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WHY LAPTOPS SHOULD BE BANNED… ALONG WITH CALCULATORS AND THE BALLPOINT PEN

There was an article about Sydney Grammar School banning laptops in the classroom, quoting the principal as saying. ‘I think when people come to write the history of this period in education … this investment in classroom technology is going to be seen as a huge fraud.’

And a few weeks ago we were told by a speaker from the OECD that technology in schools was “doing more harm than good”. This was on the basis of an OECD report which found that some countries have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances in results for reading, mathematics or science, in spite of investing large amounts into technology.

Now when I was in primary school, after Year 3, we used pen and ink. I’ve noticed that they now use biros. I wonder – when schools made the switch from using inkwells – if there were any studies that told us that there was no “noticeable improvement” in reading and writing, and therefore, biros were a huge waste of money and a huge fraud.

To me, there’s one good reason to use technology in schools and it has nothing to do with improving test scores. We should use technology in schools because we use technology everywhere else.

Yes, I can see an argument that sometimes it’s good to get kids to switch off and slow down and get back to nature. I can even see that there are times in some subjects it may be part of the learning to do things in a particular way. On a case by case basis, you can persuade me that students may not need computers for this particular exercise, and that it’s forcing them to think differently by taking them off-line. Just as some Maths classes may ask that students don’t use a calculator, then it may be good sometimes to take away the technology and rough it.

But if we’re going to say that we should stop using them completely, then you probably don’t work in an environment that makes best use of them.

And when I read things like the Principal of Sydney Grammar School telling us, I have to wonder what on earth he’s thinking:

‘We find that having laptops or iPads in the classroom inhibit conversation — it’s distracting.

‘If you’re lucky enough to have a good teacher and a motivating group of classmates, it would seem a waste to introduce anything that’s going to be a distraction from the benefits that kind of social context will give you.’
Now, when I want students to discuss things with each other without being distracted by laptops, I tell them to put their laptops down. If they can’t do that without opening them two minutes later, then I tell them to put their laptops away. I don’t suddenly go, “It’s the laptops that stops them listening to our fascinating discussion”… Just as I never concluded it was the pen and paper that had kids making spitballs and using the shell of their pen to launch them. I saw it as a classroom management issue. But it is good to know that elite private schools like Sydney Grammar seem to have the same issues with disengaged students that we all have!

Yes, I know…

Sometimes you’ll catch kids watching films or playing games when they’re meant to be working. Of course that’s the fault of the laptop and nothing to do with the sheer meaninglessness of the tasks that you’re asking them to perform.

And yes, I know…

Sometimes in life we all need to do things that are boring and meaningless. However, that’s no excuse for spending so much of the day doing them in schools… Particularly when so many of them won’t actually improve the learning of the students.

Now, I could write heaps about how some educators are using technology in really exciting and engaging ways but there’s plenty of articles out there about that and if you’re not aware of it, I suspect that’s because you don’t want to know. If that’s a surprise to you and you do want to know, try googling (it is a word, don’t be ridiculous) people and sites like George Couros,Will Richardson, Jackie Gerstein, Edudemic, Fluency 21 and scores of others. At the very least, read “Disrupting Class” and understand that education is going through the same sort of disruptive innovation that closed Kodak.

The reason that laptops end up being a distraction is that kids would rather learn than be bored. Anyone playing a video game is learning, being challenged and getting lots of immediate feedback. If that’s not happening in their classes, then no wonder they’re playing games.

However, my main point is a lot more basic than that. If you think that students shouldn’t have laptops in school because they’re a distraction, then how do you expect them to cope once they leave the safe cocoon where they’re protected from such things?

That’s as absurd as the old idea that if one didn’t talk about sex, then the kids wouldn’t find out about it.

Originally published on Rossleigh’s Education Blog

 475 total views,  2 views today

38 comments

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  1. JeffJL

    Hey, Rossleigh. Why are you spoiling the image of a grumpy old man resistant to change? Anybody might get the impression you cared.

