I'm Not Anti-Computer, I'm Anti-Panacea

I want to clarify yesterday's burst of outrage over an article about computers in education in Lewiston, Maine. I firmly believe that a) students need early access and good training in computing; b) a great way to teach ideas about ideas is through learning how to evaluate truth from opinion from inaccuracies on the Web; c) there's practically no career in which learning principles of computing from an early age won't help in. Kids who know computing will certainly get better jobs.

Now the flip side is that the article I cited yesterday is about 90-percent full of "we gave the kids the computers and watch them go!&quot and only about 10 percent "we're teaching the kids how the Internet and computers can be used effectively as part of their education."

Typically, school districts can easily raise money for computers and not for textbooks or other resources. Typically, teachers are not trained (my aunt and her school fought for a training budget when her school arbitrarily decided on new computers and software). Typically, teachers are expensive tech support during classes.

This isn't universally true: some excellent educators have figured out how to plan and budget and use computers as a cost-effective tool within the greater structure of education. Making PowerPoint slides: bad, unless you want them all to become Dilbert. Learning scripting: good, because it gives them tools to achieve results.

In sum, most computer education I read about and her about is the equivalent of handing a kid a TV set, a coax cable feed, and a videotape and leaving them alone with it. The proper use of a computer is like handing a kid a videocamera and teaching them about filmmaking.