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The technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development (americanaffairsjournal.org)
323 points by boh 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 283 comments



Our elementary school uses chromebooks from 1st grade on, and I do see a lot of downsides.

The most outrageous problem, IMO, is that there are 'modules' that must be completed, and kids with computer access at home can work on them at home. Kids from low income families are screwed over - again.

Other problems

- spellcheck is always on, why learn real spelling when the computer fixes it for you?

- The de-emphasis on handwriting is mentioned in the article. In-class assignments are still handwritten, but take-home projects can be typed.

- A lot of 'educational' games are regular games with a minimal pretense of education value. Frogger is still Frogger, even if there's some notion of jumping to the lily pad with the right sum.

- Same for 'educational' youtube videos. youtube is blocked on my kid's devices, despite insistence that there are channels where they do scientific experiments. The videos are more about funny jokes than the different phases of matter.

( youtube is a funny one. Non-tech parents always tell me how great kid's youtube is. Tech parents are always like "f yea, of course you block youtube" )

Plus the last thing my kid needs is more screentime. I don't want to have to sit next to them all night making sure that they are only doing 'productive' work.


Why do you think students will better learn to spell without spellcheck?

As far as I can tell spending class time on spelling per se and/or grading students on spelling mistakes is a complete waste of time and focus.

The ideal way to teach spelling is (1) get kids to read a whole lot, (2) show students their mistakes in context when they make them on as short a feedback loop as possible, without judgment.

It’s plausible that showing that a mistake was made but then forcing the student to retype or rewrite the word correctly (without letting them just click once on the word to fix the mistake) would be more effective.

But I have seen no evidence that spellcheck reduces people’s ability to learn spelling. I’d like to see some kind of formal study.

Disclaimer: I think giving every 1st grade student a chromebook is a terrible mistake.


>The ideal way to teach spelling is (1) get kids to read a whole lot, (2) show students their mistakes in context when they make them on as short a feedback loop as possible, without judgment.

I'm not sure I agree with this. This doesn't teach the fundamentals and rules of how words are put together. Learning to spell isn't memorizing lists of words, it's learning the rules of English and how words are actually put together so, even if you don't know how a word's spelled, you should be able to at least be able to make a good guess based on your knowledge of English. The spell checker doesn't teach you any of this.


People don’t learn the “rules of English” through explicit instruction. They learn them through years (decades) of exposure.

Anecdotally, the main predictor of how good someone’s spelling will be is how much reading they have done.


I did. They taught us this in school. My spelling is good. I rarely rely on a spell checker and have autocorrect turned off on my keyboard because I find it annoying rather than helpful. Knowing how to spell and sound out words helped me be a better reader and kept reading interesting for me.

Anecdotally, I've met many people that dislike reading because they find large words complicated to comprehend, their spelling is usually atrocious also. I also know a few heavy readers with terrible spelling because they never learned properly. Their pronunciation of large words is usually atrocious.


> I've met many people that dislike reading because they find large words complicated to comprehend, their spelling is usually atrocious also. I also know a few heavy readers with terrible spelling because they never learned properly. Their pronunciation of large words is usually atrocious.

None of the people I know who grew up in highly literate families with parents who read with them several hours per week up through age 7+ ever had either of these problems in adulthood. Including the dyslexic ones.

I am highly skeptical that your acquaintances dislike reading because the spelling of long words is too complicated. More realistically they find long words hard because they never did enough reading to become fluent. Nearly everyone can get at least 90% of the way to reading arbitrary English text with about a year of appropriate reading instruction at age 6 plus a few years of regular practice.

As someone who never spent any effort on spelling in school, big words are fine to read and spelling is no trouble. I also dislike and disable autocorrect. I’d happily put my pronunciation of arbitrary English words up against anyone who isn’t a professional linguist.


Heavy readers with terrible spelling seems odd... spelling isn't something that is hard, it's kind of automatic once you use a language past a certain age, at least for me.


>Anecdotally, the main predictor of how good someone’s spelling will be is how much reading they have done.

Agreed, but it doesn't just have to be books. My personal example: in my native language, I read tons of books as a child, which was what gave me a strong edge when it comes to spelling/grammar. I got into learning english in my late teens, and, by that time, I wasn't as much into reading long-form books as I was into reading random things on the internet. I would say my grammar/spelling is on about the same level in english as it is in my native language, at the moment. In both cases, however, I can easily attribute it to consuming a lot of reading material that gave me some kind of intuition for the correct spelling/grammar. I don't remember explicit grammar rules for either language. In case of my native one, I never really learned the rules in the first place, as I had trouble memorizing those, and the rules felt forced and arbitrary with tons of exceptions to each of them. I just know that something feels "right" or "wrong", simply because of tons of reading that settled down in my head.


Yeah, and I prefer the (good, "adult") Russian translation of the Lord of the Rings to the original too! :P


Wait, there was something special about the Russian translation of LotR? I totally missed it then, because that's how I read LotR as a kid (translated Russian version), and I have never re-visited the book since then, as I was not a big fan of the movies (which, I know, is almost a sacrilegious thing to admit, given the reactions I've received for saying it irl).


Haha, I knew it ! Let me guess, you read the "big single dark brown book" version too ? It might be just the children nostalgia though... (Had the same reaction to the movies initially !) I've also seen much later a translation that seemed to be designed "for kids" and that seemed godawful to me !


Unfortunately, I think I might have read the newer translation. I don't have it anymore, but iirc I got the book around 2005-2006, and it might have been brown underneath, but it had that glossy art cover over it that I took off only once to check out how it looked without it.


Hah, completely forgot about that, it got lost pretty quickly...


In related news, the younger generation of kids in Asian countries are getting worse and worse at writing Chinese characters because they can just type the Romanized versions without learning how to write it. Personally I am able to read Chinese at a moderately high level (can read newspapers) but I cannot write most characters off the top of my head. This is what happens when you emphasize reading over physical writing with pen and paper.


Is that a bad thing? You can still write in Chinese with an IME, and most uses are on some sort of phone or computer anyways. 27 year old me learned how to text in Chinese but skipped learning the muscle memory to write characters, first I'm left handed so stroke order was bizarrely awkward anyways, but also...it just didn't feel important anymore.


If you live in a Chinese-speaking country then, yes, it's a bad thing.

There are plenty of situations in which you still have to write; at the post office, applying for things, hospitals, places like that. Maybe not every day, I'll grant you that, but you are going to hit barriers when required to write your address or apply for a driving license or similar.

You don't want to be the guy painstakingly copying characters stroke by stroke off his phone while a line grows behind you.

I live in Japan and often regret that my writing is so far behind my reading comprehension. Like, it doesn't need to be AS good, but it would be better if it were close.


I lived in Beijing for 9 years and it didn't seem to be a problem. Yes, I occasionally had to really write something in Chinese (e.g. at the bank when making an account changed), but my hand was basically held while writing it. The post office and hospital never required me to write in Chinese.


My 69 year old father lived in Beijing for a few years recently and I'm pretty sure the company he worked for must have taken care of things like that for them because I can't imagine that man ever attempting to write Chinese.

I guess there's probably a pretty strong market for translators in the big Asian cities with American/European presence.


The company didn’t even have to provide anybody. There was always at least one English speaker at the bank, even though I could get by in Chinese verbally, it’s just one weird rule that requires me to write anything by my own hand at all (other than my signature). A lot of places are like that: they’ll easily take care of the paperwork for you if they know you can’t. Even for foreigners that don’t speak Chinese, they get by, especially in a first tier.


If you have a Caucasian appearance, might not part of it be that the Chinese simply excused you from having to write Chinese more than they would someone who appeared Chinese?


Of course it's a bad thing! Imagine not being able to write your own language.


I think some countries should just bite the bullet and start replacing their archaic writing systems with something more modern

Phonetical alphabet, standardized spelling, etc

Few people nowadays have the time and willingness to learn thousand of characters and their stroke orders. Not to mention the whole "every character has several unrelated pronunciations, but hey, context, right?!" of Japanese.


> archaic writing systems with something more modern

The Latin alphabet is an archaic system that barely worked for Latin and doesn't work at all for English. There's a reason English dictionaries have to include IPA.

> Phonetical alphabet

You say so while typing in an alphabet that doesn't have enough characters to describe all the phonemes of the language you're using, and which is used phonetically in name only.

> standardized spelling, etc

I don't know what gives you the impression that "some countries" don't have standardized spelling.

> Few people nowadays have the time and willingness to learn thousand of characters and their stroke orders.

You're literally talking about the writing system of the word's most widely used language. Obviously a plurality of people do have the patience to do so. In practice it requires roughly the same amount of memorization as English. The only difference is being that most of HN probably learned English early in life and have internalized things like "Peak Vs. Pique Vs. Peek".


Honestly it took me a few seconds to remember what pique even means.


Chinese characters (hanzi) are not an 'archaic writing system'. While hanzi allows for the expression of meaning in addition to pronunciation, which is unique amongst the other writing systems of the world, they are also more phonetic than is commonly perceived.

The majority of Chinese characters (more than 80%) are 'phono-semantic compounds' where 1 part of the character indicates the meaning and the other indicates the pronunciation. And the majority of these compounds follow a surprisingly regular pattern: for instance, the character '召' is pronounced 'zhao' in Mandarin Chinese, and forms the right side of the characters '招' and '昭' - both of which are also pronounced 'zhao'.

Here's another example - the character '包' is pronounced 'bao', and is frequently found as a component in characters pronounced 'bao': '饱' ('full stomach', with the food radical ⻠ on the left) and '抱' ('hug', with the hand radical ⺘). '包' also forms the phonetic component of some characters pronounced as 'pao', which sounds similar to 'bao': '跑' ('run', with the foot radical ⻊), '炮' ('cannon', with the fire radical 火), and '泡' ('bubble', with the water radical ⺡). I had been studying Chinese recently, and understanding the phonetic aspects of the characters has helped me to read them more easily than before.

Having said that, a lot of these phonetic relations date back many years and some of them have been obscured due to language change. But to blindly assume that Chinese characters are 'archaic' is false - as others have commented, you can say the same for English spelling, which also has spellings that date back many years but do not make sense today, like the 'gh' in 'tough', 'dough' and 'caught'. Also, it would be possible to reform Chinese characters such that every character with the same pronunciation would use the same phonetic component, while allowing for additional components to indicate the meaning. And that was what Simplified Chinese did to a certain extent.


Thanks for the detailed response, 'archaic' is not necessarily the best word to describe the problems with it, and hanzi seems to be more straightforward than Kanji

But dealing with a huge alphabet is more complicated than one with (much) fewer characters as the Latin, Arabic and Korean ones.

The English spelling problem is annoying, but most languages don't have such a disparity in writing (which, for the most part, is not that big).


Chinese writing is adapted to write the Chinese language. The only place where this is an issue is languages where there was no standardization (namely every other Chinese languages except Standard mandarin) because even natives don't know which character to use. More interestingly, once someone has knowledge of Chinese character, he can guess the meaning of text in other languages; for instance Korean written in mixed script is incredibly readable to some one with Japanese reading ability.