  2. Gerry

    My son gets very little value out the laptop he has from school. Which is annoying because we were required to pay a sizeable portion towards it. I asked him what they did in computer studies and he said photoshop mostly. Now I have not got anything against kids learning photoshop, in an arts class. But in IT studies they should be learning about the inner workings of a computer, and basic coding.

  3. Bronte ALLAN

    Whilst I tend to agree with the Sydney Grammar school teacher (or head teacher) regarding not using lap tops or tablets in school classes, I can see where they could also be used. I think ALL students should be writing in some lessons! If we look at everyone under 25 years of age or so, what do they really know about writing anything? They are not taught how to hold a pen etc properly, & it seems, not too many of them really understand much about having to write a letter or an essay etc. Sure, use of “new” technology has its uses in teaching, but to me, not to the detriment of basic, reading, writing etc. Also, if i were a teacher I would ensure that ALL mobile devices were handed in at the start of school & not given back until school finishes! To me, all these mobile phones etc should NOT be “available” to any student whilst they are in ALL classes at school. Good article for discussion though, Rossleigh!

  4. Matters Not

    I think that we ought to go back to basics. In my school days we all learnt the same 12 times ‘tables’. We all had the same ‘reading books’. (Pam and Ned getting into bed.) We all knew the ‘towns on the Sunshine Route’. We all read (and memorised) the same “History of Australia”. We all learnt who the ‘goodies and baddies’ were. And so on.

    Yep we need to go back to the (security) of the basics. Life could be so much simpler.

  5. kerri

    Rossleigh your article indeed challenges the fuddy duddy hatred of progress. Why would a kid waste precious time on memorising books when so much more can be learned online. There was a saying when the internet first became popular that “a year online equals 7 years in real time.” I completely agree. My children are now adults and the best they got from compulsory laptop aquisition from year 5 on was their ability to touch type. I do not blame this on the technology, but rather on the older teachers in a school attempting to keep up but failing miserably by not fully educating or motivating their staff to keep up with recent trends. Today I google before all else. The kids are miles ahead of me and hubby is miles behind (but willing to be told) to avoid the technology of the future is to live and die in the past. Your insights into 21C education are highly worthwhile!
    Incidentally, when teaching Geography 21 years ago someone suggested that kids should be taught to memorise the world map. What’s the point I asked? Political boundaries change on an almost monthly basis and besides why memorise something you can easily look up whilst wasting valuable neurons otherwise reserved for techniques and skills not referable? Learning skills greatly outweighs learning facts. Kids should be taught how to research online rather than being taught what exists within easily accessible web pages.

  6. John m Stonham

    I find the iPad is very use full for looking up facts, however books are still going to be around for a very long
    Time, teaching methods I hav

  7. RosemaryJ36

    I used to be a maths teacher. I was presented with an Apple Mac when I started working at the university in the middle of 1989 and prepared assignments and notes on it but as far as expecting students to respond on a computer – no way. Hand writing mathematical symbols is infinitely quicker and answering question which require more thought than multiple choice is also much better by hand. Calculators should not be used until the possibility of calculating simple arithmetic algorithms is reasonably well developed. When using a calculator, the first question you should ask is “Is this answer likely?” and if the basic skills are not enough to do a rough check then you have a real problem! If a child is not taught touch typing before being let loose on Word, then preparing a document on the computer will take longer than on paper. Minor problems arise in googling when answers are different depending on the source – USA or UK/Australia, for example. But when a primary school teacher can misplace the tropics and the equator on a globe, then please use the internet!

  8. Matters Not

    But when a primary school teacher can misplace the tropics and the equator on a globe, then please use the internet!

    Good call RosemaryJ36, I now see the problem. It’s those primary school teachers.

    FFS.

    But I suppose it explains why more ‘maths teachers’ are separated than any other category even though the demand for same is somewhat stronger.

    I just shake my head re logical argument.

