Dept. of Computer Science
Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
University of São Paulo, Brazil
Springfield, OH 45503
A version of this paper was published as the
chapter "Challenging the Applications: An Alternative
View on Why, When and How Computers Should Be Used in Education," in
Muffoletto, R. (Ed.), Education and Technology: Critical and Reflective
Practices,. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, 2001, pp. 141-172.
This work was supported by the State of São Paulo Research Foundation grant 93/0603-1.
Since the 1970s, computers have been inserted into schools with much fanfare and great expense. Almost all of the attention to computers has revolved around the question of how to put them to use as tools for education (with the superficial response being: every way possible). Subsequent assessments have focused primarily on two areas: (a) Their effectiveness as an aid to learning and (b) how well students are prepared for their use beyond school. Through all of this, almost no attention has been paid to the more fundamental issue of the effects that the very use of computers has on young people. A determination of the proper role of computers in education must begin with an understanding of the computer's effects on the user. In the discussion here, that more basic concern will serve as the point of departure, eventually broadening to a critique of current uses and recommendations for governing the use of computers in general K-12 education. We hope that the nonstandard arguments presented here will inspire further contemplation and study among education researchers, teachers, and parents, as well as schools. Several of these viewpoints have already been expressed by Setzer (1989, progressively extended in 1992, 1993) and examined in the specific context of telecomputing by Monke (Burniske & Monke, 2000). We use here a different approach, extending and adding to the arguments of those earlier works and making a concrete proposal for formally introducing computers to students in high school.
Why Should Computers Be Involved in Education?
We are a society of technology users. Therefore, one reasonable goal of education would seem to be to develop a basic knowledge of the structure and operating principles behind the most common tools. But as the technology has grown more complex interest in conveying this knowledge to all students before graduation from high school has diminished, even as use of high technology has expanded. This attitude causes a number of problems concerning the nature of the relationship between humans and machines.
All technologies are ecological (Postman, 1993). That is, their introduction sends ripples of change throughout the entire social system. Many of these changes are indirect. Usually, there are undesirable, eventually difficult to detect side-effects (Bowers, 1988). For example, the automobile added mobility to society, which was widely perceived as beneficial. It took some time before the problem of air pollution was recognized as a direct side-effect of this increased mobility. But it took even longer to see that the automobile also contributed greatly to the destruction of the inner city by fostering suburban sprawl and expressways that allowed wealthier workers to turn their backs on inner-city residential concerns (Winner, 1993). Similar collateral effects accompany every new technology that is adopted by society.
This problem can be ameliorated by knowledge of the character of technologies and recognition of the need to look beyond their direct benefits. This study can only be successful if the basic operation of those technologies is understood. Ignorance of these operating principles leads to what can be called a sort of "mental paralysis." The normal response of a human being, when confronted with something that is not understood, is to investigate the object until the person can associate the sensory perception to a concept that relates the observer's ideas with the observed world. For example, seeing a swaying tree, a person will look for the cause of such a phenomenon; having found that there is some wind, the curiosity is satisfied. If there is no wind, then something strange must be occurring, and the person investigates further. However, machines are becoming more and more complex and inscrutable. Facing an apparent impossibility of understanding how they work the human response has been not greater curiosity but apathy. This apathy is widespread (so widespread that it now seems normal in society): What is the percentage of car drivers and users who know - or care to know - the principles of combustion engines? Or airplane passengers who know the principles of the wing design that causes "lift"? This apathy is increasing, in part, because the moving parts, levers, and gears of earlier machines whose operation could be understood have given way to electronic machines, which hide their organization in solid-state wafers. Integrated circuits are impossible to internally examine, even by someone familiar with electronics. This broad scale opacity of our common tools presents the human community with a serious challenge. It seems to us that to accept the renunciation of the natural drive to understand how things work means accepting the diminishment of an essential human characteristic. In this sense, it causes people to become less humane. It may, therefore, have negative influences on any areas that require curiosity and investigation, not only in relation to machines but in personal and social relations.
Obviously, it is not necessary for schools to teach how to use a TV set or an elevator, or other machines whose use have become commonplace. What is important is to help students understand their working principles, so that they stop being a mystery and may be critically employed and their collateral effects better understood.
In the case of computers, one has to consider that they have penetrated into every human activity because they replace or simulate a certain part of oneís thinking. One does not find a car or a washing machine inside an office, a bedroom, or a factory. But one may very well find computers in those places - and nearly everywhere else. Due to this ubiquity, it is necessary to teach what they are, how they may be used in general applications, how they may be well or badly employed and what beneficial and undesirable effects they can have on the individual and society. Some of the latter influences, such as the impoverishment of information due to the necessary quantification of all data, can only be understood if one has some knowledge of the computer's internal structure, from the hardware and the logical points of view. These are the reasons why this is a subject that is best addressed in the schools, so that all young people can obtain a fundamental knowledge of how the computer operates both for us and on us.
Unfortunately, this is the one approach to computers that is being ignored by schools. Today, the emphasis is on using computers wherever and whenever software products can be employed "effectively." Often, even effectiveness is not the primary determinant. Just the use of the computer itself is deemed justification enough for putting children at the keyboard. We believe that in employing the computer without carefully examining the effects of its use according to the developmental needs of various age groups we are blindly leading our children down a dangerous path. This is the issue to which we now turn our attention.
When Is the Appropriate Age to Begin Using the Computer?
To answer this question, it is essential to understand certain characteristics of computers, and to understand how children and teenagers develop with age. Every person can imagine an appropriate age for beginning to learn how to drive cars. Knowing these machines, and also the general characteristics of children, certainly nobody would say that they should learn it at age 7 or even 10. One expects from a driver a certain degree of responsibility, maturity and motor coordination to drive in traffic. In the case of computers, age is not an obvious factor, because their operation does not produce physical disasters and requires very limited physical coordination, and only when entering data. We will see, nevertheless, that there exists an approximate ideal age not only to learn about how they work, but an ideal age at which to begin using them.
The Characteristics of the Computer
Computers are very special types of machines, completely different from others. Whereas others do physical work, computers do not: They process data, which consist of specific kinds of thoughts introduced into them. One should not confuse data with information. Information has meaning, "semantics." Data are just symbols. For instance, the number 2000 is a sequence of 4 symbols, which has no meaning in itself - it is just data. It may, however, be associated by the computer user to a salary, and thus acquire a significance - completely "unknown" to the machine. At most, inside the computer one may associate the number 2000 to the string of letters "salary" through physical contiguity or through "pointers." Through this structural (which may also be called syntactic) association one may couple these two pieces of data, but what both "mean," that is, their relation to the real world, cannot be inserted into the machine. So, computers work with an extremely restricted class of our thoughts, thoughts that do not have the same meaning to the machine that they represent to us (indeed, to the machine they have no meaning at all).
Computer programs are also thoughts that the programmer inserts into the machines, which process the thoughts that are represented by data. In contrast, a power lathe acts directly on the physical world, transforming some matter. A telescope transforms the light that traverses it. A hydroelectric plant transforms water's potential energy into electric power. A car is used to transport matter (people). A battery stores electric energy. Thus, one may say that other machines transform, transport, and store matter or energy, that is, physical elements. Computers, on the other hand, transform, transport, and store data, which are not physically consistent because they represent some special types of our thoughts. (It is not possible to grab human thoughts, measure them, observe them with our eyes or instruments.) Incidentally, it was the divorce from physical reality inherent to their intrinsic function that permitted computers to become smaller and smaller. Other machines have to be designed in such a way that they are adapted to the physical constraints forced by their operation on matter or energy. For instance, cars cannot be made too small or no one would be able to ride in them, and they cannot be made too big because they would require enormous streets and would consume too much fuel. In contrast, as computers work with symbolic representations of certain kinds of thoughts, one can find very small devices (presently, integrated electronic circuits) with which it is possible to realize those representations.
