Thursday, May 3, 2012

Public School iPad...just the latest iFad?

With a program entitled "Preparing Students for 'College, Career and Citizenship' in the 21st Century", Coachella Valley Unified School District leadership proposes "giving" an Apple iPad to every student (all 18,000 of them!) and an Apple laptop and TV to every teacher (K-12) over the next 18 months.

What our youngest prodigies will do with these multi-millions of dollars of gizmos remains unclear. Absent in any district promotion are statistics demonstrating that using this technology actually advances real learning (in the form of higher test scores). District administrators remain undeterred, however, hoping their "customers" are pliable enough to pay for it all anyway, saddling us with massive debt destined to linger long after the technology itself is obsolete.

Will it work? (We still don't know what "it" is, exactly.) Will it be worth it? We don't know. (It's never been tried.)

Dr. Adams suggests that this technology will better engage learners and allow teachers to create their own electronic "textbooks", thereby bypassing the multi-million dollar expense and exercise of curriculum adoption and purchasing. (He sells this program thus as a "savings" plan. Whether it's cheaper or not, an iPad certainly is easier to lug around -- and update -- than any backpack full of books.)

Still, one wonders what prevents students from "bypassing" the educational establishment altogether. Why does anyone need to "come to school" anymore if teachers can disseminate their curriculum via this new "engaging" technology? What purpose do millions of paid school teachers now serve (if not just day-care?) now that Salman Kahn can effectively teach millions at a time? If we can save millions of dollars on books, why not save tens of millions on teachers' salaries, school lunches, air conditioning, busing, building maintenance, administration, etc.? Why not save it all?

In fact, why not just cancel public school altogether, slash the property tax rolls, return the money to The People (who earned it), and let Americans educate themselves? We certainly have the technology to adequately do this now. In fact, the argument is persuasive that what we're now spending is largely wasted and unnecessary.

Do our children really need to sit in classrooms half their youthful lives to learn to make, what are essentially, high-tech PowerPoint presentations of useless trivia now passing for "education" (trivia they largely won't remember anyway)? Will "school work" now assigned by middling academics ever prompt anyone to produce "apps" that benefit society at large? (When has this ever happened?) Is the potential benefit worth the real expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, taken from taxpayers in this valley each year?

If public education is so essential, why are so many of our greatest innovators and revolutionaries high school and college dropouts?

Each new generation, it seems, spawns socialist utopians who believe that sufficient government coercion will insure the eradication of ignorance and poverty, guarantee social progress, and promote the general welfare. Above all, they think man must be saved from himself. Academics, entertainers, and politicians are particularly inured to the belief that they, above all, have "what it takes" to "change the world" for the better. Not surprisingly, public school teachers, Big Government (elected by public school teachers) and Big Media (symbiotically and reciprocally sustained by Big Government) foist the latest social and educational fads upon an unsuspecting and compliant populace. The last big technological "improvement" to education was the internet. Before that, the personal computer. Before that, television and public broadcasting. Plus a host of "revolutionary" programs (like Head Start, New Math, Whole Reading, etc.). Each new iteration has required ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer "investment".

Now, the latest, greatest, sexiest, socialist proposal: a "free" iPad in every palm!

Yet, through it all, despite each public school "innovation", test scores (for most students) have remained flat or declined. (How on earth did our forefathers ever learn anything without modern technology? Their skills and understanding must have been positively Pleistocene!)

I do not doubt that technology allows students today to learn more than has ever been learned (or even known) before. Yet technology is only a tool. Books are a form of technology. And all the books in the world avail nothing to anyone if they rest unopened upon the shelf. An unused iPad -- or worse, an iPad used to surf porn -- will demoralize and debase society rather than improve it.

Still, we must not discard or dismiss this technology simply because it may be misused (or unused). The iPad is another step toward total immersion in computer-based media that undoubtedly can foster, enhance, monitor and assess academic apprehension. The future of education is exciting -- and replete with technology.

Yet, ironically, the superintendent's initiative is another confession that "public school" (as we know it) is as obsolete as the slide rule, the chalk board and the text book -- and just as unjustifiable to pay for or keep around.