In a recent post (What are students really losing without technology?), Chris Dawson touched on a number of points I have railed about in the past. I first wrote about the value of computing in K-12 last June (see They’re tools, they’re just tools!) and what I wrote then is just as true today.
Without an underlying set of basic skills... "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic", as the old song goes -- coupled with a critical eye, in order to understand what 'truths' the 'facts' tell us -- ...technology offers us very little. Like the town library of days gone by, modern information technology gives our students access to a wealth of information upon which to hone their newly acquired skills.
In the days of the Carnegie Library in every city and town across America, however, the content of that library was agreed upon by the community and the content of that library was considered "acceptable" by most. (In those days, Darwin was probably the subject of the most objections to a library's content.) In any event, calmer heads prevailed and the community as a whole recognized that the value of the free exchange of ideas (no matter how outlandish) far outweighs any controversy. Further the dangers of censorship (of any kind) were easily recognized by all.
Unfortunately, the Internet gives the community no opportunity whatsoever to provide input as to the content of this new worldwide resource -- and there exist no automated tools that can replace a well-trained librarian to discern the difference in value between various kinds of content.
In many communities, gone altogether is the professional librarian -- once there to direct us to context appropriate (and age-appropriate) material. Never before has the ability to discern between fact and fiction been more critical. Add to that the cynicism which pervades our society and getting a handle on 'truth' becomes a challenge for even the most well-read among us.
Still, this is no reason to remove the technology from our classrooms. If we do this, we might as well close our libraries too! Giving up access to information in order to protect our kids from the outside world is short-sighted at best and, at its worst, leads us down a dangerous path to government-sanctioned censorship "for our protection". This is no different than giving up our civil liberties in the name of security!
Does this mean we have to be more vigilant? By all means! But aren't our kids worth it? The solution is not to close our doors to the world but to throw them wide open -- to use what we find as tools to teach the critical thinking skills we seek for our children.
One last point ...
Chris touches on OLPC (One Laptop per Child), the pet project of Nicholas Negroponte. I am no fan of OLPC but not because it is not a worthy goal. To provide every child in the world with access to the collective knowledge of the human race is a very lofty goal indeed. What I find objectionable about the goal is that it is totally unrealistic. The success of the entire project is dependent upon each third-world government providing a network infrastructure to children it cannot even feed, clothe, or provide even the most basic health-care.
What makes it laughable is the expectation that OLPC will soon produce 100 million not-for-profit laptops per year when the total world output of for-profit computers of all kinds is currently under 200 million per year!
It strikes me that one $500 desktop system sitting in a one-room-school house (often the only building in a jungle village which MIGHT have electricity and a telephone line) potentially frees up hundreds of dollars (otherwise spent on these lame toy-like laptops) for the basic needs of living -- clean water, food, and basic health-care. In the third-world, it's about where the money can do the most good now -- not down the road.