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Kids and Computers 184

Posted by JonKatz
from the --get-off-the-computer-and-go-outside!- dept.
A new study finds computers have become a fixture in many kid's lives at an unbelievable pace -- 72 percent of U.S. households with kids now have computers, many times the number five years ago. But the study by the Packard Foundation also finds an outrageous gap in computers and Net access between rich and poor kids at home and in schools, an issue that has so far failed to arouse campus activists, the tech industry, or President Bush, who outlined his educational initiatives this week without once even mentioning computers or technology. The study also has new stats on kids and computer use by age and activity. (Read more).

Nothing is more mysterious in politics than why some issues capture the imagination of idealistic people like college students -- sweatshops in Latin America, for example -- and some don't, like the enormous gap in computer use and Net access between poor and rich kids.

It's tough to imagine a more urgent moral issue than the fate of children without access to computers or the Net, since their educational, economic, cultural and social lives will be directly affected. Wealthier kids have access to research, free music, challenging games, educational and social opportunities online and the better jobs of the new economy. Poorer kids may be slinging burgers.

But the issue just doesn't seem to catch fire, either on college campuses, in the political community, among the sometimes narcisstic communities of tech workers, or among the intensely policitized communities and corners of cyberspace, where individual civil liberties are a raging concern but the technological fugures of other people often aren't. That's an ugly shame.

This week, a report by the David and Lucile Packard foundation issued this week but not yet online, revealed that computers are being used more than ever by kids who have them. An amazing seventy per cent of American households with children ages 2 to 17 have Net access, says the report, up from only 15 percent five years ago. About 20 percent of kids age 8 to 16 have computers in their bedrooms and ll per cess access the Net there.

It also revealed children's access to computers and the Net varies wildly with family income. A little more than 22 per cent of children in families with annual incomes of less than $20,000 had access to a home computer, compared with 91 percent of those in families with incomes of more than $75,000. Even in those cases where they do have a computer, found the study, kids in lower-income families use it less, in part because their families are less likely to have an ISP. And they almost never have access to broadband, beyond limited time on school and library computers.

This isn't a small disparity. Access to computing -- to RPG and other forms of gaming, search engines, IM, file-sharing systems -- shapes creativity, vocabuliary, political awareness, culture and common language, not to mention economic opportunity.

According to a story by Tamar Lewin in the New York Times this week, almost every school in the nation is now wired, but there are enormous differences in how indvidual schools use computers. The Packard Foundation report, which includes studies by a number of other experts, found that schools serving poorer kids are more likely to emphasize word processing and other simple tasks while those serving more affluent students taught computing as a means of promoting cognitive skills, problem-solving and gathering information on specialized fields of study.

The report also found that computers are turning out to be especially effective in dealing with some learning disabilities, a valuable treatment that poorer kids are also deprived of.

The report had some other interesting findings, some surprising, some not:

  • For young boys, games are the dominant form of computer use. And there is little evidence that moderate game playing affect's kids social relationships or friendships.
  • There are concerns among educators and psychologists about the 7 to 9 percent of American children who play computer games for more than 30 hours a week.
  • Teenagers use IM, e-mail and chat rooms as a primary means of staying in touch with friends.
  • Children ages 2 to 5 averaged 27 minutes a day at the computer. Children 6 to 11 spend 49 minutes a day. Kids 12 to 17 averaged 63 minutes a day.
Not surprisingly, the more technology is available in the home, the more time kids spend in front of screens. The Packard Foundation report cited a l999 survey which found that children ages 2 to 17 who had computers video games and a TV spent on average 4 hours and 48 minutes a day in front of some type of screen, as compared with 3 hours and 40 minutes for kids who didn't have computers or videogame equipment.

Among the recommendations the study's authors make is this: "Efforts to ensure equal access to computer-related learning opportunities at school must move beyond a concern with the number of computers in different schools toward an emphasis on how well those computers are being used to help children develop intellectual competencies and technical skills," said the Packard Foundation study.

That means equal access issues involve more than software and hardware. It involves getting kids to the next level, using computing and the Net to develop story-telling, creativity, IQ, research and communicative skills, something that's only happening, the report says, in more affluent schools.

And there's no reason to expect this disparity to narrow. Computer companies have shown little intererest in getting equipment into the hands of poorer kids and families, even though it wouldn't be enormously expensive (an AT&T study a couple of years estimated it would cost between $3 and $5 billion) and would yield enormous economic benefits down the road.

The Clinton administration talked about equal access, but never fought for funding for it. Congressional Republicans showed little interest in the issue. Bush says he wants education to be a major priority in his administration, but his proposals, which were outlined this week, focus on literacy testing and accountability -- they don't even mention technology or computing. Few people in the new or old administration -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- seems to get that the most powerful moral issue affecting many kids and the Net isn't that they are online too much, but that so many aren't online at all, or find their Net and Web lives bounded by disparities in family income.

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Kids and Computers

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  • Bush will ruin America's education for all but the rich if his vouchers go through.

    letsriot.com [letsriot.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    An interesting educational model to think about is that espoused by The Sudbury Valley School [sudval.org], a democratic school with no curriculum. You can read about their philosophy [sudval.org]. I particularly like "The Crisis in American Education" [sudval.org]; it ironically criticizes the American public educational system as being fundamentally at odds with the principles upon which the U.S. was founded.
  • The problem with that statement is that the governor of Texas does not choose textbooks. The state board that does make those choices have been making asinine and ignorant decisions long before Texas ever even allowed Republicans in the state (until the late 80s, Texas was Democrat top to bottom -- what few Republicans there were considered fringe extremists -- of course you have to understand that the Democrats were conservative). The books have *always* been censored mostly due to intense pressure from Texas Baptist lobbies. Basically, I have had it with ignorant Bush-bashing (and I voted for Nader). You want to disagree with him on specifics or principles, fine. But produce some substantiation besides emotional fact-distorted nonsense to back it up or your credibility plummets to zero. Do the research or shut up and return to your "gladiatorial diversions". Since when did opinions lose the need to have some rational basis?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Mod that guy up. Way up. Someone finally said it. What's more, this whole computer thing is (IMNSHO) a fundamental problem with our approach to education - more toys aren't going to replace competent teachers and parental involvement.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:35AM (#481644)
    Computers do NOT equal a good education just as pencils do not equal being a good writer. Katz may not be aware but there is an increasing uproar that education is relying far too much on computers and net access instead of teaching important things like reading, writing, and math. An article in one of the IEEE magazines last year (or was the year before?), basically said too much emphasis was being put on computers for learning when the returns from using them was small compared to traditional teaching methods.

    The elementary school my kids go to in a well do middle class area area is one of the top elementary schools in San Diego County and it doesn't have Net access and only about 1 computer per classroom. They emphasize learning to read, write, and do math.

    I limit my kids TV watching, we don't have any video games, and they have very limited net access at home (its probably less than 20 hours per year). My kids read books, play with legos, and are doing very well. They also have a variety of other activities.

    This doesn't mean I hate computers or think they are useless, they are tools, and like any tools they need to be used for the right things at the right times. They are not magic machines that will somehow make kids smarter, you need educated people to make use of powerful tools. As my kids get older, I expect and will allow them to use computers in learning, but as tools, not the magic solution to education problems in this country.
    George W. Bush is on the right track, the education problems in this country are alot more serious than access to comptuers and the net.
  • When I used computers when I was a kid, I had a TRS-80 and a C-64. Sure, I played games on them some, but I spent a lot of time learning about interrupts, machine language, what happens when I POKE values here and there. I was learning how the machine worked and how it did what it did. I remember hand assembling programs and computing JMP offsets. That's what computers did for me in my education. (Granted, I didn't do any of that at school, all at home.)

    But from what I've seen of computers in schools, they aren't really learning anything on the computer that couldn't have been learned from a book. Books have a lot of advantages over computers, too. They can be taken to a park, to a boring class, or on a plane flight, all without much trouble at all.

    I volunteered to teach computer literacy to 4th graders when I was in college. What I taught them was basically useless. It primarily consisted of word processing an already written report into a Mac. It really didn't accomplish anything other than showing them the very basics of a program which didn't really help them create anything other than a smudged ink jet printed version of their already written document.

    Just my ramblings..
  • bush doesn't use computers because he hates things that count. see, he's a lot smarter then people give him credit for. he might not know what counting is, or how it's done but he knows it's bad.

    and to think, he's the guy that gets final approval over the federal budget.

    damn glad i emmigrated (1998). i knew the average american was getting dumb when i left but they've help more valid elections in tinpot dictatorships. dead people voting, dead people winning elections, invalid counting in a state controlled by the brother and party of the guy who "won."

    impressive.
  • While computers and the Internet are useful tools, I think Katz has greatly exaggerated their importance. The best source of accurate and comprehensive information on most subjects is still the book. Games and instant messaging may have some social and recreational value, but there are plenty of non-computer based alternatives. Computers are not a "silver bullet" that will solve the problems in our families, educational systems and society.
  • Stoll's book High Tech Heretic [amazon.com] gives many of the argumetns against the overuse of computers.
  • I'd somewhat agree but I think it's important to provide oppurtunities. The whole thing about being able to open the door but not being able to push them through. I don't know if I'd put the computers in schools to be used for lame ass stuff like most public schools choose though. Outreach centers would probably be more effective. If all books were in school libraries many people couldn't access them afterall. I also think college should be free (I suggest being paid for by taxing businesses based on number of college graduated employees) as long as it is required to get a job better than working at Burger King or Blockbuster. Luckily as a geek I didn't really need college tog et a decent job but it would have helped and would help people enter professions with more strict requirements (like medicine).
  • I'd say a college degree now has no real value. The only difference is who has parents that can afford to send them to college and who can't. I personally can do circles around a lot of friends with college degrees even though I haven't one. The push for everyone to need to go to college has already been made so we may as well make it so everyone can go to college. I also think we need third party certifications to get a college degree - the school teaching you should not be able to just give you a degree or claim you have a degree in such and such unless you pass the same certifications every other student in the country has to pass. Just because you give everyone a fair chance to go to college doesn't mean you have to promise they'll pass. The military already gives most people the chance to go to college but it really leaves out those of us who don't believe in violence or have to many responsibilities to dedicate anymore of our time. This would just be shifting the costs onto companies rather than the military (they could still offer their own programs) and giving the rest of us the same chance. Myself I have no complaints as I'm doing pretty well for myself but I think the road would have been easier with a degree and I know many friends that really need the degree. I won't argue that our K-12 needs major work too though. In poor areas (such as where I lived) the schools were nasty/old, the textbooks outdated, etc.
  • This same thing happens every time a new tool comes out. Anyone with half a brain knows that computers do not automatically make our youth smarter. However, anyone with half a brain AND a liberal agenda knows that their agenda comes first, common sense comes dead last.
    In the 70s poor kids were being disenfranchised because they were forced to use slide rules... or even pencil and paper *gasp*... while the rich kids were able to use digital calculators!
    In the 50s, poor families couldn't afford televisions, and medium income families sometimes had onle ONE television. Oh my gosh, how were they ever able to get their news!?!?!
    Reading your column, it sounds like anyone born before 1975 was doomed to failure because of the lack of computers in their upbringing.
    Computer experience helps get jobs, but come on, you can get all the experience you need for most jobs by visiting a library, flipping through a light computer book, and spending a bit of time on the computer there. An hour a day over a week, you are set. That's why it's there. Not everybody can afford a book collection either, and many of us simply doesn't need one.
    Stupidity is not a problem that can be fixed by computers or by money. Hell, Mr Katz, you've been here on slashdot for quite some time and it doesn't seem that computers have done much for your education either. It takes time, effort, and work on both the part of students and parents. Extra tools tend to be publicly availiable through our libraries. But there will always be a divide between the rich and the poor. It's easy to fall from the top, especially if you are born there. It's hard to climb from the bottom, but the ability to climb is what separates the real men from the boys, and the real women from the girls. That's what it's been about since the dawn of time, it's just that most of us who hit bottom aren't instantly killed by the lions nowadays.
  • I'm actually part Cliff Stoll [berkeley.edu] disciple (well, I agree with him on many points), so I'm definitely not of the mind that the presence of computers can bolster most areas of education. However, there's a few points I'd like to bring up:

    1) I'm convinced that learning to program boosted my understanding of mathematics and problem solving in general. From programming, I learned what variables and formulas and functions were. I learned to break down problems into smaller problems.
    I heard someone say "Honestly, I don't know how people who can't code get by" a couple of years ago. When I taught High School Algebra a year ago, I saw that some people could code mathematically and some people couldn't, and wondered if a programming course or two would have helped (there was, though, a Linux/Perl hacker who couldn't factor polynomials to save his life).