The Voyager Golden Record has a record of Minnan language which transcription in Chinese character is: 太空朋友,恁好。恁食飽未?有閒著來阮遮坐哦! Anyone in this thread reading some Chinese can guess accurately what the first sentence means. Probably the second too. The third is more difficult but looks like an invitation. Now compare with the romanization: Thài-khong pêng-iú, lín-hó. Lín chia̍h-pá--bē? Ū-êng, to̍h lâi gún chia chē--ô·! Besides pêng-iú looking like Mandarin pengyou is this totally foreign.


They did, but it stopped and then went back as far as I know. E.g. nowadays there are two Chinese writing systems, simplified and traditional. Similar Japanese efforts to ban some rare kanji (e.g. some were only ever used in certain last names) fizzled with the advent of computers that make it easy to type any kanji.

People do not always want things simplified. They also want richness and this may conflict with simplicity. Look at fonts, for example. They gained a lot of complexity recently, there's lots of contextual variations and even two different systems to express it (Apple has its own). The monospace fonts that were invented for typewriters are much simpler than other fonts, but nowadays they are only used in certain specific contexts, like programming, and even there they started to get quite a bit of richness + complexity with PragmataPro being the absolute champion of it.

I'd say the general trend is toward perceived simplicity, but internal richness. Automation, not simplification.


> look at fonts, for example. They gained a lot of complexity recently, there's lots of contextual variations and even two different systems to express it

Yes, but see how many fonts there are for Latin alphabets vs. Kanji/Chinese. (something about dozens of characters vs thousands)


What you describe includes English, however, due to its heritage of being a conglomerate of several different languages. That's why English spellings bees are a thing -- the spelling and pronunciations don't always match up. We'd need to switch to something like Korean, where deviations between spelling and pronunciation can be counted on one, maybe two hands.


> What you describe includes English

Yes, but to a much, much lesser degree

If someone says to you their name is "John" you know how to write it. Foreign names might be weird sometimes (hi Ireland) but usually they're simple.

In Japan you have to ask everyone how to write their name because there's no standard way of spelling. And every character has (completely) different pronunciations depending on context https://www.thejapanesepage.com/tag/kanji-pronunciation/


I was more referring to the phonetic alphabet and standardized spelling part of your post, and not to the Japanese part. That's why I proposed Korean as the language to satisfy your requirements, as English does not, as exemplified by the name John, which is pronounced [jon].


I actually count English spelling as a strength and not a weakness, otherwise we'd have the situation of multiple semantically distinct and unrelated words being spelled the same[0] while at the same time having to maintain distinct orthographies for every minor dialect[1].

[0] https://ko.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%EC%88%98%EB%8F%84_(%EB%8F%9...

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/North%E2%80%93South_differen...


English is also unable to avoid the issue of having multiple semantically distinct and unrelated words being spelled the same, for example "stock" or "light" or "scale". I don't know enough about languages to say which ones have avoided this issue. Regarding your second point about not having to maintain distinct orthographies, could you explain in more detail how English avoids that?


> English is also unable to avoid the issue of having multiple semantically distinct and unrelated words being spelled the same, for example "stock" or "light" or "scale".

Fair point.

> Regarding your second point about not having to maintain distinct orthographies, could you explain in more detail how English avoids that?

I'm not an expert on phonics but from what I've seen from attempts at writing any language phonetically regular is that in order to achieve phonetic regularity for everyone you either have to force everyone to pronounce words identically (impossible for a language as widely used as English) or you have to maintain entirely seperate spelling systems for each dialect. This number goes up the more phonetically regular your writing system is. See this example in the wikipedia entry on the Shavian script, a phonetically regular alphabet for English[0]:

> Spelling in Androcles follows the phonemic distinctions of British Received Pronunciation except for explicitly indicating vocalic "r" with the above ligatures. Most dialectical variations of English pronunciation can be regularly produced from this spelling, but those who do not make certain distinctions, particularly in the vowels, find it difficult to produce the canonical spellings spontaneously. For instance, most North American dialects merge 𐑭 /ɑː/ and 𐑪 /ɒ/ (the father–bother merger). Canadian English, as well as many American dialects (particularly in the west and near the Canada–US border), also merge these phonemes with 𐑷 /ɔː/, which is known as the cot–caught merger. In addition, some American dialects merge 𐑧 /ɛ/ and 𐑦 /ɪ/ before nasal stops (the pin–pen merger).

With exceptions, the mapping of letters to language in English mostly seems to occur at the level of morphemes and not phonemes. Look at this wiktionary entry for "schedule" for example[0]. All dialects spell it the same but there are multiple distinct pronounciations listed in the IPA section that would all lead to different spellings in a completely phonetically regular system.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shavian_alphabet

[1] https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/schedule

>(UK) IPA(key): /ˈʃɛ.djuːl/, /ˈʃɛ.dʒuːl/, /ˈskɛ.djuːl/, /ˈskɛ.dʒuːl/

>(US) IPA(key): /ˈskɛ.dʒʊl/, /ˈskɛ.dʒəl/, /ˈskɛ.dʒu.əl/, /ˈskɛ.dʒul/

>(India) IPA(key): /ʃɛ.djuːl/

>(Canada) IPA(key): /ˈskɛ.dʒu.əl/, /ˈskɛ.dʒuːl/, /ˈʃɛ.dʒu.əl/, /ˈʃɛ.dʒuːl/


Actually kanji only don't make sense in the context of only reading them. First learn how to speak and listen. Then as soon as you write a bunch of kanji you will realize how consistent the stroke order is and that there are a lot of repeating elements (loads and loads of boxes...). There are still some annoying exceptions but those are the minority. Learning the meaning of each kanji will make it very easy to connect the kanji with the intended word.


In other words, exposure to professional, high quality writing that rigorously follows the rules of English.

Unlike most speakers.


I'd say that nothing is learned through instructions. There always is an element of use that turns instructions into understanding.


> Learning to spell isn't memorizing lists of words

Funny you should say that in defense of classical methods of teaching literacy, which for me consisted of eight years of memorizing lists of words and regurgitating them on weekly spelling quizzes.

Weekly spelling quizzes. Memorized lists of ten to fifteen words at a time.

All the way into high school.


I had the same methods. Ironically I’ve learned more about the English language in attempting to learn (or re-learn) other languages (Spanish, German, French, Latin). So idk, I inclined to buy the argument that teaching the parts of all the systems is a better start than teaching one system at a time, and doing it through brute force memorization.


Those lists aren't picked at random. They're designed to expose learners to words with letter groups, structures, silent letters, etc they might not encounter otherwise. You learned about spelling by seeing them.


During primary school I switched to a place that did a weekly dictation. So like every Monday, first thing in the morning was a half-hour of the professor reading a page of text and you handed off your copy of it, you lose one point per mistake basically (out of 20 points, the standard in France).

That helped tremendously with my spelling.


Ours were thematically grouped, usually by phoneme. For example, I remember that one week in elementary was /hw/ ("what","when","whichever").

I never had to study for spelling, probably because reading was my favorite thing to do. Well, until I had one teacher who tested that we'd memorized the list of words...

Explicitly studying spelling ended after 5th grade (rural elementary school in Texas, late 80s/early 90s)

Spellcheck is a wonderful tool, but relying on it can lead to embarrassing results. I would not want the kids in my life using it until they have their own grasp of spelling.


Like English spelling has any rules. There are a lot of irregularities with English spelling that students need to learn by heart how the word is spelled compared to how it is pronounced.


English spelling absolutely has rules. The famous 'ghoti' example (where supposedly it should be able to be pronounced 'fish' because of 'gh' in rough, 'ti' in 'nation', etc.) is nonsense because there's only one way that word can be pronounced in English and that's 'goatee'.

Irregularities don't mean it doesn't have rules. The most common 1-2k words are much less regular than the rest of the language, but learning how they're spelt is not remotely difficult for children (no adult that doesn't have a learning disability struggles to remember how to spell 'much' or 'about'). The rest of the language is pretty much regular.


Funny, I always pronounced "ghoti" like "Gotti".


Slight difference in vowel, otherwise the same, that's valid enough. English isn't great at telling you the exact vowel, probably because people keep making them shift.


English is spoken with such a wide variety of accents that you can just about get away with using random vowels sounds and still be understood.


Obligatory "What if English were phonetically consistent":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8zWWp0akUU


English spelling has plenty of rules. It's just inconsistent and full of exceptions because English has its roots in many different languages and unfortunately inherits rules from all of them as well as having a bunch of its own.


> Learning to spell isn't memorizing lists of words, it's learning the rules of English and how words are actually put together

Learning those rules involve learning the orthographies of French, Latin, and Greek, etc. as well as their associated transliteration schemes(usually multiple per language), and memorizing which one was used for which specific word(Hamburg[0] vs. burgher[1] vs. bourgeoisie[2] vs. Berger[3]), as well as words where the etymology was erroneous (ex. scissor[4]). I don't think most people actually learn this.

[0] https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/bourgeoisie

[1] https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/burgher

[2] https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/bourgeoisie

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berger

[4] https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/scissor

Edit: See comment below for better source.


> words where the etymology was erroneous (ex. scissor https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/scissor)

Seems the better link is https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/scissors

Apparently “chisel” comes from the same source.


That's what the reading is for


> The ideal way to teach spelling is (1) get kids to read a whole lot, (2) show students their mistakes in context when they make them on as short a feedback loop as possible, without judgment.

Speaking as a dyslexic person this is garbage. Learning to spell required weekly word lists, spelling tests and hours of study. The memory skills this built have seriously helped me in my life.


That worked for you, good. But my personal anecdote agrees with jacobolus, and one anecdote is as good as another. I completed all the spelling books through HS by 4th grade because I read so much. The downside was, of course, that I would regularly mispronounce words.

This comes down to the fact that schools don't let students learn in their optimal manners.


This hints at the biggest problem with our education system. Different children learn in different ways. Word lists and spelling tests may have been effective for you, but they weren't for me (reading hundreds of books otoh did improve my spelling). Unfortunately, I don't really have a practical solution.


ISTR there is no scientific basis for “children learn in different ways”. If a child has dyslexia or something like that, sure, that can affect things, but good teaching strategies should work for the vast majority of children.


I'm not referencing the different learning styles ("auditory", "visual", "kinesthetic", etc.). I'm saying different people have different strengths and weaknesses and that effects how you learn.

> good teaching strategies should work for the vast majority of children

In my experience, good teaching strategies usually includes teaching the same thing in a variety of different ways, so that hopefully at least one of the ways is effective for each student.


It's kind of obvious: teach different children differently? Classes with large numbers of children should probably be rare.


well, yes. that's why I had the qualifier "practical". smaller classes are more expensive, and at least where I live, the trend has been the opposite where class sizes are increasing.


Is it "practical" if you end up getting worse results with bigger classes ? I'm willing to bet that "undereducated" children (and then adults !) are going to end up costing much more than ones with a better education !


That short feedback loop is the only thing that worked for me. Spelling/vocab lists all through school. I Could slog through that and get an A, but forget spelling next week. Typing in chat or essays would give the red squiggly line. Instead of right-clicking and getting the spelling, I would backspace and try again. That is how my spelling improved.


> I have seen no evidence that spellcheck reduces people’s ability to learn spelling.

