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Technology May Reform Education After All

The paper of record alerts us that the geniuses we have put in charge of our children’s education seem to be in the throes of a brilliant epiphany about the electronic generation:  if you give them laptops, they will learn. Well, duh.

“Educators” are flocking in droves to a little school district in North Carolina where elementary, middle, and high schoolers armed with computers are busy exploding some of the most cherished myths of the teachers’ unions. Class sizes in Mooresville, N.C., have gotten larger; teachers have been laid off; the district is 100th out of 115 in the state in per-student spending. And yet . . . miracle of miracles, in the past three years, since the district provided laptops to 4th through 12th graders, the graduation rate has gone from 80 percent to 91 percent; science, math and reading proficiency rates have risen from 73 percent to 88 percent; attendance is up and dropout rates have declined.

Now, digital learning is not unique to Mooresville; in fact, it’s the pedagogic flavor of the day. What’s different is that the district seems to have figured out how to get the teachers to recognize computers as the efficient and interesting information delivery systems students know them to be – rather than as expensive, high-tech-slide-show accompaniments to education-as-usual.

Students work individually with math software programs, with help and guidance as needed from the teacher. (Though, one imagines, when it comes to using computers, the guidance may well be going in the other direction as well.) They work collectively through teacher-monitored chat-rooms. They even — get this — use Google Docs to share information with each other on, say, Transcendentalism!

In other words, instead of fidgeting and nodding off through eight hours a day of droning from teachers as restless and bored as they are, these kids are putting their clever little brains and uncanny (to us old fogeys) Internet skills to work. Is it any wonder fewer of them are ditching?

Yes, this all might make life a little easier for cheaters; but then, there have always been and always will be cheaters. And, yes, as the Times hastens to note, “those concerned about corporate encroachment on public schools would blanch at the number of Apple logos in the hallways, and at the district’s unofficial slogan: “iBelieve, iCan, iWill.” No doubt there will also be parents who will tear themselves away from their smartphones and iPads long enough to make pronouncements about the hazards of too much “screen time.” But look on the bright side:  computers + fewer teachers necessary + weeding out dinosaur burnout teachers = take that, NEA and AFT!

Sadly, my own longstanding prescription for the burlesque disaster that is the U.S. education “system” – nuke it and start from scratch – has never gotten much traction. It looks like Steve Jobs (RIP) may be getting the job done for me.