    That said, most "computers in education" initiatives probably don't really include the idea of teaching programming to every student.

    2) Having computers in schools probably
    does help with... learning about computers. It would provide kids who don't have computers at home with a chance to become literate with them. Or more.

    Case in point: me & some of my classmates. My family had (up until I was a senior in high school) a TI 99/4A. A cool machine, and I love Parsec, but not a paragon of modern computing, even in the late 80s. At school, we were fortunate enough to have (donated by Word Perfect, I beleive) an ICON m68020 based unix workstation. So at age 16 I was lucky enough to have access to something UNIXish and learn all sorts of good things. Another guy in my class, Matt, completely absorbed the OS and I believe was making $50,000 a year in the early 90s working as a sysadmin/consultant. Not bad. Several others in that class have gone onto cool things.

    3) I worked for a company called the Waterford Institute [waterford.org] for a bit. They create software to teach young kids fundamentals of reading and math. Coincidentally, my Mom works as a remedial reading teacher, and the school where she was working used their software. It was her feeling that the software actually really helped many of the kids. Each exercise was very carefully designed by educators/artists/techwriters/programmers together (I've never seen software so well speced and designed) and they usually quite entertaining.

    --
  • While governor of Texas, he oversaw legislation to make all text books censored and specially written to the state's specifications. Which is no wonder why they have text books that depict world maps where the equator passes through the southern part of the US.

    Given this, I don't think technology in education will be one of Bush's main priorities (nor would I want it to be, given what he might do to it).
  • by Overt Coward (19347) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @09:14AM (#481654) Homepage
    the Packard Foundation also finds an outrageous gap in computers and Net access between rich and poor kids

    In related news... research also finds that rich kids have better access to DVD players, designer clothes, gourmet food, automobiles, etc.

    I mean, not to be a troll or anything, DUH!!!! People with money have more and/or better access to expensive, high-technology items? You could've knocked me over with a feather on that one!

    --

  • Has anyone ever shown any real link between learning and computer access ?? Yes, computers are nifty tools. But a child needs the basic mental toolkit of developed abilities (like reading, writing, mathematics, logical thinking, etc) before a computer can do him/her any good.

    Now, let's address the Net as a reference source. How can a child learn about what's actually the case, what's fluff, and what's wild conspiracy theory just from what they learn on their computer with Net access ?? OTOH, a library can give them all the answers on these types of questions.

    Last point: if computers are so essential to a child's development, then how did we get where we are today, without them ?? I first touched computers at around age 10, and at the time, that was unusual (I'm 39 now. . .).

    Just wondering. . .

  • Look, you can get a computer for a couple of hunder bucks if you sign up for interenet acess which you are gong to need anyway these days. People don't appreciate things when they are just handed to them anyway, and the last thing we need is another govt program giveaway to the poor. If some provate group wants to waste their money like this, fine, but don't blow my tax dollar on this stuff.
  • There is a gap between the rich and the poor?
    Really?
    And the rich get more advantages then the poor?
    Wow.

    This is a choice quote right here:
    "It's tough to imagine a more urgent moral issue than the fate of children without access to computers or the Net"
    You are not serious right? How about not having enough money for food, shelter, clothes, etc.
    I think that might be a bit more pressing to someone then downloading MP3s and Porn.
    Think before you write.

    Here is another:
    "It also revealed children's access to computers and the Net varies wildly with family income. A little more than 22 per cent of children in families with annual incomes of less than $20,000 had access to a home computer, compared with 91 percent of those in families with incomes of more than $75,000."
    This just in....rich people can afford more things then poor people!
    What a meaningless statistic that was...

    And another:
    "And they almost never have access to broadband, beyond limited time on school and library computers."
    No Broadband is hardly a life threatening issue Katz

    Come on Katz, give us a break here.
    The system is designed to seperate the rich from the poor...the rich have advantages over the poor because they can afford things...computers are just one more of them.

    The real problem is the growing gap between the rich and the poor, plus the fact that the government is starting to care less and less about the lower class. But Hey! Once computers are involved we better help them out!

    Bah, I am tired of this,

    Go away Katz, you are not a geek, you just play one on TV.
    If that was a troll....then troll me up!
  • I can't see how computers and internet access
    are going to help kids that can't read or do math
    I think Bush is headed in the right direction
    reading and math
    and holding teachers responsible for thier lack
    of teaching abilities

  • But the truth of the matter is that the vast majority teachers
    don't even know how to use computers.
    Never mind use them efectivly in a clas room
    I would much rather they spend thier time teaching kids the
    basics.

    as far as calling Bush an idiot
    come on you have to be a pretty smart person to get eletected
    I saw something can remeber were but it was about Bush and Clintons
    meeting after the election they said the two really clicked Clinton comented
    that you shouldn't underestimate Bush
    I believe Bush uses peoples perception of him as not being bright
    to throw them off gaurd
  • well I own a computer store and have met
    a lot of teachers they are just a clueless as anyone else
    wich is why I'm getting out of retail not because biz is bad
    just the opposite biz is booming but I am burned out listening
    to the same stupid questions every day then people don't believe what
    you say (sorry getting off on a tangent)

    I wish I did
    but back to my original post
    Computers will not solve any problems
    If the kids can't read and write
    So it makes sence to me that Bush said nothing about
    computers in his speach

    yes my spelling sucks
  • Over and over again.......Katz seems to pride himself in stating what any person with an average IQ can find out, and regurgitates some demographic statistics as if by posting them he has contributed meaningfully in some way.

    I have developed a program that reads text and filters out all the extraneous information to leave only just the core message......with Katz' posts I only ever get an empty file after the procedure. What on earth made him seem significant to the Slashdot editorial team (if there is one)?

  • There is a direct corolation between the people who "have" and "have not" got computers are the same people who "have" and "have not" got jobs.
    It's not our governments job to provide anyone in this country with anything. Show me where it says in the constitution that people are entitled to a handout from the federal government.
  • I couldn't help but think of the Reverend's wife on the Simpsons while reading this: "Think of the children! Oh won't somebody please think of the children!"
  • Stoll's book High Tech Heretic gives many of the argumetns against the overuse of computers.

    I read his earlier Silicon Snake Oil and found it very thought-provoking, if a little rambling. However, that one referred readers to Theodore Roszak's Cult of Information, which is a measured and scholarly warning about the myth of computer literacy leading to better schools and smarter students. That one's a very good read.

    I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who makes a lack of computers in schools tantamount to the greatest moral crisis of a young generation.

    -schussat

  • From what i have seen of computers in schools, is that the school must decide that it will make computers a big part of the school. I have seen schools who have made that their mission, and it has been a success. When computers are given priority, then the school will find ways to make it happen.

    On the other hand, in the school that I went to, as with most other schools, computers were behind such activities as sports, and jock straps for the football team. At my old school, there were two computer labs. Each had a combination of old 486's and newer PII/III/Celeron's, most of which were bought with grant money. Ok, so far so good for a school in a less affluent area. However, there is only one full time computer teacher. sometimes there is an ENGLISH class in one of the labs. Other than that, one of the labs is empty most of the day.

    Me and my friends at the school had tried to get the school to do more with the computers. We soon found out, that it wasn't a matter of money, because, we offered ways to cut computer costs (Linux servers, Linux, Linux...etc[linux]). However, we were continually shot down by an administration that just didn't like computers.

    Now i hear that they have implemented internet filtering. It is one of those awful ones that filters out everything except porn, hate material, and satan worship.

    So i guess that the point is that schools have to WANT to support computer usage. If they decide that they need new lockers (to replace the ones that were removed 5 years earlier because people were hiding drugs in them) instead of computers, well, there is nothing that can be done.
    ----------------------
  • I was on panel advising computer use at an elementary school some of my kids used to attend. I found that the quality of the educational software was pretty simple, and that the most common use of computers was to provide game time as a reward for either good behavior or good work. I found no compelling reason to increase the number of computers in the classroom.

    On the other hand, we are now home schoolers and make extenstive use of computers, the internet, and satellite broadcast. If you want to opt out of the public education system, computers make life a lot easier.
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @09:53AM (#481667) Homepage
    They could easily get them.

    Am I talking 1 GHz Athlon systems here? No - we all know that 386's, 486's, and low-end Pentiums abound everywhere for near nothing - sometimes people can't even give them away! So why is it when all of these perfectly useful machines sit and rot, that those with as much money don't take them?

    They aren't bright and flashy - that's it - they can't do the lastest stuff, can't load the latest software (never mind the fact that these same people probably couldn't afford the latest software, nor the fact that older software is also floating around out there for the taking). In other words, having an older PC doesn't make you look "rich" - whatever that means.

    These people (actually, the majority of people - poor, middleclass, and rich) don't understand that a computer can expand your mind, and allow you to do and learn things, and ways of thinking, that you hadn't dreamed about before. A throwaway C=64 and a couple of magazines can do wonders!

    However, if these people did know this, or had an inate feeling for this - they wouldn't be looking for a computer at the first drop of a hat - they would be looking for books (another widely throwaway item) - to read, and expand their minds, and teach them ways and ideas never before explored.

    Most homes these days have few books in them. You don't see many homes with large book collections anymore (and those that do have large collections, those are typically in rich people's designer homes, who have the books to look cool - but don't actually read them). It is really apalling.

    I actually think, as a whole, American society is becoming more illiterate by the day - there is no reason for this, other than laziness or something - maybe they just don't care. Even the rich are becoming illiterate - they may have the money to buy a book about a subject, but they would rather pay to have someone else tell them about it.

    I wonder if we will see a different class structure in the future - literates on one side, and illiterates on the other...?