Spellcheck has shown me that I've been misspelling certain words forever :-)


To play devils advocate here, I have always been a terrible speller and it doesn't affect me because all surfaces I use have spell check. Occassionally I will butcher something so bad I confuse the spell checker and Google it, but those are so few and far between I don't feel like I missed out memorizing list after list of arbitrary word roots and remembering if this is loaned from greek, a romance language like french, or old german.


https://www.bbc.com/news/education-18158665

N=1: I feel like - and I am 99% certain - that my grammatical and spelling skills have decreased since I started using the internet heavily.


I think it heavily depends on the kind of content you are consuming. I know it is anecdata, but my personal grammar and spelling skills went all the way up since I started using internet heavily (which was very noticeable to me, since english isn't my native language). And while I use a lot of incorrect grammar and spelling when talking to friends, I usually do it out of convenience (to shorten words, etc.), not because I don't know the proper grammar/spelling.


I would like to make the argument that reading/writing HN have made my English a bit better in recent years.


English isn't my first language. Yet, I believe my english grammar is getting worse even if I read a lot of English everyday. I blame this on globish though and the fact that it's relatively rare to get corrected on grammar mistakes around here.


On the other hand, the internet pretty much taught me English. Sure, we had English classes in school, but the internet gave me an immense amount of practical experience. Most of my peers, particularly those who didn't use the internet, finished school with significantly worse English than I did. Spell-checking has been pretty useful, but probably not vital.


I generally think that the sort of knowledge best learned with flash cards is probably knowledge not memorizing in the first place, with the truth of this being proportional to the size of the dataset being learned. For sets in the neighborhood of 200 or less, I don't think it's a big problem. Chemistry classes asking you to memorize the mapping of element names ⟷ element symbols seems okay. But memorizing the spelling of several hundred to thousands of words? That seems like a job for a machine.


I don't have studies, but the idea is they never have to learn it because the computer just does it for them. So why bother?

It's anecdotal, but growing up the students who relied on their calculators never really learned to do mental math the same. The difference was palpable.

But I'm not a formal teacher or expert when it comes to the psychology of learning, so I also welcome studies on this subject.


Spellcheck is not like a handheld electronic calculator. It doesn’t write for you.

It’s more like a system that would let you practice doing arithmetic with pen and paper but then immediately show errors.

Look at how people practice board games nowadays: they try making their own moves but get a precise computer analysis to reveal when they have made a blunder on the spot, for real-time feedback. This is not the same as just watching the computer play against itself.


You're thinking of it as a pedagological tool. I'm thinking of it as a crutch. The truth is in-between and will vary from person to person, but I'd bet money most people lean on it more than they learn from it.


But does developing your spelling actually matter?

Maybe being able to spell perfectly is about as useful a skill as putting shoes on a horse or chipping a piece of stone into an arrowhead.

What if 100% of the time that s devoted to spelling was devoted to something else, like just reading?


> But does developing your spelling actually matter?

I don't think it does. I think it's similar to how people used to lament the loss of the bard who'd memorize songs/stories as reading became increasingly popular. I was just responding on how it changes how we think.

I do think mental math matters, but most people disagree so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


I also think mental math matters, but I think that people who end up using simple math a lot will simply pick up the ability to do mental math as necessary.


> It doesn’t write for you.

Modern ones kind of do - for example, gmail's spell checker now comes with predictive input.


“Plus the last thing my kid needs is more screentime. I don't want to have to sit next to them all night making sure that they are only doing 'productive' work.”

That was my German mother-in-law's rationale for not having a TV in the house while my husband and sister-in-law were kids. “I didn’t have enough time to watch and make sure everything they saw was appropriate.” To her, just because the program claimed to be for children meant that every minute of it (and commercials) was appropriate for her children.

I’m going to say it worked out well overall, because that family is way better at sitting down for calm, well-planned meals and just lounging in a quiet living room, talking to each other than my family is. Slight downside for my husband: he is absolutely incapable of tuning out the constantly-running TV my relatives use for background noise.


I can't even comprehend how anyone could tune out constantly-running TV. Just turn it off!


I think it is practice. I don't have a TV at home, so my family is unable to tune them out at all when we go out. When I catch myself and turn away I notice most people seem to be ignoring it - it is obvious by looking my family is not.


I know people who sleep to TV, and it genuinely sounds like torture to me.


I do this. I have a really difficult time turning my mind off in silence. If it’s dark and quiet, my mind is working.

Listening to old TV shows like TNG helps distract me enough to fall asleep.


Just gonna throw this out there (as a longtime insomniac): perhaps that’s your brains way of telling you that it needs to mull over whatever’s going on in your life. I’ve found that my insomnia is worst when I have so much going on that I’m not getting enough quiet time to process it all.


How many hours of mulling might be necessary? I don't really care if some part of me wants to spend 20 hours a week in generic reflection, it's going to be mostly wasted effort after the first hour or two. Whatever I would replace is probably more important.


Hmm, I'm talking more about projects I'm working on, or things I want to work on the next day. I'm at a point in my life where I look at this as a good thing, not something that needs correcting.


This sounds to me like someone saying "I have a pebble in my shoe so I hop everywhere on one foot" when they should probably just take the pebble out of their shoe.

Have you tried avoiding screens for a couple of hours before bed, and reading books instead? I had the same problem - found it difficult to get to sleep - and I have experienced MUCH better sleep since moving my last hour or two before sleep to some light reading.


>Have you tried avoiding screens for a couple of hours before bed, and reading books instead?

Yes of course I've "tried" that, although I think this sortof incorrectly frames what I'm talking about as a problem. I don't find listening to star trek while I fall asleep as a problem. If I read before going to bed I will just stay up all night long reading. Activating my mind by reading a book seems like the opposite of what I'm looking to accomplish here.


>Our elementary school uses chromebooks from 1st grade on, and I do see a lot of downsides.

When my family moved last year, we moved to a school system where Chromebooks are in use. (You can bring your own or the school will provide one for you for free). I was very worried about many of the downsides as well, but after 1.5 years, I think it's actually a pretty big positive.

In my case, my son has ADHD, so getting paperwork organized is a huge challenge for him. Being able to access everything is a life saver for him. About 50% of his homework and projects are completed and submitted online. Getting him to complete a creative project on paper is pulling teeth, but making a slide deck for the same thing with lots of clip art, etc. is easy and he'll do countless revisions.

I think some of the keys to success are that we only use the Chromebook for school stuff. Anything other than schoolwork happens elsewhere. The school system also does a good job balancing things and the "games" we've seen skew far more towards educational rather than game-like. As parents, we make it easy to find the recreational stuff on a different device, but that's a luxury we have that many don't. The result is that the school computer gets used for school.

So, it's possible to make it work well, but I agree that there are many places it can go wrong.


I think Chromebooks are awesome, but not at grade 1.

Kids are too developmentally different at that age. They range from the kids whose parents delay kindergarten a year to make them better at sports to the kids put into school early to save money on daycare. Using a trackpad and keyboard is too abstract.

My kids' school uses iPads as limited enrichment devices until grade 3. As a reward, they get to independently use an iPad to do some things. Grade 3 and up Chrome is there in a similar way, and they start requiring them at grade 5. They are a little conservative, but I think they are getting better outcomes, especially with younger kids.


>I think Chromebooks are awesome, but not at grade 1.

Great point. Our life w/Chromebooks didn't start until Grade 5.


> kids whose parents delay kindergarten a year to make them better at sports

Unrelated, but could you explain this?


Some people are focused on sports and want their kid to be bigger than their classmates. So you either opt out of school if the birthdays work, delay kindergarten if it isn’t mandatory, or send the kid to a private kindergarten and have them repeat.

It’s a big advantage, especially around 11 or 12, and get kids on more competitive teams earlier.

I coach little league, and we see it all of the time. It’s a compliance issue as kids get a little older and start playing tournaments.


Are teams not based on age in the United States? In New Zealand they're all categorised as 'under 9s', 'under 8s', 'under 7s' etc. They've also introduced weight classes to a lot of teen sports too to prevent them from being dominated by gigantic Samoan kids.


School teams are classed by grade level. Non-school teams are by age. Non-school teams are generally seen as a fun thing to do on weekends, while school teams can become very serious. Hold your kid back early and they will be the star of the team 12 years latter. Some of this is because at some critical points their body is physically better than their peers and thus they get to play a little more and get that much more practice. Some of it is the parents who think doing well in sports is important are teaching their kids young to play sports and so those kids are getting practice at home that other kids do not get.


Yeah, it's a common thing for all sportsmen and women. https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/why-many-olym...

The positive feedback loop they're in pushes them more and more towards the things they're better at than their peers.


On a similar note, I've read about parents in China scheduling the conception and birth of their child so that the child can be the oldest at school. Although it's only a few months' difference, but in kindergarten and elementary school, that head start could mean quite a difference in academic performance.


I wonder about this also. In most districts you don't have a choice, and it is those kids with October-December birthdays that are delayed a year because of the cut off date. Maybe they are using fake birth certificates?


My little girl had a recent projects. She had to choose from one of six entrepreneurs and answer some questions about one of them in complete sentences. How was she to acquire the information about this person? A URL to a biography.com bio.

Fine. I have a computer and she was able to read the article. She then answered the questions. To my surprise, she hadn't capitalized a single word. I told her that she needed to capitalize her sentences and proper pronouns, and she was annoyed because "my teacher doesn't make us do that."

WTF?

First I was annoyed because they sent a link, which means that kids without internet access might not be able to complete the assignment. THEN I was upset because her 3rd grade English teacher didn't care that students were paying attention to basic capitalization. And this is in a REALLY good school district.


English is not my native language, but the medium of education in my school was English.

My grandmother used to make me read three articles from the newspaper. One from the front page, one from the weather pages and one from the sports pages. Puzzles on weekends and it was our job to scan and read out obituaries everyday.

She was born in 1921 and never went to school after 8th grade. She learnt how to spell and write in English because she figured newspaper articles were already spell checked and edited for correct grammar etc. I had to chuckle as I imagined re what she would have said if she were alive in our buzzfeed and dailymail times.


Go back and look at archives of old newspapers. Seems like any time I read an old newspaper article, say from the 60s, I spot more grammatical mistakes than say a given Buzzfeed or Daily Mail article.


Not in India, it wasn’t..the English was impeccable. Newspapers was how so many people who didn’t go to school brushed up and learnt English grammar and spelling.

When you are 45 and have 3 kids..and as a housewife have never learnt English..a newspaper lying around was great reading material in the afternoons between cooking and cleaning. And it was cheap..almost free. Self paced language lessons!


Tech-parent here (if you can call me that!) I have a 9 and 4yo. My 9yo watches youtube since she was 2 (on normal restricted mode) I have been teaching my kids (especially the older one) to identify by herself what is quality content that you can learn from Vs what is just dopamine inducing click bait. I think it is delusional to think you are achieving anything by blocking youtube. The earlier you teach your kids to create their own filters the better. They will be exposed to it at some point anyway. My kid learned a lot of stuff by herself already on you-tube. How to draw, how to braid her hair, its really an empowering thing for kids. I wish i had youtube when I was a kid. It just enables them to learn by seeing and imitating, except they are not limited to what they see at school or at home. She already has a great sense of what is a shit video full of non-sense or what might be violent or inappropriate for her and polices herself to stop watching straight away. (obviously there is some supervision involved. She is not allowed to watch yt on the infrequent occasions she is home alone).