  9. Goran Krivokapic

    Hi Rossleigh. Love your work! I happen to be a high school teacher and have been a huge fan of technology and the wealth of resources the internet provides. Used properly, it can enrich and assist in many, many ways the learning and teaching process. As a little aside note aimed at people who like to comment on teaching. Isn’t it interesting how absolutely every Tom, Dick and Harry (especially Dick) think they have the knowledge, expertise and the right to comment and advise on how teaching should be conducted? Just because at some stage someone went to school doesn’t mean they are qualified teachers. Doesn’t happen with any other profession. Sorry. Had to have a little rant. Feel much better now 🙂

  10. Matters Not

    Goran Krivokapic

    Isn’t it interesting how absolutely every Tom, Dick and Harry (especially Dick) think they have the knowledge, expertise and the right to comment and advise on how teaching should be conducted?

    Certainly is. But you fail to mention the ‘Merle, Marion and Martha’ who claim an even greater expertise. ?

    But of course, they indeed know their children much better than their teachers ever will. (But that’s a different story).

  11. Miriam English

    How interesting that the principal of an elite Grammar School is a half-wit. These are the luddites so beloved by our “innovation-promoting” PM.

    Those who think laptops and calculators are retrograde influences in the process of education should not stop there. Do away with the electric light, synthetic thread, glass windows, concrete buildings, aluminium, steel and iron, ink, graphite, paper. Surely if kids are to be taught they should be able to remember Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad orally, I mean that was how it used to be done — the true test of memory.

    What absolute bunk! These are the tools of the future, of the information age. Give them ultra-low-energy tablet computers with very high capacity flash drives, and high-speed wireless connectivity, VR headsets. Don’t hook them on expensive, obsolete, proprietary programs like Photoshop or Word, or clunky operating systems like Microsoft Windows. Teach them how to use free, open source tools like Gimp and LibreOffice and Blender3D, and Inkscape, and do it on some of the many exciting flavors of Linux. Teach them a smattering of new, modern programming languages like python and Lua, and a few of the old ones such as Awk and sed. Help them to think and research things for themselves instead of simply believing what they are told. Show them the delights of Project Gutenberg encourage them to delve into the free science at arvix.org and help them find the gems in Wikipedia and Wikiversity. Sharpen their sense for learning with Khan Academy, CrashCourse, and SciShow.

    The instinct for fun is nature’s way to trick us into learning. I heard a lot of stupid things in my years at school, but the absolute worst was one teacher reprimanding the class, “You’re not here to have fun! You’re here to learn!”

    Thank you Rossleigh. You are right on the mark. I emphatically agree with you.

  12. wam

    Writing implements were tools USED by students and teachers.
    The phone uses the student and has an exponential capacity to be used for that purpose.
    If there is any truth to the powers of advertising and artificial intelligence 1984 will be not man made?
    But who cares? Remember when logs were good enough for engineers? Now many of the engineers I meet are logs.

  13. Denis

    I am confident if Abbott was given a psychological assessment it would be found that he suffers from a serious mental illness.

  14. doobasdad

    I think how much more enriched my school life would have been had we had the tools that Sydney Grammar so despises. I suspect the real reason for rejecting these devices is the Principal does not understand how to use these tools.

  15. Miriam English

    doobasdad, I expect you are exactly right. If this pickled principal understood the usefulness and power of these tools he would be enthusiastically embracing them. It always surprises me how often nostalgia masquerades for good judgement, even though it has been doing so for thousands of years.*

    We can see it in some of the comments above, where people lament a decline in ability in the current generations, when there is actually no such decline in those being viewed. It is usually rather an inability of those doing the viewing who have lost pace with the advances. They might bemoan the loss of times tables, yet often don’t understand the mathematics of fractals and chaos, nor how they can be used; they despair that engineers no longer use log tables, yet fail to appreciate the finer details of numerical modelling and how computer simulations can achieve things older engineers could barely dream of.

    • (According to Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts (1979), an Assyrian clay tablet dating to approximately 2800 BC was unearthed bearing the message “Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common.” This is one of the earliest examples of the perception of moral decay in society being interpreted as a sign of the imminent end.)
  16. townsvilleblog

    Very few students can do mental arithmetic these days, calculators lap tops are essential instruments of the 21st century, if you were to take these things away, you would need to include the horrible word ‘discipline’ into parental responsibility something that has been quite unfashionable for at least two decades.