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • by wiredog (43288) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:28AM (#481668) Journal
    obviously can't be technically literate, because he didn't have a PC when he was in grade school!
    Neither did Brian Kernigan or Doug Ritchie, they must be technically illierate also!
    And Jon Katz! (wait a minute, this may be a bad examlple;) )
    Or me! I didn't have a PC when I was in school, time to quit my programming job and rejoin the Army!

    Computers are not neccessary to getting an education.

  • There's a ton of expertise in this community.

    If this is really a concern and we've got time and talent, instead of playing on cracking scripts or Quake one night a week, get the word out in your church or community college or elementary school that you're willing to provide free, limited setups of computer systems and an hour of getting started help. In reality that might mean, gasp, getting them going on Windows, but if the "tech gap" is so awful, maybe we can stomach touching MS software a time or two.

    Expecting the government to do the same on someone else's hard-earned tax dime is totally unnecessary.
  • . I do not agree that this is enough to compensate for the disadvantages of an underclass environment or family troubles.

    Those issues are not caused by a lack of computing technology - nor is it the image being presented by Katz. If you live in such an environment, your first concern is to get out of it - and this has zero to do with the issue at hand. Government handouts are NOT the answer to dealing with poverty; Teaching people responsibility and offering education is. You can't force it down their throats, and I think a lot of people forget that.

    I'm not from the USA, and every now and then I forget about how bad things are down there, but 20 miles north of your border, the situtation seems to be a little better.

    My point is that if you life isn't fucked up, and you're poor, you can get access to decent computing tools at little or no cost IF YOU WANT TO. If your life is fucked up, then you fix that first. The issues are unrelated to one another. If you don't want to do anything, though, then I don't have much pity for you.

  • by xtal (49134) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:51AM (#481671) Homepage

    Maybe you're talking about people who don't really care that much about computers, but nowadays, I'd argue that computers have never been more accessable to poor people than ever - if they're interested - and that your arguement is completely and uterly WRONG.

    When I was growing up, my parents didn't think computers were all that big a deal, and didn't have a lot of money. I managed to cobble, scrimp, save, and work to get a C64. Once I had that, I learned most of the concepts that I have today - how computers work, how to do low level programming, etc etc etc. I didn't even have a disk drive!

    Look at what you can do today. You can get a 486 system for almost nothing - nevermind a new PC with internet access for a couple hundred bucks. I would guess with $200 or even $100 you could get a cobbled together 486, and put linux on it. Presto! That's ALL YOU NEED to learn about computer technology. A 486, linux, and time. You could even get a network on the go if you're good at finding parts (you can get 386's free, in a lot of places, if you poke around). From there, finding your first job is probably not far away. Unless we're talking about the destitute poor, who aren't eating. But that's far and away another issue completely.

    I don't think this has anything to do with access to computer technology, but a bunch of people whining and looking for a problem that isn't there. Exposure to computers plants the seed; If there's a desire, that seed will grow.

  • Yeah, because inner city schools today are a model of intellectual enlightenment and peace. It would be a shame to mess that up.

    The rich already have the means to escape failed schools. Do you think Bill Clinton for one moment considered sending Chelsea to the DC public schools? I am puzzled as to why liberals want to deny poor families any choice as to how their children are educated. After all, they're supposed to support the poor and be pro-choice, right? It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the massive contributions from the teachers' unions who are terrified of any form of accountability or competition, could it?

  • i agree with the notion that computers are seldom the best way to learn about a subject -- between libraries, museums, other students, and teachers, i think that computers pale in most circumstances.

    the only real exception to this rule, i think, is that computers are the best way to learn about computers, and the internet. and i think that this is an important excpetion given that we all spend ten hours a day in front of them.

    further, i think that the real question is 'if a kid hasn't got a computer, what else don't they have?' and i think that the answer, more often than not, is going to be 'decent libraries, well-paid teachers, the money for field trips'. in such a case, i do think that computer-aided research is a) better than nothing, and b) maybe the cheapest way to provide lots and lots of info, on a per-student basis.

    i dunno. i'm torn, cause i think that a lot of this 'computers will revolutionize how kids learn' is hype, and dangerous hype, at that. still and all, it's tough to argue with the fact that if you don't know how to use a computer to a certain minimal level of competency, you're at a major disadvantage to those of us who do -- a disadvantage that grows each day as your peers pull further and further away due to the increased ubiquity (redundant?) of computers.
  • My nieces two yeard ago (10 and 8 at the time) had to write a web site that included requierments such as:
    - Links
    - Grapghics (thier own)
    - linking to a powerpoint presentation they made in class

    I helped them, but they wrote thier own code and did the work themselves. This was in the Montgomery School district (north Houston). I was impressed!

  • I got most of what I have by working for it, ironically, as a sysadmin...

    How is that ironic? You're a computer science major. Working as a sysadmin seems like a logical job.

    ...and I had a lot of expertise already when I came into college, ironically, that is the one place that my parent's having a computer DID help me.

    Your parents had a computer before you entered college, and because of that you had computer experience. Again, why is that ironic?

    ...I'm a senior now, graduating a year ahead...
    I'm a computer science major... graduating early.

    I get the message, but it sounds like you need to rehash English 101 (or at least the definition of irony).

    -----
    The above message has been sent in the traditional, I'm-better-than-you-are style that defines Slashdot.
  • <rant>
    First, my experience generally suggests that campus causes are more often supported by the liberal arts folks than by the hard technology folks. No disrespect intended, but working towards a double major in math and CS left me little time for social activism. I would be quite surprised to learn that the French literature majors were concerned about a lack of computers...

    Second, I would much rather know that everyone, rich and poor, was learning to READ. If you can read, you can catch up on routine computer usage very quickly. If you can't read, you can't catch up on much of anything. I do not believe that we are going to replace text with audio or video anytime soon. How do you build an index out of video clips that can be used quickly and easily?

    Third, figure out how to make Moore's Law translate into computer prices halving every 18 months, rather than the price staying relatively constant and the processing power doubling. Why can't we have $200 devices with decent resolution and adequate processing power? $100 devices? Encourage text and other forms of simplicity. Discourage bloatware.
    </rant>

    Thank you for your indulgence.

  • I don't want the school using a computer to teach my daughter. I want the school to teach my daughter how to use a computer. At the moment, the only thing she really needs to learn is how to touch type. For this, the school can use the cheapest piece of junk computer - as long as it has a good keyboard. The OS isn't even important.
    • Cost of a 3-year-old computer: damn near zero.
      Cost of using one of several ad-driven ISP's: absolutely zero.

      Poor kids can't afford to play Everquest on a P4 with a 20" monitor and a broadband connection, but any kid that has power and a phone line can scrape together the cash to get on the net with a cheap Linux box and an old modem.
    It's a matter of priority. If you're raising a family on 20k/yr, then there are far more valuable things demanding one's money than "[scraping] together the cash" for a shit computer someone threw in the trash a year ago. It's also a matter of image; which is worse on the kid, the stigma of no computer or the stigma of a "worthless" (by modern standards) computer. Keep in mind, kids can be very cruel.

    I think the point Katz failed to point out is one of computer literacy. In the modern world, computer literacy is a core skill required to be a productive part of society. If you don't know how to use a computer, there's not much you can do.

    Also, there was no mention of gaming consoles. It would be interesting to see the distribution of video game consoles along with these numbers. I suspect even the dirt-poorest households have a game console (and a number of expensive games.)
  • Hmm, "poorer families who didn't have computers at home" attending "a local private high school"? I don't know where you're from, but around here (NC, USA) private schools are far from cheap (and certainly not free.) If a family has the money to send their child(ren) to a private school, then I would hope they have the budget to purchase a home computer.

    As for the computer being the modern equiv to a phone or "passing notes"... I don't see why that's so surprizing. Computing technology is ubiquitous so people tend to take it for granted. Much like power and telephone services... very few people care how power gets to the plug on the wall or how their phone call is connected to someone on the other side of the planet. They don't care how it works; they only care that it works.
  • While in four black men are going to prison, drug laws jail crack users longer than powdered cocaine users. (The only real difference between rocks and poweder: powder is the popular choice of white addicts, while the rocks are mostly used by blacks.)

    I don't very much like this example of how black people are suppressed in this country, mostly because it's not a very good one. While I'll readily agree with you that the differences in penalties are quite unfair, it must be considered how this came to pass. The fact is that the stricter penalties for crack as opposed to powder cocaine came from the same people who are now crying about the unfairness of this policy. When crack was introduced it quickly became apparent that it is a much more damaging drug to inner-city communities (or all races though it has a particular impact on blacks) due to its relatively low price. This is the reason that black community leaders lobbied for stricter penalties and enforcement against crack rather than for powder cocaine. This link [lectlaw.com] provides some interesting discussion on the topic.

    The real problem is that this effort, as with most of the efforts in the "War On Drugs" has had unintended consequences. Having really strict penalties against those who use and/or sell drugs does not stop this activity from taking place, it merely makes it more violent and dangerous to society. Please no note that I'm not saying that drug abuse is harmless to society (I believe exactly the opposite), what I am saying is that our current criminal policies aren't solving the problem and may actually be making it worse.
    _____________

  • It's arguable that the Federal government shouldn't even be involved in education at all -- at most, directing funds, with minimal strings attached, to the states. There is, for instance, not one instance of 'teach', 'school', or 'educat[a-z]+' in the Constitution, at all; the only possibly appropriate clause is the elastic clause, which requires both necessary and proper. Apart from the states possibly needing revenue sharing, there's really no mandate -- the states can largely do it all.

    And a computer, with limited funds, is obviously far less important than, say, qualified teachers. An awful lot of teachers have been trained only in education; they don't have significant knowledge about what they're teaching. And regarding education majors... statistically, they perform very poorly compared to most other fields on standardized tests, in general. So there is some basis to the idea that incompetent teachers are a HUGE part of the problem.

    And what they're teaching may also be critical. How many high schools, for instance, require mathematical logic or otherwise promote critical thinking? If they rely on electronically proctored tests, such as multiple-choice scan-tron / press-a-key, then there's correspondingly less emphasis on such aspects as communication -- writing a coherent essay -- and also a significant amount of depth is lost. The demands inherent in an essay regarding, for instance, the shifting attitudes of the American people towards war -- ranging from the 'tourist event' immediately prior to the First Battle of Bull Run, where civillians picknicked in anticipation of watching a minor action in a presumed-to-be-short war, to the jingoism, nationalism, and isolationism regarding the World Wars, to the impact of television coverage of Vietnam... now THAT requires more commitment and critical thinking on both the student and the teacher. It should also be achievable without any tools but a pen, some paper, and a mind.