The other day we were researching something on wikipedia together for one of her homework assignments and i closed a browser tab by accident, she immediately turned and pressed Ctrl+Shift+T. I asked her how did she learn that. You guessed it, on youtube. One day she was drawing on a online drawing app and she closed the tab by accident and was really upset about loosing the drawing she had made, so she went on youtube and searched how to recover lost tabs.


> kids with computer access at home can work on them at home

More than once, my kids have been required to print something out, often in color. I have a crappy inkjet printer, but the quality is so bad that I've taken their assignments and printed them out at Staples a few times.


Taking a moment to proselytize on the value of color laser printers. They're well worth the investment. Inkjet printers are one of the greatest sources of human misery.


Except for the toxic toner-dust laser printers emit.


My kids school allows them to take the Chromebook home. But until now class assignments have always been written assignments. They have "modules" which they do at school, not at home. There were a couple of days where it just got to be too much screen time. I've banned opening the Chromebook at home. It doesn't go up to their room. Allowing them to take the Chromebook home isn't a healthy idea. Too many downsides, I haven't seen a single upside.


To me, de-emphasizing handwriting seems like going with the times, where handwriting is getting more and more rare. Likewise, if spellcheck is always on in the real world, is correct spelling without it still as important as it was 50 years ago?

Society changes. Remember how we were taught that we need to know how to do math on paper because we won't always be carrying a calculator? Nowadays, it may be useful to learn it just to understand the principles behind the math, but it's a lot more useful to learn how to effectively use the calculators (and potential CAS) that we are all carrying in our pockets than to learn how to perform long division on paper.

(Long division in particular seems like one of those skills that contribute little to understanding the principles behind it and are unnecessary nowadays).

In school, I was taught how to write with various implements - had to write some things with a fountain pen, which is a 100% useless skill. A complete waste of time. What I wasn't taught is how to effectively use a keyboard, because school was too obsessed teaching us how to write with ancient instruments just because they were seen as morally superior to the easier to use modern pens.


But handwriting is important not only for the exact skill, but because it is one of the most demanding fine-movement we will ever do - missing out/not properly learning that in an age where we are truly plastic to it both mentally AND physically - I really do believe - will cause at least a big generational difference , at most rendering certain currently mundane tasks impossible for younger people.


In Japan they don't use any computers etc until a much older age in school; interestingly much of that stems from a worry of hindering a student's ability to write kanji.


Having dabbled in kanji, my initial assumption is that such a worry is justified. With English you have 60 or so characters you need to know how to write, many near duplicates (X vs x, U vs u). Kanji is far more numerous and also seems to have a more artistic emphasis.


Yeah, the worry's pretty unambiguously justified; even today, native speakers sometimes just forget how to write words they know. It's just a question of how much it matters.


Hi there! Unfortunately (or fortunately), they DO use computers in schools in Japan now. Albeit not like handing out Chromebooks, but there is computer classes and computer time. In Middle school, I believe there is a small push to use iPads and the like on occasion.

So, there is SOME use, but not like a Chromebook for everyone (Thank heavens!)

-- JD in JP


- spellcheck is always on, why learn real spelling when the computer fixes it for you?

I wonder if over time you absorb the information anyways. Also, spell-check telling you there's an error isn't the same as automatically fixing the errors and hiding that there was ever an issue... so I think the right click/see list of likely words / pick one is still a learning process.

- The de-emphasis on handwriting is mentioned in the article. In-class assignments are still handwritten, but take-home projects can be typed.

I'm 30 and my handwriting is getting much worse unless I deliberately try to write perfectly. It's wild. Sometimes I don't write anything by hand for months at a time.


> Also, spell-check telling you there's an error isn't the same as automatically fixing the errors and hiding that there was ever an issue... so I think the right click/see list of likely words / pick one is still a learning process.

Here in Quebec we got a spellcheck that I sadly only learned about after high school (though it still helped me so much) called Antidote. They not only tell you what's wrong, but also why it's wrong and trick to avoid that mistake. It's in French though, they do have an English version, but I'm not sure if it's as good. It's spell checking is also much better than the one from Word (though again, French may be the issue here)


spellcheck can't fix things like "their" and "there", many people autocorrect/spellcheck the wrong word in.


It certainly can, either by detecting the sentence structure, or even more simply, by tagging them all as warning. You then go over them one by one and it can remind you of the difference and ask you whether you used the right one.


> - spellcheck is always on, why learn real spelling when the computer fixes it for you?

Why is this a problem? Augmented spelling isn't bad, and you still have to know the differences between similar correctly spelt words. Learning Chinese, I de-empahsized writing them by hand and being able to write them on computer instead, you still need to know about them, what they look like and how they sound, but the muscle memory isn't necessary.

> - The de-emphasis on handwriting is mentioned in the article. In-class assignments are still handwritten, but take-home projects can be typed.

As a lefty I would have loved this. Our handwriting is already worse because our hand is occluding what we are writing. I got plenty of flack for it in elementary school (to the point that some teachers thought I should I should use my "right" hand instead). The computer was a great equalizer to me, which is one of the reasons I got into them in the first place.

As for the screen time issue, I'm more worried about their eye health, but ya, it is an issue all of us parents are facing these days.


> The computer was a great equalizer to me

It was an even greater equalizer to me, as a legally blind person. I can see enough to handwrite, but it's laborious. When I was in the third grade, my mother convinced my teachers to let me do as much of my homework as possible on my family's home computer. And sometimes I could do in-class assignments on a computer as well, either in the regular classroom or in the special room for the blind students. I wish we had had ubiquitous laptops back then (late 80s and into the 90s).


As another lefty, I don't see the issue, unless you write with a "hook hand." I hold the pen (pencil, etc.) as a right-handed person would, just mirrored. I've even done both European and Chinese calligraphy left handed (much to the amusement of the Chinese calligraphy teacher, but for European calligraphy, I have to turn the paper 90° to the right).


I don't see how your hand occludes what you're writing. It occludes what you've already written. But you've already written that bit, and you can move your hand if you really need to see it.

Maybe we should go back to what the Ancient Egyptians did and allow people to write in whatever direction they like!


It includes what you have written and much of what you are writing, you are basically writing your character blind. Writing in straight lines is especially problematic on whiteboards (which these days is an interviewing handicap).


> Plus the last thing my kid needs is more screentime. I don't want to have to sit next to them all night making sure that they are only doing 'productive' work.

I don't think that is necessarily the best approach - it get's the job done with regard to YouTube, but there is some derrived effect they're missing. I don't think problem is that children watch funny, but ultimately meaningless videos. That give them basis for a social life with their peers. The way I see it, the problem is when they do it too much. What I've done is limit the the available screen time for them. They can do what they want with that time they're allotted, but beyond that it's for homework or hobbies (drawing, guitar, programming, ect.). They learn to prioritize with they available screen time.


> - spellcheck is always on, why learn real spelling when the computer fixes it for you?

I don't have an answer to that question. At least, not a better one than than some vague "it will build character." Do you have another answer in mind?

Something I've been wondering about is the effect of typewriters and word processors on the development of penmanship. Has the average penmanship of a highschool graduate improved or declined with the proliferation of these technologies in schools? Has anybody researched this matter? I have my suspicions, but they're only suspicions.

Supposing it got worse though, would that matter? Maybe the dexterity/coordination skills are transferable. But if that's the case, has that manifested in any apparent way? And if not, does it really matter?


I think penmanship as an art is basically dead.

Yes, kids still work on improving their handwriting, but only insofar as it's legible.

I actually think this started out with the death of fountain pens, although computers likely contributed. We might be witnessing the death of connected writing.


> Plus the last thing my kid needs is more screentime. I don't want to have to sit next to them all night making sure that they are only doing 'productive' work.

And you don't have to, there's youtube-dl, finding the right level material is another story though.


I can't agree about poor families being at a special disadvantage here. It's true that a computer costs more than paper and pencils, but families being too poor to afford a cheap chromebook is not a problem inherent in education. It's more of an indicator of a bad state of society. Of course, educators have to work within existing limits, but I wouldn't use it as a criticism of the idea.

Besides, kids from poor families are probably already disadvantaged in more significant ways, like not having too much time with their parents, since they have to work longer.


> The videos are more about funny jokes than the different phases of matter.

I learn so much better when I'm interested in what I learn, making it funny can be a good way to learn it.

> I don't want to have to sit next to them all night making sure that they are only doing 'productive' work.

Can you explain that one a bit more? Do you expect your kid to always do productive work? Is being productive is all you think matters in life?


There's no reasonable correlation between spelling and higher intelligence. It can be a proxy for minimum intelligence, absent other information, but that's about all.


Who said anything about intelligence? Spelling is a critical component of effective written communication.


That also means students using spellcheck is not necessarily a problem, so long as they can communicate effectively in writing.


Spellchecking isn’t always available.

I used to work in a job that involved access to severely restricted information.

We weren’t allowed to use conventional computer. No access to spellcheckers.

And we were rigorously assesses for spelling, because our reports had a very wide audience.

Knowing how to write well without software support is still a skill required on our world.


Education has many goals and one of them is to teach them spelling. The fact that fourth grade homework is spelled correctly does not matter at all - the goal is not to produce correctly spelled homework.


Of they don't have to memorize random spellings it could free up mental resources for other things.

Regardless, why be stuck in the past with things like handwriting or spelling or cursive?


If you're a programmer, does your editor perform spellcheck for you? Mine certainly doesn't.

It's utterly bizarre to me that people in this thread are seriously suggesting that spelling is an obsolete skill.


You don't think it would be embarrassing to be standing at a whiteboard at work and be unable to spell basic words?


It won't be embarrassing if no one else in the room can spell better than you. (I once had a Chinese professor forget how to write a certain character while writing on the blackboard. He just laughed it off.)

It's also not clear to me that spellcheck will lead to people forgetting how to spell, since it's all about notifying you of spelling mistakes.


So we should study things so we don't get embarrassed? Moving on are you embarrassed because you don't know how to swordfight or any other outdated skills?


That's begging the question. It's not an outdated skill if there are situations you need it! If I couldn't spell the things I were writing on the board in tutorials, it would quite reasonably look like I have no idea what I'm doing. Not a great look.


I think in the entirety of my 16 years as a student, I probably wrote less than 100 words total on blackboards or whiteboards. There weren't computers or ipads in those classrooms either.

Whiteboards are something I use more often at work these days, but not really when I was in school.


Are you sure there’s no correlation between spelling and intelligence? Can you provide a source?

It’s counterintuitive that people with extremely low IQs aren’t more likely to make spelling mistakes.


> Kids from low income families are screwed over - again.

No matter what, there will be disadvantages, but it's not the end of the world. At least they have less screentime at home right?

> Tech parents are always like "f yea, of course you block youtube"

"Always"? I highly doubt that. Actually, I bet most tech parents guide their kids on which youtube channels to watch because most tech parents watch youtube.

> I don't want to have to sit next to them all night making sure that they are only doing 'productive' work.

They are kids. Why are you concerned about 'productive' work. Sounds like you are dealing with a company and employees rather than a family and kids.

Calm down. Everything will be okay. People really do turn into their parents.


> spellcheck is always on, why learn real spelling when the computer fixes it for you?

