[LeapList] Re: [Edu-sig] Now I went and did it!

Mark W. Alexander mwa@gate.net
Wed, 4 Oct 2000 22:04:53 -0400 (EDT)

On Wed, 4 Oct 2000 Econoprof@aol.com wrote:
> These very things are part of our statewide required curriculum, with early 
> tasks beginning in kindergarten, building up to typing at speed by 5th grade. 
>  Kids are using spreadsheets for recording experimental data, doing some art, 
> doing research papers, etc.  Required writing portfolios are produced on the 
> computer.  We're talking elementary school.   
> Programming of any sort is not part of the picture, however, although all of 
> the kids get exposed to television production and videography, as well.  I'm 
> not saying this is as it should be, just an example of one state's set of 

That's the crux of my concern. Although I really don't have anything
against teaching kids to use computers, I don't feel our children
are getting a decent education, period. Consequently, I have even
less faith that our current system is going to teach computer use

Now, I don't claim to know what "properly" is, but I don't think
it's programming or word processing or using spreadsheets, per se.
Kid's should be taught that a computer is like modelling clay;
it can be adapted to problems in a variety of ways. My biggest
concern is that when kids are taught that computers are "the"
way to do whatever, they lose the ability to solve problems
in general terms. I already know enough people like that and,
unfortunately they're mostly programmers.

What's more is, once the typical person learns a few programs
on the computer, they're unlikely to learn anymore. I know
people that do their word processing in Excel. Others maintain
"databases" in Word. If Microsoft applications are all that's
presented to our children, then Microsoft's way will be the
way of the world (as if it's not already). I try to teach
my kids to be economical. In the Microsoft world they'll
be paying for upgrades of MS Office for years, when all 
they really need is MS Word 2.0.

The point is that most kids are NOT going to be computer
programmers, system administratators or DBA's. They're 
going to be computer users. If I was taught computers in
elementary school, all my homework would have been turned
in on punch cards or paper tape. Just because computers
are so prevalent today, does not mean that the software
or even the interfaces are going to be remotely similar
10 years from now. What good will vendor specific word
processing and spreadsheet skills be with voice and
auditory interfaces are the norm? Do we really have
the audacity to believe that we know how computers
will be used when fifth graders get to college?
It's frightening enough that so many  computer users
"interface" now by pushing the pictures of burgers and
french fries.

If not, shouldn't we concentrate on communications skills,
logical thought processes and problem solving skills
(e.g. Reading, writing and arithmetic [or at least making
change])? Once those skills are mastered, using a more
sophisticated tool in their application is a breeze.
To this end, I really like Guido's three components in

  * Develop a new computing curriculum suitable for
   high school and college students.

Note: Not elementary, Not middle. High school and above
(i.e. close to the job market)

  * Create better, easier to use tools for program
    development and analysis. 

This is our job. We can do it for the kids while they
learn other things. And finally,

  * Build a user community around all of the above,
    encouraging feedback and self-help.

This is the part that can, and should be done in elementary

(Ok, so I had bad experiences with public schools and 
pulled my kids out to home school....but I'm feeling
much better now ;)