The Weekly Sam: Technology vs. the Basics by Samuel L. Blumenfeld

First, let me say that I am all for the advance of computer technology. I used my
Macintosh word processor to write this speech and I rarely use a typewriter anymore.
So I think we can all agree that computer technology is enhancing our lives, especially
when you consider the possibilities of the Internet.

The big problem, however, is that when you bring the computer into the classroom, you
tend to shove aside or downgrade the need to master the basic technology of reading,
writing, and arithmetic. The computer becomes an edu-fad and neither teachers, nor
administrators, nor students know quite what to do with it.
Apparently, the most important person in the classroom, computers or not, is the
teacher. In a report by the Benton Foundation we read that the substantial investment
in classroom computers “will be largely wasted if K-12 teachers are not provided with
the preparation and support they will need to effectively integrate information
technologies into their teaching.”

And so, the big problem is how to integrate the computer with classroom education.
Homeschoolers find that they can easily integrate the computer with their family
learning program because they generally use the computer after they teach the basics.
In other words, first make sure the child can read, write, and do arithmetic, then use the
computer as a window to the world of information. But information is not education,
and books still remain the chief depository of human existence, the chief means of”
learning anything in depth. •

When it comes to schools, the question is: should the computer be used to teach the
child, or should the child merely learn how to use a computer? When I was in junior
high school I was taught touch typing so that I could learn how to use a typewriter. The
typewriter didn’t teach anybody anything. The computer, on the other hand, has the
ability to teach. All it requires is the right software.

If we review the edu-fads of yesterday, we recall that educators once believed that
motion pictures would be the great tool for teaching. But sitting in the dark put too
many children asleep, and much of that expensive equipment wound up in closets.
The above cited report further states:
“Even the staunchest advocates of computer networking in education concede that in
most places technical problems, inadequate training, and insufficient time for teachers
to figure out ways to integrate technology with the curriculum have combined to thwart
the dreams of reformers for a technology-driven overhaul of the education system.”
Undaunted by these problems, vice president Gore has called for a computer at every
desk, which is music to the ears of computer company CEOs like Louis Gerstner of IBM
who is leading Big Business to promote School-to-Work reform. Joseph Bauers in an
article entitled “Information Superhighway May Be Road to Nowhere,” writes:
“The underlying fallacy is that information equals education …. The computer … is
not an information filter but a pump, relentlessly spewing forth an overwhelming
barrage of data. To students who are too easily distracted, the computer is the perfect
distraction machine …. Computer producers have been smart, operating as would
any competent drug dealer: They gave away the first machines to the schools. Now
hooked, school districts find themselves on a path of endless upgrading. The initial
capital outlay, which is astounding, sets school districts on a course of spending that
ultimately must take dollars away from other things …. Some schools are eliminating
entire programs like art, music and industrial education so they can spend more on
computers. And in doing so, they are paying homage to a machine that has proved
nothing as an instructional tool.”

Apple Computer was one of the first companies to give schools free computers in the
hope, of course, of finding a great market for their products. But even Steve Jobs, the
founder of Apple, has had second thoughts about the use of these computers. He
states in an interview in Wired Magazine (Feb. 1996):

“I used to think that technology could help education. I’ve probably spearheaded
giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet.
But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that
technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with
technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.
“It’s a political problem. The problems are socio-political. The problems are the
unions. You plot the growth of the NEA and the dropping of SAT scores, and they’re
inversely proportional. The problem is bureaucracy….
“There are solutions to our problems in education. Unfortunately, technology isn’t it. ..
. We can put a Web site in every school — none of this is bad. It’s bad only if it lulls us
into thinking we’re doing something to solve the problem with education …. Historical
precedent shows that we can turn out amazing human beings without technology.”

Apparently Mr. Jobs has acquired some wisdom about education which his colleagues
in the computer field would just as well keep to themselves. After all, Lou Gerstner is
anxious to sell as many computers to schools as possible. In 1996, the nation’s K-12
schools spent an unprecedented $4.34 billion on computers, an amount that is
expected to double by the year 2000. There’s gold in them thar hills!
Are kids performing better in school with computers? We get conflicting reports.
Debra Saunders writes in a column in the Milwaukee Journal (6-30-97):
“Computers won’t help kids who can’t read . . . . Some teachers see computers as
mind-numbing toys with negative effects on young minds akin to those produced by
watching too much television .. . . The Los Angeles Times recently reported how one
local elementary school spent $500,000 and six years in state grant money on
computers, [but the school’s test scores showed no improvement].”