The computer immediately shows spelling errors and corrections, TEACHING correct spelling.

> The videos are more about funny jokes than the different phases of matter.

( youtube is a funny one. Non-there are many great youtube channels packed with scientific content, like Smarter Every Day, Veritasium, Mark Rober, CGP Grey, VSauce, engineerguy, Physics Girl, Captain Disillusion, Mathologer, Numberphile, ...

> I don't want to have to sit next to them all night making sure that they are only doing 'productive' work.

That's a parenting issue not a computer issue. Teach your kids what's allowed and what's not, and check their browser history until they learn how to manipulate it, then check your router logs

The main problem with ed tech is the extremely low quality of the apps the schools buy and make the kids use, not the computers and youtube themselves.


Most of those channels you mention aren't really teaching anything beyond general knowledge and trivia.

You could watch every video on every one of those channels and you might know a lot of random facts but it won't make you a physicist or a mathematician or a biologist.

>That's a parenting issue not a computer issue. Teach your kids what's allowed and what's not, and check their browser history until they learn how to manipulate it, then check your router logs

Ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. There are things I saw on the internet as a child that I still cannot unsee. My parents having seen that I saw them afterwards would not have changed that.


There is a lot of excellent inspiring youtube content (including well presented secondary and undergraduate level math and physics lectures) buried in mountains of dreck.

People can learn all sorts of useful things from youtube, but they can also easily waste huge amounts of time, become radicalized by extremists, ....


I'm not saying it can't be inspiring. I'm sure youtube videos about mathematics have inspired quite a few young people to pursue mathematics! They can foster an interest, inspire people to learn, etc. But that doesn't make them educational.


A video recording of the MIT OCW courses is absolutely educational.

Many science/technology focused YouTube channels absolutely produce educational content.

You don't need to receive a title or a credential to have received education.

I'm deeply sorry that you've struggled with bad things you saw on the internet. That can be a compelling reason to limit access. But that doesn't redefine education.


>there are many great youtube channels packed with scientific content, like Smarter Every Day, Veritasium, Mark Rober, CGP Grey, VSauce, engineerguy, Physics Girl, Captain Disillusion, Mathologer, Numberphile, ...

That's what I was replying to. And those videos are not educational. They're 'interesting facts' or 'wow science is so coooooool!!!!!111 yeah science!!!11' channels.

>You don't need to receive a title or a credential to have received education.

Fun interesting facts are great for getting people interested in science, but they are not science! People coming away from a Mathloger video interested in maths? Brilliant. People coming away from a Mathloger video thinking they know maths? Not brilliant.


There are lots of university lectures, worked example problems, videos of people demonstrating and teaching every type of manual skill, .... on youtube

> those videos are not educational

This kind of thing is absolutely “educational” under any reasonable definition of the word https://youtu.be/0KjG8Pg6LGk https://youtu.be/8KmVDxkia_w https://youtu.be/Ku8BOBwD4hc https://youtu.be/k8Rxep2Mkp8 https://youtu.be/1VPfZ_XzisU https://youtu.be/IcrBqCFLHIY

Of course it’s not (and not supposed to be) a substitute for students working problems for themselves, running experiments, conducting interviews, doing research in the stacks, writing papers, writing code, putting each-others’ art through critique, or the like.

Nobody “comes away from a Mathologer video thinking they «know math»” (whatever that is supposed to mean).


It totally is.

I worked in EdTech for the past 4 years and was in contact with the education world.

Digital devices are harmful to younger kids. The brain develops much better when using fine motor skills such as writing with pen and paper. France banned all digital devices in primary schools for a reason and all countries should do it.

The most important factor in getting quality education are not digital devices or educational material but the quality of the teacher. The OECD did a study about the use of computers by students at the school and at home[0]. See the results for yourself. Countries like China, Singapoore, Finland, and Estonia barely use computers but have some of the best PISA academic results.

[0]: http://www.oecd.org/education/students-computers-and-learnin...


Digital devices are harmful to younger kids.

Indeed. Results of a study published in November 2019 [1] actually show a structural difference between preschool age children who experience a lot of screen time and those who don't. Myelination is reduced in the former. Myelination of brain white matter supports language and literacy skills.

[1] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abst...


>The most important factor in getting quality education are not digital devices or educational material but the quality of the teacher.

I agree with you in general, but I think the most important factor in getting quality education is parents that value education.


Or maybe there’s not a single monolithic factor to optimize. Assuming you can even define education in the first place, it will always be very contextual. Of course a single factor is very appealing, but maybe it’s an assumption that people impose upon reality and the reality is more complex.


Indeed. You'd be surprised most parents do not put the quality of education at the top when choosing a school. At least not in the market I was working on (private schools in Mexico).


At least for China, they've never done a country-wide sample, they've only done their richest city (Shanghai) and richest provinces. For the article cited, it is 2012 when they did just Shanghai (likewise Singapore is a city state and Estonia/Finland have less population than either).


I work in EdTech in public research and the amount of crap published, the pervasive wishful thinking and the tendencies to focus only on the micro-actions that can be easily measured is unbelievable. I wonder how many are secretly as cynical as I am but keep going because of job security.


As a teacher, I would love to see less technology in my classroom (both personal and school provided) and better tools to support my professional practice (specifically, around persistent assessment).


Getting kids away from electronics is definitely important, and in some respects I find myself agreeing with multiple points from this:

I absolutely agree that (in the USA) K-12 Education's basis should indeed be civic education, or the education required to create excellent citizens. I also absolutely agree that giving kids "technology" (as smartphones, tablets, Baby Shark, and the rest are known) can be unexpectedly close to giving them crack depending on the circumstances.

However, there is one single thing with respect to computing I find relevant overlooked:

I also think it's critical, in a civic sense, that most of the populace has a general understanding of what computation is and how computers "work." Not because I think everyone should code for a career, but because everyone should be able to have some understanding of debates about topics like encryption or automation, and in general have an a mental scaffolding that outlines the invisible infrastructure supporting the daily experiences of our times.

In my view, absent this, too much of the citizenry will increasingly see "technology" in a way that verges on being a bit too close to "magic."

I'm not sure what exactly this means for K-12 education, but I'm pretty sure it means that despite my antipathy for pervasive classroom "technology," there should still be some sort of very planned and mediated curriculum that exposes students to "computing."


The problem is that most schools do not provide a good education on how to be creators instead of passive consumers of technology. Learning to use tools such as Excel should be coupled with a tutorial on Visual Basic, beyond shallow here's-a-formula-here's-a-grid. Millennials and Gen Zs don't need the an entire class dedicated to how to use Khan Academy. They just need to know that Moocs and other free resources exist. Another flaw is that a lot of academic stuff are supposed to teach skills by proxy. E.g. learning how to use a search engine through writing a research essay. But most of the "academic search engines" and databases are frankly terrible. Take a look at most universities' library websites and see what they recommend. Most so-called academic journal tooling cannot hold a candle to e.g. Google Scholar. This is especially bad if you study humanities and is willing to just accept technology advice from your institution; you would be wasting hours on search tools with ancient UIs because your professor thinks Google is too "general".


> Learning to use tools such as Excel should be coupled with a tutorial on Visual Basic, beyond shallow here's-a-formula-here's-a-grid.

Excel is the tool of a creator. Just because it's not a traditional programming language does not mean that it is not an incredibly powerful computational tool, even without VBScript.


Yeah, I used to "program" in Excel : I loved how I could immediately see the changes in each "memory cell" when modifying an input or a formula...


I agree, and having been the volunteer runner of my kid's middle school computer clubs (and occasional stand-in teacher) I think the best way to teach computing is not with computers, but with pencil, paper and classroom simulations.

We've successfully implemented some very simple computers by letting various class members stand in for components, and we had one very good implementation of TCP/IP over middleschooler.


This is incredibly funny and probably an experience that most of these kids will remember — whenever they hear "TCP/IP", they'll think back to images, impressions of this day/class.

I love such not-so-random acts of awesomeness! Kudos, steverb.

Question: have you observed some of these kids then "level up" (over the next months, years; "days" is clearly too short to internalize I think) with regards to these topics, or general "abstractions", that made you think "hum, this is definitely very, very much like what I tried to teach with TCP/IP"?


Simon Peyton Jones gave a very good talk on this at Strange Loop 2018 - sadly it's falling to deaf ears



I only ever write on a computer. I own a single pen which I have not needed to replace since I moved into my apartment in 2016. I'm pretty sure I last used it in November, when I had to fill out a form for jury duty.

The article cite studies that handwriting is linked to brain development, and reading on paper improves memory, and so on... I'm certainly not in a position to refute those studies, but I have to wonder how complete they are. People once denounced the printing press for causing us to loose our memories, and as a population, we do in fact have worse memories than scholars during the Middle Ages. If we taught intensive memory training in school, memory would likely improve, but do you think that would be an ideal use of student time?

Maybe handwriting is a magical art that improves brain function across the board, but I'm going to need a lot more evidence before I believe that. In the meantime, we should be teaching the skills that people need in today's world, and that overwhelmingly means typing.


It's not about handwriting per se but about using fine motor skills. For a healthy development of the brain, young kids need to develop motor skills which neurologically will allow cognitive skills to develop properly later on.

Sorry I don't have any link to back this claim but I worked for a couple of years in EdTech with pedagogy experts.


Fine motor skills can be developed in many ways, including many ways that use more modern technology than a pen. If it is the motor skills that are important, then they should focus on those and not one particular means of practicing them.


Yes for example let kids use a real mouse, and then they can practice hitting the "x" on all the ads that pop up. /s


Does typing Not require fine motor skills?


Motor skills, certainly. But not fine motor skills, obviously. There's a pretty big difference between getting within a cm of accuracy needed to press a key and drawing submillimeter-accurate curves. An aspiring artist or surgeon certainly needs that level of skill. But do fine motor skills impart other cognitive benefits?


Or using mouse!


> we should be teaching the skills that people need in today's world, and that overwhelmingly means typing.

You don't need a ton of practice to get good at typing. Anyone can reach 80 WPM within a year. That's more than enough. Handwriting is much more difficult and needs more practice.

Even software engineers who type all the time need to write on whiteboards to get jobs. /s


Most everyone is bad at writing on chalkboard or whiteboards unless they practice it as a separate skill. Teachers sometimes get training.


> Handwriting is much more difficult and needs more practice.

Okay, I'll buy that. So, why are we teaching it? For whiteboard interviews?

I realize it will take some restructuring of society before handwriting is an obsolete skill, but gradually de-emphasizing it in school isn't a bad way to get there, over the course of a few generations. The time schools save can be used on any number of other skills.


> So, why are we teaching it?

Here's a list of random, unresearched reasons:

1. It teaches fine motor skills

2. Some people learn reading and writing better when writing by hand. Some people learn better in lectures when taking notes by hand.

3. Tech isn't always available. Sometimes pen/pencil and paper are all you have when you really need to write something.

4. Drawing, painting and other art require learning how to hold and use pencils, brushes, pens, and other tools in a fine, controlled manner. If people are going to learn to make art with manual instruments, they may as well learn to write at the same time.

5. Text input is genuinely more awkward on keyboards for many non-Latin languages, and is less emphasized in development of software products. That relegates those language learners to second-class status as they grapple with tools built for the Latin/Cyrillic world.