This symbolic manipulation of data characterizes computers as "abstract machines," as "mathematical machines." In fact, it is possible to describe with the formalism of mathematics all data processing done by a computer. It is also possible to do any data processing mentally or by using pencil and paper, as long as the computer is not controlling other machines. Programming a computer corresponds to elaborating purely mathematical thoughts. It is a process analogous to theorem proving. Although it is not so obvious, this is also the case when one uses any software, as for example a word processor. To align a text vertically, one has to give the machine a command, punching some keys at the keyboard or selecting an icon with the "mouse." This activity is also formal, always causing the same reaction by the machine. To execute some task through such a series of commands, one has to exercise exactly the same type of reasoning used in algebraic mathematics. To solve an algebraic equation, for example, one must work formally, logically, step-by-step, through a set of operations predefined by the algebraic system. Exactly the same situation occurs when undertaking a complex formatting activity with a word processor, relating cells in a spreadsheet, creating reports in a database, drawing with a graphics program or issuing commands to an Internet browser. One should keep in mind that in each case, including the mathematical one, the system restricts the options available for use to those relatively few defined operations that make up the system. It is not possible to achieve legitimate results by stepping outside that system. Thus, the mathematician, the computer programmer, and the computer user all find themselves constrained to a logical, formal, and extremely narrowed thinking environment. The only substantive things that set the computer user and the programmer apart from the mathematician are the type of symbolic language utilized in each case and the former's ability to get immediate feedback as the machine responds to each command (making visible the consequences of the programmer's pure thoughts). It is this combination of constant feedback, reduced options, and deterministic character of the computer that makes programming and the use of general software feel so exciting, as the user senses the power that comes from the possibility of exerting extensive control over a powerful machine. Evidence of this is the often observed reaction to an unexpected result - a tendency to feel drawn to try and try again until the proper result is obtained, and the machine has been "dominated."
The shrunken thinking environment of the computer, whether exhibited through programming or the menu (or even iconic) commands used in word processors, spreadsheets, and so on, are examples of what one calls formal language - a language with a strict syntax, which may be fully described in mathematical terms. Besides being formal and impoverished such languages have another very important difference from natural languages (such as Portuguese and English): They are unambiguous. This means that each instruction or command interpreted by the computer produces the execution of exactly one specific function related to the data. Let us emphasize: This function may be mathematically - that is, exactly - described. On the other hand, the meaning implied by a phrase in some natural language may be ambiguous and cannot be mathematically described, particularly when it refers to the real world. For instance, how should one interpret the following phrase: "The vase fell on the table and it broke." (What broke? The vase or the table?) The computer cannot deal with such types of ambiguities - each command (letting the vase fall) has to have exactly one "meaning," that is, a function it performs on specific data and the unique result it produces. The computer is a strict "syntax machine"; every program and piece of data has to be described internally in a purely structural way, using some representation through formal, mathematical symbols having one single, mathematical interpretation. Otherwise, one could get different results every time one processes some program using the same input data; the computer would lose exactly the essential deterministic characteristic that makes it valuable to us. There is no possibility of representing our "semantics" (what does "breaking" mean? cutting into pieces? how many?), and even less our "pragmatics" (if one knew that it was a sturdy wooden table, probably the vase broke).
Moreover, the type of thinking necessary to program a computer or to use any software through written or iconic commands is of the same nature as the one used when doing symbolic logic. In fact, programming and command languages are formally described using constructs derived from symbolic logic, which also implicitly forms the basis of popular database query languages such as SQL. Symbolic logic (propositional and predicate calculi) is traditionally taught at the college level due to the intellectual maturity it requires to truly understand the highly abstract concepts behind it. Its absolute demand that the student reduce decision making to making choices - in fact, logical choices - by stringing together exact and unambiguous expressions requires that the student operate in a cognitive straightjacket. That software applications and programming make that straightjacket more comfortable by varying degrees does not mean that we can ignore their constricting effects on a young person's thinking.
In summary, one may say that computers are mathematical machines, requiring mathematical reasoning and mathematical language (albeit not expressed in the usual formulas) to be programmed and used. The type of reasoning is similar to that required for mathematical theorem-proving and symbolic logic.
The Development of Children and Teenagers
The following question naturally comes to mind at this point: When should children or teenagers begin to exercise this type of thinking and language? Given that the activity of a computer programmer or of any software user is analogous to theorem-proving in mathematics, it follows that the appropriate age to start using computers is the same one we consider appropriate for young people to start doing formal, algebraic theorem-proving.
To study this ideal age, we primarily have relied on the concepts of the development of children and teenagers introduced by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner in 1919, when he created what became known as "Waldorf Education." One of the reasons we have chosen to use Steiner as a guide is that the school for which he developed his program and elaborated his developmental ideas was for the children of factory workers (the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart). His approach consciously addressed the needs of children growing up in an increasingly technological environment. Today there are more than 700 Waldorf Schools around the world. In the United States, the most technological of nations, the number of Waldorf Schools has increased dramatically in the last 30 years - from seven in 1970 to more than 100 today, not including Waldorf kindergartens. A good introduction to Waldorf Education may be found in (Spock, 1978).
According to Steiner the development of each human being may be divided into periods of approximately 7 years. (Steiner spoke about these periods in numerous published lectures; we have put in our reference list just one lecture cycle (1964); see also (Spock, 1978; Stebbing, 1962)). These divisions were already known in ancient Greece; Steiner deepened this knowledge and gave conceptual explanations and characterizations for the various periods. Maturation stages have been characterized by many modern authors, such as Jean Piaget and Eric Erikson. But where Piaget concentrated on cognitive development and Erikson on psychological stages, Steiner covered every aspect of life, providing a more holistic explanation of how the human life unfolds. Steiner advanced, in accordance with the Greeks, that various stages continued to emerge throughout adulthood, but we will cover briefly just the first three, which interest us from the educational point of view.
According to Steiner, and as applied in Waldorf Education, in the first 7-year period the child is individualizing the will and forming a physical base. Education should be based exclusively on contact with the physical environment, imitation, imagined fantasy (e.g., through fairy tales), and rhythm. The child expects to find a good, loving world. Any teaching through intellectual abstractions, as in reading (modern occidental letters and their composition into syllables constitute mere abstractions) goes against the child's natural characteristics, disturbing his or her development and producing harm that may eventually manifest itself much later, in psychological or even physiological forms (naturally, we are speaking in general terms here; there will always be individual variations). In the schooling sense, one should have at most a "kindergarten," an expression that reveals a deep intuitive understanding by our forefathers: the child should be handled as a delicate little flower. The place should be like a beautiful garden, conducive to "playing" and "learning through doing," involving motor coordination, socialization, observation of the environment without conceptual explanations, in an atmosphere full of love, nature, and natural objects. The teacher should be a "mother-teacher."
In the second 7-year period, whose beginning manifests itself physically through the change of teeth, the child enters school age. There existed an ancient tradition, now almost lost, that children would begin formal schooling only when they were about 6 1/2 or 7, and it was at this age that they began to learn how to read. During this period, the child, who now controls the will to a great degree, begins to concentrate development on individualizing the feelings. The child-teenager of this period expects to find a beautiful world; the teacher should be a generalist with a good education in the arts. Education should be based on these concepts, being expressed through artistic aesthetics in any subject. Science learning should take place through observation and description of phenomena, not through abstract explanations. Even mathematics should be presented as something beautiful, giving incentive to imagination with aesthetic feelings. Nothing should be rigid; for example, in Waldorf Education students elaborate their own notebooks, artistically decorated, instead of using textbooks, which do not express the student's individuality and fix a certain sequence and terminology. It is instructive here to recall the disastrous experience with "new math." Morris Kline (1973) detailed how excessive abstraction in a research field led to disaster in the classroom. We consider this excessive abstraction in new math typical of the tendency to make education too intellectual and divorced from reality, contrary to what children and young teenagers need.
In the third 7-year period, whose beginning is marked physically by puberty, the time of high school and university, a young person strongly individualizes his or her thoughts, and starts looking for a true world. At this time, teaching has to begin to be directed to "pure" abstractions, models of reality or of concepts, eventually leading to work that is purely hypothetical in nature. The student looks to understand conceptually what is observed or studied. If during the second 7-year period one is to present phenomena and teach students how to describe them, in the third period one should begin to explain them through concepts. In this period, students should begin to prove theorems in mathematics, transforming it into pure symbolic manipulation, eventually without immediate application (e.g., proving trigonometric identities). Until the last century, mathematics was always motivated by applications (Kline, 1973) - it took humanity an enormous time span to reach the abstraction capacity necessary to become interested in "pure" mathematics. It should also take a long time for young people to reach the necessary mental maturity to deal with the formalism and type of thinking involved in "pure" mathematics. It is interesting to note that in some countries, such as Brazil, 21 (the end of this 7-year period) is the age for a young person to become legally responsible. It is a recognition - due to an old intuitive wisdom - that only at this age are all human capacities fully available, and the individual is able to control and be totally responsible for his or her actions.
Combining Steiner's developmental ideas, Waldorf educational practice, and the fact that computers are mathematical machines, forcing a purely abstract and mathematical type of thinking as well as a symbolic formal language, we may conclude that they should not be used by children in any form before approximately age 15, or high school. We recognize that this is a controversial position to take. In the next section, we attempt to justify our assertion further by examining some of the more specific common uses of computers in education.
How Computers Are Used in Education
The various uses of computers in education may be classified into four broad categories. The first one makes use of computer programming as a developmental or "authoring" tool. Applications like Hyperstudio are among the most popular and versatile of these programs. The most articulate advocate in this area is certainly Seymour Papert (1980), developer of the LOGO language system. He used the programming language LOGO to develop a mathematical reasoning in children or students (according to him, children should begin using computers when they are 4 years old). LOGO is an interesting programming language, with very simple but powerful graphics commands. It draws students into a thinking environment Papert called "mathland." The use of this term suggests that Papert agrees with us that LOGO, as any programming language, requires the kind of highly structured, formal, and reductionist form of thinking we expounded on earlier. He also clearly agrees with us that highly abstract thinking is not appropriate for young people, stating that, "a prevailing tendency to overvalue abstract reasoning is a major obstacle to progress in education" (Papert, 1993, p. 137). Unfortunately, he does not seem to recognize that this is precisely the type of thinking operating a computer requires. He bases his embrace of computerized elementary education on the astounding assertion that computers reinforce concrete thinking. Chapters criticizing his ideas may be found in (Roszak, 1986; Setzer, 1989, 1992, 1993; Talbott, 1995).
Another form of using computers in education is "programmed instruction" introduced conceptually by B.F. Skinner in the early 1950s. The computer presents a subject, often using sound and animation (the so-called multimedia of recent times). After this phase (sometimes in the midst of it), questions are posed to the student, and the answers lead to other topics of investigation or the repetition of previous ones that were not properly "learned." One may also classify in this category the "drill-for-skill" types of games (often disparaged as "drill-to-kill"). Obviously, in programmed instruction, the computer forces the same type of thinking as in any other application, because the commands given by the students also constitute a formal language, and the computer reacts always according to a rigid mathematical formula, based on nothing more personal than the studentsí previous responses. What's more, learning is here reduced to memorization and the capacity for solving problems directly related to the covered material; the program cannot take into account the level of maturity, creativity, and intuitive abilities of different users. Moreover, programmed instruction is extremely narrow, leaving no room for improvisation. It boringly repeats itself - a fault recognized by Papert and his followers, who would replace it with the "open" space presented by a programming language such as LOGO.
Another form of computer use in education is simulating experiments. Instead of observing and doing something real, either in a laboratory or in the field, students explore simulations on the computer screen. For example, one program popular in the early Ď90s, and elaborated on in various forms ever since, simulated a natural ecosystem (Oh Deer, MECC). The students could change a number of characteristics of the habitat, the ramifications of which were then played out for them to observe and from which they were to draw conclusions. It remains a fascinating program that would seem to teach children that one alteration in an ecosystem can trigger a whole series of unanticipated changes. But it suffers from the same type of mathematically rigid reasoning that one finds in working with a programming language. C.A. Bowers (1988) pointed out a number of cultural problems created by trying to reduce problem solving to mere data analysis. One aspect of this tendency is that the simulation, which is based on sophisticated mathematical models hidden from the user's view, gives the illusion of conforming to the real world, when in actuality it only conforms to the very limited contingencies anticipated by the programmer. What the child comes to learn is that the ecology of a deer's environment is predictable, possessed of discrete variables that can be manipulated with precision and that constitute a finite, closed system. It fosters a mechanical view of nature just as a political simulation fosters a mechanical, rational view of social relationships, also available to manipulation and control. We believe that this is not the way young children should learn to relate to nature or other human beings. Real habitats possess none of the simple cause and effect characteristics that the simulation is based on. This is a deficiency that adults and older teens who have had a wealth of experience with the real thing can work around. Children, without that experience and ability to maintain an accurate abstract image of a real pond, have no means by which to distinguish reality from impoverished representation. We believe that experiments should be performed in a lab or in the field, and not simulated. One of the biggest problems of education today is that it is too abstract, divorced from reality, which is one of the main reasons that it is not interesting to students. Computer simulations increase this abstraction, because students do not have the opportunity to encounter the real thing. One could object: but not everything may be performed in a laboratory or in the field, as for instance simulating the fall of bodies on the moon. Our answer is that up to the last high school grades, if an experiment cannot be done in the lab, maybe it should not be taught at all, because it will have nothing to do with the student as a whole, but only with the intellect. Examples used as illustrations to theories should be taken from day-to-day life. What might be sacrificed in breadth of knowledge would be more than made up for in relevant depth, without disturbing the child's appropriate way of learning.
Finally, one may use computers as productivity tools, both within content areas and as an area of study for future use. This means teaching general software, such as word processors, electronic spreadsheets, graphic, database, and communication systems. As our example for word processors has shown, here we once again encounter the problem of software requiring, for their operation, the use of commands that constitute a formal language and that force a highly constricted, logical thinking. It should be noted that we are not arguing in this section that information that comes from resources such as the Internet should not be used in the classroom - only that until the last years of high school children should not be the ones using the computers to access it.
The use of the Internet for education deserves special mention here. It is the newest and thus, as is typical in the world of educational computing, it is being promoted by many as the most powerful tool for learning ever invented. What makes it so powerful is that it allows the child or young person to freely search for educational material or useful information, as well as doing communication with all sorts of people in different parts of the planet. According to this view, the Internet provides for a constructivist environment, where the child or young person learns by doing. We have three objections to this form. First, of course, is the same fundamental problem pertaining to every other use of the computer: the Internet has to be used through commands pertaining to a formal language, forcing the user to exercise the same type of logical-symbolic thinking and the use of a formal language inappropriate before high school. Second, the Internet reduces education to consuming and sharing information. Certainly the informative part of education is extremely important, but not as crucial as the formative part. An example will help here. The multiplication table contains very little information. Nevertheless, children take hundreds of class hours to learn it, and this is critical, because they are not merely learning the contents of the table, but taking early and appropriate steps in developing their abstract thinking. In Waldorf Schools, this process takes a very long time, starting with the child participating with her whole body in the process of learning how the numbers flow in certain rhythms. In learning the table for two, for instance, the class may count the numbers and clap the hands or stomp the feet on 2, 4, 6, etc. Many examples from real life are given. For example, the children bring some objects, like acorns, distribute 2 to each child of a group of 5 and then determine how many were distributed. Only later the table is learned by heart, with abstract numbers that do not connect to real events. Details of the method may be found in vivid images shared by Torin Finser in telling his experience as a Waldorf teacher, leading a class from grade 1 through 8 (Finser, 1994). This method respects the need to move very gradually from the concrete to the abstract (Finserís book brings also an extensive literature in English). Learning with computers always involves operating deeply within the realm of abstractions. The Internet, which limits learning almost solely to information collection and processing, drives the learnign process even deeper into abstactions. And it is here that is found the most troubling quality of educational computing: Computers and the Internet have absolutely no context. Good early education has, in the past, always been contextual, at home and at school. This can be seen in the simplest of activities, such as parents looking at a book before getting it for their children. They examine the book asking themselves, "Is this an appropriate book for my child, at her present stage of development? Does it conform to the education I want to give my child?" Good teachers have always taken into account what they taught yesterday, the day and week before, an so on. A good teacher teaches some subject in a different manner to different classes, taking into account the particular children she has under her responsibility. In Waldorf education, where teaching is integrated, every teacher tries to teach to every student in particular, taking into consideration what their colleagues are doing with that class. The Internet permits a child to find all sorts of information that are not proper to her age, level of development, environment, individual temperament and history. In other words, it rips learning out of the context of the childís lived experience. To call this kind of learning "individualized" is to mistake neglect for a deep understanding of a childís personal needs. Moreover, if a child has the ability of choosing what is good and proper for her, she is not behaving as a child anymore. We will return to this point later in this section.
Dangers of early Computer Use
Thus, our opinion is that in any type of use, computers should only be introduced in education (at home or school) when the student is in high school - that is, after puberty. It is at this period that the young person reaches the intellectual maturity so that thinking forced by the machine is not detrimental to development. Stebbing (1962) wrote about the 7th- to 14th-year period: "Artistic activity is in this period as necessary to the inner being as food and drink, air and light to the physical frame. Thought should be warmed by feeling that stimulates the imagination" (p. 31). The kind of thoughts employed by a programmer or user of general software when the latter is issuing control commands are devoid of feelings and leave no space for broad imaginings, in particular those involved with reality, social interaction and true (i.e., partly subconscious) art. In a lecture on teaching arithmetic, Steiner (1964) condemned the various abstract methods of explaining the concepts of numbers and counting, stating:
Although one may thus obtain some superficial results, we cannot reach, with this divorce from reality, the whole person. The use of the abacus in class shows up to what point one lives today in abstractions. I am not speaking about the use of the calculator in offices; nevertheless, in education, because it directs itself exclusively to the brain, it prevents that we establish, between number and child, a connection which corresponds to his essential nature. The important thing is to derive the counting operations from life itself. (p. 25)
What Steiner said about (mechanical) calculators certainly applies to modern computers, which are richer in their displaying and processing capabilities, but nevertheless force intellectualization.
Still, the fact remains that children are fascinated by computers, as they are fascinated by any complex device that responds to their attempts to manipulate it. Being the master of a complex machine, and exploring one's capacity to dominate it, may explain why computers exercise such tremendous fascination. But there is also a danger that this fascination will lead to obsession. Weizenbaum (1976) introduced the notion of the compulsive programmer, which he applied only to hackers, comparing them with compulsive gamblers. Our characterization can be applied to any computer user, and we call it the obsessive user's state: The most commonly observed behavior associated with this state comes about if the user makes a mistake or does not remember what commands should be used. In the obsessive user's state the user does not even think about reading a manual. Instead, a search is carried out for the solution using trial and error until the solution is stumbled over or exhaustion sets in. Hours pass like minutes (these are the folks from whence came the phrase time sink) as the user becomes immersed in the effort to reestablish domination over the machine. Adults may eventually understand this problem and control themselves, but our experience tells us that children and young teenagers cannot. According to our experience, only at around age 16-17 do young people have enough self-control to avoid falling into the obsessive programmerís or userís state.
Even when obsession is not an issue we must be careful not to be misled by the purposefulness demonstrated by children using computers for learning. The fascination they display is generally not with the learning experience, or with the subject matter at hand, but with the operation of the computer itself. While teaching computer based Geometry classes, Monke observed that his students were generally quite successful at discovering geometric properties using a mathematical drawing program, but once they walked away from the computer they often could only recall what they drew, not the mathematical principles they found.
This is a problem with all complex technology. It has the tendency to draw attention away from its intended use, inward, toward itself. In the 1960s, when cars were still accessible to the amateur mechanic, it was not uncommon for a teenage boy to spend more time tinkering with his "hot rod" than driving it. This was often disconcerting for his parents, who found that buying their son a car did not cure the family transportation problems. The fact that their son paid a lot of attention to that car did not mean the car was accomplishing its intended purpose. And even when the car was used to go somewhere, the driver tended to care less about getting to the destination than how the car looked and operated on the way. What was viewed as a tool of transportation by parents was seen by the teen as a means of exhilaration, through speed, and power, through domination of a complex, powerful machine. That this attention to the tool rather than its intended use eventually became the leading cause of accidental deaths among teens in the United States is not so much the point as it is a tragic, and extreme example of how unintended consequences can emerge when the purposes of the provider and user clash.
Although the consequences are certainly not so dire, the problem of mixed purposes also holds true for children using computers in school today. Regardless of the subject matter, the primary learning experience, and the one on which the child's attention is focused, is how to manipulate the computer. The child often doesn't really care much, if at all, about learning the material presented. The main concern is to spend time using the computer. The teacher's goal of getting the student to arrive at a knowledge of, say, history is never internalized as a goal by the student, for whom the destination is secondary to the trip.
This is one of the reasons studies of computer-aided learning have shown such decidedly unspectacular success, given the incredible expenditure of funds, resources and effort put into many of the projects. When the content is secondary to the medium we can be assured that the content will not stay in the mind for long.
Even so, educators look to computers as the one strategy that can at least engage the student in some form of learning. In these instances, the computer is viewed as an artificial sweetener, used to make what has become the bitter medicine of learning palatable to children raised on the empty calories of TV. One may ask, "What is wrong with this, as long as the child learns the subject matter painlessly along the way?" Our response is to ask in turn, "What happens then to the child's interest in learning math, history, etc., when the artificial sweetener is removed?"
We believe that using the computer as an artificial sweetener of learning is pedagogically dishonest; that it introduces a harmful additive to the educational diet; and that in any case it only temporarily covers up the sour taste that too many children have toward learning. Using computers in this manner is hardly the way to instill in children a love for lifelong learning. It may seduce them into a life-long interest in, or even a feeling of dependence on computers (is this different from addiction?). But this is not the kind of general interest in learning that we need to spawn in children if we are to be more than a society of narrowly trained technicians.
There has been one benefit from the fascination shown by children for computers in education. Perhaps the computer's greatest service to education has been to make obvious to everyone what critics have been complaining about for decades: poorly trained, unenthusiastic teachers, using poor methods based on faulty philosophical foundations to teach irrelevant material makes for boring education. The computer has sounded the alarm for all to hear, but that does not mean that in it lies the solution to the problem. It is, in fact, a sad irony that the computer can attract many students' attention better than a teacher can; for the human personality is potentially infinitely richer, and has an individuality and sensitivity which are absent from any apparatus. If otherwise eager children are more attracted to the computer than to teachers it may mean that the teachers do not have an adequate idea of what it means to be a child or a young person, or that they are tied to curricula, methods and an environment that deny those qualities. In any case, it means that their classes are most likely too abstract, directed unilaterally to the students' intellect, and not to their whole being. Students may feel oppressed and find classes boring because they are not able to identify with the contents of what is being taught. Turning to the computer for help because it can process abstractions in swift, attractive ways, shows infinite patience, does exactly what it is told to do, and does not assign bad grades, is simply a matter of finding a more seductive means of teaching the wrong way. The computer serves as a palliative, covering up the symptoms with flashy displays, gamelike attractions, massive amounts of decontextualized information, the exhilaration of controlling a powerful machine and the illusion that the user is learning lots of essential material while pushing us further away from the real solution to boring education, which involves making it once again humane and holistic, full of reality and surrounded by enthusiasm and human love. Instead, it takes us further down the road toward remaking education into a mechanical, solely intellectual activity. As education gets redefined in this much more limited concept of information processing, the teacher and all his or her materials cannot hope to compare favorably with the ultimate multimedia device. Thus, the image of the computer becomes not only the tool of education but its model, and teachers who make their classes too abstract forfeit the opportunity to revive education by reasserting the humane qualities on which it should be based. In this sense, the computer is a reactionary solution to our educational woes, for it allows us to put off attacking the degrading industrial model of education at its foundations, pushing us instead toward expensive, haphazard investments whose only philosophical foundation is a naive faith in technology.
Of course, the computer itself is not to blame for this - it is our own blindness to the effects of its use that allows this further degradation of education to take place. That is one of the reasons we advocate all students go through the program we outline later in this chapter. It is essential that the entire populace see technology for what it is, its limitations as well as its power, its dangers as well as its benefits, so that education can be truly transformed into the uplifting, enlightening activity it should be. If this is not done, schools will continue to fail to address the real learning issues in society, and all of these investments in machinery-centered education will cause more problems than they solve. Let us mention two of these.
One feature of unrestricted software that is actually being touted by educators is its ability to facilitate problem solving through trial and error (by unrestricted software we mean those programs that give the user a virtually unlimited number of choices through the combination of commands, as contrasted with such things as automatic teller machines which provide a very limited number of commands which cannot be freely combined). There are certainly some situations in which trial and error is appropriate. But in most typical cases where trial and error is employed in day-to-day work on a computer it reflects a lack of mental discipline.
As software commands are in fact thoughts, and there are no physical constraints to them, one may construct a computer program or a text document using a word processor in a completely undisciplined manner. Let us take the latter case: Developing the ability to structure a cogent pattern of thought before trying to express it is one of the most painstaking and unceasing tasks of good schooling. Hand writing, and even typewriter typing, demand - and, therefore, encourage the development of - well-structured, disciplined thinking by allowing for only few and small corrections. This is not the case with word processors: They permit the user to type a text without paying much attention to it, because all sorts of changes and corrections, such as deletions, pasting, formatting, and so on, can be made later. There is no need to pay attention to spelling, because the automatic speller indicates errors and suggests possible corrections; reasonable grammar checkers are also already in use.
We are not advocating that everyone return to using the typewriter. But we find it disturbing that many children are being taught such things as word processing and LOGO programming at the very time that they need to be developing disciplined thinking habits. We would think it ludicrous if children in the process of developing their muscular coordination and strength were provided with self-propelled vehicles to help them improve their times in playground races. It is easy to recognize that developing motor skills through exercising the muscles is more important for a child than obtaining impressive results through the employment of some sophisticated tool. By relying on the computer to overcome disorganized thinking we may see perfectly spelled, neat documents produced. But what is not seen is what happens, or rather does not happen, in the child's mind. Just as a child's physical development is stunted when muscles are not exercised, the development of disciplined thinking is stunted when the computer relieves the child of the responsibility for planning and organizing one's thoughts before expressing them. We should always keep in mind that tools that are designed to aid the mature mind may hinder the maturation of the developing mind.
This same concern applies to one of the most popular computer activities in elementary schools - the use of paint and drawing programs. These programs, such as Kid Pix, enable the student to produce remarkable displays of "art." But to view this as an advance in education is to confuse power with knowledge. The computer provides the child with enormous power to produce a picture that is beyond the child's direct capabilities. It does this by transferring skill requirements from the child to the machine. In business, where productivity is the primary concern, this transference may be fine. But in education it is the development of the child's skills, not production, with which we should be most concerned. The ease with which a child can stamp out a picture of a dog may, in the final product, impress us with its accurate rendition, but that very ease indicates how little learning has taken place. It is often argued that this is just a matter of learning different skills, and this is true. But it is also indisputable that painting with a brush and paint on a paper provides an enormously rich physical learning environment that is wholly absent from the physically degraded environment of the computer screen. In education the question of whether the computer can help produce a more lifelike picture should be subordinated to the issue of whether the activity develops the child's own inner capacities. Unfortunately, our society is so enthralled with what can be produced on a computer that we try to use it to bypass the slow, often clumsy (by adult standards) journey that children must take through the real world to develop their own wealth of fundamental knowledge and skills. The computer may be able to speed children along to adultlike production and adultlike thinking, but as much of the skill needed for that production will lie forever outside themselves, the price they pay is a permanently stunted inner capacity and sense of self-reliance.
This leads to the second problem we see developing as education becomes computerized. We have seen that in using the computer the child is forced to think in a way that is appropriate only for adults. Thus, one could say that computers contribute to the compression of childhood. It is similar to the condition David Elkind (1981) described in The Hurried Child. Elkind, a psychologist, focused on the personal problems caused by pushing children into acting and thinking like adults. Writing before computers were widely used by children, Elkind wrote of the effects of another electronic medium, television: "Because television makes so much accessible to children that was not accessible to them before, it hurries children to grow up fast" (p. 73). He observed that, "Children no longer need to read to learn about places nor do they need to listen and imagine about them - they can experience them directly. But exposure is one thing and understanding is another" (p. 77). We should not be deceived by the apparent sophistication with which children handle the information that is placed before them. "Ironically, the pseudo-sophistication, which is the effect of television hurrying children, encourages parents and adults to hurry them even more. But children who sound, behave, and look like adults still feel and think like children" (p. 77). We agree with Elkind that this kind of hurrying, although it may allow children to display a certain intellectual prowess, creates emotional and psychological stress that harms their development and shrinks their childhood.
Postman (1988) believes that this is not just an individual problem but a cultural ill that may be fatal to childhood itself. He argued that easy access to adult information without having adult sensibilities leads to behaviors and attitudes that are rapidly eroding the very concept of childhood. Writing in 1982, he predicted that the concept of childhood that has prevailed in our culture for the last 400 years is rapidly evaporating due to a willingness to expose children to adult information.
Clearly, the computer has only exacerbated this problem. It blows wide open the doors to the adult world of information. Even worse, it allows children to actually participate in that world on an equal footing. Thornburg (1994), one of the foremost evangelists for computerizing education, tells with great relish the story of a 13-year-old boy who showed such sophistication in his online communication that not only did none of the adult participants suspect he was an adolescent, a school district actually enlisted him as a consultant.
Tales like this abound in the rapidly growing world of telecomputing. But as the David Thornburgs hale these displays of adultlike, rational thinking, we fear that children and young people will be crippled by the too early suppression of their natural, intuitive, open, holistic way of relating to the world. We fear that by employing the computer to move away from their natural way of understanding too soon, "machine thinking" will come to dominate the way children regard nature, their fellow human beings, and life itself. This is a threat that is unprecedented, for there has never been such a strong metaphor as the computer for the image of humans as machines and machines being able to behave as humans. We think that machine thinking, especially when instilled in young people at an early age, leads to this mentality, with negative consequences beyond even those documented by Elkind and Postman.
It was not long ago that the world commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. If we instill in children the mentality that people are of the same nature as machines, we may be reopening the door to atrocities of the same order as those produced by that terrible conflagration. Although Nazism was born and nurtured by the worst of human emotions, what was most remarkable about the extermination process itself was its cool, rational efficiency. As Postman (1993) pointed out, Adolf Eichmann defended himself by claiming to be nothing more than a technician, doing his job of moving bodies from one place to another as efficiently as possible. One of the lessons that should have been learned from this experience is that once human flesh becomes viewed as mere matter and real people viewed as abstract data then the always fragile barriers to barbarism come crashing down from the blows wielded by the rational necessities of material "progress," efficiency, control, and "solutions" to problems. The computer serves to heighten this mechanistic, utilitarian view of human beings, transforming them into assets and liabilities floating around corporate, government, school and personal databases, abstract resources to be managed, labeled, measured, depreciated, and discarded with the same impersonal bottom-line philosophy that is applied to the machines that replace them. The use of computers by children and young people may nuture this same materialistic "man-as-machine" mentality and prepare them to be soul-less accomplices to the degradation, or even destruction, of their fellow humans.
On April 13, 1924, in the first lecture of a cycle on education, Steiner (1982) observed that humanity had "reached a kind of social chaos" (p. 40). Present times have certainly not improved the situation. On the contrary, we have seen communities atomize, individuals become more isolated and communication become more faceless and mean-spirited. As we witness the progressive disruption of family ties, the aggravation of ethnic tensions, the widespread individual destruction through drugs and psychological diseases, as well as a succession of wars, it appears that this disorder has increased. Steiner believed that "the only way out of this social chaos is to bring spirituality into the souls of men through education, so that out of the spirit itself men may find the way to progress and the further evolution of civilization" (p. 41). This statement was not an endorsement of inserting religion into the educational process. Rather, it was an acknowledgment of the inadequacy of the intellect alone and of the power and necessity of developing the rich inner resources uniquely available to all human beings. Unfortunately, civilization has not embraced Steiner's observation or those of countless others who have tried to call us back from our misguided devotion to materialistic, mechanistic values, values that deny the deeper essences of human life and community. We consider the computer's reinforcement of these dehumanizing values to be the most dangerous of its impacts, especially on children and young people.
The ideal age
We have already stated that for any child, exposure to computers should wait until high school, at which time it is imperative that an effort be undertaken to understand how computers work, how they work on us, and how we may properly work with them. But when is the ideal time? To establish this, some distinctions must be drawn. The first of these is between software and hardware. Our criticism has focused primarily on the way the computer relates to the user, which is mostly a function of the software. Hardware, on the other hand, not only functions on an abstract level but on a physical basis as well. This leads to a second distinction. Some aspects of computer hardware can be studied phenomenologically, without the necessity of developing a conceptualization of the inner logic behind the activities observed. For instance, simple logical circuits may be introduced without previous study of physical theories of semiconductors and without connection to binary arithmetic. We believe that a phenomenological study of the computer hardware can, and should, be undertaken by students sometime between the ages of 15 and 16. Most students are fully capable of drawing conclusions from observing the electrical and mechanical operations of the hardware of the computer by that age. They would be learning about how a machine they see almost everyday works, starting from its simplest, most concrete activities.
Due to the degree of abstraction required for using computer software, we would recommend around age 17 (Grades 11 and 12) as the ideal age to cover software, from basic operations to general applications, as well as a general investigation of the effects of computers and high technology on society and the individual. Software would only be learned after a basic understanding of computer logic and the principles behind basic programming. The rationale behind this sequence of learning, as in any other subject, is that students would be learning hardware and software in a bottom-up fashion. Furthermore, they would be following the historical evolution of computers and their use: databases were in common use only by the end of the 1970s, word processors, spreadsheets and graphics became popular only in the 1980s, with telecommunication taking hold in the 1990s.
We recognize that many people, even those who agree with our earlier discussion, will find this timetable disagreeably slow. We are not unaware that young people are able to do very sophisticated work on the computer at a much earlier age. But our argument throughout has been that computer exposure should not be based on capability but on developmental appropriateness. The "capable child" is a trap that the current technological society lays at every turn. We must always be as alert to what will be lost by the introduction of a new way of thinking into a child's life as we are about what might be gained. Before the last years of high school, few young people have the emotional maturity and, perhaps more crucially, the critical self-awareness to help protect them from sliding into the cognitive muscle-boundness that is promoted by the use of computers.
Computer Education as Preparation for Work
One might respond that practically speaking this strategy will not give the student the computer experience needed to enter either the workplace or higher education. As is seen from the curriculum proposed here we are hardly interested in ignoring technology. We believe that at the appropriate time, as befits its centrality in our culture, the study of technology must assume an important role in the young person's education. But that is not the same as advocating early instruction in how to use computers or incorporating it directly into the learning experiences. The parental concern that the child will be at a disadvantage if not started on computers early is a fear - exploited shamelessly by computer companies and some computer-based commercial "educational" services - that simply does not have basis in fact. Let's briefly look at the issue from two perspectives.
Setzer taught computer science at the university level. At his institute, he recognized that those students who had lots of contacts with computers before getting to the university often had considerable difficulties: they tended to have very little patience for learning the skills that constitute real computer science - data structures, theory, development and documentation, and so forth - because they were used to using sophisticated software. Once they got into computer science they found that their homework had nothing to do with, for example, drawing spectacular figures on the screen; that it was a serious and laborious activity, requiring great effort and concentration, and that it was nothing so easy as the playing they had done with computer software. Our experience is that early contact with computers gives a totally wrong impression of what computing and software development is, disturbing a serious study in this direction at college. It is often necessary to unteach bad habits before a really serious learning of computer science can take place. For these specialists, it is better that they build up their creativity, their disciplined thinking skills, a well-rounded grasp of the physical world, and a strong, incorruptible sense of humanity at the secondary level, than invest thousands of hours of computer time having nothing to do with the hard mathematics and labor involved in real computer science.
But most young people will never become computer scientists. What of those who need computer skills in order to use them in the work place, i.e. the vast majority of students who pass through our schools? For nearly two decades Monke taught computer applications to this broad spectrum of students. He found that in one year, working 45 minutes per day, a typical young person can easily master the standard features of a word processor, spreadsheet and database, with time left over to experiment with such things as telecommunication, drawing/painting programs, or desktop publishing.
Given the ease of use that is currently being built into software, even this amount of instruction is more than sufficient to develop the basic computer knowledge needed to enter the general workplace, the technical school, or the university. We think that when it comes to software, schools should concentrate on teaching concepts and showing what may be done with computers without entering into highly specialized training activities. It has been our experience that any work beyond these fundamental aspects of computer education becomes so job specific that it cannot be justified at the secondary level. Greater details should be left for self-learning or should be provided by the enterprise or college.
This statement stands in conscious and direct contradiction to movements, such as Tech Prep, which seek to turn high schools into vocational schools. In a world that has grown more complex and difficult for children to comprehend, it takes some strange logic to justify the trend to either compress basic education into fewer years (on the academic side) or simply cut off basic education before it can be examined at the students' highest intellectual level (on the vocational side). It is beyond the scope of this chapter to even outline a full program of basic education. It will have to suffice to say that we believe that there is far too much fundamental learning about life and the world around us that needs to take place to compress into 14 or 15 years of life. And that only in the last 4 years of secondary school do young people have the full range of mental powers necessary to pull all the pieces together. Yes, young people can learn vocational skills and exhibit college-level writing and math skills. But again this is a mistake of choosing what students are capable of cognitively over what they need developmentally. Choosing the former may accomplish the goal of greasing the gears of industry with youngsters who can manage the demands of work, but at the expense of knowing how to live. Learning how to live should be the object of all K-12 education, with concern for employment coming, as philosopher John Stuart Mill said, "At a late and convenient hour" (quoted in Postman 1993, p. 174).
We recognize that a public education system that fully reflected this philosophy would require substantial changes, not only in the public schools themselves, but in higher education and the business community as well. Our proposal is not meant to be simply inserted into a system that otherwise continues to ignore the overall needs of children. Remember, we are here considering what would be ideal. But practically, it is still possible to adhere fairly closely to the principles we have outlined even without a dramatic overhaul of other areas of school and society. If in-depth vocational training remains in the high schools, then as much as possible we should refrain from computer-mediated activities until the final years, after or in conjunction with the students' exploration of the effects, good and bad, that computers may bring to their lives. This would give those students whose vocational goals demand it the potential of a year of general computer applications training and a second year of work in their specialized area. Even in vocational terms it makes no sense to teach specialized computer content more than two years before graduation as the rate of change in computer technology, coupled with the schools' inability to upgrade at the pace of industry, almost assures that what such a student would learn would be outdated by the time the student enters the workforce anyway. Certainly, whatever a grade school child might learn in elementary school about operating a computer will be woefully obsolete by graduation.
So it is our judgment that not only does later exposure to computers protect young people from its crippling effects, it really puts them at no disadvantage in the workplace. At this later age, according to our wide range of experience, students may appreciate objectively and critically what computers should be - just useful instruments, that bring us problems as well as benefits, like any machine - and not become psychologically chained to them. They should have the maturity to realistically appreciate the practical applications of these machines to daily life and work. And some may come to appreciate the professional and future study possibilities presented by those machines. One of Monke's former math students, who is a successful computer engineer, recently told him, "My college advisor could never understand why I wanted to get a minor in philosophy." Perhaps if this young man had spent his time hovered over a computer as a child instead of reading widely and thinking broadly he would never have presented his advisor with this problem. As it was, he never touched a computer until he entered the university and he has never narrowed his wide-ranging interests. His situation reminds us that the vast majority of currently successful computer scientists, engineers, and general users did not have experience with computers at home while they were children, or at the elementary school. The necessity of early computer use is, quite simply, a myth.
How Should We Introduce Young People to Computers?
In this section we propose a full curriculum for the introduction of computers in high school, from what they are through how they may be used for general applications, as well as their impact. Our grade divisions are standard European/American: the senior high school grade will be called Grade 12, the junior 11 and the sophomore 10. Most U.S. schools include Grade 9 in high school and it is possible that this curriculum could be spread across the entire 4 years, although we believe the sequence should begin at the sophomore level. For reasons just stated, we stand adamantly against the common practice of gradually pushing the curriculum down into the lower grade levels.
We also want to stress that this is not just a reshuffling of the current curricular deck. Much of what is included in this program does not currently exist in the common public school curriculum. Thus, many of the topics and activities may be unfamiliar and therefore seem exotic. We do not intend to try to explain these activities in full here. Experience has shown that if presented properly they are very much within the reach of typical high school students. They are designed to be included in an overall investigation of how the major technologies work, how they can be usefully employed, and how they affect us individually and as a society. Many of the activities can, and should, be incorporated into existing classes, whereas other aspects cut so much across curricular lines, or lie outside of them, that they will require a separate course.
Following Steiner's lead, we propose the installation of "Technology Laboratories" in high schools, where students learn how machines work: those stressed by Steiner such as the telephone and the steam engine, plus combustion engines and electric motors, radio, TV and, obviously, computers. A strictly practical approach should be followed in these classes, leaving theories for the normal science (physics, chemistry) classes. As we have already said, teaching the fundamentals of computer - and calculator - hardware involves physical realities, and may be given stressing the phenomenological aspects, with very little theory. The important properties of circuits and components may be deduced from simple experiments performed by the students; that is why we are proposing these classes for younger ages. We believe that this lab experience should be part of the core curriculum for all students. Without at least a fundamental knowledge of how a technology works a person has no chance to assert control over it and will be prone to the apathy discussed earlier. As the inner workings of everyday devices become more and more opaque it is essential that the educational experience shed some light on how these things operate.
In the Technology Lab, introduce DC electric circuits with batteries and resistors, LEDs, magnets and relays. Logical gates with relays: "all" (the usual "and," see later), "one or more" (the usual "or"), "contrary" (the usual "not"), using "closed" and "open" or "has/does not have voltage" (and not "1" and "0"). Simple applications, like a circuit with different switches for the same purpose (e.g., various buttons to move the same electric window of a car), "optimized" traffic lights, and so on.
One step in demystifying computers is understanding some of the fundamental differences in natural language and the language we use in talking about, and working with, computers. Therefore, we invented the terminology "all" and "one or more" for "and," and "or" gates because the latter are ambiguous in natural languages and computers cannot deal with ambiguity. For instance, one says "I will visit her and return." The "and" in this phrase does not mean "intersection." One says: "there is voltage at the output of the gate if all inputs have voltage." After having introduced the gates in this manner, at the end of the subject one may tell students that in the "real world" the terminology employed is "and", "or" and "not." The reason for postponing the notation "0" and "1" is to show the students, later on, that these are arbitrary symbols. They will be important for binary arithmetic, but are not essential when constructing logical gates.
In mathematics, after progressions and logarithms, introduce binary and decimal numerical bases, base conversion and binary addition and multiplication. In the Technology Lab, redefine logical gates with "0" and "1"; implement half - (without "carry") and full-adders; introduce "flip-flop" with a relay and show how it may be used for storing binary digits; introduce diodes and transistors, redo adders and storing devices with them. After this, introduce in the Computer Lab the computer's basic components and Machine Language; execute and modify simple Machine Language programs simulated in a computer.
To illustrate how such concepts - often considered far too complex for average high school students - can be taught, we go into detail on an activity Setzer applied pertaining to software at his department (computer science). The activity was called the "Computer Day." Senior high school students were invited to take a 1-day compact course on what computers are and how they may be used (Setzer & Hirata, 1990). This course began with a theater play in which the students simulated a computer, acting as its various units (CPU, accumulator, instruction pointer, each storage position, printer, etc.). The program "loaded" into this "computer" had Machine Language instructions written as natural language phrases, like "add the contents of storage Position 15 to the accumulator." By having students physically act out the processes that take place internally in a computer, what was once a complex, abstract concept became comprehendable and was another step in the process of demystifying computer operations. Later these instructions were coded into a fixed-word, decimal machine code, and the students went to the computer lab, where they played with this "computer," now simulated in microcomputers. They made small modifications to given programs, thus learning the most important structural concepts of computers and programs: stored instruction, storage addresses, the difference between instructions and data, conditional jump instructions, loops, input-output, etc. (After this, students were given brief introductions to word processors, electronic spreadsheets and database systems, with practical sessions of each in the computer lab. The day was finished with a lecture on what an algorithm is and what are the individual and social problems which may be caused by computers, as was seen earlier). The results were always excellent, as testified by students' evaluations.
