Sunday, April 23, 2006

Public School Students and Computers

Ludwig von Mises, the heart and soul of the Austrian School of Economics, wrote about Trotsky's belief that under the right form of socialism "the average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And, beyond this ridge new peaks would rise." (from Human Action, Ludwig von Mises). Mises noted that Charles Fourier (not the famed mathematician of the same last name) dreamed of the day when the oceans would be filled with lemonade.

I bring this up in the context of the belief that with the right application of technology children will spontaneously evolve into a new human type, learning will become a joy, as will teaching and all other forms of labor. Let's keep in mind that learning is work, and as with any form of work, learning requires a certain level of disutility. In other words, it just ain't easy. Never was, never will be.

The technology question is best answered by reading the first six pages of The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom. Seems we have been here before with the PC being the latest siren of the technology promise.

According to Oppenheimer, it was first assumed that motion pictures would release the mind from the mundane efforts of learning and send the classroom into obsolescence. Minds no less than Thomas Edison predicted the new age of learning. Books and research followed but achievement remained lost in the enthusiasm.

Next up was radio and BF Skinner claiming, "students could learn twice as much" from the classroom radio. This failure was followed closely by the introduction of TV and its assumed new learning revolution.

So here we are with some stating that computers will save the day. I suggest that those who believe this spend 10 minutes or so reading the first few pages of Oppenheimer's book. Though he leans toward the Progressive/constructivist approach, he holds out little hope for the success of computers.

Where does this take us? What is the point of these discussions? We can't lose sight of the need for education reform, not just some new technology or pedagogy, but true market-based reform that provides the solutions to the problem of across-the-board low achievement.

If we ride the horse of technology we will find ourselves galloping along with the Progressives and constructivist. Technology will certainly make for strnge riding partners.

What's the solution? Add choice to education, or better yet, close failed government schools and return education back to parents and the free market.

Jim Fedako


Anonymous said...

Although I follow you on many points throughout your posts I disagree about the introduction of computers in public education. One, a PC is not a tool that only disseminates information (i.e. radio/television). Computers allow for thoughts to flow, interests to migrate, and ideas to be constructed. Computers are closer to books, pencils and paper than radios and televisions. Following the ideals of the free market the PC has become an essential tool to increase productivity and overall corporate strength when compared with the competition. Adversely, the use of televisions and radios within organizations as a tool to increase the quality and quantity of production is a lost cause. Although externally they do increase marketing awareness they are not a tool used internally for the benefit of the company to improve worker effectiveness. Now think of this in terms of a classroom, televisions and radios do not have the same impact due to their lack of interactivity and flexibility. Secondly, you are in fact using the flexibility of the Internet and computers to share your thoughts and ideas. You must ask yourself if you would promote this amount of dialogue if you were relegated to setting up a radio/television station, or maybe running your own printing press and investing in a few crates of staples to post your thoughts to trees?

Jim Fedako said...

I agree with this some of this response. I would never claim that technology has no productive value. While I am not a 21st Century Luddite, I do not adhere to the popular belief that computers and technology in general are necessary for improved educational outcomes.

Technology is introduced in the workplace in order to increase worker productivity. In the classroom, that would translate to either raised outcomes or more students per teacher with the same outcomes, or some mix of both. Neither of these results has occurred though billions have been spent on classroom technology.

For the empiricist, the introduction of technology in classrooms starts around the time of the beginning of the current flat-lined national educational performance. I wouldn't assume causation, though I would not state that the data support the claim that technology leads to educational improvements.