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LTTE: Using computers in elementary school is counterproductive

Published February 14, 2020

I volunteer a considerable amount of my time at Skyline Elementary. I’ve been doing it for most of the past decade there and at Mountain View before it closed. As a volunteer there is a lot of information that I am not privy to that may explain and possibly justify some of the changes I’ve seen. That said, there are issues in our schools that I find disturbing.

In recent years, mental health professionals have been increasingly concerned with the impact of screen time on children’s social & psychological development. Educators everywhere can point to children whose obsession with screens and the content presented there negatively impact the educational process. I’ve certainly seen it over and over again in the students I’ve been supporting.

Education is a highly social activity especially in the elementary and middle school years. Educator’s have always recognized that it is necessary to have a solid knowledge of a student’s capabilities, deficits, and personality to successfully establish a learning environment for that student. Computer screens interfere with the essential relationship between student and teacher.

In addition to this basic issue with screens, the support needed to maintain networks and computers in a school environment is exceptionally high because the equipment itself is being handled by beings that lack the full understanding of what is required to properly utilize or maintain it. Kid’s break things. The number of hours sucked up trying to troubleshoot each student’s problems in dealing with technology is insane and often beyond the capabilities of teachers and students. In the time constrained world of education every minute lost to issues that don’t contribute to a child’s learning is time forever lost.

I personally have come to the conclusion that using computers in elementary school is counter productive. I’m not sure where they should be introduced but I am thinking high school would be where they would be most appropriate. Maybe limited use in the middle schools.

State and Federal education mandates often border on the insane. In their efforts to defend the individual, they created situations where the learning process of an entire class is interrupted by the forced inclusion of disruptive students. Yes, no one wants to harm a child, physically or psychologically. Yet the cumulative impact of disruptive students on the classroom is damaging to the rest of the students and creates an experience of disproportionate power for the disrupter.

Additionally, the burden placed on our educators to document disciplinary/behavioral issues/incidents has mushroomed into such a monumental bureaucracy that they are rapidly collapsing under the weight of it and it’s seeming inability to effect observable change in the classroom. We need a school district that identifies insane mandates, tells the public about them, and fights to restore rational systems.

People talk when they are at work and I hear a lot of distrust of the administration in our district. I’ve heard that there are more and more staff at the district level to little effect. No bureaucracy wants to be subjected to scrutiny. Perhaps the public needs to investigate some of the issues that lie at the core of this distrust.

I can’t help wondering what would happen if our school district could somehow create instructional classes that numbered no more than 12 plus or minus one or two students. We know from sociological studies that group dynamics undergo big changes when you cross certain thresholds. Individuals act out more as group size increases, promoting disruptive behavior in children whose needs are not being adequately met. The level of noise, off task behavior, etc in a class of 10-12 students is palpably different than a classroom with more than that number.

The essential ingredient in this is the amount of time and energy an educator can commit to each student. Engagement on the part of the student generally increases with the amount of attention that can be afforded them by their teacher. This is human nature. We might be better off instructing our children in smaller groups, and structuring their daily routine differently, mixing instruction, recreation, individual school work , and service opportunities supervised by suitably qualified staff.

For what it is worth, I’ve degrees in Psychology and Computer Science, I’ve been a therapist and a software engineer among other things. I even aspired to be an educational software developer. I was once nominated for a national volunteer award by the high school my daughters attended. I am unabashedly a supporter of education and a skeptic of institutions that toot their own horns too much.

I love the time I spend supporting students and teachers in the Ferndale schools. I am concerned that too much time is being taken away from learning time by efforts to push technology, testing, and unrealistic behavioral expectations inappropriately.

Let’s hope the public and the school district can come together and hammer out goals and objectives and a levy to pay for it that actually achieves those goals.

Gayland Gump
Ferndale


This was provided by a community member. Any opinions are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher of My Ferndale News nor its advertisers or supporters. Information and claims contained within have not been verified. My Ferndale News welcomes your letters to the editor. There is no word limit although 800 words is a good target to stay under. We do not accept anonymous letters. Submit your letters online by clicking here.

10 Comments

  1. Jackie Rodriguez Jackie Rodriguez February 14, 2020

    Wow, this is so intelligent and clearly brings out the problems educators face as they negotiate this new world with technology that is accepted and expected at all levels. How do we limit technology to children who were handed cell phones when they were two? I agree that limiting access at the elementary level is important, especially because I believe that learning how to get along with each other is a vital part of the lessons children learn in grade school. I never even considered the time it takes to keep technology running smoothly for 25+ students every day. Thanks for your astute observation.

  2. Connie Moreau Connie Moreau February 14, 2020

    So well said…thanks for sharing your thoughts and understanding of education.

  3. Aron Thompson Aron Thompson February 14, 2020

    A very thought provoking piece; thank you.

  4. Marvin Waschke Marv Waschke February 15, 2020

    Kids need both smaller classes and more and better computers. One is not a substitute for the other. Better text books, better facilities, all are important.

