High-Tech Kids in No-Tech Schools

The jury is still out on the academic benefits of e-books, “There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” says Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University.

Researchers and psychologists report that screens create distractions for students. (See The Medium is The Screen. The Message is Distraction). And even students are far from convinced that they learn better and faster or retain as much (See Students Give E-Textbooks a Failing Grade)

These would appear to be the reasons why many parents have reservations about schools that rely on high-tech educational tools.

You would imagine that the one class of parents that embrace “screen learning” would be denizens of Silicon Valley. Yet, as the New York Times‘s Matt Richtel reports, “the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.” In fact, in the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, “the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.”

The school, one of a chain, is not an experiment but one of a chain of institutions founded on the belief that “computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.” The parents are the likes of a Google communications executive and a former employee of Intel and Microsoft who is currently working at a high-tech start-up. “The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous,” says one father.

But there is one category of youngster that seems to be thriving on screen learning: autistic children. “The iPad might be the difference between communicating with the outside world and being locked into a closed state,” writes John Brandon on FoxNews.com. Autistic kids respond to the devices in ways that are absolutely thrilling to parents and educators and promise breakthroughs in understanding the mysterious condition.

One three-year-old could not articulate even the most basic of needs.  Yet an iPad helped to bring him out of his mental cage. “The iPad has given us our family back,” his mother rejoiced. “It’s unlocked a new part of our son that we hadn’t seen before, and given us insight into the way he connects with his world.”

Richard Curtis


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