Education and Technology in Austin Schools

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on August 16, 2007 · 8 comments

kids on computersIt’s gone too far. The notion that we need to cram computers and technology down the throats of our kids at younger and younger ages has just gone too far. On page 20 of the Aug 10, 2007 issue of the Austin Business Journal is a listing of Austin Private Schools, listing the top 25 private schools in Austin. A sidebar to that list of private schools asks the following question:

“How is your school using technology to enhance the learning experience?”

The answer from the Superintendent of Hyde Park Baptist is the following:

“We have updated our computer labs with new computer systems and provided new mobile wireless labs that bring laptops into the classrooms. Hyde Park’s curriculum prepares students by integrating technology into all grade levels from kindergarten students creating Power Point presentations to high school students in web design courses”.

Good grief! Kindergarten students creating Power Point presentations? It’s just gone too far.

In the early years, children need to remain in their dreamy fairy tale minds, where imagination and creativity are born and nurtured. This is also a time when children learn the basic skills of “playing with” and “getting along” with others, skills very important later in life in collaborative work environments.

Kindergarteners gain no benefit from sitting solo in front of a computer, creating a Power Point presentation. Small kids should instead be on the playground skinning their knees, chasing butterflies, building forts and learning to deal with friends as well as bullies.

I know many think it’s ok to teach kids how to use computers before they read or write, but this sort of educational blunder is already coming back to bite us. Employers increasingly find young new employees to be lacking greatly in critical thinking and creative skills.

This article from Inc.com, titled Younger Employees Lack Basic Skills, points out the problem with the type of education being provided to high school and college kids. Here are a few excerpts.

Among the skills expected to be essential for businesses in the years ahead, nearly three-fourths of employers polled ranked creativity and innovation in the top five.

… Of those with positions to fill, more than 80 percent of small-business owners reported finding few or no qualified applications, with as many as 12 percent citing a lack of qualified employees as their biggest business problem — the highest number in five years, the group said.

…Another 70 percent said recent high school graduates also lacked applied skills, including professionalism, a sense of work ethic, and critical thinking, which more than half described as “very important” for succeeding in the workplace, the study found. Among these skills were personal accountability, effective working habits, punctuality, working with others, and workload management.

It’s hard for a kid to learn the important skills of interpersonal communication and creative problem solving when they’re staring into a glowing screen instead of another person’s face, starting in kindergarten. I honestly think computers interfere with early development more than they help.

For our children, Sylvia and I intentionally picked a private school in Austin that uses no computers through 8th grade. In some ways, that seems like the other end of the extreme, but I don’t think so. They’ve spent almost none of their lives in front of a TV and have never played video games. They’ve spent a lot of time outside playing though. Some of our friends and relatives think it’s weird that our kids have never turned in a type written paper or used computers at school. Everything has been handwritten, in true old fashioned handwriting (which isn’t taught anymore in most public schools), and they’ve been immersed in art and creative efforts alongside academic rigor.

I tell my 14 year old, who this summer I’ve finally allowed to have an email address, that she now has the entire rest of her life to be stuck on the computer and to check email. As she heads into 9th grade at Westlake High School, she’ll now enter a world where technology is everywhere, and she’ll have more than ample exposure to both the pitfalls and benefits of technology and computers. And I tell her I don’t think she’s missed out on anything up until now. She’s pestering me for a cell phone too now, which has also always been denied to great protest. The societal pressure for parents and schools to just dump all of this technology in the laps of our kids is enormous, and I have to admit that it’s very difficult to say “no” sometimes, but I do anyway.

It’s tough, selling this line of thinking to our kids. Sylvia and I work in a home office and they see us on our computers a lot. If I could sell real estate without a computer, cell phone and email, I would, but I can’t. The laptop even has to come along on vacations … if only I could find a good employee to leave in charge …

I tell my kids that technology is a tool to be used after mastering the fundamentals and basics of life and business. It’s not a tool for learning those basics. For example, one should know how to hand write an essay before learning how to type an essay. One should learn how to spell before becoming dependant on a spell checker. One should know how to do math on paper and in one’s head before using a calculator. One should learn how to think and formulate ideas and thoughts before learning how to create a Power Point presentation.

