Wednesday, November 23, 2005

computers and schools

I recently read an interesting article on computers in schools and their affects on children.

Although I am not certain I agree with everything the author writes, he does make some very good points. The one that I agree most with is that it is detrimental to a child's development to substitute computer experiences for real life.
"Structured learning certainly has its place. But if it crowds out direct,
unmediated engagement with the world, it undercuts a child's education. Children
learn the fragility of flowers by touching their petals. They learn to cooperate
by organizing their own games. The computer cannot simulate the physical and
emotional nuances of resolving a dispute during kickball, or the creativity of
inventing new rhymes to the rhythm of jumping rope. These full-bodied, often
deeply heartfelt experiences educate not just the intellect but also the soul of
the child"

When a child misses out on a real outdoor experience in favor of a "virtual field trip," the child is denied the opportunity to experience the world with all his senses, to soak it in though his pores, so to speak. It isn't real and does not promote the kind of emotional attachment or, as Rachel Carson calls it, the "sense of wonder" about the natural world.

"these projects—the steady diet of virtual trips to the Antarctic, virtual
climbs to the summit of Mount Everest, and trips into cyber-orbit that represent
one technological high after another—generate only vicarious thrills. The
student doesn't actually soar above the Earth, doesn't trek across icy terrain,
doesn't climb a mountain. Increasingly, she isn't even allowed to climb to the
top of the jungle gym."

This is also an arguement for what homeschoolers call "Real learning." Using the world as our classroom and experiencing directly as much as we can. Life itself is a learning process and sitting in front a screen (or in a classroom, for that matter) is just a poor, poor substitute.
The same goes for human interaction. Email and IM are great, but no substitute for direct human contact. I'd rather see my 16 yo daughter on the phone all evening than IMing. At least there is the human voice, where emotions can be expressed. Anyone who has ever been "flamed" when a messageboard post has been misinterpreted knows how hard it is to convey feelings via the electronically written word.
I'm not saying that the computer doesn't have it's place in education. I use it a bit in our homeschool. It is great for those of us who have limited library access-for quickly finding info and pictures. It allows us to follow our children's leads instantly, rather than waiting for a trip to the library, or an Amazon shipment. But we all know how much richer an experience is a good living book, a walk in the woods, or a conversation with a human being. Those are the sources we go to when we REALLY want to know something WELL. In comparison, despite the wealth of information available on the internet, computers are so superficial. They promote a "cut-and paste" understanding of a topic, denying the need to seek out additional sources for greater depth of understanding. In short, they are no substitute for real life, and real learning.
In fact, I really need to turn of my computer and get on with life now.

1 comment:

barb said...


I agree wholeheartedly. Josh loves his bird forums and websites but nothing beats getting outside and birding himself! I am constantly reminding Josh when we study a subject that he needs to find various sources for information and not just one type including real live people who are knowlegable in an area. It seems that some of the schools are stressing using other sources besides computers in their assignments as my girls who are in college and high school often have to have websites, books and journals/magazines for sources quoted. I do NOT like the fact that almost all of their work has something to do with being on the computer whether it be for research or typing of papers. My youngest daughter who is a sophomore even types out her notes from reading assignments. Each teacher has also a wesite for their classes. Even the student's grades etc are on the computer. Here it is called ISIS. It is supposed to allow the parents a place to "keep track of their children". She is on there so much worrying about and checking on her grades that I don't even need to go there. I keep track of her by hearing shouts of joy or loud moans lol. I have to say that when she took Biology last year I was very impressed as the teacher did a tremendous amount of "hands on" learning.

As a family we are not into "virtual" tours. Like you we would rather have a taste of the real kind :)