  17. jimhaz

    You people are nuts. As if we do not spend enough time already in front of screens!!!

    No one is suggesting removing computer usage from schools just to limit their use a lot more.

    I’m definitely on the side of Sydney Grammar School dude, with one rider though and that it depends on the quality of the teachers.
    Sydney Grammar can afford good, motivating teachers, but many public schools have to take the ones who scrap through on low scores. With some teachers you might be better off having the content prepared and explained by others.

    Computers are good for information sources, but shit house for everyday mental disciplines. It’s the old quantity versus quality argument.
    Computers also result in far less physical activity. I could be wrong but I personally suspect that the PC generation will be more ill after 50 than at any other time. They may not die as young, but lots of illness like diabetes.

    Should be no more than 30% of the time in front of electronic screens viewing work prepared by others at school IMO (unless one is doing Computers Studies or design related classes). Some remedial work might also require more extensive hours.

  18. Miriam English

    jimhaz, I’ve often wondered about the modern health mantra of exercise being good for you, and the more the better. When I was a kid I was very interested in longevity and learned all I could about it. Perhaps the single most important factor turns out to be food consumption, or rather, the lack of it. It has become called caloric restriction. All experimental animals investigated so far experience extension of their lifespan by about one third by restricting their calorie intake to close to starvation, but so that all dietary needs are fulfilled. At no point have I ever seen data that shows exercise as being a part of life extension.

    The longest lived professions when I was a kid were music conductor and philosopher — two professions not really noted for their heavy exercise. If exercise was so important, where are the centenarian athletes? There are none.

    Recently I looked into the question again of which professions live the longest and today they are office workers, especially accountants. Again, not big exercisers — they spend all day inside, at a desk.

    Oh, and removing computers from school is exactly what was being proposed by a number of people. Read the article again, sweetie. 🙂

  19. jimhaz

    Mirian,

    In terms of exercise and longevity, it would seem too early to form opinions based on the profession. We have not had personal computers that long and the first extensively computer taught generation is not yet old enough. Nor is the TV to all hours generation old enough – I’m 54, when I was young watching TV was restricted, so we did other more active things, and we used our own brains to create entertainment, not simply viewed the work of others. The current 50+ crowd had many more forms of casual exercise that no longer exist for many of the young.

    We do know that people who use the brain more live longer, so that would account for some of the differences in longevity. Diet is another. The concept of caloric restriction is one that may be true – seems to make sense as it gives the body a chance to continuously clean itself out by using up what is stored.

    We do know that both regular exercise and using the brain makes one happier and that is perhaps why people live longer – they care and thus will do things that will make them live longer.

    We do know that people have died from playing computer games for very long sessions.

    Exercise is a bit like salt. Too much and you will not live that long, too little and you’ll die even sooner.

    It is the old moderation thing. It is human nature to go too far with things that seem to be positive and overcomputerising schoolkids is one of these IMO.

    [Oh, and removing computers from school is exactly what was being proposed by a number of people. Read the article again, sweetie]

    You have gone too far with this statement, it is not a full ban on computer use at the school as you’ve painted it. It was this overreaching by you and Rossleigh I was objecting to. I can visualise everything the Sydney Grammar fellow was talking about as being real outcomes. Perhaps the article was confirmation bias, as I have had doubts about the Rudd programs since implemented.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/computers-in-class-a-scandalous-waste-sydney-grammar-head/news-story/b6de07e63157c98db9974cedd6daa503

  20. diannaart

    Oh

    My

    God

    They’ve stopped using pen and ink????

    What is this?

    2016????

