Monday, December 01, 2003
Despite great promise, technology is dumbing down the classroom.
Take the much vaunted effort to close the "digital divide." Popularized by the Clinton administration, this initiative was aimed at the poor, who were supposedly being shut out of social and economic opportunities because they had fewer computers than wealthy families do. This campaign has been so appealing that, according to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, computers are now more prevalent in poor schools than in wealthy ones. Yet political and education leaders haven't stopped crying about this terrible "divide." Meanwhile, the schools' new technology riches took the real divide between rich and poor children -- the educational divide -- and widened it.
One of the most common selling points for computers in schools, even in first and second grades, is to prepare youngsters for tomorrow's increasingly high-tech jobs. Strangely, this may be the computer evangels' greatest hoax. When business leaders talk about what they need from new recruits, they hardly mention computer skills, which they find they can teach employees relatively easily on their own. Employers are most interested in what are sometimes called "soft" skills: a deep knowledge base and the ability to listen and communicate; to think critically and imaginatively; to read, write and figure, and other capabilities that schools are increasingly neglecting.