Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hot topic: computers in classrooms

A forum topic suggestion from an SF K Files visitor:

Do children need any computer time in the classroom before middle school? (Personally, I think restricting computers would address, if not solve, many academic, social, physical, mental, and budgetary issues facing our young students. Read Todd Oppenheimer's "The Flickering Mind," for starters.)


  1. I hate the Luddite mentality. I really do. And you know, moderation is usually a pretty good thing.

    People used to think novels were a horrible waste of time and a degradation of the intellect.

    P.S. T.V. won't make your kid stupid or hyperactive either.

  2. I think computers are as valuable a tool as any other and can be used as a great supplement for research and teaching.

  3. Every year that the site council and/or PTA has had to look at budget cuts at our elementary school, the question of cutting back on the computer teacher and computer lab has come up (against, for example, cutting some of the arts programs). These are super-hard decisions, because everything is so valuable! Reading recovery, school nurse, librarian, etc. (Fortunately we haven't had to cut every year, and often funding has been found in any case...)

    But every single time, the lower-income families have been hugely opposed to cutting computers. Why? Because a) many families do not have computers at home, b) many of these parents are not themselves computer-literate--but want their kids to be. It is part of closing the digital divide between poor and not-poor. I take for granted that my kids are computer-literate (more than I, really), but that is because they have access to my desktop computer at home. And even I have found that my kids have indeed learned computer stuff at school that I did not know.

    I don't think kids should be sitting in front of any screen all day, but a judicious amount of time spent in preparing multi-media projects and just getting familiar with the machines and the programs can go a long way. Once in middle and high school, the kids can go to the library after school and use the ones there, or take more intensive computer classes. But the computer labs and classroom computers serve a purpose in an economically diverse elementary school community.

  4. Absolutely. Computer literacy is extremely important. I agree with 3:25. The luddite mentality is getting old.

    Our kids are growing up in an increasingly digital world, if they want to keep up, they need to understand how to use the technology. Better yet, they need to understand how it works and become the next generation of scientists and engineers.

  5. 3:43, excellent point.

  6. OMG I can't believe people are writing this. I think the use of computers should be extremely limited by kids under the age of 10. Computers and television reprogram the mind to function in a way that it was not designed, and this is especially unfortunate in developing brains.

    This may be an anecdote, but I've found it to be true: If your kid is hyper, acting out, can't focus, and is in general a pain in the arse, cut out tv and computers. Let his mind sit. Let him be bored. In every case I've seen, they become calmer, more curious, more personable, and therefore more able to connect with their world and especially the people in it.

    I love my Mac, and even made a living as a digital artist for a number of years. And I am not against having my kids use the mac with supervision on occasion. Still, I had to make a rule that there is to be no tv during the week. I send them to a school that specifically avoids computers. I can't stand the mood swings both tv and computers create. Doing this has created a calmer more pleasant and livable household. Imagine, connecting with your kids for those precious hours per day, instead of having them hooked up.

  7. OMG, because appreciating technology means you have no interaction with your kids, and they never go outside or read or exercise their imaginations. Sheesh. Me and Dr. Frankenstein will be in the laboratory torturing developing youngsters and kittens. Sit in front of the tv and don't blink, g-- d-----!

  8. But the original question was about elementary school. Why should there be any computers in elementary school? I cringe when I see precious classroom time devoted to producing a Power Point presentation, clip art activities, and playing games on There are so many other more valuable and cost-effective activities for young students. Leave the technology for the older ones. Perhaps the digital divide only widens when children are put in front of superficial educational software and not exposed to the arts, poetry, etc.

  9. Computers are here to stay. Tech and the arts aren't mutually exclusive.

  10. Sarah, I'm with you. I don't think computers are necessary in the lower grades--especially kinder through second grades. Just seems like kids need to learn to think independently and creatively first. I would rather see schools spend more money on additional playground supervision than on fancy new Macs.