  21. kerri

    Miriam English thank you for supporting the way forward for education and the educated.
    When I was a teacher we had a very progressive schoool program that allowed kids to make suggestions via their SRC that were presented to each form in morning roll call. The school was highly progressive in terms of representing the interest of the three stakeholder groups. Every decision making committee had representation from staff, students and parents. The principal and president of the school council (parent) were both recipients of an Order of Australia medal.
    One morning I read out a suggestion doing the rounds that the year 9 locker area had no timetable within 5 meteres and the year 9’s had to leave their locker area to check on their next class and return again to get requisites from their lockers. The suggestion was one of those simple things that gets pointed out by someone it effects having been missed by those in power. One of my students objected!
    “Why should they get a timetable? We didn’t have timetables near the lockers when we were in year 9!” I replied that my grandparents didn’t have a car and that the horse and cart were the standard mode of transport in their day so why not have horse and cart transport forever!
    Many of the comments on this page seem to be of a similar mindset!
    The very human fear that those following you in this world will somehow have better access to easier skills and information shows a small mindedness that needs to be overcome! We should expect our kids to be smarter, more skilled and faster at gaining information than we are. That is the way of nature in a developing world.

  22. Miriam English

    diannaart, 😀 I laughed aloud. Thank you for brightening my day.

  23. diannaart

    Good to know, Miriam – after some of the 19thC commentary, I had to lighten the tone.

    Now I’m just off to rub a couple of sticks together, so I can prepare dinner.

  24. Miriam English

    jimhaz, as I said in my post, we should not be spending vast amounts on laptops and proprietary programs like Photoshop or Word, nor should we be encouraging them to use encumbered, expensive Microsoft Windows or anything at all Apple. We should be getting kids cheap, very low-energy tablets (I bought one the other day as a gift to a kid for about $60, and I have an identical one that I use all the time myself) and we should be using Linux or else Android (which is Linux underneath, though I prefer pure Linux). Linux is now the national computer operating system of many nations around the world. It is far more secure than MicrosoftWindows, and unlike Microsoft’s stuff or anything from Apple, Linux actually encourages the user to program and do cool stuff.

    I agree that I was wrong to brand the principal a luddite, though I do still think he is making a big mistake. For instance he thinks that handwriting makes creative writing better and easier. I write all day, have written 6 books, 26 short stories, and a smattering of plays and I can assure you that handwriting doesn’t even come close to writing on a computer to make writing easier and more creative. It is the same for artwork. Working with a computer enhances my ability to produce artwork far beyond what I could ever do with pencil or paint.

    He is correct that such tools should be used carefully, but that’s the same as with any tools. I had some teachers who spent the entire period writing stuff on the blackboard, speaking barely a word. That is also abuse of a tool. He is right that conversation, discussion, and skepticism should be employed in the classroom. There is no sensible reason why that should negate the use of computers.

    As for it being too early to tell about the effects of exercise, you are wrong. 100 year old accountants are outliving other professions right now. Many of them may have walked to work and had some other minor forms of exercise, but on the whole, accountants do what they have always done: they sit at a desk for their entire workday.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we should do no exercise. I, myself, do some very mild calisthenics — situps, toe-touching, squats, but I am pretty damn sure the current mania for strong exercise is going to turn out to be an enormous blunder, though not as much as the over-consumption of food. That, more than anything else is hurting people, shortening their lives and making their later years sicker. If I had my way we would impose a massive tax on confectioneries, soft-drinks, and those sugar-filled fruit drinks. I would especially love Nestles to be put out of business — pack of vampires they are.

  25. Miriam English

    kerri, your school sounds like it was wonderful. I wish I’d gone there.

  26. Rossleigh

    Two points:

    First, the Luddites were actually intelligent, skilled craftsment who were worried that mass production by machines would lead to their artistry becoming devalued. They weren’t against progress; they were just acting out of self-interest and in defence of skill.

    Second, when it comes to schools, subjects that are using computers badly are replacing sitting at a desk making notes with sitting at a computer making notes. There’s no difference in the amount of exercise either way, apart from slightly more when the student has to take the machine to the technician to fix some problem. Schools that are actually adapting well to the need for change in eduction will be having kids do a variety of tasks, some of which actually involve movement. Either way, computers in schools aren’t making kids any less active than before.