How many kindergartners do you know who possess ideas that can best be presented in Power Point?…

Kindergarten Son : Daddy? I saw that toad out by the rain spout again just now and I was thinking ….
Dad: (interrupts) Son, let me stop you there. Hold that thought and go place it in a Power Point presentation. We’ll set up a meeting with your mother and you can present your thoughts about the toad after dinner.

Yes, call me old fashioned. Call me out of sync with the modern world. Then go ahead and call in an employment ad for your business and see what sort of resumes you receive. Try to hire a smart young person who knows how to think ‘outside the box’, work unsupervised with initiative and interface well with other people. They are out there for sure, but how many will you have to weed through before finding a keeper?

Many younger people, I’ve observed, now seem more comfortable in front of a computer than they do in front of another person. That’s how they’re being raised and educated. They’d rather send an email than pick up the phone. I’ve even received emails from grown-ups who type in the shorthand chat-like drivel of teenage mush heads, using cryptic shortcut words instead of writing in full sentences. (R u going ovr there 2day?). I had a prospective client ask me if we could communicate via instant messenger, and I said “no”. Why the heck would I sit pecking on a keyboard when I know you’re on the other end next to a phone?

Many of our college graduates are “book smart” and “good with computers”, but that doesn’t mean they’ve learned anything useful in school. Is “book smart” good enough to help you grow your business after you hire them? Is “good with computers” enough to keep America great? What great future business pioneer and leader – today’s kindergartner and tomorrow’s Bill Gates or Michael Dell – will later reflect back upon life and attribute her life accomplishments to getting a head start on Power Point at the age of 5? None, I’ll wager.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott August 17, 2007 at 11:10 am

Thank you for an excellent and well written commentary. As a 47 year old engineer I am absolutely amazed with the lack of people skills of some engineering graduates I’ve interviewed. Many of them focus on GPA and there computer skills. However, I’m finding some of the students with lower GPAs (which I really don’t care about and do not use as a criterion for employment) have better work ethics, are balanced as it relates to life skills, and frankly, can get along with others when compared to there peer.

I appreciate your approach as a parent. Frankly, I think you are correct in your approach and I bet your children will grow into wonderful, productive adults.

And I also subscribe to your thoughts that cryptic, shorthand written e-mails are irritating. This, along with avatars and other nuisances are destroying English language.

I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for keeping Austin homeowners informed.

2 Steve Crossland August 17, 2007 at 12:05 pm

Thanks Scott. I appreciate your kinds words.

3 Mare August 20, 2007 at 6:33 pm

Power Point presentations in kindergarten?? Geez!

That is going a *bit* far, I have to agree. But as with all other things, there has to be moderation.

When I was 12-13, my parents bought a Commodore 64 (showing my age there!). I wasn’t on it all the time playing games or anything like that, but it piqued my curiosity. I wanted to learn how it worked, and I spent an hour or two after school tinkering with the little programs that came with the instruction booklet to figure it out. That sort of thing was fun – and educational. At the same time, my homework was done and I had friends to hang out with. We also had Nintendo. It was fun now and then, but when mom or dad said it was time to turn it off, we turned it off (and knew better than to argue).

I certainly don’t think kids should miss out on their childhood because they’re too busy behind a computer screen, but I don’t think it hurts to integrate more of it in the classroom. I think it will be more of a life skill to know how to use it and understand it. There just has to be some moderation to make it the effective tool that it can be, rather than the addictive toy it could be if it goes unchecked.

4 Steve Crossland August 20, 2007 at 9:11 pm

Hi Mare,

Yes, I think moderation is key. I appreciate your comments.

Steve

5 Leon Fu August 22, 2007 at 9:07 am

Sorry guys,

I don’t agree. Arguing that computers prevent development of social skills would be like saying learning to read prevents development of social skills b/c you aren’t being very social reading a book for several hours.