    I was disappointed by the failure of the Ferndale school levy, but I was more disappointed by the failure of the school district to effectively present the case for the levy to the people of the district.

    If poor decisions were made in the past, lets fix them, not wallow in a mire of past mistakes. Could current funds be better spent? Perhaps. I personally question the wisdom of one big high school, but from experience as a mentor at FHS, it’s clear to me that the current system has unmet needs.

    Does anyone seriously think that Ferndale can grow and prosper with an underfunded school system? Good luck on that one. After last week’s performance, I would seriously question a decision to locate a high tech business in Ferndale school district. This is type of business I have experience with, and the kind of business that will generate a taxes that will make it cheaper for all of us. The blazing truth is that poorly educated children are the biggest expense of all.

    • Aron Thompson Aron Thompson February 15, 2020

      Ferndale schools aren’t underfunded; the District got greedy and the residents aren’t made of money.

  5. Gayland G. Gump Gayland G. Gump February 17, 2020

    Last Friday I wrote a letter to the editor of My Ferndale News about problems I witness in the Ferndale school that I volunteer in. Marv Washke’s response to it compelled me to examine a wide range of things. First and foremost, why did I write it?

    To give some context, I was at home fighting a cold with the typical array of medications instead of being at the school doing my volunteer thing, so my judgment was undoubtedly impaired to some extent. The school levy had failed earlier in the week. I’d struggled with which way to vote. Feeling strongly the arguments against as I age further into retirement and my home’s assessment climbs even as it ages and its maintenance needs increase. Counter to those feelings were the pull to give the schools whatever they need to get the job done. In the end I felt compelled to do something, anything to contribute to a resolution to my internal struggle, hence, the letter.

    I’ve long been frustrated with the way our society fails itself. Marv’s comments, made me realize that my letter was really misdirected. We expect too much from our educators. We put them in no-win situations, with the expectation that they will somehow turn every one of the children we send them into productive citizens.

    The problem there is that the average person only experiences the education system as a child. They don’t experience just how complex it is to integrate the elements needed to create a successful educational milieu. Parents need to think how difficult it would be if they needed to get to know twenty to thirty students as complicated as their own children every year and to meet those children’s emotional and learning needs.

    I am frustrated that as a society we haven’t found a better solution to this issue of how to educate our citizens. The problem is not technological. It does require resources though. The resources I believe it requires the most are people. I can’t see how our schools can succeed without more people.

    Another thing I recognized upon reviewing my letter was that this was not the forum that was going to lead to solutions. I’d thought that my bringing up issues I’ve encountered would be useful but they are too narrow and complex for public debate. Therefore, I apologize to the district for throwing this out to the public. I’ll see if I can find better ways to provide my thoughts and input.

  6. Aron Thompson Aron Thompson February 17, 2020

    Confusing.

    • Gayland G. Gump Gayland G. Gump February 18, 2020

      Yes it is.

  7. Marvin Waschke Marv Waschke February 18, 2020

    Gayland– I don’t think you were wrong at all for bringing up these issues. Education is a difficult problem for all of us. I sympathize with folks who fret over taxes. I too am retired on a fixed income. Taxes are an investment in our community. We can invest wisely or foolishly. Under-investment is as big a mistake as over-investment without oversight and accountability.

    I have to say that I am not impressed with the way Ferndale has invested. I am committed to this community. I have lived in the Ferndale School District for 70 years, within the Ferndale city limits for close to two. Counting my grandsons, my family has lived in the district for six generations. I started grade school with kids who arrived with their parents from New York to staff the first Cherry Point refinery. I grew up cleaning barns on a dairy farm and I swung a hammer setting forms at Arco. But I also have several college degrees and long experience in the high tech industry that has given me the opportunity to observe how communities are managed all over the U.S. and the world.

    The people of Ferndale are magnificent. I am elated that I can identify folks of at least four distinct ethnicities within a hundred yards of my house. I talk to friendly, compassionate, and smart people here all the time. People who can get things done. I’ve made it a point to start sitting in at Ferndale city council meetings and I have been impressed by the city staff, the council, and mayor. They are competent and sincere people who are trying to do a good job in the face of tough problems. But I also see that Ferndale has infrastructure and planning issues that will get worse and more costly if they are not addressed soon and well.

    If anyone questions that district education is in serious trouble, they should read the reports from the school board published this week here. Were the problems avoidable? Perhaps, but the past is over. We’ve got a future to face.

    I’d like to see the problems go away without tax increases, but I can’t honestly say I think that is possible. All of us have to take responsibility to see that our taxes are well spent and solve rather than create problems. Ferndale is a place where good things can and will happen.

    I urge everyone to lend a hand to all of us. I give Gayland credit: he’s thinking about solutions, not complaints. That’s what we should all do.

  8. Gayland G. Gump Gayland G. Gump February 19, 2020

    Thanks, Marv. For what it’s worth are some questions I wrestle with? Are there ways to restructure our educational system to significantly increase the adult to child ratios without incurring more costs, What would that look like? Is there a place in the education system for older students teaching younger students? Could that work and how?

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