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Rick Garlikov I was generally disappointed and distressed by School of Education Edwin Delattre's narrow vision Bostonia Winter ''99, Number 4 that the most important job of every school is the teaching of reading books not computer screensand the second most important job is teaching speaking and writing, particularly writing by hand including penmanshipnot typing on a computer.
I, myself, would have thought that the most important job of every school, at least with regard to cognition of the sort Dean Delattre discussed, is the teaching or fostering of 1 understanding, 2 evaluating, and 3 communicating ideas -- no matter how they are transmitted, including A paper on bad neighbors as well as oral or written forms, and no matter how lengthy or brief they may be.
Being able to read books well is only one form of receiving ideas or information. But the mere unevaluated absorption of written material is insufficient. And it does not guarantee one can evaluate or work effectively with those ideas any more than any other form of communication by itself fosters reasonable reflection or nurtures wisdom.
Dean Delattre's article was in print and was not particularly long, yet it was logically flawed. With his emphasis on the handwritten word versus the typed word, he might have followed the logic of his own analysis to call for schools to teach the reading of handwritten manuscripts rather than printed books -- with "digital communication" being relegated to what can be accomplished wrapping one's digits around a pen.
Had Lincoln written the Gettysburg address with a laptop, had one been available to him, would it have been any less significant. Or is it the dean's contention that no significant work can be composed on a computer.
That would be a difficult contention to justify, I would think. And I do not understand the logic that books somehow transmit a genuine reality that is superior to the supposed virtual reality of computers. That sort of claim reminds me of my mother's repeated concern while I was growing up that I was, or would become, anti-social because I often preferred the company of good books to dull people.
I had thought good books were social in that they provided me with the companionship of some of the finest people, whether near or quite distant in either time or space. And I think that communicating with people around the globe via e-mail and web pages is a part of reality.
Finding and enjoying kindred spirits is at least as important as associating with physical neighbors with whom you may have little in common. And unless one is talking about activities that require contact or at least proximity, such as basketball or ballroom dancing, I don't see any reason to accept a hierarchy of "reality" that places propinquity at the top and slides down through the printed word, the telephone, then tv or film, to the computer screen at bottom.
Because he observed three students play with fonts on a computer for nine minutes without writing a word, and thus concluded computers waste students' instructional time, I guess Dean Delattre has never seen students stare at a blank sheet of paper for any length of time while fidgeting with a pencil.
Nor has he apparently seen students doodle on paper with a pen instead of writing an essay. Had he made such a observations, his same logic would have dictated a call for the abolition of paper and pen in schools as well. At the very least, the computer is simply a tool for producing and transmitting communications.
The computer is not responsible for the quality of what is transmitted or what is viewed on it, any more than paper is. Or that some students might listen to the most hideous music does not mean that we should ban all CD's, including those that contain the voices of Caruso, Callas, Kennedy, and King.
I would have thought the dean of an illustrious school of education would have distinguished between the medium and its use or content. That Martha Stewart's magazine and the New England Journal of Medicine are both printed on paper, does not put their content on a par with each other.
Contrary to Marshall McLuhan's contention, the medium is not the message. Moreover, the computer is potentially a pedagogically far more powerful tool than paper ever was. For if its use is wisely taught, the computer can both better stimulate and educate students about ideas and communication than books or speech alone ever could.
Electronic search mechanisms can help you find passages instantly you would be hard-pressed to find in a book unless you remembered precisely where to look or unless your notes were miraculously complete, and multiple windows allow you to keep multiple passages in front of you simultaneously.
The Bible and the works of Shakespeare are no less valuable on computer than on print pages, and may be even more valuable on the former because you can instantly find all the passages in either that deal with any topic if you wish.
Further, a hundred ten-page e-mail works can be transmitted among thousands of people living around the globe in the same time it would take five or six surface mail letters to be exchanged between two people living across a state from each other.
The immediacy of that kind of exchange of ideas can produce intellectual energy, excitement, insights, arguments, collaborations, and results that academic journals cannot even begin to approach with their limited space and formal, sometimes flawed, review processes.
The works of poets, novelists, scientists, and philosophers is increasingly available online any time of day or night anywhere in the world. There are web pages that explain calculus and physics, theology, and even educational theories and practices.
Good teachers and mentors for almost every subject can already be found online if one needs help understanding material. Mathematicians in Israel help explain mathematical concepts to students who use a free "math-help" forum I operate from Birmingham, Alabama.
Sitting in my home in Birmingham I helped one student in Pakistan develop an essay he was having trouble organizing - virtually only by asking him pointed questions about the ideas he presented to me in a series of exchanges. And it was not the grade but the development of his understanding -- which is what allowed him to get that grade - that was important.
He would have never found me without the computer, and our correspondence would have been completed months after his assignment was due if we had mailed each other hand-written letters, and if he would have had any interest in such an endeavor.
There have been similar adventures with farmers in Nebraska, a policeman in Korea, a soldier in North Carolina, and with students in Arizona, Australia, Iceland, the Ukraine, and Singapore.Free haunted paper toys for you to print out and enjoy. In appearance it is very powerful, but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of — it is a paper tiger.
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