    Of course, what kids do in their leisure time is a whole other issue, but encouraging more exercise at school would be great as far as I’m concerned, but to suggest that taking away the computers and getting the students to handwrite is somehow making them more energetic and vigorous is just not accurate.

  27. Matters Not

    Somewhat interested in the link to the Sydney Grammar School as provided by jimhaz’

    But perhaps a bit of ‘context’ might be useful. Look at the ‘facts’ re Sydney Grammar School on the My School website. First, look at the index of community socio-educational advantage (ICSEA). I suspect that for most people the concept of ICSEA is not really understood and its implications even less so. The My School website explains the importance of ICSEA. It states:

    Key factors in students’ family backgrounds (parents’ occupation, school education and non-school education) have an influence on students’ educational outcomes at school.

    Note that family background (Socio-Economic Status – SES) have an influence on students’ educational outcomes at school The truth is that virtually all studies in that area demonstrate a profound and unmatched influence of SES background on educational outcomes.

    So what does the ICSEA profile of Sydney Grammar look like. But first another aside. Across Australia, using the My School ‘methodology’ there are four categories used in their classification. Each contain 25% of the population. A typical ‘ideal type’ school would have 25% of the students in the ‘bottom quarter’; another 25% in the lower ‘middle quarter’; a further 25% in the upper middle quarter; with just 25% in the top quarter.

    In contrast, Sydney Grammar has no students coming from the bottom quarter of (disadvantaged students). No students coming from the lower middle quarter. A mere 2% coming from the upper middle quarter but an unbelievable 98% coming from the most wealthy, privileged and educationally advantaged section of society. These are students who, because of their advantaged backgrounds, would probably top almost all classes in ‘normal schools’.

    Yet what do we find when it comes to the allocation of monies. The average expenditure on each and every student at Sydney Grammar is in the order of $36,421.00.

    Yet the ‘Headmaster’ speaks of schools (other than his own) who engage in a “scandalous waste of money’’. (One gets the clear impression that Headmaster Vallance has a particular and peculiar view of what constitutes scandalous waste).

    He goes on:

    If you’re lucky enough to have a good teacher and a motivating group of classmates

    Is he for real with the a motivating group of classmates . FFS look at their SES backgrounds. There’s no ‘if’ anywhere on the horizon.

    One further comment:

    Academically, Sydney Grammar rates among Australia’s top-performing schools,

    The reference to top-performing schools is just so much nonsense. ‘Schools’ don’t perform. Students either achieve or they don’t. Schools are neither a necessary nor sufficient explanation as to the ‘why’. SES background trumps all other explanations.

    https://www.myschool.edu.au/Finance/Index/96499/SydneyGrammarSchool/43785/2015

  28. king1394

    I’ll be more impressed about the centrality of the computer to teaching and learning when everyone can touch-type with speed and accuracy.

  29. Miriam English

    king1394, touch-typing is perhaps overrated. Much as I’d like to do it, I can’t, yet I can still type many times faster than I can write. And as you can see, my accuracy doesn’t appear to be too bad.

    I’d not like to have to read the handwriting of many doctors. I’d greatly prefer they typed on computers.

    Also, speech to text is improving very quickly. It won’t be long before typing is simply not necessary for most tasks. (Although in my most recent short novel, Shirlocke I had one character ask why they had old-style keyboards instead of the usual voice recognition systems. The second character answered that for writing computer code it was far more efficient to use a keyboard. I think this will be the case for at least a few decades into the future.)

  30. Matters Not

    Or maybe this one.

  31. Miriam English

    Oh, and one additional point… good luck communicating with friends all over the globe in seconds or minutes using handwriting. 🙂

    I just gave my input to selecting the next UN Secretary-General. For the first time this process has been opened up so that everybody with access to a computer can weigh in. It is easy to see how computers make that possible, and equally obvious how that would be virtually impossible if responses were to be handwritten.

  32. Matters Not

    good luck communicating with friends all over the globe in seconds or minutes using handwriting

    I find carrier pigeons beat OUR NBN hands down, particularly when it comes to large data transfers.

    And it’s more secure because pigeons can’t read. Therefore security isn’t a problem.