We get a rosier view of the new technology from a series of articles in the Wall Street
Journal (Nov. 17, 97). One article relates how high school students doing research are
now going directly to the Internet instead of the library. But there are all sorts of
problems kids can get into on the Internet. There’s the pornography and pedophiles,
and now even gangs have sites. One student observed that the Net is worse than the
library because anyone can put stuff on the Net.

Another article glorifies the success of a computer program at Christopher Columbus
middle school in Union City, New Jersey, a city with a large Latino immigrant
population. The program is called Project Explore and is supported by Bell Atlantic. It
features Internet-connected computers and interactive television and is being hailed
as a standard for the successful integration of high technology and education. The
article states: “Fred Carrigg, the district’s director of academic programs, felt that a whole-language
curriculum would be the most appropriate for the district’s immigrant profile, since it
has been shown to work well in English-as-a-second-language classes. Whole
language learning emphasizes research, replaces textbooks with the actual novels
and essays they’re culled from, and breaks down rigid roles for students and teachers
in favor of cooperative student groups. In this arrangement, the teacher is like a coach
or a guide for students’ own exploration . … Even the classroom itself is different, with
group tables replaCing desks.
“Although the district didn’t know it, the last piece of the whole-language puzzle was
Project Explore …. ‘The reason I’m sold on [technology] is because of this whole language approach … which says you need tremendous access to information,’ says
Mr. Carrigg . . . .
“Starting this year, each student in one seventh-grade class at Columbus is being lent
a laptop computer, which they can bring home to use for aSSignments. In order to
participate in the project, students, parents and teachers all had to attend training over
the summer, and parents had to insure the eqUipment. Students will be graded in
large part on the basis on their ‘electronic portfolios’–the year’s classwork and
homework stored on the laptop.
“The home-school connection is being strengthened in other ways as well. .. . Wiring
students’ and teachers’ homes during Project Explore allowed communication to flow
freely between parents, students and teachers. Parents have to have access. [The]
approach is not just schools–it’s the community.”

Incidentally, you may have noticed that the establishment now talks about all entities
as communities. There’s the international community, the gay community, the regional
community, the academic community. The word community adds an aura of
respectability and social legitimacy to the group. Rarely does the establishment use
such terms as families, counties, towns, individuals. They do not refer to the gun
owning community, or the Christian community, or the homeschooling community. To
them we are gun owners, Christians, and homeschoolers. After all, you can throw
Christians to the lions but you can’t throw the Christian community to the lions. The
establishment has it’s subtle way of identifying friends from enemies.

Another article in this special Wall Street Journal edition is entitled “Dewey Wins!” We
read : “Dewey’s demanding program was based on the theory that schools were at
war against the nature of children, rather than enlisting the child’s innate qualities in
the task of learning. Instead of attempting to hammer facts into students, often with
threats of punishment, Dewey wanted schools to present the curriculum as a series of
problems, the solutions to which called upon children to employ the methods of the
scientist, the historian and the artist.

And while the push to integrate technology into U.S. classrooms is still in its infant
stages .. . many experts involved in the effort believe it could open the way for the
reintroduction of progressive teaching methods .. . . Progressive education ideas that
didn’t work particularly well prior to the technology may prove very effective in an
educational environment well-equipped with good technological resources.”
Software producers, of course, are anxious to offer the educators what they want.
According to the WSJ , “Some educators complain that most software companies
produce what is out of step with current teaching methods. They mainly offer ‘drill-and kill’ programs that emphasize rote learning, while consumer companies hawk
edutainment titles of marginal scholastic values.

Educators are moving away from rote teaching methods, and they want software to
reflect the shift. In general, teachers are looking for products that reflect contemporary
thinking about the importance of student-initiated learning, exploration and problem
solving. ”
So what we have are computer companies that want to sell a lot of computers to the
schools and an education establishment that wants to use computers to advance their
own socio-political agendas. But the computer can also be used to advance the cause
of freedom , the cause of educational “freedom . In fact, it is giving the homeschool
family unlimited access to the world.