Computer Lab: introduce programming languages (such as BASIC, Pascal or LOGO), not in an effort to develop skills in programming but in order to understand how they work; teach the fundamentals of word processors, spreadsheets, graphics and database systems, explaining internal structures when possible; notions of computer networks; practice with Internet browsers, chat systems, usenets, electronic mail, remote file transference and remote access to general databases. In mathematics, introduce the notion of algorithms, stressing the necessary quantification of data and programs introduced into computers. We believe that it is essential that in social studies or another subject matter (philosophy?) a substantial study of the individual and social impacts of computers take place at this time due to the importance they have acquired.
It should be clear from this sketch that we are not at all opposed to instructing students in the last year of high school in a wide variety of computer activities - after a careful foundation for understanding them has been laid. It is at this time that many innovative computer-assisted activities can be carried out in the students' regular classes. An example of this is the use of electronic mail and information gathering as part of the education process. At the time that these students are preparing to move out into the larger world they should be ready to experience this new mode of personal communication and appreciate what it means, what electronic lists and access to remote, general-interest databases may signify to one's own development. Monke participated in an activity in which senior high school students from several continents followed the development of the 1994 elections in South Africa through e-mail. They discussed the matter with colleagues and teachers from the other country's schools, and followed the dramas and dangers the South Africans were facing. Interest in foreign languages may also be a byproduct, albeit more applicable to non-English-speaking students, because of the universality of the English usage in e-mail correspondence. But we do not believe e-mail should be used by students unaware of the implications of the technology. Like all media, e-mail shapes as well as conveys communication. It is necessary to have some maturity to cover really interesting and informative subjects. Students should be mature enough to understand not only the benefits of telecommunication but the negative aspects involved with this new communication medium as well. For example, they should be able to (and asked to) reflect on the tendency to send quick, telegraphic, superficial messages and recognize how easily misunderstandings can arise when the contexts of facial and body expressions, culture, and common experience are stripped away.
Other activities should be undertaken that give the student a more accurate impression of what the various branches of computer studies and work are about. For example, students will get a taste of what basic computer science is concerned with by examining the nature of algorithms. Setzer has done this in a very concrete way by using poster boards with pockets attached to sort slips of paper containing numbers inserted into the pockets (Setzer & Carvalheiro, 1993). Students first must sort the numbers working under the same limitations as a computer (not being able to pull out more than two numbers, compare and exchange more than just two numbers, etc.) Usually the students discover one or two of the most common methods on their own. But they generally have quite a bit of difficulty describing procedures in a formal way. By discussing these problems and looking at other sorting methods the investigation can move in a variety of directions that encompass mathematics, logic, and program design. With such an activity, the students gain, through simple examples, insights into how computers function and also a more realistic understanding of the nature of computer science: an intellectual activity in which coding an algorithm in some programming language is relatively trivial - the main problem residing in developing the algorithm. In other words, the intellectual part of computing is more important than dealing with the machine.
Aside from the mathematics, logic and general thinking skills involved (which are appropriate for this age group), this is an example of an activity that we feel would also contribute to the essential task of clarifying what professions connected to data processing really are about. Young people have been subjected to all sorts of myths about computers, including the impression that programmers and systems analysts have spectacular professions. We believe that a more realistic picture needs to be painted not just for potential computer professionals but for all students so that those who do not pursue computer studies are better able to determine what level of authority and social power to invest in the computer "experts."
We have attempted to summarize our ideas on the use of computers in education. Computers have penetrated every human activity. Problems caused by them are often neither direct nor visible. Computers not only aid (and replace) thinking but can shape it. For all these reasons we have to be extremely careful in using them in education. We have to educate for their use with much more care than other machines.
We have stated a case for reserving the gradual introduction to computers for the last years of high school. Obviously, we do not see computers as the savior of education. School systems are doing a very poor job of preparing young people to lead meaningful lives, but this universal problem is a human one, not a technological one. The school of the future need not be a more technological school, but it must be a more humane school. Rather than discarding ancient traditions out of arrogant disregard for the past, the school of the future must honor those traditions as the foundation of humane education; building on them through our deep observations and understanding of the present human condition to reorganize and improve old structures and institutions. This is not a radical proposal. Movements such as Waldorf Education have been doing this for decades. It is common practice in Waldorf Schools to not introduce computers until high school.
We think the school of the future should have human teachers and classrooms, but teachers will have to fight courageously to resist the pressures - by bureaucrats, by commercial interests, by psychologists and by politicians - to turn them into technicians, information repositories, transmitters and facilitators (or that horrible new expression "liveware"). They will have to relate to their students as human beings in development, and not as storing and sorting machines; as real individuals, and not as collective abstractions. Whereas computers handle all their users exactly in the same impersonal, cold manner - as machines - only a human being can respond to a child out of a deep personal knowledge and intuition of the individual needs, aspirations and moods. Students need understanding, compassion, love and sacrifice from their teachers far more than they need access to billions of bits of information. They are in urgent need to admire their teachers as individuals with knowledge, life experience, and insight, (i.e., wisdom), for the problems of children and youth. More than mere trainers of skills they need teachers who can help them develop and appreciate those noble qualities that have always formed the core of what is best about being human - qualities such as social responsibility and sensitivity, compassion, courage, love, sacrifice, honor, and justice. This cannot happen as long as schools regard teaching as a science, technique, industry or commerce, instead of an art.
The technological mentality has already transformed our view of the child into a product, to be assembled, fine-tuned, quality-controlled and packaged to fit into a stress-ladened, dehumanized working environment. Schools are working feverishly to restructure the learning environment, trying to jump from turn-of-the-20th-century factory model, to turn-of-the-21st-century data processing model; from mechanization of the body to mechanization of the mind. In establishing the first Waldorf school Rudolf Steiner warned, in 1919, of this trend not only in education but society as a whole:
The state (the authorities) impose bad educational aims and bad graduation standards upon us. These aims are the worst imaginable and people will be under the illusion that they are of the highest value. Political activity will express itself from now onwards in that it will deal with human beings according to pattern, that it will attempt in a far more extensive manner than heretofore to press man into a mold. Human beings will be dealt with as objects, dangling from strings and one will imagine that thereby the greatest possible progress has been achieved. (Gabert & Niederhaueser, 1962, p. XIV)
The introduction of computers into education, at home or school, has only served to accelerate this perverse "progress," with the promise that soon all of our children will be dangling, not from strings, but from fiber optic cables.
We believe that early computer use and an emphasis on computerlike thinking, is leading children's development to be dominated by the rigid, logical, algorithmic thinking, bereft of moral, ethical or spiritual content, that is characteristic of computer interaction. This accelerated, but isolated intellectual development brings a child's mental abilities to an adult level long before the emotional, psychological, spiritual and moral sensibilities have grown strong enough to restrain it and give it humane direction.
What will be the consequences of this disrespect toward children's nature? We fear that as these children are evaluated and encouraged to see themselves more and more according to these limited cognitive qualities, their respect for themselves and the human race will be further eroded. For humans cannot compete with the computers in this one narrow range of mental activity. This is, perhaps, the most frightening consequence of the advent of using computers in education: the inducement to admire, venerate, depend upon and finally raise above ourselves the machine; to view them as superior to ourselves and to view ourselves as merely imperfect machines. A future based on such a world view is terrifying, for ethics, morality, justice, mercy are all irrelevant to the machine. As needed they may all be "logically" sacrificed in the name of the gods of technology: efficiency and productivity.
Our hope is that the introduction of computers only after a childhood environment steeped in love, beauty and respect for children's natural, holistic growth may make it possible for them to put these machines in their proper place. We have tried to outline a framework for handling that introduction with hopes that others will refine it, adapt it, and make it a viable program for their schools. We recognize that it will take courage to withstand the pressures against it. Perhaps the most important thing is to try. Right now more than anything else we need more voices challenging the trend toward technological dominance of education. We hope that the ideas in this essay can provide support and encouragement for that endeavor.
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