We stopped complaining about computers in the classroom decades ago because the train left the station and the educrats drank the Kool-Aid (pardon the double cliché) and no rational arguments were allowed. According to the lazy educational administrators at all levels computers somehow make students "job ready" (for mostly mythical jobs) and students as young as kindergartners need to be introduced to the highly distractive devices, never mind that kids need no help with technology as is obvious to everyone but school administrators.
There has never been an independent study not funded by computer and software vendors or techno-addicted educrats showing that computers actually improve academic performance. But none of that makes any difference when the computer vendors stand to make billions and self-alleged educators don't even make the slightest attempt to resist the techno onslaught.
But every so often a Mendoland computer fiasco is such a giant provocation that it just can't go unnoticed.
Last fall Willits High School spent $150,000 to provide Dell-brand Chromebooks (essentially bargain basement Macbooks) for every student in grades 7-12.
Hosannahs of praise erupted from the Willits school officials and students raved about getting free computers. The expenditure was accompanied by the usual edu-gibberish — narrow the digital divide, technology is necessary for jobs, easy to use, cheaper than textbooks, paper elimination, etc. (Interestingly, nobody even bothered to claim academic achievement would improve in their public statements before the purchase.)
The lamebrain Chromebook scheme was the brainchild of Willits School Superintendent Mark Westerburg who sold the idea to his captive School Board by claiming that the Chromebook would “narrow the gap between families of different incomes.”
“I’m really excited,” said Board President Christopher Neary, noting that the move “is sending a message to students that we’re serious about education.”
Trustee Georgeanne Croskey told the Willits News that she voted for it because “I had to learn a lot of those skills in college, and it’s great that we can teach students the skills in high school and eventually in middle school.”
So every Willits high school kid, rich or poor, gets a free laptop computer so they can get easier access to pornography, Internet conspiracy theories, reams of plagiarizable text, games, bad music, and endless streams of other extremely non-academic crap.
In the several local reports on what would have been another edu-scandal if anyone in authority had applied the vaunted “critical thinking” that schools say they promote, there was:
No mention of the cost of any edu-software for the computers or the cost of site licenses for commercial software.
No mention of how the computers will fit in with the high school curriculum.
No mention of any educational planning that preceded the purchase.
No list of educational uses or needs.
No evidence anybody asked what educational objectives the computers would advance.
No mention of training for teachers or administrators to use the computers or work them into their classroom activity.
No mention of the distraction factor.
No discussion of whether Internet learning sinks in more than book learning. (Hint: it doesn’t. In fact, computers make it harder because they encourage short attention spans.)
No mention of what happens when things go wrong with the computers — theft, student re-sale, replacement, loss, breakage, repair, etc.
Since we last complained about computers in the classroom years ago we’ve learned a wonderful new reason that computers have negative academic value: According to one study, "Tablets increased the number of excuses available for students not doing their schoolwork. Students have several new available excuses including ‘the tablet broke, the tablet froze, I forgot the tablet at home, I couldn't find my charger, it wouldn't recharge, it was too slow, I couldn’t get connected, etc.”
Last month, the Chromebooks finally arrived at Willits High School and within just a couple of weeks the latest issue of The Wolverine, Willits High School's occasional student newspaper, cranked out an unintentionally hilarious and unintentionally self-defeating student-written argument against the confounded machines breathlessy entitled "The Chromebook Experience" by students Max Pinelli and Carolyn Bakewell.
In it, Willits teachers and kids unanimously gush about the wonders of their new machines and the District’s installation of new WiFi hubs and recharging outlets as if Jesus Himself had handed them out.
"After just a few weeks of using the Chromebooks Willits High School student life has changed for the better,” write Pinelli and Bakewell.
“Classes can easily implement online components for student learning. Mrs. Walton said, ‘My students use the Chromebooks for vocabulary work, research and composition. I love them! I don't have to check out a computer cart, half of which didn't work, or walk my students down to the media center to use a computer lab, wasting at least 10 minutes of instructional time in the transition.”
(The same if not more could be said of not using computers at all.)
Mr. Conrad “shared”: “In physical education, if a student is out because of a medical condition, they can bring their Chromebook to class and use it for participation."
(A Chromebook for physical education? What do they do with it, one-arm curls?)
Mrs. Barrett “mentioned”: “I'm having my freshmen do a slide presentation and this works well. My other classes look up health disorders and use Quizlet, so they are actively using the Chromebooks.”
(Look up health disorders? Take quizzes? Wow! What amazing educational acvhievements! You could NEVER do that with stodgy old things like books and paper.)
“Teachers and students alike love this new tool. Grades are improving and engagement is going up.”
(No evidence was or has ever been provided that grades are improving nor that there’s any correlation between the Chromebooks and the “improvement.” At last check less than a third of the graduating class of 2016 Willits High was assessed “proficient” in math or English.)
“The Chromebooks are also leveling the playing field that some students did not have a computer or the Internet at home,” continued the student-reporters. “Now they can use their personal computer any time to do their work and when they arrive back on campus the information syncs up to the network delivering papers and essays and homework to name a few.”
(Better off kids get computers whether they need them or not, and poor kids get something that “levels the playing field” — with an emphasis on the word “playing.”)
“With these devices, work has become smoother and the whole school has benefited. The most important thing is now every student can succeed if they want to.”
(Apparently, in the centuries before computers, no one could succeed if they wanted to.)
Then we got the obligatory “cool” comments from the students themselves providing a better argument against the devices than any critic could ever dream up:
Senior Shmar Hudgens said, “I'm really glad to have my Chromebook because now I can get my work done at home and stay caught up.”
"I think the Chromebooks are cool and what I like best is I don't have carry heavy books around now,” said Elijah Keith (shown in his facebook profile picture sportsbiking in a skateboard rink while giving the finger to the camera, presumably an ungrateful reaction to getting a free computer from the suckers on the Willits School Board).
"I think the laptop is a smart and cool thing,” said Jocelyn Castaneda.
“I think the laptops are cool because they are giving us a chance to learn from a new perspective. It can help us with notes and we don't have to write as much,” said Jade Pierce.
“I really like them, and I like that we can take them home and keep them with us,” said Asia Grant.
“Well, I think the Chromebooks are a great idea because now we don't need textbooks. And I can take it home so I am happy about that,” said Kayla Joe Williams
“It's not that heavy and it's nice to have for every class,” said Perla Hereda.
“It's cool because I have my own computer now,” said Michael Kittrell.
“Do students use their Chromebooks for other things besides school work?” the student-reporters asked.
“[Cheerleader] Haley Frahm excitedly answered: ‘The first tab on my Chromebook is Netflix,’ she said, ‘and the fourth tab is Youtube. As far as school goes my life is so much easier because I can get started on my work right away in class’."
(Oh great, instead of paying attention to the teacher or the instruction, Ms. Frahm is playing with her computer before the closing bell even rings.)