    Seriously, why can’t we just grow up.

  33. wam

    The smart (10%)will always be and the rest(90%) can please themselves quietly believing and repeating what they see and hear like chatbots.

    as diannaart/matters not shows there is nothing better than a sharp knife for butchering and who cares how, or if, the beast is killed.

  34. Michael Taylor

    Matters Not, pigeons are so last century. We use drones these days.

  35. Miriam English

    Michael Taylor, but can male bees carry the weight of a small TFT flash card? Can they be trained to deliver them? Or will they merely abandon themselves to the sexual delights of the young queens-to-be and then drop dead, leaving your information stranded?

    No, I say. Stick with the tried and tested pigeon technology.

  36. Geoff Andrews

    Oh, brave new world where the one-eyed robot rules the blind.
    Where memorizing a simple relationship between numbers or knowing the discipline of writing our own language is considered unnecessary or, more unfortunately, boring, boring.
    Where state schools will be obsolete – cheaper to home school ’em with an ipad – but private schools will flourish for the rich with, or without, ipads. Back to the nineteenth century.
    Technology is not the answer to education; it’s only an aid. Self discipline and class discipline is more essential.
    And parents who don’t sneer at teachers.

  37. Miriam English

    On the contrary Geoff, it is a world where curiosity can now let kids follow the knowledge as far as they wish to go. Where instead of being constrained to memorise by rote, learning dull and basic things that the simplest calculator can do better than a human, they can instead burrow into the world of complex numbers, quaternions, why tau is better than pi, and how they can easily model physical processes such as fluid dynamics on an ordinary computer using free software, giving anybody the potential to advance the frontier of knowledge. Any person, young or old, can write and self-publish books, short stories, scientific papers, journalistic investigations, or just idle thoughts, and they do so in increasing numbers.

    We are in the midst of a new renaissance while many of us incorrectly think it is either business as usual, or actually decline! We are surrounded by the most extraordinary wealth in history. We have hundreds of thousands of free books, on every conceivable topic, freely available (even more if you have a little money to spend); access to artwork on places like DeviantArt created by incredibly talented artists, young and old, in their millions; musical works given away by young and old musicians riding a new wave of free publicity; vast numbers of free educational lectures waiting to spill their knowledge into the nearest eager mind.

    Just this morning I woke with an idea about gravity that would explain some of its puzzling aspects and after a short search found The Art of Computational Science, a site that gives away software to let anybody do massive multi-body simulations, but more than that, they also give away the books that explain how the software works and the science behind it. This is stuff that previously you had to have a doctorate in science to understand, and access to a supercomputer to run. Now any kid can learn and operate it.

    I admit I do worry that public schools are being starved while private schools are being fattened, but I can’t help feeling this can backfire against the status quo who are being taught stale information where homeschooled kids are often walking fresh paths. Some of the smartest kids I’ve met were homeschooled. Julian Assange changed the world and he was homeschooled. It is difficult to imagine any normal schoolkid doing what he did. I went to a public school, but I actually learned very little there. I had the good luck to be a compulsive reader and spent much of my spare time in libraries or relaxing in the bush on one of my favorite rocks or in one of my favorite caves, reading, so when topics came up in school I had already learned them.

    Technology is not a substitute for education, but it really is, in today’s world, the answer. It brings us a totally new kind of tool; one that is nothing less than a revolution. The previous comparable revolution in learning was the advent of the printed word, and this dwarfs that by many orders of magnitude.

    Yes, self-discipline is important, but look at some of the amazing new computer programs, music, books, and art created by some of today’s youth and try to tell me they are without self-discipline. When I remember back to when I was a kid there was very little evidence of self-discipline among those that I knew. It seems to me much more evident in the kids I know today. In fact it might be neither more nor less. I wonder if the proportion of kids with self-control has changed over the years Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment has been performed.

    But, yes, it would be nice if nobody sneered at teachers. They certainly don’t deserve it. Most of the teachers I know are dedicated to their work. At their pay levels it certainly isn’t greed keeping them there.

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