    The last -- a mind -- is the ONE tool that absolutely, positively, needs to be emphasized for schools. We don't need to require Mentat training, but tools such as Powerpoint, Word, and Netscape are peripheral, at best.
  • This deserves at least one "insightful".
    --
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard
  • I would guess with $200 or even $100 you could get a cobbled together 486, and put linux on it. Presto! That's ALL YOU NEED to learn about computer technology.
    I think you forgot a few other essentials you take for granted:
    1. You need access to the old parts; it's easy to dumpster-dive in the office district if you're a white guy with a car, but if you're a black kid who has to get home by the bus or subway you might well be risking trouble just by being around the loading area. It is private property after all.
    2. Once you have the parts you have to have some idea of what to do with them. It's probably easier with PnP BIOSes, but I didn't think 486's had those. If you get an entire box in bootable condition, you don't have this hurdle.
    3. You've got to have someplace to keep your hardware where it won't get stolen or trashed. This is a serious problem; I know someone who was tutoring a kid and lent him an ancient laptop. The kid's brother stole it and sold it for drugs. Or your mother's boyfriend throws the monitor across the room during a fight. You get the idea.
    4. You've got to have some idea of what Linux is and where to get it. If you don't already have exposure to the nerd culture, you might not have the Linux meme.
    I agree that it's entirely possible for lots of disadvantaged kids to have access to real computing environments and serious tools. I do not agree that this is enough to compensate for the disadvantages of an underclass environment or family troubles.
    --
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard
  • by Tau Zero (75868) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @09:43AM (#481684) Journal
    One of the (alleged) benefits of age is the accumulation of wisdom and good judgement. Good judgement is usually developed by watching the results of bad decisions, either someone else's (if you're lucky or smart) or your own (if you're unlucky and dumb).
    I don't think we should keep forcing education in this country - we basically force feed it to unwilling children.... I think once you learn how to read and access resources - it should be up to the students to reach out for more.
    Being able to write (construct grammatical and coherent sentences, assemble sentences into a structure which illustrates an idea) is absolutely essential to literacy. The only way to learn how to write is by doing it;
    As goatherd learns his trade by goat,

    So writer learns his trade by wrote.
    The same is true of arithmetic, mathematics (which is distinct from mere calculation with numbers), the biological and physical sciences, and so forth. Just to be an informed voter you really need the equivalent of a full high-school program of AP credits in both the sciences and basic humanities. You're assuming that the students - many of whom come from homes with no tradition of education - will realize the importance of these things and have the discipline to pursue them independently. I fear that you are very sadly mistaken. By the time they realize the cost of their mistakes, most will be much too far behind to catch up. That's a hell of a price to pay for "academic freedom" for minor children.
    Seriously - how many kids can you remember from high school that were really that interested most of the time - like 10 or 20 probably.
    Every AP class I had was full of the interested (I'm talking 25-30 per section) and the rest weren't exactly lacking them (perhaps half). I grew up in a university town, YMMV.
    For those of you that have gone to college - how many of you have walked into an undergrad class to find that the whole semester was a Japanese TA reading to you out of a book in a mono-tone broken English accent?
    I had one oriental TA teaching a class I needed, whose English was so bad I could not understand the material or the answers to my questions. I switched sections and got my money's worth. The oriental prof who taught one of my upper-level math classes was much better in that respect. Do you have a point to make other than knowledge of material and communications skills are two different things?
    --
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard
  • by Tau Zero (75868) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @01:22PM (#481685) Journal
    Those issues are not caused by a lack of computing technology.... If you live in such an environment, your first concern is to get out of it - and this has zero to do with the issue at hand.
    Exactly. Those issues are not caused by a lack of computing technology! Bridging the so-called "digital divide" in schools isn't going to do anything about these issues for several years. A shiny new computer on a T1 line will do nothing about the gang outside the school or the dripping water and falling ceiling tiles within. There are issues which need to be addressed before a computer will help... starting with the elected and appointed officials, union members and public who will let a district spend $8,000 per student per year (that's $240,000 for a classroom of 30) and permit these problems to not only continue but get worse. Without people who give a damn from top to bottom no computer initiative will do squat.

    A society which respects and values education and educated people wouldn't have these problems. Almost needless to say, there are big pockets of the United States which does not have such a society. (<rant> The USA is socially diverse and it makes little sense to try to talk about it as a monolith; this is one area in which "diversity" deserves and needs to be denigrated, attacked and even suppressed, not praised. If people are acting in a way to continue or aggravate the lousy education kids are getting, they ought to be pariahs. There should be a special term for them, just as pejorative and common as "deadbeat dad". </rant>)
    --
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard

  • Also, there was no mention of gaming consoles. It would be interesting to see the distribution of video game consoles along with these numbers. I suspect even the dirt-poorest households have a game console (and a number of expensive games.)

    Though I obviously own a computer, I have to say that this is specious reasoning, at best. Even the very-much-middle-class don't all have game consoles & expensive games. I certainly don't have one myself. Back about the time that SNES and Sega Genesis were coming out I managed to scrape up an 8bit nintendo system and castlevania... but even then, I only had 2 or 3 games EVER.

    To assume that EVERY or even MOST lower income families are choosing to afford a game console is to ignore the reality. When you're dead broke and the creditors are calling daily, you have plenty to keep your mind occupied without a Playstation 2.


    -The Reverend (I am not a Nazi nor a Troll)
  • We all may hate Bush, but look at the alternative! It's not like an independent has a chance against the national majority faction of Republicrats... and do you think Gore could have done much better? Not that I'm advocating one or the other... (frankly, I think they're both horribly clueless)

  • To quote Katz: "Nothing is more mysterious in politics than why some issues capture the imagination of idealistic people like college students -- sweatshops in Latin America, for example -- and some don't, like the enormous gap in computer use and Net access between poor and rich kids. It's tough to imagine a more urgent moral issue than the fate of children without access to computers or the Net, since their educational, economic, cultural and social lives will be directly affected. Wealthier kids have access to research, free music, challenging games, educational and social opportunities online and the better jobs of the new economy. Poorer kids may be slinging burgers." Hm . . . tough to imagine a more urgent moral issue that who has computers? A while back, Bill Gates took a group of computer experts to task because they were all worried about how poor people would get computers. Gates pointed out that computers don't even factor into your life when you make a dollar a day, which is what a number of people in the world live on. You care about things like what you are going to eat and how you are going to care for a sick child. Katz, get a clue.
  • ***It's tough to imagine a more urgent moral issue than the fate of children without access to computers or the Net, since their educational, economic, cultural and social lives will be directly affected**

    Au contraire, mon frer! Listen Katz.. at *least* half of the common readers/editors of slashdot (I I would surmise) gre up without access to computers or the net. So why in the hell isnt the world in chaos, and why are we here, instead of in jail or running amok in the streets, killing lousy journalists who exist only to stick buzzwords into hard to swallow "secret studies"?

    You *DONT* need a computer to learn.. you need to learn, in school, Math, Science, ENGLISH (yes, its america, ENGLISH) and history. Sports if you want, etc etc.. but those are foundational.

    You dont learn them, you can forget College, where you *get* a nifty computer, and a nifty internet connection, once you are old enough and trustworthy enough to *USE* them right.

    yeah.. I'm gonna get flamed.. but thats my opinion.

    My 8 year old son has a P1 laptop. He has no internet access. he will not *GET* internet access. The last thing I want is him on the web at 8 years old. He has magic schoolbus, and a host of learning software.. and yeah, I suppose its unfair that his dad cobbled together this equipment for him.. but guess what? Welcome to america.. I work my butt off for a living so he can *have* things like this. Will it give him a head start? yes. Do I care that this disenfranchises inner city youth? not a bit.

    Sorry dude.. computers in lower level education are *not* a requisite.. typing class is. but surfing class isnt.

    Maeryk
  • heh.. lemme start by pointing out your own proofreading in response to my capitalization and punctuation. *grin*

    Yes.. you have a point.. but my point was not to make english the dominant or only language.. but that one should come out of an american high-school with the ability to speak and work it fluently. It is, after all, the primary language of this country. (In other words, we are graduating people who speak fluent french or spanish, but who cannot write fluently in english.. this is a travesty!)

    Hearing a public speaker in a high position say "I want to axe you a question" makes me cringe. Hearing a person doing a radio commercial say "right off the back" or "get down to brass taxes" (both of which I have heard locally) annoys me greatly.

    High-school education exists to give you a basis for all future education you choose to pursue, or just enough to get by should you not decide to pursue it. Having that foundation flawed and cracked is a serious problem.

    My point was not to set English up as the only language here, but to set it up as the one that is predominately used here, therefore the one the most attention should be paid to.

    I speak well, and write well when I want to. I automatically mark somone down when I see them speaking publically and see common grammatical errors, misused words, an flat out mistakes. Yes, the cue card said "potatoe" but ya know what? I would have caught, or at least questioned that.. because I *do* know how to spell potato.

    Maeryk
  • >>Who really cares about someone's grammar? If it's a good point, it's a good point. Don't knock someone's argument just because their grammar is sub-par. Find somewhere else to be nit-picky and petty.

    I do. I care because words mean things, pal. If you cannot use the language correctly, then you probably do not mean what you are saying.

    BTW, "poindexter", Voltaire didnt say that, SG Tallentyre did.. look it up.

    Maeryk

  • According to a story by Tamar Lewin in the New York Times this week, almost every school in the nation is now wired, but there are enormous differences in how indvidual schools use computers.

    I taught for a while in a "wired" high school. The contractors came in and installed the cables for broadband, but we had no PC's to connect to this. Fine, I thought, I can at least bring a machine from home and use it in my classroom, however, the cables were not connected to the Internet. It looks like my school goes into the local/state/national pot as being "wired", even though 3 years later I hear the cables are still not connected. That's how we became a "wired" school. We help the "guv'nuh" say blah-blah percentage of his schools are wired, even though there's no net access except for a few stations in the media center.
  • Certain key elements of capitalism and private schools will have to be developed for public schooling... The Unions suck... the teachers in the Union are usually unproductive and should look for work elsewhere... like Cuba...
  • For pointing out that the desparity is between rich and poor families, and not between whites and blacks/latinos/whatever, the conclusion most journalists seem to jump to. I would also point out that there will always be disparities, and the government shouldn't be in the business of forcibly changing people's priorities. However, you don't answer the question: where should children whose parents chose not to pay for internet access for them get the experience they will probably need for decent jobs? Schools? Libraries? Churches? Government grants? "Universal access" laws requiring ISPs to give away access to poor families? The "free Internet" movement seems to be dying a slow death, but shouldn't the business model of advertising supported internet access be just as viable as broadcast radio and television? Granted, Katz feels that his function is not to provide answers, but to provoke discussion of the issues, but at least you could try to enumerate some of the alternatives.
  • by Cire (96846) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:49AM (#481695)
    Jon,

    The issue doesn't get people fired up for a few simple reasons.

    It's simply more important to get more books and new copies of books into kids hands than it is to get them new computers. It's also much cheaper to buy a book (or a dozen books or even a hundred books!) than it is to buy one computer!

    It's also more important to spend the money on qualified teachers. Getting more teachers with more experience and better qualifications at the head of classrooms with smaller class sizes than it is to put net access infront of kids faces.

    It's more important to spend that money on field trips. Do you think kids want to look at web pages about dinosaurs or they want to go to the American Museum of Natural History and see the fossils for themselves!

    And honestly, if you sit and 8th grade boy infront of a computer, do you think he's a) going to sit there and look at what the teacher wants him to look at or b) he's going to spend his time trying to find ways to get to the WWF website when the teacher's not looking.

    Cire
  • Katz, do you even bother to check facts before you write?

    President Bush, who outlined his educational initiatives this week without once even mentioning computers or technology.

    Thus claims Katz. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth [dallasnews.com]: Bush explicitly asked for increased funding for school computers and other technology. Show some responsibility and check your facts before clogging the /. pages with your leftist bullshit.

  • Access to computing -- to RPG and other forms of gaming, search engines, IM, file-sharing systems -- shapes creativity,
    vocabuliary, political awareness, culture and common language, not to mention economic opportunity.

    Access to /usr/dict/words ought to shape spelling.
  • I can't see how computers and internet access are going to help kids that can't read or do math

    At what age do you think kids ought to get Net access in schools ?

    At what age should they be able to read & write capably ?

    The two simply aren't exclusive. The kids learn to read first, then they learn about other subjects. The Net is a useful resource for most of these, and it's even helpful with learning English in the first place. In what possible way is Net access going to hold up someone learning English ?

    I work on an educational site [arkive.org.uk] about biodiversity. Do you really think that granting access to this content is harmful to kids learning English ?

    English and maths are important, but the suggestion that somehow they're not, or that learning other skills will reduce them, is a ridiculous straw-man erected by groups who oppose these other directions for their own aims. How many subjects do kids study at school ? By your reckoning, we should strip everything from the curriculum that isn't basic English & Maths.

    I think Bush is headed in the right direction

    Bush might be a democratically elected idiot, but he's still an idiot. Any policy he espouses gains no credibility from the fact that he supports it.

  • But the truth of the matter is that the vast majority teachers don't even know how to use computers.

    That might be true -- but is your solution going to be to train the teachers, or to simply take the computers away from them ? Seems a little unhelpful as a policy. -- For sale: Large quantity, assorted "W" keys

  • don't blow my tax dollar on this stuff.

    Nearly twenty years ago, my government (UK) blew my tax dollar on this stuff, and I'm damned glad they did. This was the BBC (Ah, the old Model B !) and a plan to drastically increase the numbers of computers in schools. The kids might not have become any smarter, but they did get to learn an awful lot more about IT than they would otherwise have done. Even today you can see the difference, UK late-twentysomethings grew up with the exposure to "small desktop info gadgets" that other European kids didn't see for another decade. It's this pervasive exposure to IT from an early age that creates the conditions for an IT-literate workforce, and these days an IT-literate workforce is a more profitable one.

    As a result of this, I believe I live in a country that's measurably richer than it would have been without this inititative. I'm richer for it.

    My "tax dollar" was well spent on this one.

  • I took a "computers and education" class back in college. It was an awesome class, lots of discussion and arguments. We were a vocal, fun, active group. Anyways, one of the main conclusions of the class were that computers were NOT good for the children of america from a health standpoint. (radiation etc) Due to the logic base of computers, the value of computers an education is often misleading. Examples abound of children who were able to pass the computer exam with flying colors but then when questioned by a teacher or peer, drew a total blank on understanding the subject.

    Anyone who has any interest in computers and education needs to read "failure to connect" by jeane healy. Im not sure if i spelled her name correctly. She outlines the basic problems with computers introduced at a young age, 5-9 y/o. This should be required reading for anyone who is looking into computers in the classroom. There are ALOT of problems that develop from computer use at an extremely young age.
  • This isn't a small disparity. Access to computing -- to RPG and other forms of gaming, search engines, IM, file-sharing systems -- shapes creativity, vocabuliary, political awareness, culture and common language, not to mention economic opportunity.

    All I can say is if we're counting on the Net and computers to increase children's "vocabuliary" (try spell checking next time Jon hehe) we're in for some serious trouble.

    My little sister (14) uses the family computer (which I put together for them) extensively and spends an hour or more on the net every day... assuming she isn't grounded. To say that her vocabulary has gotten better would be a stretch. In fact, it's probably gotten worse.

    Why people in the age of computers have suddenly decided that the ability to write and spell are worthless, I'll never know. My sister is constantly writing in that annoying form of net speak that utilizes such wondrous phrases as "What R U up 2?" or "I've been waiting 4 U!" or other mindless abbreviations, etc.

    The problem with learning taking place over chat rooms and IM is that the people on the other end of the proverbial line are invariably lazier than you are at writing and thus is willing to spew inanities that only help to promote stupidity and textual inbreeding. All of which is of course passed off as being "cool". For the moment I'll even forget about leet-speak and it's brethren.

    The Net and computers are not a panacea for all of societies ills. True they do help a whole lot and I think the disparity is appalling (although I'm not sure what should be done about it), but whenever you decide to get high and mighty about the teaching powers of the internet and computers, spend a few hours in a teen chat room. I'm sure you'll come to your senses quickly.

    Mordred

  • Honestly: most of those computers grew a nice layer of dust after the kids played the computer games and got fed up with it....down the drain the investment.

    Perhaps, but you can be dang sure my kids are going to have access. Perhaps I can even teach them a thing or two beyond the games.

    ... are plainly used to surf, chat and email

    Precisely! That's how people are communicating now. Those are skills that students in my (I'm the "Director of Technology") school district are going to have, and are going to be able to use in a productive work environment.

    When I started my Comper Science study, I was driven by passion for computers. Nowadays, people don't enroll because of passion they do IT because "you'll earn big-bucks"

    1) Same here, but I do enjoy the monetary benefits of having learned.
    2) Ideally, people getting into the computer industry would do it because of passion, but in the "real world" money talks. I'm going to make sure my kids are at least computer literate, even if they don't develop the passion that I did.

    As for those who wonder: my dad never bought a computer for me

    Mine did: a used Vic 20 with a whopping 3K of RAM in 1984 for $40 - even a 'toy' back then ... and it had to last me until I bought my own as a sophomore in college in 1991. (*shudder* - remembering cassette tape storage)
    --

  • About Reading, Writing, and Grammar.

    Hmmm...must not have worked - that was an incomplete sentence.

    What's the use ... on the computer.

    And shouldn't there be a question mark here?

    Or Spelling ... all MSFT product!

    There we go again with disagreement in number (should be 'products').

    ...not to mention the gratuitous capitalizations.

    Never mind me, I just couldn't help the grammar flame considering your subject matter.
    --

  • While I agree with your statement that it is the content that matters, I have to ask (and I'm not trying to be a troll) ...

    How many people are dependent on spell-check, grammar check and synonyms/thesaurus for their writing?! How many are dependent on MS Excel to do the most basic arithmetic calculations for them?!

    IF these tools are always going to be available (and with the increases in technology, yadda, yadda, don't tell me they won't) why does it matter?

    Let me let you in on something - I don't know how to make my own ink. I rely on the fact that stores will carry pens with ink in them, so I don't have to know how to make my own. Now, let me give you a quote from the 1928 Rural Association of Teachers:

    Students of today depend upon store bought ink. They don't know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.
    Although I can probably find someone (I live in a small rural town) that knows how to make ink in case the stores fail continue to supply pens, I don't worry about this, and so far I've lived a fairly normal life. So then, why should everyone learn to spell, hand calculate, etc., when it won't be necessary (voice recognition to text and brain-computer interfaces) in the future?

    Heck, somebody here commented that books are so much better because you can take them for a walk in a park. I downloaded Underground [slashdot.org] and have been reading it on my Palm. Much more convenient than a traditional book, IMHO.
    --

  • 1) Arithmetic - I will agree that people should be able to determine "what is reasonable" (How? I don't know, I'm just playing devil's advocate here), but those don't necessarily have to involve memorization of multiplication tables, for example.

    2) Spelling - I disagree that spelling is, "in and of itself, a beneficial activity" (but it bugs the heck out of me, and I can hardly stand to read CmdrTaco's posts). I would assert that the only reason we have to spell is to communicate ideas to each other in the most unambiguous way possible. If you can communicate without correct spelling (or without any words, grammar, etc., just concepts), spelling becomes completely unnecessary.
    --

  • A local start up volunteer organization that I am involved with addresses part of this overall issue by setting up Free Computer Labs in various areas of need. It is staffed by volunteers and designed, not to supplement Education Resources, but to simply provide free training for all interested parties in the "Basic use of Computers". Teaching youngsters from the age of 6-11 and 12-18 the BASICS is our sole goal. We start with keyboarding, using a typing tutor to refine their skills. We go on to basic applications; notepad, word processing and help these people develop the skills to USE computers at school and in employment.

    I worked at a local ISP, the oldest and largest in our area and you would be surprised how many employees were hired for general office work (Billing: A/R, A/P,Collections ), (Reception: Cashiering, transferring calls to proper tech positions) who had NO previous experience with computers. "How do I turn it on"? Really! They work for something barely above min. wage and leave one month after they feel they have acquired enough new skills to enable them to get a real job that pays a living wage. Turnover was awful, learning curves drove other employees insane but it was one of the few 'Training Grounds' available.

    If you do not have at least some skills with a computer, you will find yourself limited to the fast food industry in manual labor positions only.

    The program emphasizes that the labs are not Baby Sitting programs and if games are used they used as a 'time' respite reward for previous progress.
    Keyboarding skills are one aspect of gaming that I have not heard any /.'rs recognize.

    I think Government programs reek of conditions and interference that frequently just perpetuate the existing problems.

    Our first use of volunteers was to 'train' teachers. If it took 40 hours to create a computer literate teacher, they committed 80 hours of teaching to the program.

    At the ISP, we offered teachers a 50%discount when they signed up on line and you would be amazed how many were totally DUH! about even the sign up process.

    That is precisely why I got involved in a volunteer organization! We teach teachers to teach kids! When our volunteer efforts stop being effective, the program will die a natural death of apathy. This is quite unlike the Educators who can retain their positions even though their students can't read when they graduate from high school or the bureaucrats who can't be replaced until they die.
  • by graybeard (114823) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:58AM (#481708)
    Abraham Lincoln walked 10 miles to return a book. Assuming it were a 100-page book, I reckon he got about 192 bps.

    Somehow, he managed.

    Almost all kids today have easy access to a library Abe could only dream about. But how many high school graduates have read a single work of Shakespeare? How many know Euclid's Elements? How many can compose a coherent paragraph? Answer: almost none. That would require real work, and no one wants to do that. Instead, Katz wants to give them an Internet connect so that, I suppose, they can fail faster.

    P.S. The study is here [futureofchildren.org]
  • Howdy all!

    In High School, I purposely chose NOT to use a calculator for 3 years. The only ones I would occasionally use were basic =-*/ calculators so that I could do long division and multiplication quickly.

    Otherwise, I did all forms of slope-intercept form, geometry, Algebra II plus some of the regression formulas by hand!.

    I learned a whole lot more from this than if I had chosen to copy the program the teachers gave us to plug into the TI-82+ calculators that everyone was required to buy!

    It used to drive my teachers crazy when I wouldn't use a calculator on work.

    The only hard part was Physics because of all those formulas, but then, memorize them and you can do those by hand also.

    Has anyone else done stuff like this?

    Also, I was one of the few people that actually wanted to learn (especially about science/technology/computers).

    About Reading, Writing, and Grammar. What's the use of learning Grammar if you can have a Grammar check on the computer. Or Spelling for that matter with Spell Check in all MSFT product!. Why learn how to write if you can use a computer?

    Granted that one must learn how to use the computer but one must also not be absolute in one or the other.

    What attitude do you give an audience if you are reading Shakespeare when you are reading it off of a screen compared to the old-time book? I believe reading out of book causes a better response from an audience (IMHO)

    These are just a few of my ideas.

    Thnx,
    Fuller
  • I think Katz's problem is that he doesn't realize that this is nothing new. This is the age old issue of the have's and the have not's. The rich get richer and all that....

    Look back in time. Rich kids get more textbooks. Rich kids eat better meals so they learn better. Just look at the statistics of childhood wealth vs. college education! The dept. of Education [ed.gov] has a lot of it right there.

  • by autechre (121980) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @09:54AM (#481711) Homepage
    We don't need government funding to make a difference in the inner city. It can be done with donations.

    http://agape.qis.net
    http://linux.umbc.edu/gits

    The list of current hardware is a bit outdated; we have 8 workstations for the kids, all X-terminals from a beefy machine (dual celeron 400). All of the workstations are donated 486s or low-end Pentiums.


    Sotto la panca, la capra crepa
  • But from what I've seen of computers in schools, they aren't really learning anything on the computer that couldn't have been learned from a book.

    Amen..by far the worst use of computers in schools are people checking and sending hotmail emails to the person sitting right next to them. for fucks sake just go somewhere and talk. Cencorship is one thing, but i think they should block access to these stupid social internet portals, like hotmail, chatrooms, etc.

  • You can celebrate the virtues of technology and all the research that shows computers help disadvantages people get better education - the problem with that is that it is based on the delusion that information technology is noble and has no side effects or implications for the degradation of our society.

    Jon Katz, you have the opinion of an idealistic computer geek. No disrespect intended, because in many regards I'm exactly the same as you, except that your message advises people to do one thing:

    Accept current information technology even more than we do, and use it to the exclusion of other forms of social progress, such as better teachers, better curriculum, and other alternatives.

    The more you emphasize the computer as an effective learning tool, the more you mandate its acceptance by our society and other societies, and the more people will believe that computers should be available and used by all people.

    However, there is one fundamental problem with computers - they deliver much more than just educational content. They also deliver entertainment, and alternative "realities" for people that are so strong that people become literally addicted to computers. Don't tell me there's no such thing as Internet addiction or computer addiction, because I've seen it and been a part of it myself.

    Computers are not inherently dangerous - the physiological impact of the entertainment and escapism that people get from computers IS dangerous. My point: computers are addictive.

    As market penetration of computers has grown, so has the use of games and the quantity of time people spend playing them. As the Internet has matured, so has the use of chat rooms, websites, and everything else. Some women now believe the only way to meet men is on the Internet. Some people meet others on the Internet and travel around the country and the world just to meet their friends. Some people spend 17 and 24 hours in a day playing computers, see their grades drop, see relationships break apart, and they start falling between the cracks.

    It is time to see alternatives to this notion being pushed a lot by Jon Katz that information technology SHOULD be pushed by US Presidents, SHOULD be more accessible to people, SHOULD be used more in education to bridge the "gap" between fortunate and less-than-fortunate.

    Present-day information technology is not even coming close to fulfilling the mandate that idealists envision. It is training far more people to become mental invalids than it is helping differently-abled people overcome their own challenges. How many people are dependent on spell-check, grammar check and synonyms/thesaurus for their writing?! How many are dependent on MS Excel to do the most basic arithmetic calculations for them?!

    Many people even refuse to read an entire article or message forum post in Slashdot, because they don't have enough mental endurance or interest in reading an article from start to finish!

    No, present-day computers are worthless for education - they deliver benefits to some, but teach far more people to be mental sloths. They increase our dependence on devices other than our own, making all people less able, including the ones that are already differently-abled.

    What is the solution? We need to give up this geek notion that computers are cool and the mandate of information technology is to change the world, empower people, and deliver information to them.

    We need to recognize that computers are not both good and bad - the content of computers determines whether the use of the computer is good or bad.

    We need a new focus: not on the availability of Internet and computers in all classrooms, but on the availability of competent teachers, sufficient supporting resources and supportive environments in schools!

    We need to drastically improve not only the educational value of the content and function of computers in the classroom, but we need to improve the message of the content as well. Students need to know that the computer has nothing to do with learning - the message has everything to do with the learning. Computers are not powerful information tools unless the CONTENT is a powerful information tool.

    We need to tell people that it isn't the computer that is the valuable tool - it is the CONTENT, and content can be just as poor and/or harmful as content in anything else, like television, books, conversations, or whatever.

    (from Katz's article) "Few people in the new or old administration -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- seems to get that the most powerful moral issue affecting many kids and the Net isn't that they are online too much, but that so many aren't online at all, or find their Net and Web lives bounded by disparities in family income."

    This is absolutely delusional - this message is all wrong and totally misses the significant issue at hand.

    The issue is not that there aren't enough people online and that income is the reason why.

    The issue is that no matter whether you are rich or poor, the significant majority of content and software available on a computer, whether online or not, is fulfilling only one mandate of information technology: to simplify our lives.

    However, that same content is absolutely NOT educating people properly about the benefits and disadvantages of a computer and the Net.

    That content is NOT effective and of sufficient quality to justify pushing computers into every school.

    And that content is currently so expensive that the mere notion of Katz claiming that access to the Net is a problem is only furthering the divide between who is REALLY rich and poor in our understanding. Specifically, the real divide is between the rich first world that CAN afford even the cheapest modern day computer, and the poor third world that can't even afford a single book on proper hygiene or agricultural techniques.

    Jon Katz, you're a computer geek and this article does more to further that which you think you oppose, than it does to correct the real issues at hand, which IMO are:

    1. Computer content is giving everyone the wrong message, and people think that the mere presence of computers and the Net in all first-world classrooms will bridge some sort of "gap" between "rich" and "poor" - "rich" and "poor" being identified, respectively, as those above and below the first-world poverty line, which is set at several thousands of dollars of income.

    2. Computer content today is almost entirely focused on making things "easier", rather than focused on serving as an educational tool.

    3. Computers are so expensive today that the REAL gap between rich and poor is not in the US at all - it is outside of the cushy United States, where the real poor people can't even clean themselves or grow their own food, let alone dream of having $500 to buy a computer and AOL.

    Only when the price of computer technology drops to within the same range as the price of an AK-47 on the African continent will it be worth anything.

    And only when computer content abandons a "productivity" focus and embraces an "educational" focus will it then stop the harm it is doing to most people who currently use a computer.

    Enough ranting. The solution may just come from this company:

    http://www.rolltronics.com/

    This company understands the true mandate of information technology, and has enough people with sufficient social and environmental awareness to be dangerous enough that they just might end up putting an educational tool in the hands of every student around the world.

    The computer and the Internet are damaging unless the CONTENT is valuable. Current educational content will always be damaging until the focus of that content is changed.
  • A good point about ink.

    People should learn to spell correctly regardless of what we depend on to write. We should be able to communicate in our own language, rather than giving up on proper communication and relying on machines to do it for us. Being dependent on ink is not a major loss for the human race, because we will always be dependent on some sort of material to write. But we give up a part of natural human behavior when we rely on machines to correct us - it teaches us that we don't have to worry about our mistakes, we can let somebody else or something else deal with them. It comes back to the machines making us more "productive".

    Between ink and spell check or grammar check, there's a significant difference in the amount of intelligence required. Anyone can use ink properly, but if a grown adult cannot spell or create grammatically correct sentences, then the adult requires no more intelligence than a child that, due to maturity, is incapable of proper spelling and grammar to begin with.

    I think that's it - we are intelligent if we can write properly.

    Some day we will have neural interfaces - will we let machines tell our friends when we're hungry? Will we let AI machines choose the restaurant for us? Choose the food for us? After all, doing those things requires thought, just as writing a legible sentence does.

    How much will we let machines do work for us? Where is the line?

    Who knows... all I know is that, so long as kids are taught that they can use the machine to correct their mistakes, then they are associating a computer with allowing them to be lazy, rather than associating a computer with any beneficial content that may be present on it.

    Same thing with Internet access - if we assume that just having access to the Internet will bridge the gap, then we're basically validating all of the content on the Internet as being acceptable - and we all know just what there is on the Internet.

    We have to establish boundaries between the stuff that will allow us to become better human beings - the educational material that will let us recognize and celebrate differences, rather than use them as a means to classify people. We need to have valuable educational content that teaches kids about the topics of their own interest, rather than the usual "this is beyond the scope of this course/textbook" line. Kids must be able to pursue learning as much as possible.

    Confusing them by fooling ourselves into believing that there is a "gap" and that the gap must be closed in order to give everyone equal opportunities is a mistake.

    How that relates to ink, I don't know. ;) Needless to say, I believe between knowing how to make ink and knowing how to communicate, there's a big difference and not being able to do the later says a lot about just what we are - people that use machines, or machines hooked up to a human.
  • cool high school [tjhsst.edu]
    cool high school instructor [tjhsst.edu]
    cool high school instructor's supercomputer course [tjhsst.edu]
    ...using low cost PeeCees and open source solutions.

    a national education program embracing open source, spearheaded by this great instructor, could move the emphasis towards low cost PCs and free software (no licensing or tracking hassles).

    This would allow a much wider saturation of computing and math in schools, without having to depend on UltraWealth (Gates, Jobs, Rockefeller, Taxes) to do it.

  • by Dungeon Dweller (134014) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:54AM (#481717)
    Most of the people that I know are complete idiots.

    Additionally, the most useful thing that I saw most kids do with computers in school was play oregon trail, and since they had to load it off the a: drive, and most of the people that I know can't even seem to do that right, they didn't learn much about computers either.

    I have seen very few programming courses in school.

    Kids need to learn to write reports with notecards and learn to spell before computers do it for them.

    I am sick and tired of people saying that we need to throw computers at an educational system that is failing, especially when it's not always the school system... perhaps it's the fact that kids today have minds rotted on teletubies and motivations that are all fucked up by the fact that they have always had whatever they want.

    Perhaps we should show kids that if they work hard, and make something of themselves, then they will be self fulfilled. I think that the dream of most kids these days is to marry rich, or make big bucks having someone else invest their money.

    When being a "pro at computers" means you're the fastest solitaire in the west, and being a "hacker" translates to what we refer to as a script kiddie and being a computer security professional means you load norton antivirus and buy a hardware firewall that someone else installs and configures... well...

    As for the college scene, activism is futile because government doesn't care.

    As for the rich, they'll always have everything. The world is full of haves and have nots. There are haves that lose everything and have nots that become rich... cool eh? I came to college with a Mac LC (I'm a senior now, graduating a year ahead). I know people who dropped out who came with PII laptops (they were the shit then). In fact, many more than those that didn't come with a computer. Having a computer doesn't mean that you'll learn anything about it. I'm a computer science major... graduating early. I got most of what I have by working for it, ironically, as a sysadmin (and I had a lot of expertise already when I came into college, ironically, that is the one place that my parent's having a computer DID help me.) Not everyone is really going to go home and learn to program on their parent's computer. Is it sad that the opportunity isn't there? Yes, but what percentage of people would REALLY benefit in a measurable way? Besides, you can learn programming on a 486... probably better than on a P4. I mean, I started on a TI 99 4/A, and I turned out ok. And you can go grab a P 133 for about $10 these days.

    I do a lot of community service... I care... I care out the ass. I would love to see tech education... but most schools that have computers just say "look we have computers, wet dream come true eh?" and then leave it at that. I can learn most of what the typical high school student learns on a computer better from a teacher who is well motivated.

  • I know for a fact Americorps [americorps.org] is running several programs in which they have tech-savvy people (read: you) bring computers to communities that need them. Here's a listing of Americorps*Vista's programs in California [americorps.org] or your state. [americorps.org]
    In New York, for example:

    CHILDREN'S AID SOCIETY: NEW YORK
    AmeriCorps*VISTA Member will assist in providing underseved and technologically disadvantaged youth with the skills they need to operate as productive citizens in a technological world. Activities include the recruitment of tutors and mentors who can work directly with participant youth on the computer; successful pursuit of additional technology resources in the form of funding or sources for computer equipment and software; the establishment of Internet access and development of an encompassing plan for its appropriate use at all levels of the Club, including CareerLaunch and other online curriculum; and, implementation of the five basic promises of America's Promise and the formation of additional partnerships.

    Ultimately, the problem of kids and computers doesn't boil down to who has the hardware or the software, but who tkaes initiative in helping others. The cynical might say "Grab a Linux box, a cheap 4-yr old computer and Net-Zero and they're done." Realistically, can we expect everyone to accomplish this without assistance?

  • Sheesh. I hate for my every post about a Katz article to be negative, but...

    Computers are not critical to the teaching of (especially young) children!

    First, and foremost, as a prerequisite to everything else, including using the net effectively, kids need to learn to read, and read well. No other learning matters, if a child cannot read, write, and comprehend.

    To teach kids to read, you need books, paper and pencil, optional black or white boards, and someone to teach them.

    Second, and almost as important, kids need to learn basic mathematical concepts. The foundation of this is arithmetic. This needs to be followed up at appropriate ages with algebra, geometry, and probably some trigonometry and calculus. Kids also need to be taught to apply these concepts to real-world problems.

    Again, to teach these skills, you need books, pencil and paper, maybe a whiteboard, and someone to teach them.

    Third, fourth, fifth, etc., in no particular order, kids need to be taught basic science concepts, some history, some government and civics, and some "social studies."

    Again, you need books, paper and pencil, maybe a white board, and someone to teach.

    Parallel to all these needs is one that is harder to meet, teaching kids to think clearly. What you need to teach this is guidance from an adult who knows how to think clearly.

    These skills are needed to excel in any job other than pure physical labor, if such a job exists. (Even someone who works with his hands most probably needs to read things like work orders.) Everyone needs these basic skills to function generally, from reading street signs, to balancing a checkbook, to deciding how to vote.

    Notice that none of this learning requires, or in my opinion for younger children, is even particularly helped by, computer access. Nor is is particularly expensive...that is why it is possible for homeschoolers and private schools to teach rings around the public schools for less money per child.

    All this said, access to computers is a good thing, which we should promote. But the child who is taught the basics above can succeed at anything, including using computers. The child who is not taught the basics will have trouble succeeding in general, and specifically not be able to effectively use computers and the net. (He will probably end up signing up for internet access through AOL. *snicker*)

  • True indeed. For looking up facts, the internet is great. But when I really want to -think- about something, I'll generally find a really good book. Either from a library, or a bookstore, or perhaps borrowed from a good friend.

    If there is such a directly proportional link between learning and internet/computer access... then perhaps someone can explain to me the mystery of IRC Newbies. And even some IRC Not-So-Newbies. ;-)

    ---
  • by Kingfox (149377) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @10:26AM (#481726) Homepage Journal
    It's also a matter of image; which is worse on the kid, the stigma of no computer or the stigma of a "worthless" (by modern standards) computer. Keep in mind, kids can be very cruel.

    True, but on /. or in something like an IRC room, noone can tell when I'm on my old P100, or my PIII 650. Unless the kid is inviting friends over to play games on it or the like, there is little difference between the two as far as just getting online and the kid's image online to others.

    Hell, the kid can still play his online MMORPG's on a P100, they just have to stick to text-based MUD/MUSH/MUCK/MOOs, which actually are quite a bit MORE intellectual and educational for kids. There are quite a few MOOs that have online schools, teaching the basics of object oriented code and server playing. Even the less educational MOOs still help reinforce mathematical skills, grammar, and spelling. And all of these text-based realities can be accessed through the same comptuers that were accessing them almost a decade ago.

  • I have two children in a suburban school system that is considered one of the top in my state. I am also involved as a member of the Technology Committee for a k-3 elementary school that my younger child attends. I am trying to find the time to also join the Technology Committee on the 4-6 elementary school my oldest child attends.

    Right now, the k-3 school has around 30 iMacs networked. Last year there was a room used as a lab. This year that room became the teacher's lounge, and the Macs sat unused in the Library because there was no plan, no curriculum for them.

    we finally got the Macs up and being used just this month (half the school year is GONE!!!)

    I think the major difficulty for Technology in Education is that admninistrations/teachers/principals/etc DON'T KNOW WHAT TO USE THE TECHNOLOGY FOR!!!!!!!

    Do we teach them all at once with networkable software? Do we get them to learn keyboarding? (and introduce carpal tunnel at a really young age)

    There are actually parents who WANT THESE KIDS TO LEARN POWERPOINT!!!!!!

    The kids also have internet access by sharing a 56K frame relay-it is DOG SLOW and completely frustrating.

    Things move so

    • incredibly slow
    in this system and there is so much political mumbo jumbo (can't piss off the School Committee, can't piss off the Town Council, can't piss off the Supt.)that it is an absolutely ridiculous situation.

    What can be accomplished in such an environment?

    -mom (because I said so)

  • There are concerns among educators and psychologists about the 7 to 9 percent of American children who play computer games for more than 30 hours a week.

    What about adults who have to spend 40 or more hours working on a computer? Why isn't anyone upset for them? And I'm not talking about programming or image manipulation or something creative like that. I'm talking about the type of working on a computer where all you create is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

  • You *DONT* need a computer to learn.. you need to learn, in school, Math, Science, ENGLISH (yes, its america, ENGLISH) and history. Sports if you want, etc etc.. but those are foundational.

    Hmm...not to start an off topic flame war, but "its america, ENGLISH" is not a logical argument, even if you weren't abusing capitals, failing to use apostrophes, and if we lived in a country called England. English is an important language to read and write, especially for business and functioning. On the other hand, the bible, the Mahabharata, the Elder Edda , the Quenta Silmarillia HongLongMeng, the Odyssey, the Quran , the Linux kernel and many other important works were not written in English. But that is incidental.

    The logical fallacy of your (implied, not stated) argument is that because we live in a country where English is the predominate language that English should be the predominate language. Making a prescriptive statement from a descriptive one gives one a recursive loop where it is impossible to move from where one is.

  • by nycdewd (160297) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @09:33AM (#481738)
    perhaps? maybe? ya THINK?? yes, absurd comparison... a luxury item such as a BMW is not at all comparable to the essential learning tool the computer has become... and access, not necessarily ownership, should be a right and not a privilege... we are talking EDU here, folks, and said access need not be in the home but should be a right of all kids in all schools at all times, at least here in the wealthiest country in the world (USA)
  • Many inner city schools are failing to even provide a basic level of literacy, let alone properly prepare students for advanced education. While in four black men are going to prison, drug laws jail crack users longer than powdered cocaine users. (The only real difference between rocks and poweder: powder is the popular choice of white addicts, while the rocks are mostly used by blacks.) Roughly one in five prgnancies in America are terminated, most of which are abortions of convenience, many of the women having these abortions are having more than one. Pro-choice or not, this should offend your sensibilies from a moral perspective.

    Amen.

    As a society we need to realize that computers are tools. They are useful, shiny, powerful tools, but tools none the less. As a society we need to buckle down and invest in our children at a fundamental level before we start giving them toys. A kid who can't read can play video games till his eyes fail and it won't have helped him at all.

    I would like to flip the question around: Why have we created an upper class that insulates itself via the internet from reality? How can we get people out of their virtual communities and back into their real ones?

  • Well, let's see here. We have politicians who continually attack the upper class. We have people who drum up hatred of the upper class.

    To wit: Bullshit. Show me a politician who drums up hatred against the upperclass. We lionize our rich. We lionize the powerful. That's pure rhetoric with no defensible position whatsoever.

    Let's take what happened to myself and other slashdot readers in school. We were abused, assaulted, slandered by people who now have low paying jobs while we have high paying jobs and are generally sucessful because we worked hard.

    What is comes down to is why should we get back into our real communities if we are hated so much simply for being ourselves? If they can't accept us why should we accept them?

    That sucks. I'm sorry anybody is abused/assaulted, as a person it galls me. But that does not excuse you from the responsibilties of a citizen. Think back to high school, was your entire school against you? Or was it a small vocal group? They are not your community. Your community is vast and rich and if it makes you feel good to gloat on those who hated you then do it. Enjoy it. But recognize that your experiences during a traditionally traumatic time in peoples lives does not excuse you from your responsibility.

    If anything it should make you want to invest in the community and make sure that it changes, so that the geeks/nerds/losers/outcasts of tomorrow are at least tolerated. As a succesful member of society you have the ability to do that. And by abondoning your community you sentence the children of tomorrow to the same fate that you held.

  • Nothing is more mysterious in politics than why some issues capture the imagination of idealistic people like college students -- sweatshops in Latin America, for example -- and some don't, like the enormous gap in computer use and Net access between poor and rich kids.

    It would be my impression that people who grew up with PC's (and look at PC's as just another tool as opposed to a hobby) are just now starting to be the norm in college age students.

    I'm 30 now. When I was an undergrad, I'd say that the percentage of students that had computers in the dorm was about 15% as of 1990. Among grade-school aged children (who are in college now) the number of families with "family-computers" must have been even less.

    My point is... When the kids that grew up thinking of computers as in indespensible tool reach college-age (probably about 4-8 years) we'll start to see this issue have more resonance among those that don't read /. regularly.

  • by The Gline (173269) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @09:19AM (#481748) Homepage
    "President Bush, who outlined his educational initiatives this week without once even mentioning computers or technology..."

    I don't know about you, but I'm getting sick and tired of computers being pushed as the catch-all way to "fix" education. How about better pay for teachers? How about fixing some of these crumbling schools? How about textbooks that are up to date (and don't give me the line about computers replacing textbooks, because they don't currently replace regular books in enough of a way to do that effectively either)? How about emphasizing basic literacy and critical thinking?

    None of these things come naturally with using a PC. You can use the PC as a way to learn these things -- and if you ask me it's not even the best way -- but to expect kids to pick this stuff up automatically by sticking them in front of a computer is stupid and naive. Also, contrary to popular belief, posting to BBSes and chat rooms does not automatically give you better command of the language. I know too many kids out there who are whizzes with their computers, but can't put together a real-world argument to save their hides.

    The emphasis on computers as educational fix-it-alls is misleading and dangerous. They're like antibiotics: powerful and useful, but over-prescribed, and often for the wrong maladies.

  • This illustrates the chasm in thinking between the haves and the have-nots. Sorry, I was a talented have-not thirty years ago who would not have been able to bootstrap himself without a government hand-out. Now that I make a decent living (instead of selling drugs, a viable option to some of my peers), I hate getting taxed, too, but I can think of No Better Use for my taxes than enabling children to have access to the Internet. They can't get it at home, but they can at school. This might be their only chance at obtaining a good, honest future.