  11. i concur with 3:43 on the necessity of some computer instruction as an equity issue.

    i used to be more anti, but have changed my mind in part for this reason.

    interestingly, my daughter reports that her weekly computer class at clarendon jbbp is one of the highlights of her week. what they do seems to be focused on helping them learn to read and is also sort of arty/graphic-y.

    the slippery slope argument reminds me of that whole pot-leads-to-coke-leads-to-heroin thing. i have noticed no increase in my daughter's desire to use computers at home since she started using one once a week at school as a kinder. (we don't let her use one; she has viewed a couple of youtube videos with us over the years.)

    as a creative tool, it's been good to me and i'm now seeing it be good to my kid. i'm a novelist and i do NOT write longhand; the computer helps me solve spatial plotline problems much more easily than i can do it in my head alone. when i told lulu that i write my books on my computer, she kind of factored that into her game plan. now, we're writing a book together. (i'll confess a large component of it is in longhand in an actual journal. but the finished product will be digital.)

    she doesn't need to know how much time i spend on facebook, now does she?

  12. I'd rather see my kid's school spend money on specialists.

  13. I think the folks on this list are a bad sample to ask. I mean, we're all addicted to sf k files, so we should recuse ourselves.

    But 6:56, OMG I totally agree with you. The only way I can get my kids to listen and be cheery is to unplug that boob tube. I thought it was easier letting them watch, like when I cook dinner. But turning it off was like setting a scream fire. So they come in and cook dinner with me. And no, I am not a crunchy anti-tv nazi mom. I swear, it's easier. So I agree with you.

    I don't let my kids do more than a half hour computer per day, because any more than that, and the zombie tv look takes hold.

  14. The point of the post was, should we spend the money in the public schools. If you want equity with your family, then go to the library. Lots of free computers.

    Also, what's the hurry. A kid can pick up the computer and become a pro in about 37 seconds. I don't see the skill improving over a period of years. So whyall the practice? It's not necessary. It's like riding a bike. You either can ride a bike or you can't. I don't think anybody much cares if you are a bike racer or just a happy helmeted biker. The continuum of bike riding isn't germane; getting from point a to point b is.

  15. Any data/studies on the quality of learning a set of information on a computer vs. traditionally? Is it easier/harder? Is it retained better/worse?

    Because if the only reason they are spending thousands on computers is to be cutting edge and hip and up to date, then that's a bad thing.

    I recall reading somewhere that information learned while part of a group is of a higher quality that information learned alone. That would means the use of computer as an isolation activity might be a factor.

  16. WHat is the hurry?

    I agree that playground supervision (including training for playground supervisors) is probably a bigger issue (especially in terms of bullying, social skills, etc)

    I don't think a kid who starts using a computer in third or fourth grade is at *any* disadvantage vis-a-vis a kid who has been playing with computers since he was a toddler.

    And depending on what the first kid does *while* the other kid plays with the computer -- art, books, exploring the outdoors, simply hanging out with parents -- the former might be at a *great* advantage.

    There is definitely an opportunity cost in terms of both money and time.

  17. I completely agree with the 6:05 poster above. I think starting to phase computers in very slowly and developing typing skills around 3rd-4th grade is absolutely sufficient. There are a lot of skills that fall by the wayside once computers are in play.

  18. Besides, can you even *be* a Luddite until you're grown up?

  19. The Luddite mentality was obviously referring to the adults who clutch their pearls at the thought of a kid using something they didn't grow up with.

  20. Luddites refer to people who resist technology.

    Not adults who mourn kids doing things in a new way.

    I'm sure there's another word for that. Old Fart, maybe?


    Historically, the Luddites were a group of highly skilled loom workers and fabric makers in Britain who made amazingly intricate fabrics by hand, and when the machines came in, anybody could operate them. And the fabrics became boring and mass produced. The Luddites resisted the new technology because it brought an end to their way of life.

    And I must say, as a parent, I'd hate to watch as my kid curls up to a machine instead of running free in the woods or on a street corner. I'd rather her run about collecting bugs and frogs and getting messy and giggling and actually being in the imperfect world of humans.

    At least till she's nine or ten. Let her brain develop a little.

    And I think things made by hand are superior to mass produced items, even though for sure, there is a certain pop art to mass produced items.

    I see a child growing up attached to a computer at the age of five onwards, to be a mass produced child. I want my child to be intricate, unique, and free.

    I am biased. When I visit my sisters kids (computer freaks, video game heads, x box, whatever the hell the doo hicky is that they carry around that beeps and drives me insane) I see morose, distant, social inept monsters who grow up to hold McCain signs and Obama Is A Muslim signs. I see my sisters, incredibly frustrated, and secretly hating the kids. Then I see my kids, trying to connect with their cousins, shaking their heads, and asking why all the roads look the same in this stupid town, why are their cousins so mean, and when does the plane leave for San Francisco, Mommy Mommy pleeeeeeze.

    Yes. I'm biased.

  21. My point is that just because a kid can use a computer, and likes to do so, doesn't mean they don't also go outside and play and imagine things and read and so on. The tech naysayers here seem to think that technology and everything else are mutually exclusive. Maybe for some kids, but it sure doesn't have to be that way. I don't think using computers is bad for young kids. I do think parking *anyone* in front of a computer or tv or game or whatever for hours and hours every day is not the best thing. I don't think a little of each is a bad thing.

  22. "I think the folks on this list are a bad sample to ask. I mean, we're all addicted to sf k files, so we should recuse ourselves. "


    I think computers can be a positive learning tool in the same way some TV programs can be. The key is moderation.

  23. Agreed, 10:38. But I have to go back to the original point.

    Should the schools be spending mucho grande bucks on them? I say no. The money is better used other places.

    Say a computer costs $1000 each installed. Good lord, what you can do for $1000.....


  25. The cost of a computer in a school is $2,700!


    I stand corrected.

  26. When a child chooses between pushing a button and getting instant feedback - a letter typed; a clip art picture inserted; a jumping frog congratulating her for knowing what 11 - 3 is - it's human nature to go for the instant-reward route and to find a hand-drawn letter, picture, or number too much effort. When we introduce the easy way out so early on, we really risk fostering a kind of physical, artistic and I would argue intellectual laziness.

    More and more brain research is supporting this idea that technology and multi-tasking has a negative effect on thinking. Why would we want this for our young children?

  27. All those arguing "everything in moderation": It doesn't sound to me that $1000 or $2700 or whatever the cost of **one** computer is moderate. Good heavens! Think of the school supplies, assemblies, and staff development that could buy! Wait until middle school...

  28. Why not ask to have old computers donated if the cost is an issue? I agree with 3:44pm's post that our kids are growing up in an increasingly digital world and would benefit learning to use the technology.

    "More and more brain research is supporting this idea that technology and multi-tasking has a negative effect on thinking."

    Please show me this research. When you visit any of the brain labs in SF (Posit Science, etc) I've noticed that they tend to use computer games to increase brain skills and memory.

  29. I dislike reflexive responses that are really name-calling. This is a "hot topic" for a reason, and let's look at the original suggestion - "Do children need time in the CLASSROOM before MIDDLE SCHOOL?"

    No one is suggesting that outside of school use cannot be done in moderation, and each family certainly has their own customs. But when schools are facing budgetary and educational crises, why not look at a more "back to basics" approach? Is it helping (and can it help) with reading or math? Wouldn't that time behind the screen be better spent outside? Wouldn't the money (or a fraction of it) be better spent on specialists?

    Why are we always asking our children to prepare for adulthood in early childhood? I agree that there doesn't have to be a slippery slope of computer use, but why is computer literacy a necessary skill in the elementary grades?

  30. Personally, I'm fine with no computers in elementary school because I know my kid will get all the exposure he needs at home. But, as other people here have brought up, there are lots of kids who aren't in the same situation. And, yes, they will be at a disadvantage. The Marie Antoinette type who posted earlier "let them go to the library" is answering from her own sense of privelege. Not all kids have parents who can or will take them to the public libraries.

    Don't offer up current "research" as an argument. Any research can be manipulated to come out any way. Bias, anyone?

    I know plenty of elementary schools kids with a good knowledge of computers, and they aren't zombies or educationally dysfunctional as a result. They laugh, think, play, explore, question just as much as any other kid.

  31. Also, don't let the financial crunch suffered by public schools shape thoughts that computers are unnecessary and/or harmful. That's sour grapes.

  32. As the author of the book being recommended in the lead blog item ("THE FLICKERING MIND: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology") maybe I can help clarify this discussion a little.

    In the abstract, the arguments of some of the anonymous contributors -- that there's no sense going to extremes, that a little exposure to technology goes a long way, helps prepare youngsters for the future, etc. -- makes sense. In daily reality, however, this outlook disintegrates. For three main reasons:

    First, there is no evidence that exposure to computers, or any technology at a young age helps professional skill later, even in the technology field. What matters at a young age are exposure to reasoning challenges, especially (when it comes to technological jobs) exposure to math. For the most part, computers (and calculators) have been proven to dumb down math exercises, ultimately stunting the students' reasoning skills.

    Second, virtually all of the science and all of the studies on technology's effectiveness, in general, with young people are coming to the same conclusion: It does not help learning in any measurable way, and certainly does not justify its ongoing, exorbitant costs.

    Third, there actually is a neurological reason to be a little bit luddite, at least in the younger years: Over the past year, brain science experts have been studying the effects of what is called "multi-tasking," an increasingly common phenomenon for anyone who, say, operates several programs and communication functions on their computer desktop, while talking on the phone, while listening to music, while trying to do their homework. Virtually all of these scientists have been coming to the same grim conclusion: Multi-tasking fractures attention span, habituates people to needing to do many things at once. One scientist found that when people multi-task in non-stressful situations, the brain actually exudes extra amounts of dopamine; when the situation is stressful -- as for an air traffic controller, dysfunctionality and grievous mistakes occur. In neither case is the person able to calmly concentrate, focus, and reason their way through the task's challenges and complications. For a student, this phenomenon matters greatly. Multi-tasking basically teaches them to be disorganized, easily distractable, superficial thinkers.

    For confirmation of this grim view, listen to NPR's recent radio series on multi-tasking, or read two seminal articles on the topic in The Atlantic Monthly: "Autumn of the Multi-Taskers," by Walter Kirn, Nov., 2007 (a wonderfully entertaining read); and "Is Google Making Us Stupid," by Nicholas Carr, July/August, 2008. If it should interest anyone, my book, "The Flickering Mind," was based on another Atlantic article: "The Computer Delusion," July, 1997. The story won the year's National Magazine Award for public interest reporting, which I mention not to brag, but simply to indicate its gravity and credibility.

    I hope this helps; I wish you all luck.


    Todd Oppenheimer

  33. Sorry, to clarify (Todd Oppenheimer here again, author of said book):

    My statement that there is no evidence that early exposure to technology helps with later job skills is based on the research I did for my book -- with employers in a wide range of fields, including technology. What surprised me most was how consistently I heard employers urge schools NOT to focus on technology skills. Technology, they realize, they can teach young employees themselves -- in a fashion that is far more sophisticated and relevant than a public school can. And, more important, they can do this easily and quickly, within weeks or months, at most. The other stuff -- the history, the writing and reasoning skills, the background on different subjects, the study of literature and the real world, and, most important, the proper study and work habits -- this they can't teach. And they are desperate to have the schools concentrate on these areas, and not distract themselves -- and dilute their precious study hours -- with time in computer labs. Or, worse, by spreading the new workplace contagion: multi-tasking.

    'Nuff said?

    Todd O.

  34. 1:47, I was the poster who said "go to the library" and you called me the Maire Antoinette type.

    I was born economically disadvantaged. My family was on food stamps. I went through college on government grants, back when they had government grants. I know what I'm talking about.

    I went the library every week. My dad took me. We never bought a single book, yet the house was full of them. We had library cards.

    Go to the SF library. There are tons of computers there. They work fine. It's a valid anaology: books of yesterday vs computers of today.

    I did very well for myself financially, and I still take my kids to the library at least once per month. For the families in San Francisco, the schools should have programs about how to get the information. Take a field trips to the library. It's cheaper.

    I bet an hour of a foreign language every day would be cheaper than a roomful of computers.

    I could send my kids to a top private, but they're in public school because I'm a true believer. My goal is to prevent Marie Antoinette from spending all our tax dollars on computers instead of a solid education.

  35. Sorry for the typos, but don't go calling people Marie Antoinette, or privileged, when you have no idea.

  36. That's how it came across. Good for you and your parents. Doesn't mean all families will be like that.

  37. Todd, I just don't like these extreme views. They're unnecessarily alarmist in my opinion. Did you grow up watching a lot of tv, or do you know anyone that did who still turned out to be intelligent, well-rounded, productive, etc.? People say the same things about tv, but in most cases it doesn't bear out, despite all the dire research findings.

