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Silicon Snake Oil

Posted on November 18 2010 3:00 pm
Devoted to his lovely wife 30 years, father of two who grew up exceeding his wildest expectations, B.A. Psychology, M. Ed. Counseling, former busboy, journeyman, Church's Chicken cook, purified ice and water salesman, Coca-Cola serviceman, certified public school educator, CCNA, CCNP, Senior Network Admin for a large school district in south Texas
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Like many Americans, I am a sucker for technology in education. I even won the Texas State Technology Teacher of the Year Award in 1995 for my efforts integrating technology into the classroom.

But technology is no substitute for good teaching.  There is no magical computer-to-student ratio that will guarantee student success.  Throwing money at schools to purchase more and more computers and other associated techno-gadgetry will not necessarily produce successful students.  But it is easier to throw money at a problem rather than grapple with its underlying causes.  Institutional change is painful, and if there is anything that aging baby boomers want to avoid it is PAIN in any shape, manner, or form.  And baby boomers are in charge now, at least for the next decade or so.

We already know that the best classrooms are low-tech.  We already know what the best classrooms in the world look like:

Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones—circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard.

Technology, like most anything, can be used well just as much as it can be used poorly. Technology is no panacea and does not guarantee student success. For hundreds of years, people have emerged from technology-free schools and have achieved great things. Students are not getting a better education today just because there are laptops, iPads, and electronic white boards  in classrooms.

We know this to be true; namely, that hundreds of millions of dollars are dumped into a seemingly bottomless pit of waste, fraud, and abuse every single year to put more computers in classrooms and connect more schools to the Internet, with scant evidence proving a statistically significant causal relationship between technology in schools and student achievement.  So why do we do it?

Because it is easy.

It is easier to throw money at the problem rather than admit to ourselves that our failed educational system is symptomatic of a systemic failure, a cancer spawned of leftist ideology that took hold in American colleges and universities in the 1960’s and slowly but surely spread throughout our entire society and culture.

There really is a sucker born every minute.  That is why people buy snake oil.  And it is the same reason why taxpayers shell out billions to buy the silicon equivalent of snake oil, year after year.

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