6. There's a ton of cultural significance to writing by hand: calligraphy, religious or legal rites.

I can probably come up with a dozen more but to get to your next point.

> And the time schools save can be used for any number of other things.

If you want to talk about outdated holdovers in children's education, summer vacation is the biggest one, dating from when kids were needed on farms to help bring in the harvest. Schools could simply eliminate summer vacations if they really wanted more time to educate. No more complaints about teachers only working 9 months/year, no more summer learning slump (or whatever it's called), no more paying for daycare or summer camp 3 months/year. A lack of time is not a real problem.


> we do in fact have worse memories than scholars during the Middle Ages.

I wouldn't be so sure. People can regurgitate from memory dialogs for entire movie series, TV shows, and countless songs. We also remember deeply nested folder structure on numerous computer systems, variety of software interfaces (e.g. click Menu > Tools > Options...), and innumerable memes/facts/lists. Sure we forget a ton (is it needle/haystack or haystack/needle?) but we know and remember a lot more than medieval epic poems.

Navigating the modern world requires an insane amount of memorization but since we no longer need to remember road signs or phone numbers, we feel we remember less today than decades or centuries ago.


That sounds right. Anecdotally, some things I have memorised:

- Several phone numbers

- My National Insurance number (UK version of Social Security)

- 16 digit card number for 2 cards, as well as all the other numbers on the cards.

- 10 or so passwords (less important ones are randomly generated and handled by password managers.

So as you say, we may not be able to recite a 50-page poem, but one could argue that it's a lot easier to live in the modern world with many abstract strings memorised, in addition to all the knowledge that's considered crystallised intelligence.


You need to write to do math, which is a major focus of K-12 education.


This is true.

I don't think schools should completely drop handwriting, at least not within my lifetime. It's necessary for filling out forms at the doctor's office, and signing contracts.

But a little basic ability is all you need—you don't need to write neatly or quickly. So if schools want to focus on it less, that makes sense to me.

Nobody should have to write whole passages by hand.


I fundamentally disagree. There's conclusive evidence that writing notes in lectures by hand leads to better recall.

And kids should not be dependent on these disgusting privacy-invading ad platforms we call computers to write things down.


If you're interested in an ongoing critical look at technology in education, Audrey Watters is a great person to follow [0]. She helps keep me honest as someone working in this space. She put out a really long and interesting post, The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade [1].

[0] https://twitter.com/audreywatters

[1] http://hackeducation.com/2019/12/31/what-a-shitshow


That article is a useful summary but a tad sensationalist and should be read with a critical eye. Many of the debacles would be portrayed as successes by a different person with a different perspective. For example, Google for Education (#10) is extraordinarily popular and useful - hardly a debacle. The CSforAll movement (#6) has made a substantial and growing difference in the number and diversity of software engineers. Gamergate (#5) was clearly a clusterf, and it is many things, AND a stretch to relate it to ed-tech.


Nice rant! I think a lot of what the author complains about is already obsolete, our school system (privileged city in Oregon) went through the chromebook/tablet mania and already got rid of them again. As far as I can tell the only "tech" they use are electronic whiteboards. The curriculum across liberal arts and science seems almost indistinguishable from what I learned in high school in the 80s. In Germany.

Still, this was a real gem:

> "How did we get here? The American public education system, a rusted-out 1976 mustard sedan whose “check engine” light is always on, is driven by a psychopath who wants, by turns, to crash it for the insurance, to insist that cars can be submarines, and to spend hilarious sums on unnecessary parts."


>Among the jobs most likely to be automated out of existence are those whose functions are the most similar to computers, including jobs like computer systems administrators, network architects, and computer support specialists, 60–70 percent of whose functions could be automated using current technology.

>Even the brainiest are not safe. In the finance industry, in recent years, we have seen the development of machine learning tools that can perform in minutes the same analysis for which a human com­puter science major required hours or even days. You can guess which of those resources was less expensive to retain.

EDIT: I'll note that the article cited to support the second point “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation" doesn't acutally refer to "Computer science majors". It lists programmers having a moderate (not high!) chance of automation... and also lists system administrators as having amongst the least automatable jobs of all. Then to support the point that system administrators would have their jobs automated a different paper was cited. I'm not sure how seriously I can take the author with such clear evidence of contradicting the articles it cited and cherry picking evidence to apparently support a point the author had in mind before these papers were ever read. Bluntly the article smacks of outright dishonesty obscured by citing a huge number of lengthy research papers...

Not sure if I buy this take. I received a laptop in school and back then this exact analysis was true and indeed the jobs of administrators, network architects, and computer support administrators was largely automated. So those jobs are far less prevalent than in my childhood right?

Except that's not what happened and the jobs became more prevalent as improved automation made computers cheaper and more useful. I'm not holding my breath over the imminent collapse of jobs involving computers simply because the current work can be automated by... people using computers. Sure this argument is undeniably true if you think computing will stay exactly like it is now except the current jobs will be automated and no new jobs will be created.

My crystal ball is as foggy as anybody elses though. Maybe we will hit the singularity and in that case computing jobs will likely be the very first to be completely replaced.


^^ These parts of the article also bothered me, and tainted many of his other possibly/probably valid points.

> ...we have seen the development of machine learning tools that can perform in minutes the same analysis for which a human com­puter science major required hours or even days.

Statements like this just demonstrate an obvious lack of understanding of how the field of computer science works. Guess who developed those machine learning tools? A machine learning engineer _who more than likely studied CS._

It's just hard to trust the author on other topics where I'm less familiar, seeing the data clearly driven toward a predetermined narrative.

It reeks of cherrypicking to me, regardless of how well justified it is or isn't.


Most teachers believe that education is supposed to:

1) To make good people.

2) To make good citizens.

3) To make each person his or her personal best.

But our public school system as envisioned by its creator (Alexander Inglis) in the early 20th century was to simply to reduce as many individuals as much as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry and establish fixed habits of reaction to authority.

Inglis, in his speeches, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling is intended to halt a worldwide democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice and unity. Compulsory schooling was to thwart the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means to stop the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood from ever reintegrating into a dangerous whole.


Yep. Educators refer to this as the 'Factory model of education'. Imported from Northern Europe in the late 1800s with heavy influence from industrial Germany.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_model_school

In the case of such schools (for the unwashed masses, of course), the medium is definitely the message. Uptight. Neat rows of assigned seating in non-nonsense, screwed-down desks with steel frames and hardwood tops. 'Workbooks', authoritarian teaching by rote (to a model, not to individuals), elected school boards, daily pledges of allegiance, lockstep curriculum, nearly invisible boards of accreditation, etc.

Ah, humanity.


As Wikipedia notes, this is kind of just a myth - http://hackeducation.com/2015/04/25/factory-model


The division chair of the school of education at my niece's alma mater, Augsburg University, fully believes in the factory model of education. My niece almost switched majors over it.


I have seen these discussions before. I have seen people who will cherish the times gone by and the skills of the good ol' days becoming extinct - calligraphy, letter writing, book handling... I have seen people with the progressive mind saying that: what's not needed anymore, or what's not going to be needed soon, why even bother!? If it's dying, let it! It's evolution! It's Science! It's Progress!

The problems is both things. There are people who have gone too far with the science and tech craze, "the silicon valley bigwigs" and feel that in the end it wasn't really the tech that made the cut for them or they did see people lose out because they didn't have the other bits figured, despite being wonderful at their niche. The other people are the ones who feel that the world is surrendering to the tech and there is no place where tech won't go. It's better to keep catching up with the times than being left out in dilly-dallying over notions, ideas, philosophies, arts and the like.

My concern is both are narrow ways of thinking by themselves. Yes, tech will be everywhere. Yes it is getting important and you won't find a job if you don't know tech etiquette, soon enough at least. But it won't make the cut without understanding people, tendencies, perspectives, arts, histories. New skills are nice and important, but then old values and ways of doing things have inspirations. You can't "disrupt" everything by "the new way of thinking". You will end up destroying a lot of places. Forget that there's a panacea, "the one unified theory", "one ring to rule them all". That's good for a fantasy movie conveying a few ideas, but incomplete when it comes to real life.


First of all, could someone enlighten the non-US readers about what common core is? I hear the term a lot, not clear what the main ideas actually are or how people view it.

My own kids go to private schools in the UK. None of the parents would have any problems buying a load of tablets or VR goggles or whatever if the schools said so, and the schools would not have any problems buying whatever manner of gadgets they thought were needed. These are schools that have historically fed kids to top secondary schools in the area, which in turn feed into the top universities in the country, and the world.

And yet, the classroom is more or less just like the ones I attended as a kid in the 1980s. Bunch of chairs for little people and letters and numbers made from paper cutouts. The blackboard is one of those big touchscreens but it's used mostly like a blackboard. It's a screen for showing videos only when the kids are in after-school care waiting for parents to come get them.

The kids start to read the year they turn 5, and the big kid who is three years in can mostly read an Economist article. Math-wise it's going fine as well.

As a programmer I'd love it if the kids could learn some of what I do, and there's plenty of interest, but essentially the article is right. The point isn't to make little workers who can write an insertion sort. If you are educated, and you wind up in a place where that's needed, it won't take you all that long to figure out.

We've somehow missed the point of education. It isn't to create specific skills that are useful for businesses. The point is to have an understanding of our place in the world, a vast context that encompasses a huge range of topics. If you do that, you will come across those specific skills, and much more.


> First of all, could someone enlighten the non-US readers about what common core is?

A new set of standards for education that are meant to cut across state lines (e.g. California and Texas previously set education standards merely through market volume and being the biggest purchasers). It's mostly fine.

A lot of people are upset that they "changed how math works" but what they really did was introduce a bunch of different ways for students to think about math so they can get a working math literacy. Instead of being a prescriptive standards ("this is how math works") its more descriptive ("here are a dozen ways one could reason about math to get the answer"). The hope is that this will allow students to better pick up and understand more advanced math in the future, while also providing more opportunities for struggling students to "get it" (e.g. because one example worked for them).

> As a programmer I'd love it if the kids could learn some of what I do, and there's plenty of interest, but essentially the article is right. The point isn't to make little workers who can write an insertion sort. If you are educated, and you wind up in a place where that's needed, it won't take you all that long to figure out.

I think the important thing, instead of learning how to program insertion sort, or even to program (except perhaps as an extra class), is learning how to reason about basic computing ideas.

Explaining basic ideas like Turing Completeness (and the related ideas of no way to control how another device does things impacts on sharing always meaning copying is possible), NP Hardness (allowing people to reason about how computers actually work, it can only brute force and do clever math, what it can and can't know), cryptography (trust and privacy), and what software engineering vs. programming is (like, discuss the size of code bases, where bugs come from, programming as vocational skill like cooking or writing that is also useful in other fields, etc).


> what they really did was introduce a bunch of different ways for students to think about math so they can get a working math literacy. Instead of being a prescriptive standards ("this is how math works") its more descriptive ("here are a dozen ways one could reason about math to get the answer"). The hope is that this will allow students to better pick up and understand more advanced math in the future, while also providing more opportunities for struggling students to "get it" (e.g. because one example worked for them).

This strikes me as particularly intelligent an approach. That's one of my top 5 complains about my time in school — born in 2982, graduated HS in 2000.

