From: Uncle Roger <>
Date: Wed May 13 20:20:35 1998

At 06:43 PM 5/12/98 PDT, you wrote:
>When was this thing with "computer literacy in schools is everything"
>started? I like computers in schools, but I am tired of looking at
>proposed plans to replace 5 MORE classrooms with computer labs. Is
>this a classic thing? Would you in general say that computers have
>affected education (keeping the discussion OnT, of course).

Well, I'm shooting from the hip here, but I do have some experience in this

The idea of "computer labs" comes from IMO two things: 1) The idea of
teaching "computers" as a separate subject and 2) the inability for schools
to afford computers for every classroom.

Looking at these in turn, "computers" as a subject in itself *may* have
been a valid concept *at one time* (i.e., with some of the machines we deal
with) but now is no longer an issue. Kids today have very little problem
with the concepts involved in running a program (it's the same as sticking
in a nintendo cartridge) or using a mouse (aka joystick) etc. Certainly,
programming is a separate issue, but not everyone needs to learn C or Java
or even Basic, just as not everyone needs to learn how to rebuild a
transmission or tune a piano.

As for schools not being able to afford computers, well heck, they can't
even afford pencils and paper. I kid you not. Every fall, I get woken up
at 7am to be first in line at Target when the Crayons/folders/pencil
boxes/pencils/scissors/etc. go on sale (every week, it seems -- <groan>) so
that my girlfriend can buy the supplies she wants for her classroom on sale
*with her own money*. So, yes, most schools can't afford computers, in
general, let alone enough for each classroom.

So, what to do? Should they even bother? I think, based on Rachel's
experiences, that the answer is a resounding *YES*, teachers should
scrounge and steal and swindle as many computers as they can for their
schools/classrooms. But not to teach "computers". They should be a tool,
just like any other, to teach reading, math, science, comprehension, etc.

And so I'll go against the grain and say it's more important in the lower
grades (K-3 or so) to have computers available than in the upper grades.
Upper grades, junior and high school especially, can do just as well with
older machines as they can with the newer ones.

PC-Write under DOS is an excellent solution for writing term papers or book
reports, and will teach the concepts of word processing just as well as the
latest version of MSWord. Qbasic, Cobol, and C/C++ for DOS are all just as
good as their GUI counterparts for learning how to write a program; Once
you understand the idea, switching to another language is a piece of cake.
I write all my web pages in PC-Write (and I'm damn proud of some of them)
and often use Arachne (DOS browser) to check them.

Non-readers, however, can make better use of newer technology. Programs
like the Playroom, Millie's Math House, and such really get the kids
interested and having a good time; they don't realize (or care) that
they're actually learning to read or count or what-have-you. This is the
real value of computers in education. Mind you, older computers can be
used here too, (the original version of the Playroom ran fine on a Mac
Plus), but if you've got an old XT and a 486, give the upper grades the XT
and the wee ones the 486.

As to the craze for pushing computer literacy at the expense of general
literacy, I think that older folks (30+) look at technology and how it was
new to them, and how it is becoming so pervasive in our society, and
they're scared. Scared that their kids will be as unprepared as they were.
 (What they don't understand, of course, is that that very pervasiveness
will make kids take the technology in stride: My niece could work the VCR
(play, ffwd, rwd, eject) at 1.5years; she's a wiz on the computer) Add to
that the media and the politicians who love to play on the public's fears
and work them into a frenzy to serve their own purposes and the corporate
world who just want to sell more *stuff*...

Computers have affected education, both for good and bad (like most
anything.) They allow teachers to come up with fun worksheets that teach,
quickly and easily; they can help kids that couldn't learn to read finally
do it; they allow kids to work independantly at their own speed, allowing
the teacher to work with the kids that need the most help. But, they also
cause distractions, can be abused as babysitters by lesser teachers, and
can displace funding and space for other, more needed supplies and

Overall, the benefits of computers in the schools (as elsewhere, IMO) *FAR*
outweigh the problems.

Now the problem with older computers in the classrooms is not that they're
not useful, it's that they're not adequately supported for the majority of
non-computer-literate teachers. (Teachers know how to teach; they don't
know how to do a low-level format on a CP/M hard drive.) So, all you folks
on this list, who know what you're doing, call up your local schools and
see if they have any [older] computers that they need help putting to use.

> honest, the computer department here at the school is rather
> pathetic, two Apple //e's and an XT that was donated that I
> can't get to work.

Apple //e's are fine for teaching BASIC programming and Word processing,
and I know there are educational programs available for the younger kids,
too. (Right Sam?) That XT should be repairable, and would make a great
text-editing station or could be put to use in math classes running Lotus
1-2-3 or Excel.

But, we've got a teacher who can't put them to use, but they don't have the
skills/knowledge to do so.

So, are there any collectors in/around Humble TX that can help out?

P.S., I have my girlfriend working on a list of all the EduSoftware she has
and what it's good at (and how good it is) to be put on a web page, so that
someone who gets a computer for their classroom can see what software works
and will run. (All her computers are Mac IIci or less (68030 or lower)
(though we've got one IIci with an '040 board in it to go in, as soon as I
get a chance to clean up the hard drive and such.))

>>> prejudiced on the side of reading over computers -- I only have
>>> fifty-odd computers, I've got [half bought new] several thousand
>>> books, mostly the science fiction I've loved since before the

Well, I've only got about a 1000 books, and about 100 computers, but
there's a lot more in the house (my folks had a whole wall of bookshelves
put in when they bought the house). I too would say that if you can't
read/write (communicate)/count, a computer's not going to do you much good
in the long run -- it can't do that for you. (In fact, it will get you to
do more of the above.)

Anyway, sorry for the ultra-long rant...

--------------------------------------------------------------------- O-

Uncle Roger "There is pleasure pure in being mad that none but madmen know."
Roger Louis Sinasohn & Associates
San Francisco, California
Received on Wed May 13 1998 - 20:20:35 BST

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