Social skills are important. But computers are so prevalent in our lives now that it is just as critical as reading, writing, and arithmatic in today’s world. You have a huge edge in today’s world if you have computer skills vs. someone who does not. Just b/c you can do Powerpoint presentations at 5 y/o doesn’t mean you can’t also learn social skills at the same time. That would be like saying you can’t develop social skills if you read a lot of books, which is ridiculous. There isn’t much difference between staring hours at pages in a book or spending hours reading web sites.

I got a computer in 1986 when I was 10 years old. I was still dealing with bullies and scraping my knees in the playground (still have the scars to prove it) with other kids. I started programing at 13. I was desgning relational database applications for my dad’s business at 15. Then the .com boom hit in the late ’90′s. When I was 21 years old I was offered a job paying $120K/year in 1998. 2 years latter at the end of the .com boom they were giving me $200K/yr until the .com bust hit. For a long time, I was making more money than all my friends combined.

In 1998 that was a lot of money, esp. for a 21 y/o. It’s still a lot of money today. I had no college degree yet (still in my senior year) and no real job experience yet except working for my dad and for a college dept. But I could program and design database business applications and that was incrediably valuable to every business.

So don’t discount starting kids with computers at a young age. It is a HUGE edge and paid off big time for me. I am not smarter than anyone else. The only reason I was able to do what I did was because I started so young.

Just b/c you learn computer skills early doesn’t mean you can’t also be social.

6 Mare August 22, 2007 at 5:04 pm

I thought of another point that might be relevant here, and it certainly merits due consideration.

We grew up with computers, but we didn’t grow up with the Internet (well, it wasn’t getting huge until after I graduated from high school, anyway). Where children are concerned, there are safety issues to consider. Online predators, the school bullies that get uglier online than they do in person (has anyone seen the commercial about stopping online bullying?), and the inability of parents to keep a more watchful eye on what their children are up to. That’s a very big deal, and it’s an added responsibility that some of us don’t always pause to think about.

One of these days I’ll have the mind of a parent and automatically think ahead about stuff like that :D

7 Steve Crossland August 22, 2007 at 6:06 pm

Hi Leon,
I respect your point of view, though we still disagree.

Part of my thinking is related to brain development studies that confirm that the part of the brain that is growing and developing at the young ages, like kindergarten, do not benefit from academic rigor. Nor does the child that brain serves.

In other words, the human brain does not need to or want to be on a computer at age 5. It’s working on us in other ways at that age.

I very much subscribe to the ideas and writings of Joseph Pearch, whom I’ve heard speak a couple of times now. Among other things, he says:
“The idea we’re going to train a child at seven to get a good job at age twenty-seven is a travesty of profound dimension.”

Here is a link to an interview with Joseph Pearce, if you’re interested.
http://www.ratical.org/many_worlds/JCP98.html

Here is another good write-up about this.
http://stillpoint.us/articles/Pearce%20Lecture%2003-03.pdf

Steve

8 Leon Fu August 22, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Hi Steve,

I think blaming all childhood that on televisions and computers is a stretch at best. Many things have changed over the past 20-30 years. Personally, I think the food children (and all of us for that matter) eat today is much more of a cause of all those problems the articles talk about than the TV or computer.

The highly processed, high carb/low fat diet that the USDA and most health care professionals now recommend to us is what is killing millions of people with diabetes, obescity, heart diseases, and even cancer. It can also cause all the problems in kids that the article speaks of and stuff like autism, hyperactivity, ADHD, IBS, and about 50 other diseases/disorders. B/c of the high carb/low fat/low calorie diet craze of the past 30+ years, our diet has become 50-60% carbs. The result is that most of us have chronically high glucose and insulin levels that is very damaging to the body over years/decades. I have done much research into this b/c I was recently diagnosed with hypoglycimia. I know ll of what I am saying here is totally against what the mainstream media says, but I have done the research and have been on a high calorie, high fat, low carb (no grain products or sugars). What I am saying here is all true and I have the research and first hand experience to prove it.

In other words, I think we should be blaming the food; not the TV or computer. Diet has been the biggest change in children today; not computers, video games Internet, or TV…

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