    In fact, given that affluent children generally Do have access at home, I would disproportionately fund the schools in the poorer districts and preferentially wire them. Believe me, spending tax dollars to give access to kids who otherwise would have none is a lot better than spending it on the ordinary oppression that our govts traditionally 'fund' inner cities.

    If you feel like you are being taxed too much, you might want to consider actual wasteful tax practices, like subsidies to corporations or even bloated defense projects.

    To specifically address your statements:

    1) A kid doesn't have a couple hundred bucks to plunk down on a comp, no matter what, and his parents may not, either, or they may be deadbeats or not value the 'net, whatever...

    2) I damn sure appreciated the Federal Grants I got for college, and I think children might also appreciate their only link to the wired world. Just because it's granted to them doesn't make it unappreciated.

    3) To call this a waste of money seems ignorant. Sorry, but investing in education is probably the best investment one can make in one's community.

    4) I agree that Welfare was once out of hand and it subsidized a lazy disenfranchised class. But I think that it is under control to a much greater degree now. I'm pretty sure the days of perpetual Welfare are over; there is a time limit.

    Now the question of whether we need the computer in this day and age is a good one. I think the answer is an unqualified "Yes", although I am reminded of that Sci Fi short story (Asimov?) where all calculators on a planet stopped working for whatever reason and the guy who could add, subtract, etc.. in his head became Ruler of All.

  • by Golias (176380) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:05AM (#481757)
    "It's tough to imagine a more urgent moral issue than the fate of children without access to computers or the Net, since their educational, economic, cultural and social lives will be directly affected." Let's see...

    Many inner city schools are failing to even provide a basic level of literacy, let alone properly prepare students for advanced education.

    While in four black men are going to prison, drug laws jail crack users longer than powdered cocaine users. (The only real difference between rocks and poweder: powder is the popular choice of white addicts, while the rocks are mostly used by blacks.)

    Roughly one in five prgnancies in America are terminated, most of which are abortions of convenience, many of the women having these abortions are having more than one. Pro-choice or not, this should offend your sensibilies from a moral perspective.

    Women in many Arabic and eastern nations are still treated like property.

    That was just the first few things I could think of off the top of my head that are more "urgent moral issues" than kids that can't access Slashdot. Try to keep things in perspective, Jon.

    The solution to this problem is easy.

    Cost of a 3-year-old computer: damn near zero.
    Cost of using one of several ad-driven ISP's: absolutely zero.

    Poor kids can't afford to play Everquest on a P4 with a 20" monitor and a broadband connection, but any kid that has power and a phone line can scrape together the cash to get on the net with a cheap Linux box and an old modem.

  • by Alien54 (180860) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @08:22AM (#481761) Journal
    Before we can really quibble about the right technology to apply to education, we sort of need to agree on the purpose of education.

    This is more important that you might imagine at first glance. You would expect that everyone would agree on the purpose, etc.

    But this is no true than the varied reasons to build a motor vehicle. You look around, and you see many models of motor vehicle, depending on the purpose. And sometimes are using the wrong vehicle for the the job. [Imagine using a jaguar to tow your yatch to the beach for example.]

    It is really tied into the vision that you have for the society. What kind of society do you want to build?

    • a society of contented workers
    • a society of active citizens
    • a society of drug users
    • a society of happy consumers
    • a society of people competent in what they have studied
    • etc. etc. etc. you add to the list
    as a side note: the level of expertize need to really understand something and be competent in a subject is different than merely being sortof familiar with it. (I heard about that once in school)

    For example, I have seen education software that runs real world experiments such as physics and chemistry, etc in simulation. While this would be okay for a quick intro, can you really imagine someone becoming an expert guitar player merely by running a simulation on a computer?

    and we also have the idea of subjects that are not meaningless to the students studying them

    Education took place certainly in ancient times. [For example, check out this article [sciam.com] on the information workers of 2500 B.C.E.] There are fundamentals of education that have been there regardless of culture and level of civilation. Failure to take advantadge of these fundamentals will doom an education enterprise, regardless of the bells and whistles and technology you employ. The ultimate failure is to not even know what these fundamentals are. From the results we see around us, despite what the education professionals tell us, these fundamentals are certainly missing in action

  • Frankly, I'm even more unimpressed by this rant than most of John's stuff. Initative, drive, and focus are still the most important factors in achieving the life you want for yourself and your loved ones. Don't have access to the net? Get creative, or spend time at the library. Need a computer? Make some sacrifices. Yes, I know it's hard, but life is hard in general. And in case you're wondering, I grew up as one of the "have-nots"; below poverty line, broken home, etc, but I did not, and will not, let myself become a statistic. Many years of hard work paid off and now I'm a System Admin with the chance to give my family a better life than I had growing up. Why? Initative, drive, and focus.

    Peace
  • Well I can't talk about government-funded computers at school. But when I was at high school (that's about some years ago), there was this mentality of -mostly wealthy- parents buying the newest computer for their kids because "they need it to learn computers". Honestly: most of those computers grew a nice layer of dust after the kids played the computer games and got fed up with it....down the drain the investment.
    Remember this was pre-mass-internet-age, nowadays the computers bought for "they need to learn computers/the internet" are plainly used to surf, chat and email. A very small minority is becoming the nerds/geeks as we used to know in the good old times.
    When I started my Comper Science study, I was driven by passion for computers. Nowadays, people don't enroll because of passion they do IT because "you'll earn big-bucks" I think that is sad.
    As for those who wonder: my dad never bought a computer for me (we weren't that wealthy), he bought one for himself (for accounting) and I screwed around with it when he wasn't there (password cracking...fun!). He learned pretty quickly to back up his files ;-)
  • It's tough to imagine a more urgent moral issue than the fate of children without access to computers or the Net

    I was going to comment on this very quote, in the very same manner -- I'm not surprised someone else beat me to it.

    When I first read that sentence, I thought it was sarcasm. I scrolled down a few paragraphs for the reality check, and never found one. It seems JonKatz really does believe that a lack of Net access and RPG gaming (?!?) is solely responsible for poor children's low education scores and their inability to break into higher-income jobs when they reach adulthood -- as if an Internet connection to Slashdot and a copy of 'Everquest' would be able to liberate the poor, downtrodden inner-city masses from their shackles of poverty in one fell swoop.

  • Nothing is more mysterious in politics than why some issues capture the imagination of idealistic people like college students -- sweatshops in Latin America, for example -- and some don't, like the enormous gap in computer use and Net access between poor and rich kids.

    Let's see... Basic civil liberties vs. the ability to download pr0n and watch your stock ticker stream by...

    You tell me.

    ---

  • by quamper (229753) on Thursday January 25, 2001 @07:48AM (#481786) Homepage
    Ever notice how Katz always posts statistics and studies that "aren't published yet". Hmmm, he wouldn't make this stuff up would he?
  • It seems JonKatz really does believe that a lack of Net access and RPG gaming (?!?) is solely responsible for poor children's low education scores and their inability to break into higher-income jobs when they reach adulthood -- as if an Internet connection to Slashdot and a copy of 'Everquest' would be able to liberate the poor, downtrodden inner-city masses from their shackles of poverty in one fell swoop.

    Hmm.

    I'm not sure what to make of this. A part of me is thinking that Jon has a point, and this is just an exaggeration of the point.

    I can only speak for myself, but computers gave me important access to human thought. It developed my logic skills, my communication skills, my emotion, and my knowledge more than anything else in my life. I have done nothing these past five or ten years but read arguments, source code, and stories. I can't speak to other sources for these things, because I wasn't privy to them. But what I can say is that to me, computers are more than tools - they are monolithic sources of enlightment, if used to their full extent.

    I think Jon was thinking of the case where the kids have a hope in developing - but can't realize it specifically because they can't communicate with the right people. Human thought - the human voice - is the most important thing in developing one's self, and computers (and the Internet) are a remarkable gateway.

    --
    All men are great
    before declaring war

  • Besides, you can learn programming on a 486... probably better than on a P4. I mean, I started on a TI 99 4/A, and I turned out ok. And you can go grab a P 133 for about $10 these days.

    I would like to emphasize this. You do not learn to excel when the machine damn near does everything for you, you learn by overcoming adversity. My first machines were 70's-era 8-bitters with 4K-16K RAM and, if you were lucky and spent a little extra, cassette tapes for mass storage.

    I am currently dealing with a factory engineer who graduated college circa 1995 -- we got into this discussion a couple of weeks ago. His first computer experience was an 8086 microprocessor trainer, which he used for one lab before being introduced to a 286 workstation. He is constantly amazed at the tricks I am pulling to get extra performance out of his firmware, and how I can practically tell him over the phone what the source and object code must look like in order to get the results I'm seeing. He simply never had to press the CPU's he was using to get the performance he needed; I did. In doing so I not only learned specific tricks (he went "wow" when I described using a 16-bit integer normalized to units of 1/65536 to use MUL to multiply another integer by a fraction of 1); I learned a whole way of thinking about the machines that you don't get if you start with a GUI and C++.

    As many of others have pointed out, what you mostly learn with a really state-of-the-art machine is how to play video games. I would say that some computer usage is useful, especially if it develops strong typing skills (in this modern world, those translate anywhere and are hard to find in the workforce); but a machine that challenges its users to overcome its limitations will teach them more than one that does everything they ever want.

  • I have two kids. 13 and 15 both with computers and net access from their bedroom 24/7.
    In my mind the article comes up with lot of numbers but some pretty lame conclusions - if any. This is not to say that it is a bad article.
    Are computers and internet access a crucial component in growing up? Do "poor" kids have nothing else to do than "slinging burgers"? In my heart I really don't believe so. The quality of growing up is primarily given by the parents of the child. Granted "rich" parents have a lot more time to offer their kids, but they may not necessarily choose to do so. In that case the computer offers a convenient way of escaping reality, but that doesn't make for a healthy substitution.
    For the curious, there is no doubt in my mind that the computer coupled with the net is the best thing since sliced bread.

    I think I made these conclusions reading the article:
    - Retrospective statistics are still the best means to manipulate oppinions.
    - The personaes of the government still thinks it is better to talk about education than to spend money on it.
    - The educational content available on the net today don't target the "poor" students. There is lots of good higher education sites, but not many sites target basic skills like spelling, math and reading. Anyway the computer can't do anything here that most parents can't do themselves.
    - I remember the same items discussed when the overhead projector was introduced. I think that the article is slightly overstating the importance of the computer in this context.
    - Access to the internet is better than no access to anything. Yes I can agree to that, but access to qualified human beings would do the same.

    Where I think the article fails to report is that we have successfully used computers to teach kids with learning disabilities. Adult education is another area, since most adults are afraid of making a fool of themselves in front of others. They don't exhibit the same attitude when a computer is used instead. All this have been documented since the 1980's and still it is not an available alternative. What I am getting at here is that some education of the teacher base is warranted and has to happen first. We need our teachers to be knowledgable about how to use these instruments and give them the necessary means to do so. Just claiming that having a computer means something to your educational, economic, cultural and social is like saying that more people would play baseball if we issued a baseball to everybody.

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