After having studied public education for the last twenty-five years I’ve come to the
conclusion that the prime purpose of a government education system is social control.
That’s what Horace Mann admired about the Prussian education system back in the
1840s: the compulsory attendance laws, the truant officers, the state teachers colleges.
All of this was foisted on the American people by a public school movement with great
political acumen. They got state legislatures to vote for Prussian-styled centralized,
bureaucratized education systems.

What we have learned about government education systems is that they work best in
totalitarian countries. The government schools of Germany worked beautifully for
Hitler. In communist Russia, East Europe, China, and Cuba the public schools have
served as the main vehicle for indoctrinating the children in communist ideals. But it
hasn’t worked too well in America, because government education is incompatible
with the aspirations of a free society.

But there was a time from about 1900 to about 1950 when the public schools were
able to educate children fairly well. That was when they taught the basics and were
not in conflict with parental values. But as government power ~teacher power have
grown, the education system has become the chief instrument~f changing America
into the totalitarians’ version of utopia. They want the pleasure that Castro enjoys in
owning a whole nation and making everyone a victim of his whims.
You can be sure that they will use the computers to enhance their power. The latest
indication of that is the development of their computerized system of tracking students.
Most of you are acquainted with the Student Data Handbook which describes the
scope of information that will be gathered about each student who enters the system.
Well , believe it or not, all of that data can now be put on a lasercard the size of a credit
card. Listen to this from a press release from Portland, Oregon:
“Marshall High School is testing a new system of tracking student records and
academic progress. Rather than storing and keeping track of paper portfolios,
Electronic Portfolios will enable students to save their best work in a computerized
format. Marshall High School will utilize laser card technology to encode information
onto a lasercard .. . [which] is a WORM device (write once, read many times) that
can store just under three megabytes of information (which roughly translates to about
1250 pages of text) . . . .

The master data for each student will be stored on removable optical disks. Each
removable disk can store 1.2 gigabytes of information (or roughly, 600,000 pages).
Information can be put on the card in several different ways : with a video camera,
digitizing cameras, such as a Xapshot camera, scanners, and downloading
information from a computer.

Various types of data will be tracked with laser cards: Student Records, progress on
assessments for Certificates of Mastery, Sub-Endorsements, and Portfolio of evidence .
. . . Student records will keep track of schooling history (transcript information,
attendance, entry/withdrawal), health records, extracurricular activities, community
services… . In one glance, one can easily see which assessments were passed,
which ones the student is still working on, and which ones they still need to do ….
Lasercard technology is certainly a revolutionary way of keeping track of student
records and samples of their best work …. All the information is organized in one
central place and always readily available as the need arises.”

That certainly is as plain a picture of the brave new world as we shall ever get from the
totalitarians in our society. And rest assured they are all nice people. Their only
problem is that they want to enslave us and we don’t want to be enslaved. So what do
we do?  Last year, Marshall Fritz, president of the Separation of School and State Alliance,
argued that the government education system is beyond repair or reform by those of
us who have been meeting, eating and retreating for the last twenty years. The only
way to throw a huge monkey wrench into the plans of the totalitarians is to get the
government out of education. I’ve been preaching this from the 1980s when I wrote
my book, Is Public Education Necessary?

Unless we organize to restore educational
freedom to this constitutional republic, we won’t have this republic for very long.
The plans for world governance are very well advanced, and the planners have
billions of dollars with which to carry them out–most of it is our taxpayer money. They
also have the military capability of establishing total control and we should not be so
naive as to believe that they will not use that power once they decide that that is the
only way to finally eliminate opposition to their hegemony. Hillary Rodham Clinton will
probably be first to give the order to crack down on the right-wing conspiracy.
Meanwhile, we still have the freedom to meet here and protest, we still have state
legislators who must be elected by the people, and we have a growing, vibrant
homeschool movement proving that educational freedom works wonders for parents
and children. Vouchers and charter schools will keep the government in education by
making more parents dependent on government money. Working for them is merely
rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I know that it is hard for many people to give up the notion that public education can be
saved. But if you read my book, Is Public Education Necessary?, you will see that the
original premise of a government education system was flawed and has inevitably led
to the very problems we are dealing with today. I hope, therefore, that all of you will join the movement to get the government out of education. It’s the only way that we can serve notice on the totalitarians that we refuse
to become their slaves and that we intend to restore this constitutional republic to what
it was meant to be : a limited government for a free people.

( This article from the late 1990s is archived in the Sam Blumenfeld Archives: