Saturday, June 26, 2010

Computers: Magic Wands?

A local factory whose manager is a friend of the principal, gives fifty brand-new state-of-the-art computers to a junior high school where student achievement is low, attendence is irregular, and vandalism is rampant.

The computers are housed in a room fortified against theft and vandalism with extra locks, screened windows and a full-time classroom monitor to assist teachers who bring their students to this “Computer Lab.”

Why the gift? Don’t ask.
(“Gift horse. Mouth and all that,” teachers are admonished.)
But there were hopes…
(Whose? Shhhh!)
that student achievement …
(Don’t say it out loud! Salagadoola, mechikaboola, bibbidee bobbidee boo. Fingers crossed!)
might go up, attendence would improve and vandalism disappear.

Within a month the majority of the computers have been trashed: parts broken or stolen. The Lab is not usable as a place of learning.

The anguished cry goes up, “Animals! Criminals! Sociopaths! Naughty, naughty!” Teachers are reassigned, lab assistants fired, students suspended, the general populace of the school crammed into the auditorium for threats and scoldings and short naps. The factory manager lets the principal know that before another gift from his company is forthcoming, the Devil will be relaxing in a tub of ice.

What went wrong? What happened was that, initially, some school realities were disregarded as unimportant:
a. most of the kids had little or no experience with computers; few even knew what they were good for;
b. some of the teachers insisted, before anything else, on teaching programming in BASIC;
c. computer equipment could be sold on the streets to engage the extensive drug culture of the neighborhood;
d. bullying of the more school-involved kids was rampant and discounted as a school problem
For more on these issues see The Teacher as Technician: Will Technology Improve Schooling?


-- EGR

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