    I can see you feel passionately about this, and I can respect that. I just think some of these opinions are a little misguided.

  38. My hsband grew up watching a LOT of tv (he was the 4th of 4 children and by the time he came along his parents had a lot on their plates). While he is a very productive member of society whose income is about 10x mine, I have to say that he would be the first to admit that he's not a big reader and much prefers getting his information in small doses.

    He works in high tech but interestingly enough holds a tighter rein than I do on integrating computer use into our kids' lives.

  39. Multi-tasking basically teaches them to be disorganized, easily distractable, superficial thinkers.

    Or it teaches them to multitask better. Evolve or die.

  40. I was hired by IBM to be a systems engineer because I had a history degree and a logical mind. I had no advanced mathematics or computer training. I recommend reading "High-Tech Jobs for Low-Tech People" by William Schaffer for more on this important subject.

  41. I am fine with our son not having any computers in his elementary school. Kids pick up computer skills easily when the need arises. Our son made movies and slide shows on a computer at camp this summer. I would rather he be able to spell without spell check, write without grammar check, do math (up to a point) without a calculator, create art with his own hands manipulating materials in three dimensions, and make up games with his imagination. Computers can spew out a lot of information without teaching you how to evaluate that information, and by doing much of your accuracy work for you, they can lessen your ability to evaluate the correctness of the efforts of others. That said, I think a computer might be good at teaching my child things he's not getting in school and that I'm not qualified to teach him myself, like a foreign language. They're very useful and entertaining tools, but I don't want my child to become over-dependent on them too young. I guess as a broad generalization, I trust individual families to establish appropriate computer uses more than I trust schools.

  42. Communication -- face to face, human communication -- is the single most important life skill (it encompasses empathy, sympathy, insight, intuition, listening, compromise, love and controlled aggression at times). Computing, especially for kids, teaches anti-communication in some ways -- it's anonymous, it's isolating, although I realize many people enjoy participating in communities of interest on the Internet (such as this one). Let's focus on face to face communication between our children and their friends, our children and their teachers, and our children and their families and extended communities.
    Paul Stein

  43. The digital divide is a red herring. Kids of all socio-economic classes deserve to be FREE of the intense marketing that really goes into these "educational computer games." Let that wait until 4th grade. Everyone can learn computer skills then. Heck, I didn't have a computer until I was in college and I'm a junkie now. Let's let kids read, draw, play and think for a change.

  44. "Let's let kids read, draw, play and think for a change."

    Again, for Pete's sake, not mutually exclusive.

  45. Generally, I agree that kids in lower elementary don't need to have computers in the classroom and was glad when we got rid of our computer lab at our school because we added a teacher and classroom.

    However, my kids DO use computers to work on research papers (biographies, myths, geography) in 4th or 5th grade for research and also to begin learning to type.

    Many kids who have problems writing by hand do quite well keyboarding. My son, who is not dyslexic but had issues with reversals in letters well into 4th grade, was counseled to start doing more of his work by typing. He does much better - more content, better ideas, more fluency - by typing and actually is pretty fast now in 6th grade. His teachers want MORE writing from him and this makes it much less physically laborious and he writes more.

    So, I say get the keyboarding skills down and learn how to research on the internet. OK starting in 4th or 5th.

    For some kids, the computer is a helpful method to learn math facts - the Math Blaster type program isn't such a bad way to reinforce it, along with other methods and practice.

    The computer isn't a substitute, but an enhancement. It's all in how it's used.

    For the poster who lamented her sister's kids behavior: sounds like she simply doesn't say no. Seems less the technology and more that she isn't setting boundaries/limits (sorry to be blunt - but I have family who seems similar.)

    Plenty of parents I know say no screens during the week, and further limit whatever kids want to do to 2 hours, say, on the weekend. We do. (I further reinforce it by saying no screens before noon on the weekend and make my kids read an hour, and write two pages before they can do anything electronic!)

    Moderation is key.

  46. "[I] was glad when we got rid of our computer lab at our school because we added a teacher and classroom."

    Are you telling me that for the cost of computer lab, you can get an additional teacher AND classroom?

    Case closed.

    This thread is not about whether computers are good for young kids ('tho it turned into that), it is about whether spending money on them is wise.

    We have our answer.


