Education Letter to the Editor

Two Arguments Favoring ‘People Over Machines’

November 07, 2006 2 min read

To the Editor:

My thanks go out to Larry Cuban for his Commentary reminding us that technology does not create student achievement (“The Laptop Revolution Has No Clothes,” Oct. 18, 2006). He writes, “The music is in the teacher, not the piano.” Absolutely, and I want to add that the music is in the teacher and the family—in short, in the people who motivate and educate.

Machines can look so sleek and efficient. They can even look smart. This can fool us into thinking that they can do more than they really do. I have long said and continue to believe that the people in education are our biggest bargain. When given a choice in helping students between spending money on computers or spending the same amount on good training for teachers and parents, I vote for using it on the people every time.

It would be great if we could afford both, but, when choices have to be made, let’s make the smart choice for the music, and not just for the piano.

Dorothy Rich

Founder and President

Home and School Institute

Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

I’ve found that people in the pro-laptop camp tend either to lack an understanding of how computer skills are learned and used in the workplace, or to have little classroom experience using technology to teach noncomputer content. What they share, though, is a childlike fascination with what computers make possible.

Classroom learning is directly tied to the human beings doing the teaching, their knowledge, and their abilities to connect with and motivate students. There are many lessons that can be enhanced with technology, and there are times when a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio is helpful. The heart and substance of the teaching and learning nexus, however, is interpersonal. And there are aspects of intellectual and social development that too much technology actually impedes. One need only watch today’s children try to ponder a single problem for more than three minutes, or see young adults do presentations in which animated clip art is understood as substance, to realize this.

The core of education must be having students learning new knowledge, puzzling about the problems that the new knowledge makes intellectually accessible, and communicating their resulting thoughts effectively with others. These are the hallmarks of human culture, and they are the “basics” that schools, when they are functioning well, teach. Computers as a technology can play only a small part, as a tool only in specific areas, in developing these skills.

What is needed are more teachers with the knowledge and skills to lead students through the process, over and over, in ways that scaffold knowledge and build processing and communication skills. That so many people believe putting a computer in every student’s hands will somehow help us get better at this perplexing task is, frankly, an indication that we have not done a good job with the task in the past.

Jeffrey V. Bohl

Assistant Principal

Mason High School

Mason, Mich.

A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2006 edition of Education Week as Two Arguments Favoring ‘People Over Machines’