such aides. The forced development of street math and the fast thinking that comes with it carried over very well to other parts of my life.
  • by xeeno ( 313431 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @09:56PM (#2997916) Homepage
    It completely ruins the ability for a student to do basic math skills. I teach college-level classes in which lots of math is involved, and I've seen kids use a calculator to add 50 to 50.
  • Here here! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @09:56PM (#2997919) Journal
    The voices of wisdom speak!

    I am a father of 5, and we home-school the children. At first, we thought that having all the computers around the house (I am a freelance programmer) along with educational videos would allow us to accelerate their progress - boy were we wrong.

    Educational games do little more than encourage the kid to click on stuff randomly. They couldn't remember what they saw in a video 20 minutes after seeing it. And they lived their day around TV shows and video games... nothing much happening.

    But, after we mandated "No TV - No computer games" - we saw stunning improvements! Suddenly they took an interest in their environment. We saw sharp improvements in their creativity and curiosity. They also behave MUCH better towards each other - much less aggression and infighting. Additionally, they took/take a much greater interest in reading, music (other than top 40s), etc.

    Since then, we've done some research, to find that children's psychological development reaches a real understanding of abstract concepts beginning at around age 12-14.

    To expose kids to abstracts, (such as the images on a TV Screen or computer) rather than "real" things (like play-dough, the sand pit, Legos) etc, deprives them of basic understanding of these "real" things then making it more difficult to understand abstracts later.

    So, despite my very strong tech background, I do not feel that computers and "technology" should be introduced to kids until at least Jr. high.

  • by Theodore Logan ( 139352 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @10:10PM (#2998005)
    Once the dot-com boom was a fact and everybody went ballistic and cried for "IT" scheduled in public schools from an early age, there was conducted an experiment.

    Two large groups of school children (and one control group) were chosen. One of these group had massive "IT" training. The other group had massive music training. A year later results clearly showed that the "IT" students had not enhanced their creativity, formal reasoning or anything else of interest. The music students, however, had enhanced creativity, analytical thinking and other areas of significance enormously. They also seemed to get along better with each other, and to be more content with their lives than people in the control group or in the IT group.

    Unfortunately, nobody took much notice of this study, although it was huge. Probably because it didn't show the results the politicians wanted it to show. Nowadays there's a lot of "IT" training in elementary schools. I have, however, yet to come across a normal elementary school with an increased number of music lessons.

    This was in Sweden, by the way.

  • by Vikki_R. ( 532184 ) <vikki,roemer&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @10:16PM (#2998036)
    Coding lets you do nearly anything, and you could do graphic design or play imaginative games.

    Yeah, but how many K-6 or -8 grade kids do you know who can program? Granted, playing on the computer is better than laying around watching TV-- it's more interactive, and most of the time you have to have some sort of reading ability to use the computer properly. I think what the parents are concerned about is that other, more important, areas of the kids' education may be neglected in favour of computers. It's far more important for the kids to learn to count, add fractions, write letters, and colour by hand in the lines than it is for them to learn about right-click menus and mail-to links at this point . Later, after they master basic skills, then is the time to teach them about the wonderful world of computers.

    I don't know how many of your parents were like this, but my parents have a rule about the calculator for both me and my younger brother. Before we're allowed to use a calculator for a certain type of math problem, we have to be able to do the work by hand, or in our heads, proficiently before they let us use a calculator. Now this rule doesn't apply to me so much, but when I was in elementary and middle school, it did. And since my parents have & enforce that rule, I know (past experience) that I can, if need be, solve almost any geometry and most algebra problems in my head. Because I learned the math myself before I was even allowed to touch a calculator. Compare that to most of the kids in my class in school-- they struggled with a calculator, forget mental math. They weren't stupid; they just never learned to function without a calculator.

    So hold off on the computers till about 4th or 5th grade. And even then keep the computer time within limits. Let the kids learn to read dead-tree books first; let them learn to use their imagination, rather than use the computer to provide one for them; let them learn to do math by themselves, so that the computer/calculator only becomes an easier way to do the math, not the only way. The kids will be much better for it in the long run.

    That is what the parents were getting at.

    (Sorry this post was so long, but I had to say all that.)

  • Re:This makes sense (Score:1, Interesting)

    by SweetAndSourJesus ( 555410 ) <> on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @10:17PM (#2998043)
    Should never be obsolete? That's kind of an appeal to your ideals, isn't it? It could be argued that math has simply been externalized. We've offloaded it to devices more capable.