  47. 11:40:
    wow, are those the great critical thinking skills you developed by not using a computer? Your "case closed" conclusion is completely lacking in support.
    The poster said they got rid of the computer room and added an extra classroom and teacher. Nothing about equal costs. I'm guessing it was a space issue and the school community decided lower class size was more important than a computer lab. I don't know, but I can't see how the cost of the annual salary of an extra teacher is the equivalent of an existing computer lab. That is not any judgment on the school's choice though. I'd probably ditch the lab if it was necessary to lower class size.

  48. 7:14, stop being an arsewhole.

    I agree with the other poster. It seems logical from the prior poster too that getting rid of a computer lab would equal getting a new teacher and classroom, and if that is the case, as logically it would seem to be, then I agree. Case closed.

    I am all for having computer labs. I am all for having athletic fields, foreign exchange programs, second language instruction, trips abroad to China, lacrosse, field hockey, basketball, football, ap classes, and everything rich school districts have to spare, and private schools fill their marketing campaigns with in shiny brochures.

    But we don't have money to spare and priorities must exist.

    We are talking 5 to 10 year olds. My school spends about $4800 per student. Shockingly low. To allocate a quarter of a half of that to computers is silly.

    Case closed.

  49. "It seems logical from the prior poster too that getting rid of a computer lab would equal getting a new teacher and classroom, and if that is the case, as logically it would seem to be, then I agree. Case closed."

    Really? How do those numbers add up? I suppose if we assume the school had a full time paraprofessional in the lab at all time, which I think is probably very rare, that salary might swap for a portion of the teacher's salary - 65-75% I have no idea? And let's assume the lab buys new computers every 10 years, which sadly I think is probably right, that's $2,000 to $3,000 a year approximately. Add another $500 for software and incidentals. I guess that could be close, but I'm not sure many of the sfusd labs are in that good of shape.

  50. In an elementary school, a lab - which takes up incredibly valuable classroom space and monetary resources - could be an art room or dance studio. Spend the money saved on staff development in the arts, like BayCAP, or artist-in-residence programs, like LEAP. These amazing programs can completely transform a whole school community. Then kids would be working together and gaining those valuable social and problem solving skills mentioned earlier.

    I agree that computers for kids with serious fine-motor issues can greatly relieve the stress of writing. But when a teacher introduces keyboarding while students are still developing printing skills (not to mention cursive in third grade), the art of handwriting goes down the tubes. How many of us look at our parents' and grandparents' penmanship with envy? They had real penmanship classes.

  51. My kids' school starts using "alphasmart" keyboards on a limited basis in the classroom starting in 3rd grade. It's specifically to give kids another tool for writing and expressing ideas. They also learn cursive for the same reason. The keyboards are just for typing and they cost a lot less than computers, and are able to solve the same fine-motor problem for some kids.

  52. The ongoing costs of maintaining computers at a school is significant. As you can image, it takes many hours of paid and volunteer time to establish and maintain networks, troubleshoot hardware, install and upgrade software, and manage security. Not to mention hiring additional staff or providing teacher training to implement the technology in a meaningful way. There is no point in investing in expensive equipment if it's not going to be used or maintained. And there's very little district support for either of these ongoing expenses, so the technology goes unused, breaks down and becomes obsolete, or the schools have to come up with funding or volunteers to make it work.

    I'd like to see students have access to a smaller number of computers in the classroom to use on projects related to the curriculum, rather than going to a special computer lab where they focus on learning how to use technology in the abstract.

  53. Back when I was in high school in a rather well-off public school district back East, we had Driver Education classes, available to kids as young as 14. Every 15 year old got their permit. Every kid I knew got their official license at age 16, usually on their birthday as a rite of passage.

    It was, by far, the most popular class at high school. Everybody took it.

    The local Chevy Dealership leased us BRAND NEW cars, about 15 of them per class, and they took write-offs, but it still cost the district a pretty penny. These were the Carter years, and the Chevy Dealership made a nice profit. They thought it would make us kids buy Chevy. Or something. And we took turns driving those shiny Chevys around the parking lot, with pylons, films, etc. In general, a great education.

    After about 20 years of this, the school district did a study and found out that the kids were wrecking cars and getting dui's and dying in car wrecks at a slightly higher rate as other poorer school districts without the driver education program.

    They got rid of the program.

    And every single kid in that district today, eventually, gets a driver's license...maybe a little later, around 17 or 18. But they do get it. On their own. Through schools. Rich, poor, whatever. There is a natural motivation in America to learn to drive.

    I'd argue that driving a car is a pretty important skill, and most people outside NY, SF, etc. need to drive to have a job.

    My point is that, with computers, it's such a part of our society now, that people will eventually learn. And to spend money in a school district beyond a specialized computer science course later in high school, is just GOOFY.

  54. Yes, I read the same thing about those expensive drivers ed classes. Hard to believe we ever spent money on them. Funny analogy.

    You bring up a good question. What exactly do they teach in computer class? Is it dumb of me to ask?

  55. Interesting thread. I don't have strong feelings about the issues of computers per se. My kids are still pretty young and don't play computer games. They watch tv on the weekends only, in the AM about 1 hour each day (with occasional movies, etc) - but I have found that it is impossible to avoid exposure to the mass marketing, commercials, etc. I do find it frightening.

    That all said I watched a ton - a TON of tv growing up, mostly b/c I was a latchkey child (sob story not intended!) my parents were divorced, my dad out of state, my mom working and going to school fulltime. Sure I would have loved more parental attention, but I managed to survive, think I'm a pretty complex thinker,etc. I love reading and always have - the biggest threat to my reading these days is chronic exhaustion from working full time and having 2 small children and waking up at least once a night for the past 6+ years. OK, what is my point? I don't know if I have one.

    I will add though, that all of us on this blog grew up without computers. I didn't start college using computers, I used a typewriter until my junior year, and I managed to adapt pretty well (certainly better than most in my parents' generation) - so I guess this makes me come down on the "why not wait" side of the argument. We all essentially "waited" b/c computers did not exist for us, and look how fluidly many of us use them now.

    I will add though that the equity issue is probably the best argument for having them at school, but even given that, it certainly could wait until 4th, 5th grade.

    (Don't like the library argument - LOTS of families who are under-served do not have the time, awareness, value of literacy and education THEMSELVES to prioritize library time.)

  56. With all these anti-library people, I wonder if we should fund libraries. A big waste of money, because after all, people are too stressed to use them. I guess people are too stressed to be informed when voting, which is maybe why we've lived through the past eight year nightmare.

    Does anybody from the middle or upper classes ever go to libraries anymore? Does anybody check out books when buying them on Amazon is so much easier?

    Maybe if the schools had weekly field trips to libraries, it would be cheaper than building computer labs and schools and take the pressure off parents to take their kids.

    Within a few years, the home computer will be a thing of the past anyway and what's left will all be iphone high information type cell phone devices, and ALL people have a cell phone, across ALL classes.

  57. We go to the library all the time, and so do a lot of other people. If you're looking for racial and economic diversity you will find it at the public library -- it's a wonderful melting pot of people and cultures. And a lot of people go to use the computers -- the computers with internet access are always in use at every library branch I go to. Even the main library childrens' room generally has a sign-up list for kids to use the computers. But kids are reading books too.

    For me it's just as easy to reserve a book online, and pick it up when it arrives at my branch than it is to buy it on Amazon. The childrens' collection is not as strong as the adult collection however, particularly for middle readers. SFPL does not have a lot of the books my kids like. They end up discovering new author at their Grandma's suburban library, only to find out that SFPL does not have any titles by that author. It's probably a budget issue, since my mom's library has a special parcel tax for book acquisition (books have a cute sticker "paid for by Measure A funds" on the spine.) But even so there's still plenty of books to keep them busy.

    I just wish more branch libraries were open on Sundays and Mondays, the two best days for us to go.

    I agree with a previous poster that handwriting and penmanship need more emphasis in early grades. For some kids, printing is difficult, but cursive really increases their fluency. But, apparently 95% of adults only use printing in daily life. And there are a lot of kids who benefit from keyboards. My daughter's school gave her an Alphasmart keyboard, which are cheap(ish) and indestructible. Much better use of money in my opinion than a lab full of elaborate and quickly outdated computers.


  58. 12:45, I hope your post was sarcastic. I think it was.

    Because I am perplexed by any resistance to recommend parents expose their kids to libraries. There is no excuse, and saying like someone did, that poor folks can't because their too busy or whatever, is just dumb.

    Libraries are the perfect solution to the tech issue. Not pouring more money into public schools.

    And Anne, I agree with everything you wrote.


  59. "Because I am perplexed by any resistance to recommend parents expose their kids to libraries. There is no excuse, and saying like someone did, that poor folks can't because their too busy or whatever, is just dumb."

    I don't think there is resistance to recommend parents expose their kids to libraries. I think people are talking about parents who DON'T and who WON'T for whatever reason. Believe it or not, there are kids who do not get fed BREAKFAST who go to public school in SF. There are deeply entrenched social (and yes poverty) issues that impact many disadvantaged children in this city. I don't know why so many people who read this blog just can't figure that out.

  60. Just to clarify on my earlier post about getting rid of a computer lab because we added a class/teacher - the two were unrelated.

    Our school (Miraloma) has been growing in enrollment. Where we used to have 2 classes each in upper grades, we have been adding and now have 3 in all grades (or will next year.) We had a computer lab when we had several available classrooms and the school was underenrolled (it was at 250 when it was created, but now is at capacity at 360.) All classrooms must be available during the day for classes.

    So it wasn't a strategic swap of computers for teachers - just simply a school growing and having to make different choices for use of space.

  61. To the poster who said computers diminish inter-human communications I would say not necessarily. Our now college-age daughter has excellent interpersonal and conversational skills and we had family conversations around the dinner table every school night while she was in high school and still do while she's home for vacations. To facilitate, we prepared family dinners so we all have a reason to sit down together. Yes, both parents worked full-time and our daughter had a busy after-school activity schedule with demanding homework, but it's amazing what you accomplish if you keep the television off. At the same time, over this summer, she did not speak to her boyfriend on the East Coast once. They text-messaged each other constantly. They managed to break up and get back together by text message. My husband and I found ourselves rather bemused by such a modern romance. I'm not advocating for computers in lower elementary grades (in fact our daughter had only one semester of computer class in high school and that seemed like plenty), just saying that for upcoming generations, there is a different relationship with computers. They do not necessarily isolate. It's really up to families to set limits and create opportunities for kids to experience reality, not just virtual reality.

    Also, some kids may have a harder time coming out of their shells and computers, like books, can be friends. It can be unnerving for parents but it doesn't mean your child will be the next Unabomber. I know a woman whose math genius son had one friend in his entire life until he finished college. He spent the vast majority of his waking hours with his computer. Now he's in graduate school where he finally is surrounded by people as brilliant as himself who share his interests. He's playing team sports, going out for beer with his buddies and starting to date. He's also gone from quite overweight to fit and handsome. During his lonely years up to age 22, his computer probably kept him from going mad. Obviously not an ideal situation and his parents worried about him, but they knew he was a kind person, and it worked out in the end.

  62. Oh, on the library point, we definitely use our neighborhood library though we are probably slightly above average income. My husband and I buy reference books (about our hobbies, dictionaries, atlases, cookbooks, that sort of thing) and paperback classics that we know we will re-read. I also have a soft spot for hardcover children's literature and our five-year-old has shelves full of books that we will hand down to his younger cousins as he outgrows them. Fortunately our neighborhood bookstore has an excellent children's section. We use the library for one-time reads (current fiction, celebrity bios) and it gives our son a chance to choose books that he won't necessarily want to have read to him 50 or 60 times. We love our public library and it usually seems pretty lively when we visit.

  63. One of the biggest issues a school will face is not the cost of the computer, but the cost of maintaining them---which is why donated computers are not always the best choice. Teachers can implement technology within their classroom but without a tech specialist available at the school, the curriculum will quickly wither and fade as the computers have their fits and the teachers don't have time to figure them out. And which schools out there have enough money to add a headcount for a tech support (or lab teacher)? Congratulations, I'm sure you are one of the few.

  64. School computers saved
    I am a computer teacher in a reputed school. The computers of our school were severely plagued with trojans. The speed of our computers was drastically decreased and eventually the students started loosing interest in the subject. It was really a serious problem and also my job was getting insecure but finally– helped me. It scanned and removed several trojans and eventually the speed of our computers increased, students are now very much interested in learning computers and of course my job is secured.