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Schools Don’t Need More Technology–They Need Less
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I was on my high school’s board of education for a year. It was quite an honor, honestly, but I screwed it up.

At the time, I was a software architect. They put me on the board as the technology guy. I was supposed to make the case for more funding for smart boards and other tech stuff.

But I said kids really don’t need more technology in school. Technology, I said, was like sex education: they’ll get more than they can handle on the streets or watching TV. What they need is a better understanding of how they can use it.

I was thrilled to read that Eric Greitens agrees with me. Maybe not on the sex education part, but on the technology.

This is from Eric’s new book, Resilience:

Today we spend huge effort and millions of dollars to bring more technology into the classroom, when the great majority of students in the great majority of circumstances can learn almost all of what they need to know with a supportive family, a pencil, some paper, good books, and a great teacher. The schools that produced Shakespeare and Jefferson and Darwin had some writing materials, some printed books— and that was it.

Greitens, Eric (2015-03-10). Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Kindle Locations 1551-1554). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

The more I learn about Eric Greitens, the better I like him. He understands that a good home and good teachers are more important to education than computers and whiteboards that record what’s written on them. If what’s written on the board is wrong or stupid, smart boards record errors and stupidity. That helps no one.

Here’s more from Resilience on this point:

Imagine you’re a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old school kid at Radley Hall in England in 1837. Here are some of the questions on your winter exam:

  • Why is not virtue either παθος or δυναμις?

  • Give Aristotle’s reasons (4) why true self-love cannot exist in vicious men.

  • Find the length of an arc whose chord is 18, and the chord of half the arc 10 ⅓.

  • Give the characters of Alfred the Great, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry the Eighth, and Queen Elizabeth.

Greitens, Eric (2015-03-10). Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Kindle Locations 1554-1558). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

I think I can handle the last question, but only superficially. So, are we moderns really smarter than 19th century Englishmen?

Schools don’t need more technology. They don’t need money to buy smart boards. They need the courage to empower their teachers to teach. We train teachers, then tell them to simply follow Pearson’s marketing education guide. That’s not teaching; it’s robotics.

Maybe Eric Greitens gets it because his mom was a special education teacher, like my wife. 🙂

  • Dan Hyatt

    Yes, they need to learn to crawl, before they can walk, before they can run.
    It is good to supplement education with technology, but not replace the basic skills with technology.

    • “Humans before hardware,” is the mantra SEALs use, according to Greitens. That seems like the perfect way to think about it. “Humans before hardware.”

  • Anonymous

    As a Ph.D. student in Computer Science who has taught college level courses, I feel like I have a dog in this fight and can add to the conversation.

    The problem isn’t about how much “technology” is in the classroom, but it is how it is utalized. Having tablets that store books is fine (I prefer dead trees myself); however, when they are just android tablets that allows students to facebook, play games, and not do student things then there is a problem.

    In any university the prefered method of “teaching” is through Powerpoint. You flash some stuff on screen, read the bullet points, assign homework, and give an exam. That isn’t teaching, that’s reciting. I used to like classes that were like this, because I knew I never missed anything important.

    Then I had a different teacher. This instructor didn’t use powerpoints, but wrote almost everything on the board and taught 400 level Computer Science classes. I learned so much more from those classes than any Powerpoint based class.

    Now, that teacher whose classes I learned and enjoyed could have easily have done everything on a smart board and when going over some of the math stuff it would have been helpful it wouldn’t have changed anything — it’s all about how the instructor utalizes the environment around them.

    When getting my master’s, I had a computer graphics course which for instruction can be done with out any “technology”, but was done with a mixture of board writing, powerpoint, and showing code on screen. I might not have enjoyed the class, but in the cases that any sort of “technology” was used it was very effective. Again, it all depended on how the instructor chose to use it in his class.

    You’ll notice the use of “technology” in quotes. Any defination for the word does not mention anything about electricity or silicon. It’s a buzzword and it’s annoying.

    Finally, I know this piece is about high school, and having graudated in the last decade, there was some use of Powerpoints in some classes, some board writing, and some who just preached where you best write things down. The same thing applies there as it does at the university level. It is all about how you utalize the environment. So throwing a wet blanket over “technology” may be a bit unfair, but your core argument that teachers need to properly instruct is good.

    Now, for whenever I’ve taught a course how do I teach it? I write everything on the board. There are some days I used powerpoint (two per semester), but I check out on those days and I think everyone knows it.

  • Public schools of today are not about education, but indoctrination!

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