Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Computers in the classroom

A while ago, the Boston Globe ran a list of educational rankings for Massachusetts cities. Among the categories: computers per student in the classroom. An article in Orion Magazine by Lowell Monke suggests that the Globe was misguided in using this criterion.

According to Monke, computers sap important skills from youngsters, from learning how to deal with other people to exploring the natural world for themselves. Instead of developing relationships with classmates at recess, they sit in front of computers, letting a machine do their work for them. Monke illustrates this by describing a project about "Charlotte's Web" assigned to his students. They grew so fascinated by their computer work that they eschewed recess for research, and they were as proud of their computer-graphic spiders as if they had drawn them on their own.

What does the control offered by computers mean for young people today? For Monke, it is a way to manipulate human relationships. "I was constantly frustrated by individuals and even entire groups of students who would suddenly disappear from cyber-conversations related to the projects," Monke writes. "My own students indicated that they understood the departures to be a way of controlling relationships that develop online. If they get too intense, too nasty, too boring, too demanding, just stop communicating and the relationship goes away." Adults do this, too. Just about everyone I met through online dating websites has broken off communication with me, occasionally deigning to send an explanatory email. Yet I wonder if this is a new development. Back in the 1920s, Nick Carraway confesses in The Great Gatsby, he used the following technique to end a relationship: "when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow quietly away."

Overall, though, Monke makes some good and worthwhile points. We can't become Luddites, reverting to a pre-computer age. At the same time, we can't let computers dominate our lives. We need to go out and experience the world in person, not virtually. Is it still possible? I think it is. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check my email.


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