    You're not going to get stranded on a desert island. I can say that with more certainty than I can say most things. Not going to happen. If you are stranded, knowing how to calculate the surface area of a cone isn't going to do you any more good than knowing how to write a bash script.

    I agree that kids ought to have math skills, I just think you're arguing from ridiculous premises.
  • by ocie ( 6659 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @10:20PM (#2998058) Homepage
    A 1998 study by the private Educational Testing Service of nearly 14,000 fourth- and eighth-graders found the more time students spent practicing math using computers in school, the worse they scored on math tests.

    I had several teachers who would tell me something along the lines of "a calculator/computer is a useful tool, but you need to be able to figure out if the answers it is giving you are right". I even remember that there was some emphasis on "estimation math".
  • by americanFatCat ( 550598 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @10:58PM (#2998076)
    Creativity? Was that the thing television and western materialism killed back in the 80s?

    Seriously though, there is a lot of talk here about how people have lost their math skills and it isn't as big of a thing as you make it.

    When a technology exists that replaces a certain skill, it is fairly natural that that skill goes out of practice. People don't need tons of practice adding and subtracting if they have a register of calculator. This isn't a terrible thing! When cars became dominant most people didn't bother to learn how to drive a horse and buggy, the skill was no longer needed.

    Furthermore, we still have mathematicians, people doing research in math. The only difference is that the "common people" don't do as many calculations themselves; which I would argue they don't need to do themselves anyway.

    So, apart from the nostalgiac value, there isn't much to cry about.
  • legos! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Maskirovka ( 255712 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @10:58PM (#2998077)
    Buy the kid $1500 worth of legos at age 6, as opposed to a computer. And keep them away from the TV at all costs.

  • by GospelHead821 ( 466923 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @11:15PM (#2998145)
    This is not altogether true. It depends on how the students approach the project. I know that I loved using powerpoint for my presentations in high school. Why? Because it was easier to hook up a school laptop to the overhead projector than it was to go through the trouble of printing out my figures on transparencies and then worrying about keeping them in order and switching them at the appropriatem time. Powerpoint makes those concerns trivial. If the students understand the importance of content and realize that the presentation of that material is secondary, then powerpoint is an extremely good tool for them to use! But I don't think that the problem, in this case, lies with the fact that the students have been trained with computers, but that their training has emphasized the wrong things. Computers can't teach creativity - that's been said a dozen or more times already. If, as early as teachers start asking students for projects, they deemphasize the "prettyness" of the student's presentation and reemphasize the clear conveyance of information, students will realize long before high school that a computer is not a shortcut to a good grade anymore than a nice binder for a report or a proessionally mounted visial-aid is.
  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @11:47PM (#2998287) Journal
    (tv != computer games != videos)==abstracts.

    Interestingly enough, there's alot to be learned in poker - skills of reading human behavior are not ones taught in public schools, as they aren't "book" learning. But, as Mr. Gates, and many other marketroids have shown us, are no less valuable.

    These skills comprise the heart and soul of salesmanship - a most valuable skill, fundamental to the operation of a successful business or organization.

    How does watching "Simpsons" or "Friends" teach our children even that?

    Perhaps you can see why I'd much rather have my children play poker than watch TV?


    PS: My teen sons (13) are learning PHP and Python. Please re-read my post!

  • by modecx ( 130548 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2002 @11:48PM (#2998291)
    I have to agree that fast and accurate typing is essential to people who actually use computers.

    But I'll have to argue that having the next generation keyboarding from the age of 4 is a bad thing. As a young programmer-to-be, and a computer user who has been using computers and the internet for longer than nearly all of my peers, I'm starting to experience carpal-tunnel, or RSI (Repeated Stress Injury).

    If you have the kids in an ergonomically sound environment, maybe the chanes of injury are lessened. Still, over their lifetimes, if they don't get the excercise and pay attention to their bodies (as so many hackers don't [what we call engineer ass]), the children of the future are going to be unhealthy as adults.
  • Re:riighhht. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fireboy1919 ( 257783 ) <> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @12:38AM (#2998523) Homepage Journal
    I remember learning the basics of arithmatic from one of those little learning calculators - I used it a lot. I think that little thing was the beginning of what I loved about Mathematics.

    I also remember learning to read with the help of a Tape device with buttons that formed a menu - it was called a "Talk 'n Play," I believe.

    A few years later (about third grade) I started using the computers, and learned about the order of operations, flowcharts, and basically everything that I needed to know to start thinking about writing programs. I also read at least 8 novels a year for from third grade on until about my 9th grade year (I don't actually remember how many I read anymore; that was a while ago, so I did a low estimate).

