when it undoes our ability to think. In
previous generations, students were expected to work hard in their studies.
Now, I often hear of parents removing
their children from courses like Latin or
Logic because they are too hard. One of
my favorite historical novels is Carry On,
Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. The
main character desires a good education.
When his life circumstances denied him
the possibility of school, he committed to
learn on his own. Armed with a side-by-side Latin and English translation of the
New Testament, he painstakingly learns
Latin so that he can read Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia
Mathematica in the original Latin. I do
not believe that children were historically
more gifted than our children today; they
were simply accustomed to hard work.
This is the example I desire for my boys,
and I worry when technology shortcuts
rob them of the opportunity to accomplish great things through hard work.
Technology Caution #3:
Impoverished Language Skills
As I noted in my earlier column on
writing, I want my boys to learn to be
masters of language. One recent study in-
vestigated schools in which PowerPoint
presentations have replaced book reports.
The media specialist who conducted the
study recorded these results:
When I was working in a school
technology department, I watched
eighth-grade students present Power-
Point projects to an obviously proud
superintendent. Curious, I counted
the number of words that each stu-
dent had actually written. On aver-
age, each eighth-grade student had
spent two weeks writing 77 words.
Contrast this with the average five-paragraph essay that is usually a minimum of five hundred words. In high
school, I require my boys and the students in my Classical Conversations
community to complete one-thousand-word essays. Whether we like to admit it
or not in our world of texting and tweeting, one fact remains true: complexity of
words is linked to complexity of thought.
The more words we use, the more ideas
we can express. The more sophisticated
the words we use, the deeper the ideas we
Technology Caution #4:
Lack of Information Ownership
I like technology when it allows my boys
to take possession of new information. I
enjoy having the library of the world at
our fingertips in our own home so that
we can delve deeply into any subject in
which we become interested. Unfortunately, this is seldom how people use the
Internet. All too often, the technology
reduces our capacity to memorize information and thus make it our own for a
lifetime. I believe that the best tools for
giving our children a quality education
are the simplest ones: books, paper, and
our time. I know that the best lessons
result from wrestling big ideas, arguing
one’s position, and expressing thoughts
in writing. I want my children to be able
to read a work of classic literature, debate
its main ideas with their peers and with
other adults, and then defend their own
position on blank sheets of paper.
Technology Caution #5:
I want my children to be exposed to a wide
range of ideas in history, music, art, literature, philosophy, science, math, and logic.
I encourage this by having them read both
widely and deeply. All too often, though,
technology counteracts this exposure to
the rich and varied experiences of humankind. Although they have a treasure trove
of human thought and accomplishments
at their fingertips, most young people do
not pursue enriching experiences when
they are online. In his book The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein expresses
his concerns: “Instead of opening young
American minds to the stores of civilization and science and politics, technology has contracted their horizon to themselves, to the social scene around them
. . . . The autonomy has a cost: the more
they attend to themselves, the less they remember the past and envision a future.”
In most cases, opening our young people’s
minds to history, science, and politics can
best be achieved through the simple medium of a great book.
Benefits of Technology
While I have offered up many cautions
about the ways in which we use technology in our children’s education, I do not
believe that it can or should be avoided
altogether. I earned my doctorate degree
“Pencil = Brain Freeze”
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