Twenty-five eager faces stared at their laptops.
Twenty-five fidgeting third graders stared at their laptops.
Twenty-five sat waiting, waiting – waiting, – waiting, – still waiting.
“Teacher, my computer won’t log on,” student after student exclaims.
“Joe, we can’t log on,” the teacher reports.
“I’ll get to you as soon as I can, the fifth grade is down too,” Joe, from IT sighs.
Forty minutes into the allotted test time, Joe finally gets everyone logged in.
“Maybe,” the teacher mumbles to herself. “Maybe it’ll work now.” Afraid to let down her guard she strolls through the room checking on the kids. She finds Jenny staring at a blank screen.
“I don’t know, I was taking the test and it just went blank,” Jenny explains. A good student, Jenny tries hard, perhaps too hard. Today the computer breakdown is too much, she breaks into inconsolable sobbing.
Looking around the room, the teacher watches in horror as two more screens freeze. One student simply lays his head down and falls asleep.
Is this pain necessary?
Why do we subject nine-year-olds to state of the art technology that doesn’t work?
When did we lose control?
We lost control when technology became chic. When we decided that we knew better than the classroom teacher did. When we chose to follow a fad and give every child a computer, regardless of need.
In our zeal for more and better technology, we chase the latest gadgets and software like Dr. Suess’ Sneetches.
Do we truly need a watch that alerts us to “breaking news”?
Do we truly need phones with more computing power than the space shuttle?
Are the latest gadgets worth standing on line for days?
Sadly, it seems we have enshrined technology with mythical powers, but alas, these devices and software are just that, devices and software – tools not cure-alls.
Granted, I am an old fossil, a relic of the boom-boom sixties, a time when computers were in spaceships, Banks, and science fiction movies. My generation learned to write and cipher with a yellow Ticonderoga pencil, and big red eraser.
“So what do you know of technology?” you ask.
Perhaps more than you would think. We were the first wave of the technological tsunami. The generation that championed it, bought it, showered our children with it, and sadly oversold it.
“What do you mean oversold it?”
My point is that unquestioning pursuit of technology has risks. I do not advocate going backward, nor throwing out your devices. I ask that we simply realize that they are just that, devices. In earlier times, they were called tools. For that is what they are, tools to make our life easier.
We must understand the difference between a tool and a skill. When you learn a skill, you learn how to make, to draw, to compose, to sing, to dance, to play ball, to create, to build things.
Tools are simply inanimate objects. Objects you use to practice your skills: a book, a hammer, a knife, a brush, a calculator, a computer.
This critical distinction we ignore at our peril.
I could get on my soapbox about the dangers of blindly using computer programs that mimic human thought. However, my purpose today is more elementary – school testing.
It used to be that students learned to read and write in first and second grade. In the third grade, they shifted from learning to read, to reading to learn. Nothing could be simpler. First, you learn how to read, and then apply that skill to open the door of education.
“First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Daniel-san, not mine.” – The Karate Kid
For most children, this is an ah-ah moment; the light bulb glows and they eagerly dig into encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, and magazines. In a perfect world, we would clear the road of obstacles and let them go.
Sadly, in our pursuit of “technology,” we block their path.
“To prepare our children for the future, we must give them all computers!” our School Boards cry
They act as if computers are educational touchstones. A mere touch will impart great knowledge to our youth. We spend thousands, nay millions, to outfit every child with laptops, with no clear reason other than “so they can compete.” All we accomplish is to steal precious time teaching them how to use a tool; time better spent teaching them a skill
What we should be doing, is making sure that each student has that ah-ah moment, when reading opens the door to knowledge. As it is, since each has a computer, we subject the students to days of testing, on those same mystical computers. To add insult to injury, we give them an unreliable tool.
We must step back and rethink what we are doing. Our goal is to teach a skill, not a tool. Once our children have mastered the skills of reading and math, they will have no trouble learning to use the tool. Eons ago, our society used typewriters to compose letters, newspapers, and books. Society did not force us to learn to type in elementary; we learned that in high school. Remarkably, in grade school we were simply asked to learn the skills
Why do we require our children to take their standardized tests on computers? Do we do it because that is best for the student, or is it cheaper for the district, or, heaven forbid, is it more profitable for the testing company?
How do we allocate or precious classroom time? Do we devote time to mastering skills, or to mastering a testing program?
Having shepherded my business from pen and paper drafting to CAD, I vote for teaching the skill first. We can master the tools later.
David L. Dahl
Hello, I’m David Dahl. When I’m not being Bugga (grandpa), I do some woodworking and write children’s books. My latest is Olivia’s Story: Protector of the Realm.
On my website: buggasbooks.com I am running a Holiday Sale, all books are 30 to 40% off.