    When I got to use an X86 finally, I really took off, learning things left and right.

    Whats the point? Computer-like learning interface enhanced my ability to learn and accelerated my education.

    If you ever read anything about learning, you must know that there is a special case of learning: the untainted learner - the person who fundamentally desires to learn as much as possible in an area (or in all areas) with whatever means of learning are available.

    For these people, the best way to teach them is to try to transfer the knowledge to them as fast and as much as possible, and they will work hard to absorb it. This is exactly possible with today's computers and computer-based learning interfaces. They are totally designed for this.
    It IS possible to work on gaining knowledge without worrying about learning "computers."

    This is not always the case, however, and certainly doesn't apply to most learners. Usually, its much better to give a little bit at a time and give periods of absorption.
  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @01:36AM (#2998699) Homepage
    Because "education" as an academic field is mostly worthless. Fads, inept psychology, intuition masquerading as actual research, reliance on anecdotal evidence--why on earth would we expect a workable curriculum out of that?

    If you asked the teachers in the trenches, they'd probably ask for their class sizes to be reduced about 60%. If you asked ME, which you didn't, I'd say to reduce the class day by several hours, and the school year by half. There is absolutely no need to subject young children to 8 hours a day for 9 months a year to teach a few elementary reading and mathematical skills. It's just cruel.
  • by rackrent ( 160690 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @01:53AM (#2998744)
    I actually taught, in a college honors course, a section of this book by Stoll (I think it was this one), and I was surprised by the class' reaction.

    Why? Me, being a techie, figured: "well all these damn-ass smart freshman should love computers and want to use them in the classroom 24/7! w00t!!" Interestingly, most of them hated the idea of having computer-mediated instruction (guess they didn't know the class was computer-mediated) at any level of education.

    Conversely, less-adept college freshman like the computers, until they realize I can shut off their AIM remotely.

    Point is, computers are by no means a panacea to real or perceived educational ills (a la Stoll), at least not until educational technologists figure out the best way to use them, and that may never happen.
  • by WildBeast ( 189336 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @02:01AM (#2998768) Journal
    We live in a world where money matters a lot more than anything else. Creativity, analytical thinking? I don't think that fits in the picture. They're looking mostly for workaholics and heavy consumers.
  • by HanzoSan ( 251665 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @02:06AM (#2998774) Homepage Journal
    Skills dont kick in, they are taught.

    I was taught critical thinking, its not like it just kicked in.
  • by Phroggy ( 441 ) <.moc.yggorhp. .ta. .3todhsals.> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @02:22AM (#2998814) Homepage
    I read the article in the paper on the bus this morning on my way to work. I had a few thoughts:

    As another posted mentioned, people who don't understand computers are the ones who think we need to teach computers. Sometimes that can be true - I think everyone needs some exposure to computers, because (and I say this after having done technical support for about four years now) people who don't have exposure to computers tend to fear computers, and people who fear computers will completely turn off their brains and disregard all common sense when any piece of technology is nearby. There are brain surgeons who can't decipher a plain-English dialog box simply because they believe computers to be too complicated to understand. Exposure to computers in a non-threatening (preferably non-Microsoft) environment would solve this problem and make the world a better place - and in fact, I've noticed a gradual decline in blatent stupidity over the years, as people use computers more.

    However, what children should be taught about computers are concepts, not applications or specific tasks (you can use tasks to teach concepts, but be careful of the lines you draw). For example, teaching word processing (using Microsoft Word) is good, teaching Microsoft Word (which is used for word processing) is bad.

    I remember a great game for the Apple II that let you set up a series of machines to rotate and punch holes in a square, and you had to figure out what it would look like when it got through to the end. That helps students to think, and really has nothing to do with the computer itself - the computer is just a tool for the simulation, because it wouldn't be a very practical game to play in the physical world.

    Teaching programming is great. It teaches students how to think in a way they're not used to thinking, and that stretches the mind. Again, whether they're using BASIC or C or Python or VB or Java isn't that important (although some of those languages have annoying bits that get in the way of learning concepts, and I think it's helpful to start with a simpler language like BASIC before tackling a complex one like Java).

    Too many schools have gotten technology grants that let them wire every classroom for Ethernet, but don't have qualified staff to make use of the computer lab they already had. Politicians think a computer in every classroom sounds like a great ambition, but don't realize it's really pretty useless. How do you make use of one or two computers in the back of a classroom? Sure, a couple students can type a paper while the rest of the class is working on projects without having to walk down the hall to the lab or library, and maybe with an LCD projector the teacher could use PowerPoint to illustrate a lecture (yeah, as if teachers have time to make PowerPoint presentations). That's about all I can think of.
  • I disagree. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Minupla ( 62455 ) <> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @02:51AM (#2998865) Homepage Journal
    Were it not for access to a computer in the early years I would have been moved to a "non-academic" stream. Why? Because I'm dysgraphic and was unable to write my answers down. (Dysgraphia is a syndrome that spawns from the same physiological causes as dyslexia but primarily effects the putting of characters on paper, rather then the reading them off of paper.) My verbal IQ was over 20 points sperated from my written IQ. They worked this out after I started typing my homework, and suddenly started getting the answers right because I could concentrate on the _thought_ process, rather then the physical process of writing.

    I would be horrified to think that children to come after me would be without this incredibly enabling technology.
  • This is so very true. The problem, as I see it, is that elementary/high schools are turning into career colleges. Business has started pressuring politicians to implement the courses that they feel will prepare children for the world of work.

    However, I believe it's having an adverse affect on people. Instead of learning creative, critical thinking, students are learning how to memorize what will be on the final exam, and to learn formulaic approaches to solving problems, instead of creative ones.

    As a high school student myself, I see this every day around me. My peers have become apathetic towards learning new ideas just for the sake of expanding their knowledge base, and instead look at everything from the point of view of "how will this help me get a job?" As a result, they are missing out on a vast body knowledge that is out there.

    The school mentioned in the article is certainly on the right track by focusing on real education instead of career preparation, and I hope that they go all the way.
  • Re:I agree. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:48AM (#2999065)
    Last year I was thinking of becoming an ITC teacher in a UK school and was
    going around some schools finding out what teaching ITC was like and exactly
    what it involved.

    I asked one poignant question and made one comment the answers to which
    basically put me off the whole idea.

    The question was "At what stage do pupils learn to program?", the answer to
    this was "They don't, they may do a little VBA in word if they really need
    to but other than that programming is not taught". I couldn't believe this,
    this was my main reason for wanting to teach and it wasn't even on the

    The point I made was that as an ICT teacher, I would still like to set
    homework that would require children to submit handwritten and hand drawn work.
    The reason being that they were less likely to simply cut and paste into a doc
    without actually reading the content. Not all homework, just some.
    The chap taking us around said "Ah, but what about those children that have
    PCs at home and would otherwise not do the homework because they feel their
    handwriting wasn't good enough or can't draw as well as the others or have
    trouble with their spelling?"

    My conclusion is that, Britain at least, is turning out useless microsoft
    oriented drones that will make great secretaries and little else. Yes,
    once the brighter pupils go to University then I'm sure typing and formatting
    in word will be very useful and they will learn many other things too but
    anyone that thinks that computers in UK schools encourage creativity are
    in for a rude awakening
  • by raldanash ( 451422 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @06:59AM (#2999219)
    I think a lot of the posters have hit it right-on when they say the problem is that kids are taught how to use the computer in a specific fashion. They learn MS Word or Excel, completing tasks and so forth, without imbuing much about a computer aside from that it's another tool.

    This isn't totally useless, a lot of people just need a cursory level of familiarity. But the thing is-that kids learn when they play. I don't think it's good to exclude computers from an environment, but, I think it's bad when adults try to micro-manage how a computer is used. As many have commented, "skills" people learn quickly become out of date.

    Kids are by nature pretty inquisitive, so if you give them basic pointers (teach them Python tell them to find StarOffice if they want an application suite-don't force feed them apps you think will be practical), they can learn much better on their own.

    Of course, people also remember some kids will never really take to computers. They'll learn to use apps and not be scared-but it's not going to be their cup of tea in the end. That's fine too.
  • by MrResistor ( 120588 ) < minus poet> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @02:27PM (#3001433) Homepage
    Has anyone actually tried telling them not to?

    "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?"

    I'll bet almost every mother in the world has said something like that at least once in an attempt to get their kids to think critically. Kids don't develope the ability to think critically until around puberty, and there are very good reasons for that. Small children are excellent mimics; that's how they learn the basic skills they need to survive. In order to be good mimics they need to believe that the things they see and hear are important, useful, and correct, and thus their brains are developed in such a way that they do just that. Only after learning the skills they need do they develope the ability to question what they know, which generally leads right into good old teenage rebellion as they explore alternatives to what they've been taught.

    It isn't a matter of simply telling kids not to believe everything they see. I think we all know how effective the phrase "Do as I say, not as I do" isn't, and that's essentially the same as what you're suggesting.

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