I had great fluency in math because my father basically tutored me in math/physics from 7~16 y.o., so I could help my friends "getting it" usually with a simple drawing or some other approach (and lots, lots of examples to "see" it).

If public education is finally trying to solve this problem, we might have much higher math and logical literacy in future generations. The benefit might be huge in all regards, especially political and social. IMHO.


My eldest is in first grade and so far I'm not a fan of the Common Core math.

I could make a cynical conspiracy argument that much of it is designed around promotion of the type of technology presented in the article. "Carry the one" is the simplest thing to explain with a pencil and a blank piece of paper. All the additional Common Core techniques seem to require some kind of visual representation, either via the games sold to the schools and onward to the parents, or via the overpriced blocks promoted to teach these techniques. Yeah you could draw it all out, but geesh you end up doing 90% drawing and 10% teaching. Whether it ends up helping students is moot; it helps put money into a lot of lobbyists' pocketbooks.

In fact, now that I think about it, I find myself probably believing it.

Even when I'm trying to be positive about it, I find it a bit backwards. I think giving beginning students a dozen ways to reason about the answer only adds to the confusion. IMO the better teaching method is give them one way to get the answer. Once they've mastered that, then start looking at additional ways to reason about it.


> All the additional Common Core techniques seem to require some kind of visual representation,

Yes, because humans are not very logical or abstract thinkers. We are used to visualizing things. It's a lot easier to help students build the abstract and logical thinking required for mathematical literacy if they can fall back on visual representations when they need to.

> Whether it ends up helping students is moot; it helps put money into a lot of lobbyists' pocketbooks.

I mean I value helping students higher. And as you pointed out it can be drawn out.

> IMO the better teaching method is give them one way to get the answer. Once they've mastered that, then start looking at additional ways to reason about it.

Except that that doesn't work well. The point of giving them many different ways to reason about it is so that they can get the core concept and actually learn the concept, rather than just memorizing "the one way".


What if the "one way" doesn't work for some students where an alternative way does? What if the "one way" is interpreted as the only way? A large complaint about math from students (pre common core) is that there is too much memorization. "Is x^1 or x^0 1, or was it 0?" When math is a bunch of memorizations, students can't apply it outside of canned prompts. The goal is to build mathematical literacy and understanding in a way that is accessible to more students than the "one way." Time will tell if common core gets us in the right direction.


I somewhat think the opposite though. When you're given ten ways to do it, then it's information overload and you end up just memorizing those ten ways. When you're given one way to do it then not only do you have a way to do it that will always work, but also it leaves your brain ready to find further ways to do it on its own. And that's how thing start to make sense and stick.

Basically, I think for good students, CC just makes them memorize stuff they'd come up with on their own, and for poor students it creates too much confusion such that memorization isn't even effective anymore.


"Education is the cultivation of a person, not the manufacture of a worker"

It's neither; the american school system is a socialized daycare so that their parents can go work a full day without worrying about what their kids are up to.


No, it's not.

If it were, the school day would be more closely in line with work schedules, rather than being about 6 hours long and starting/ending at wildly different times depending on the child's age or just what school they attend.

Parents generally have to supplement supervision at school with beforecare and/or aftercare programs of some sort.


Maybe it's more than one thing


As opposed to other school systems? Out-of-the-home-schooling is not something invented in the US.


I feel like people tailor their lives around their children for the most part. During December, most people tend to just take their vacation to coincide with their children's.


American system is not that much friendly to both parents working. It often and in many places basicly assume that one parent work part time.


I was considered a gifted child from a young age. In third grade, because of my "giftedness", I was told I could just read instead of participating in the class skit of the planets of the solar system. I used that time to complete the entire Chronicles of Narnia (good books btw - skip The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle though). I've wondered what would happen if we scrapped the most useless 30% of my state's school curriculum and instead replaced it with reading time.

I know sports generally have a metric of "Wins above Replacement" where players are measured in how many wins they are expected to add to their team over a hypothetical average player for their position. I've wondered if you could similarly measure "Learning above reading" where your curriculum is measured in how much the student learns in comparison to if they had just sat down and read a book of their choosing for the same amount of time.


I'm convinced that people would, in general, be much more competent at general writing and communication if they spent more time reading for pleasure as kids. I developed a huge vocabulary and an instinctive grasp of grammar because I read voraciously; constantly immersed in more-or-less decent writing, I could immediately tell when my own writing was "off".


There's a comment elsewhere in this thread that suggests there's no link between spelling and higher intelligence.

I disagree. Spelling ability doesn't develop in a vacuum. It's the result of an individual's having seen the words before. Reading develops spelling ability. Reading also develops the imagination and one's ability to reason about abstractions. Reading may not have any influence on spatial reasoning or math ability, but I think it's the primary driver of verbal intelligence.


I used to read a lot, basically all the time, and was never good at writing or grammer. So I don't think it is so easy and clear.

I got better at writing when I took lessons and read books about how to write.


Yeah being a late reader, I see that I could have done a lot better in English class if I had read more as a child.


Last Battle and Magician's Nephew are excellent because they provide insight into CS Lewis as an author and person. Even as a child I recognized the 'problems' with those two books and that flash of insight helped with bringing more nuance into my own thoughts. At least I hope so.


As an adult learning about his personal history/development and late conversion to Catholicism explained a lot of what confused the kid version of me who read the books decades earlier


He converted to Anglicanism, not Catholicism, to the dismay of his friend Tolkien.


Last Battle left an impression on my younger self that was far greater than the other books which I enjoyed but didn't experience such a visceral interaction with. Other than a weird interest in Turkish Delight despite now knowing that it is probably not as enticing as I might imagine.


If you're in the US, try to get some "Aplets and Cotlets". They're a delicious variety of Turkish Delight made in Washington state from apples and apricots.


As an avid reader personally, I would have loved that. My son is an avid reader too, however, interacting with his friends and my colleagues over the years, I have realized that not everyone learns well or absorbs enough through reading alone. Some people need to see and/or do to learn.


Reading is a great skill and encouraging kids to read has real value. I have an avid reader who is ten however who struggles with many aspects of writing and communication (organization, idea structure, penmanship, thinking before you speak, etc). He would much rather read and often rushes through other work so he can get back to his reading. He doesn't need more time to read sitting in class, he needs more practice speaking and presenting, learning to construct and edit work and other interactive skills.

Sending your kid to school to read independently seems like a waste of resources, likely tolerated because it takes work from everyone's shoulders and no one complains. I'd like to see the reading be the homework and the day filled with practice, teacher guidance and student coaching, similar to what Sal Khan promotes. None of this has much to do with technology and screens though...


Skip the Magician's Nephew? That's crazy. It's now considered the first book in the series, and I think some of what it covers is the most fascinating aspects of Narnia.


...But he was right about the last battle. Susan dropped out because she discovered sex and rational humanism. I'm with susan!


> I've wondered what would happen if we scrapped the most useless 30% of my state's school curriculum and instead replaced it with reading time.

At our kids school they operate a (third-party) web-based reading comprehension test linked with many books available in the school library.

Kids can collects points in their account on this system if they correctly answer questions about the books they've borrowed and read.

Our eldest has now amassed by far the most points that any child in the school has ever had.

His teacher is convinced it's somehow to do with him chasing lots of points. We, on the other hand, are convinced it's just because he really enjoys reading, and that we have no TV in the house and an awful lot of books...


The thing is there will be kids with low 'learning above reading' score (like a lot on HN probably) and kids with very high 'learning above reading' scores.

I heard one person call the ones you can throw a book and they will be good the kids you could put into a dark room and they will emerge literate.

I was also praised as a child because you could leave me in a book store for 5 hours and 5 hours later I would still be in the same spot reading the same book and enjoying it. I realized now I was praised for that because it was rare!


I love the wins-above-replacement idea. Just reading by yourself sounds like a great "control" treatment. But some subjects, like math, are too hard to learn with just eyeballs moving across a page. Perhaps a math intervention could be measured as "how much better is it than letting the child loose on khan academy?"

My TAG program in school was just us sitting around a table with the art teacher having inane discussions. Literally zero value added.


Spoken communication skills and teamwork are important skills do, despite the protestations of people who live on their computers.


I guess so. Mostly those team activities were an opportunity to re-experience the unfortunate fact that I was generally unliked and socially unskilled.

It might be useful to actually teach those skills as an independent targeted activity, but turning science or math into a social activity sounds like a lose-lose.


And kids who had social skills yet struggled with math still had to do math. School isn't just the Rs, it's also about learning how to function in a society with other people.



The Magician's Nephew is the best one! You do need to read it after at least the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe though, or it's a bit of a spoiler.


about six years ago my son let a campaign to turn back the attempt to introduce iPads to the school (they'd been piloted in grade 9 and were to be introduced high school wide the following year). A surprising number of the 9th graders said it was a waste and many kids didn't want them (they already had phone to get whatever distraction they wanted).

The principal finally took him aside and said "I'm not going to discuss your points. The fact is if we don't adopt them the parents will complain and enrolment (in that private school) will drop as we appear to be behind the times."

Years before I was on the school board and the parents were the biggest problem. For example there was a panic that "technology" must be added to the curriculum (apparently the inclined plane or pulley weren't considered "technology"). The pushback came from the engineers and computer programmers on the school board, and the computing teachers at the high school level. But time was taken from something else and all the 2-6 grade kids learned to use Powerpoint and Word which essentially none of them (now all college age) have used in years.


> But time was taken from something else and all the 2-6 grade kids learned to use Powerpoint and Word which essentially none of them (now all college age) have used in years.

My computer classes in ~6th grade (1999) involved at some point learning Excel by building stock portfolio spreadsheets, researching companies on the internet, making “investments” and tracking our profits over time. We learned Word and Powerpoint as well, but getting into the formulas in Excel was super fun for me, and came at a time when I was starting to play with Basic and Perl outside of school.

After that I was also way ahead of future friends in high school and college at building out spreadsheet calculators for science projects, research papers, club budgets, whatever.

I was back home a few years ago and ran into the teacher who taught that class and actually thanked him specifically for his Excel classes, as they’d caught my interest enough to still be thinking about them 20 years later!

Way better than all the time we spent learning cursive...


> "But time was taken from something else"

I think this is a key point. Insofar as computers or ipads can free up more time for other studies, they're a positive development, but insofar as they take away time from other studies, it seems like a negative.

I learned recently that the school district I attended as a child is phasing out their home economics program. They always had two teachers for that, one would teach the cooking half and the other the sewing, switching every quarter. Well, one retired a few years ago and the school district seems to have no interest in hiring a replacement, so the remaining teacher dropped the sewing section completely and now only teaches cooking to kids. But she's going to retire in a few years too and has told me the school district has no interest in hiring a replacement for her. Those classes weren't worth much to me since I learned to cook at home (incidentally that school teacher is my mother..) but a lot of kids have never done anything more sophisticated in their kitchens than use the microwave, if that. A lot of kids have parents that don't have the time or inclination to teach them how to cook, maybe they don't even know themselves. This trend concerns me a lot more than the ability to spell. Being able to cook for yourself is cheaper and potentially healthier than buying microwave TV dinners the rest of your life. And for that matter, the only serious nutrition education that school district provides is in that course. Unless they're going to replace that class with a nutrition class, they'll certainly be doing those kids a disservice.

