[Edu-sig] re: Computer Hatred

Arthur ajsiegel at optonline.net
Thu Sep 25 09:54:46 EDT 2003

Shelley writes -

>My first experience specifically with Excel hatred was when I decided to
>simply make homework count as more of their grade, because it seemed like
>such a waste to make people go through the tedium required to do statistics
>all by hand. The students in this class were mainly business majors who I
>thought worked with Excel all the time, and already knew how to use it
>better than I did, because previous classes had seemed to want to be able
>use it.

I'm surprised about the Excel.

How about word processing?  Are they comfortable with the use of a simple
word processor.  Taking my son as an example - NY City public schools -  he
was strongly encouraged to use a word processor for his assignments from an
early age.  He adjusted quickly enough.  The clincher was when he realized
that if the assignment was to write 2 pages on a subject, he could adjust
the font size to get him where he needed to be. He knew 24 pt might be
pushing it.  But, in concept, he was sold! Computers *are* useful. Cute
story, maybe.  But quite literally true.

Word processing and spreadsheets - probably in that order - were largely
what fueled the rise in personal computers.

In the world in which I interact, the possession of basic spreadsheet
skills - from the clerical staff, to the sales staff, to the CEO - is an
expectation.  Like the ability to jot a memo in a simple word processor, or
send an e-mail.   But it is also true that nobody formally is taught much
about any of this, and there is a tremendous "futz factor" (a term I heard
the CEO of Sun use the term to describe the billions of $ wasted by the
inefficiencies connected to people futzing with a certain popular desktop
operating system).

That futz factor being quite real.  That certain operating system,  with
flying this and that screen savers and built_in games and toys and
temptations galore - it is a real anomally to me how it became ubiquitous on
the desks of Business. Something quite beyond rational at work. (I am a
comfortable and satisfied user of it myself, though that's not the point in
the context of a discussion of education, IMO.)

I can program - somewhat.  And am a power user of something like Excel.  But
do not know how to do make a personal photo into my default Windows desktop
background.  So in that respect there are millions of office workers more
savy than myself.

Necessity being the mother - and different things are necessary to different

>But maybe computer use needs to be taught from ground up integrated with
>math, like teaching laboratory technique in science. But math is not
>of that way. It is thought of as a kind of intelligence to have, a kind of
>virtuosity where using computers is cheating and unnatural. Some people
>still see calculators as cheating, but they have now for the most part made
>the running shoes level of cheating when computers are still at the

Not on a purist.  But I think there is a real issue about using public funds
to teach people how to use any proprietary software of a for profit
company - no matter how ubiquitous that software might be. And I don't think
that the "system" is totally insensitive to that issue. Which is partly why
things are moving slowly. There is good principle behind the hesitation to
ignore the issues here, I believe.  And I am a certified Capitalist.

It is hard to escape the fact that "toplevel" computer skills are to a good
extent operating system and application software specific.

Which is why the teaching of "toplevel" skills at school might not be fully

And which is why Linux is so important, in my mind, in education. To me it
is the only platform on which the investment in public funds to teach skills
is justifiable.

And the fact that is a little harder is a little better, not a little worse.

Though it demands more of the teacher.

Which contributes to my conclusion that we are at the teaching the teacher
stage of things.  And that the focus is better on higher education, at this
monent, than lower.


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