Monday, July 11, 2005

In Louisiana, they'd be Apple IIs

This MSNBC headline actually scared me at first:

Arizona schools won't use textbooks

It gave me visions of disclaimer stickers and Jesus horses. Fortunately, Arizona--who once elected Evan "But They Like Being Called Niggers!" Mecham as governor--has a better plan in mind:

TUCSON, Ariz. - A high school in Vail will become the state's first all-wireless, all-laptop public school this fall. The 350 students at the school will not have traditional textbooks. Instead, they will use electronic and online articles as part of more traditional teacher lesson plans.

Calvin Baker, superintendent of Vail Unified School District, said the move to electronic materials gets teachers away from the habit of simply marching through a textbook each year.

Several years ago, I recall seeing a commercial that showed a montage of the future. In one vignette, a teacher in an all-American classroom says to her students, "Please open up your computers." It was so CUTE! I think the Simpsons satirized it.

MSNBC reports that one happy side-effect of Empire High's configuration will be a shift away from that prehistorically cumbersome medium of paper. Because if there's one tangible result of the computer age, it's been the paperless society we've all come to enjoy.

Even as a schoolkid, I always thought the idea of giving each student a computer was farfetched. Granted, much of my stance had to do with the mental picture of us lugging Macintosh Performas in our mesh backpacks; however, it also had to do with the simple realities of childhood. Let's face it: most kids cannot be trusted with five dollars, let alone a cutting-edge laptop! I know I couldn't.

The summer before my senior year in high school, I made editor-in-chief of my school newspaper. I finagled one of the school's PowerMacs for home use, presumably so I could learn layout and other functions. When the hard drive burned out halfway through the year, I was given another one to take home. Were it not for my teacher coming to my house to pick it up at the end of the year, I would never have let the school see it again. That computer was freaking cool. And I'm one of the more honest, scrupulous people on the planet! Can you imagine the shit that would go down if the kids straight out of "Dangerous Minds" decided that the school wasn't getting its computer back? Would you want to be THAT educator?

"You won't pass into the next grade until you return your laptop, okay, Toecutter? What do you mean, you pawned it? Well, that IS a tight car radio..."

But even Joe Clark couldn't handle the other potential pitfalls with this plan. What are they again? Hmmmm...oh yes:

But the move to laptops is not cheap. The laptops cost $850 each, and the district will hand them to 350 Empire High School students for the entire year. The fast-growing district hopes to have 750 students at the new high school eventually. A set of textbooks runs about $500 to $600, Baker said.

I can just see this in a state like Louisiana, a state so poor we have fundraisers just to buy M&Ms for our fundraisers. Many of our schools barely have computer labs, ferchrissakes! Or enough books to go around. At least with books, you can photocopy the pages in a pinch. But I doubt that issuing Dell ads would be a suitable substitute.

More unresolved questions: Are the kids going to keep the computers throughout their school career? Would Bill "Upgrade Daily" Gates allow this? If one breaks, do they just get another one? Will they have wireless Internet access? If so, wouldn't that make cheating so much easier? Not to mention note passing!

Flustered teacher: "Care to share it with the rest of the class?"
Guilty, but guiltless, student: "I already sent it to them! And to you!"

Bottom line? I think that every student in the United States deserves computer access in the classroom. But as long as tripe like No Child Left Behind exists, as well as our ironic disdain for funding education, Empire High will continue to be Novelty High.


Nick said...

You say LA is too poor for it's students to be given laptops. However, I distinctly remember one of Blanco's main quotes during her campaign, "A laptop in every 7th grader's hands." I always thought that was dumb and showed her stupidity. Many of our 7th graders can't even read. You need to be able to read and do simple math before being trusted w/ a laptop for learning.

And besides, like you said, even an educated senior in HS like yourself couldn't be trusted w/ one. Just imagine some of these jr. high kids who are already brain washed by people like 50 Cent and/or Green Day.

Murph said...

It's amazing how educators and politicos always equate the latest technology with the best education, as if a computer in every 7th grader's hands means they're learning something.

Teaching via laptop is going to be a huge disaster. Sure, there's cheating problems, Instant messaging all the time, web surfing ... oh, and what about interaction and socialization? If every kid is going to learn on a laptop, they might as well just demolish the school (that'll save millions!) and let the kids be homeschooled.

This is a lazy placebo more meant to make adults feel good than children.

Also, what happens when little Johnny leaves his power source at home and his battery runs out during a test? They'll spend three years and at least that many million dollars just working out 10% of the kinks.

Phillip said...

let's address the REAL question: would you rather have your children brainwashed by fitty cent or green day?

i'd say fitty, because he obviously knows the ins and outs of the whole "bootstrap" theory (as in "pulling yourself up by your..."). plus he got capped a few times, so you know he's money and knows how to drop it like it's hot.

Flamingo Jones said...

OK...this has nothing to do with computers...but I DO have to give 50 Cent some credit here.

As a teacher in Louisiana I had my very own 1st grade class. Very few of those 1st graders could read very well, or write just about anything. Except thanks to the magic of 50 Cent, I found "Brian is a PIMP" scrawled all over everything. Spelled correctly.