See also: "Figure 5. Trends in obesity prevalence among adults aged 20 and over (age adjusted) and youth aged 2–19 years: United States, 1999–2000 through 2015–2016" - https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db288.pdf


Then again, engineers and computer programmers routinelly introduce their kids to scratch, hour of code, code combat, general programming, hacking things and what not.

At the high school level, kids of my collegues (especially boys) have significant advantage compared to kids of other people.


indeed, but I wouldn't say "then again": I'd say that teaching kids Word isn't giving them any kind of computational thinking. Teaching them to write a small piece of code (and that exquisite feeling when you finally get it working) is very powerful.

It's similar to how mathematics is typically taught to kids in the systems I'm familiar with (US, DE, AU): mostly as syntactic transformations unattached to anything useful. Apparently the teachers have a propensity to be "afraid" of maths which is one reason they might choose to go into early education. The kids may be able to pass a simple maths test but not really have and feel for what it is.


Yes. But "computer should wait till high school" and "this is bad curriculum" are not the same complaints.

And also, basic knowledge of word will not harm them. They are not taught word in deep details, they basically learn few basics - that files exists and can be opened with it. For many kids it is first encounter with anything remotely like that.

Again, it is stuff that programmers kids just know by osmosis living with parents, that is why it looks pointless to teach. But many kids simply dont.


There is some irksome editorializing, namedropping of irrelevant "theorists", and some egregious use of anecdata, but for all its many flaws, this is fundamentally a compelling essay. The author cites legit data as well, and makes concrete recommendations.

I am grateful to have gone through school before the internet and mobile devices became mainstream. I think kids today have it significantly harder than I did.


I heard of an OLPC-like program in Peru that builds a wooden laptop with a Raspberry Pi brain to be used to "improve education". While the Peruvians deserve all props for being able to mass-produce a low-cost laptop for even the poor in their community, my hot take was, if they wanted to improve education, give each kid a THEC64 and limit their exposure to an hour (okay, maybe two) a day. Have them spend the rest of their free time outside.

I think computers have the most to teach us when we are the ones teaching them (i.e., programming them), and that the promise of 1980s computers was that they could do whatever you want (that was within their capacity), the drawback being that they came with very limited functionality out of the box and must be programmed (or loaded with external software) to be useful; whereas today, computers and computer-like devices such as phones come with lots of functionality out of the box, but they do things that might not be what you want. (Crash due to brittle OS/drivers, sudden UI or functionality changes due to "mandatory updates", DRM, spyware...) This plus the ready accessibility of obscene or offensive content makes me very wary about giving internet-connected devices to the very young (< 14 years or so). If kids are to be exposed to computers, we should teach them to be their masters, not their slaves. And we should strictly temper screen time, because their growing bodies and minds need time outside more than they need time in front of a screen.


I am gravely concerned about using too much tech in early education, as this will assuredly hinder the development of critical fine motor skills such as handwriting, drawing, painting, sculpting, among many other skills, all of which I learned as a child. Not to mention all of the physical play we had. As a child I remember having to invent games, stories, and adventures. In other words, we were forced to use our imagination, for everything. Perhaps I’m just a cynical and aging critic, but I feel like the overuse of technology in general will make future generations of children lazier, and therefore less creative. I already feel that my own life has been impacted in this way.

Case in point: The widespread use of Grammarly is dumbing down everyone. Why actually learn proper grammar, spelling, common idioms, and syntax, if AI can basically do it for you? What as a society do we gain from such things? I can’t help but imagine that at some point our understanding of language will become so simplified that we’ll need a proxy language to express “real” phrases so that all we have to do is bang out basic ideas on some kind of modified keyboard which will translate it to real language.


Young people just use their motor skills differently, for example for computer games or juggling (pen spinning, cardistry). These skills are now much more available thanks to YT and Internet in general.

I think there is a good case to be made that kids actually learn much faster than ever, thanks to things like YT and Wikipedia. Before the Internet, it was very difficult to connect to really skillful people in the world, there were pockets of talent but really disconnected. If you were outside the pocket, you were pretty much screwed. Today it's not the case.

Of course you can question usefulness of the skills learned, but that is a separate question, I think. Fashion in these skills is probably faster than in the past, for better or worse.


I half think that the entirety of Common Core Math is designed by lobbyists promoting the type of technology presented in the article. "Carry the one" is the simplest thing to explain with a pencil and a blank piece of paper. All the new Common Core techniques seem to require some kind of visual representation, either via the games sold to the schools and onward to the parents, or via the overpriced blocks sold to teach these techniques. Yeah as a parent I could draw it all out, but then you end up doing 90% drawing and 10% teaching; it's pretty impractical. So I could see cynically that whether it ends up helping students is moot; it helps put money into a lot of lobbyists' pocketbooks and that's all that matters.

NB Even when I'm trying to be positive about it, I find it a bit backwards. I think giving beginning students a dozen ways to reason about the answer only adds to the confusion. IMO the better teaching method is give them one rote mechanical way to get the answer and explain that as best you can. Once they've mastered that, then start looking at additional ways to reason about it (if necessary).


What are these 'common core math' techniques? I went to primary school in New Zealand. In around 2005 they introduced a new way of teaching mathematics that we referred to as the 'numeracy programme'. It wasn't very popular with students and parents obviously all thought it was crap because parents are naturally scared of change in education negatively affecting their kids.

But when we actually did it, it was basically fine. Obviously everyone still learnt the standard place value algorithms (by that point we already knew them, and they didn't stop teaching them to younger kids), but people also learnt other strategies like: if I'm adding 47 to 54, I can simplify that by instead adding 50 (47 + 3) to 57 (54 + 3), which is 107. It was about learning what you to terms like 47 + 54 without changing the value.

Another one I think I remember being mentioned was thinking of 124 x 52 as 100 x 52 + 20 x 52 + 4 x 52. Of course, that's exactly what you're doing with the standard algorithm! The 'algorithm' you learn when you're 5 is just the same as the 'strategy' you learn when you're 10, but presented as something you do on paper rather than something you do in your head.

I also remember learning about ways to approximate these sorts of things. So you want to work out 4241 x 1245 - well you can work it out, but you should probably also work out what 4000 x 1000 is and use that to check that your answer is of the right order of magnitude. And if you're just working something out quickly, then maybe all you need is 4200 x 1300, that's obviously close enough for any practical usage.

I don't remember exactly what I learnt then which to me is a sign it was probably very effective: I internalised the strategies, some of which I was probably already using, some of which I probably didn't remember but thought about again later. It all seems very obvious now, of course, but it's different when you're 10.


> if I'm adding 47 to 54, I can simplify that by instead adding 50 (47 + 3) to 57 (54 + 3), which is 107

47+53=107???

Haha, okay I get it, it was a slip. But it's kind of the point from my perspective. All these different techniques of moving stuff around seems fraught with ways to misunderstand it or muck it up. At best they should be supplementary skills, and shouldn't be taught as the primary techniques. Per Common Core guidelines, or at least per the stuff my first grader is bringing home, it seems like all these tricks are taught as the foundation, which seems backwards.

Maybe my opinion will change as my kids progress. I'm by no means married to my stance on the approach, and would be happy if it does indeed lead to better understanding. But now I'm not seeing it as a great approach to math, and the cynical side of me can imagine that there's more money and politics there than people think.


I dunno. Having an intuition for why 12x6=72, etc all the way on up through integrals, Taylor series, and the rest of K-12 math just seems a lot more intellectually stimulating, and therefore useful to the development of the mind to me.

I never understood the kids who "just wanted to know how to get the answer." Like, any monkey can follow a protocol. Why does it work? That's the brain muscle worth growing.

Mathematics is a foundation for systematic logical thinking. Rote memorization comes in so that you don't need to work through the why once you have mastered the why of that problem; to enable thinking about more complex relationships. But if you didn't really get the simpler relationship, maybe it's not time to move on...

Disclaimer: I have zero personal experience with Common Core outside the kind of anecdotes I come across like in this thread


I agree in principle. Just the implementation of common core seems backwards. My kid is struggling to make sense of it, and I don't have any good way of helping her because it all seems backwards to me. I did teach her carry the one, like I learned, and she picked it right up. But I stopped that too because I didn't want to confuse her. So now I'm somewhat clueless what to do to help. The teacher recommended those dumb video games, after we've worked all our lives to limit her screen time.

That's why I say common core, even though the goal is more understanding and less memorization, actually leads toward the opposite.


>47+53=107???

>Haha, okay I get it, it was a slip.

Yikes that's embarrassing. Yeah 47 + 3 to 54 - 3 obviously. Of course I brainfart exactly there. Should note that you messed up too: I said 47 + 54, not 47 + 53. :D

> At best they should be supplementary skills, and shouldn't be taught as the primary techniques

Absolutely 100% agree.


Article mentions Waldorf. A good, old article about Waldorf in Silicon Valley: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-sch...

I just started my son at Waldorf in the Sierra Nevadas. Would recommend to anyone if you have one near you.


Waldorf does a lot of good things for pretty bonkers reasons. It kind of depends on what the philosophy your particular Waldorf school if that’s an issue or not, and what kind of side effects that has.


We did a Waldorf tour and a Montessori tour as I am Piaget constructivist fan. Waldorf was kooky-dooks, the specific Montessori had no soul, I am sure most probably do.

We ended up going with a preschool that was a chaotic hodgepodge, the best part of which they had two mandatory outside play times, no exceptions for weather.

Waldorf is extremely conforming. Good intentions with the wrong focus.


the whole "computers in schools aren't working" part of the article is being overly focused in these comments. the important part of the article is this:

> STEM ideologues and real educators are pursuing very different goals. The purpose of edu­cation in the sciences is to cultivate children as knowers in and of the world. The purpose of STEM programs is just to create more of a certain kind of worker.

as someone with a computer engineering degree currently working on an MFA, I couldn't agree more. I have learned more about the consequences and impact of my work in a half year of MFA studies than I did in five years of engineering studies.


Once we got laptops in high school, almost all of the down-time after completing assignments that I used to spend reading in middle school was converted to playing Flash games or screwing around with GarageBand.


I remember how it was before - they just screwed around in different ways such that doodling violent or rude stick figures was one of the better uses of the down time compared to outright mischief.


Such a gobbledygook of an article, sure some tech spending isn't helpful and may even be harmful to education but this author doesn't even fully explain what he means by "technology".


the entire "STEM Against Science" section is about what he means by "technology" so I am really not convinced you've read the article.

> The sciences and mathematics have a historic place in the cur­riculum, and technology does not, for the simple reason that the latter is not inherently “about” anything. Absent human contributions on specific topics, cut off from the subject matter of academic work, technology is nothing—an electron microscope without any samples, darkened VR goggles, an empty spreadsheet. Specializing in techne as such means trying to teach people to be good at “making” without having any idea of what to make, or why to make it.


I don't have to convince you of anything, that quote is exactly the terrible nonsensical word salad that don't explain his premises. Jumbling all technology as if it is a single phenomenon just makes the author sound high on his own rambling intellectualism.

edit:

> technology is nothing—an electron microscope without any samples,

Pretty sure there's actually not many electron microscopes and quite a lot of samples in schools.


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