“the Computer Delusion” by Todd Oppenheimer
“The Computer Delusion” by Todd Oppenheimer Todd Oppenheimer, the author of “The Computer Delusion”, is a renowned investigative reporter. In this essay, he “argues that the tremendous emphasis on computers and technology in elementary and secondary schools, and especially in the lower grades, can actually decrease the effectiveness of learning and teaching” (255). Oppenheimer says that government programs are focusing more on bulking up the technological areas of public education rather than saving the basic fundamentals of a good education.
He gives examples of real life situations where school districts have cut important programs such as art and physical education to make way for more computers. Oppenheimer also introduces situations in which big businesses donate their services to assist school districts in their technological advances, only to disappear as soon as the real costs in maintenance and training enter the playing field. He argues that computers, rather than improve learning, introduce another distraction to the learning process.
Finally, Oppenheimer proposes that a possible solution to this educational dilemma may be to “ban federal spending on what is fast becoming an overheated campaign” (282). Oppenheimer’s overall objective is to illustrate that too much emphasis has been put on learning via a computer and not enough on the traditional hands on methods therefore hindering the effectiveness of education. To begin his persuasion, Oppenheimer introduces a very important point regarding the priority of computers over traditional education.
He gives numerous examples of extreme situations in which school districts cut music and art programs to make way for computers: “The Kittridge Street Elementary School, in Los Angeles, killed its music program last year to hire a technology coordinator” (257). His use of numerous detailed examples and statistics makes it seem as though he does not expect his audience to have a very extensive background in the educational field. His fairly complex vocabulary, however, requires that his audience be fairly well educated themselves.
It seems as though Oppenheimer is trying to shock his audience by using fairly extreme examples as the general media coverage has not been centered on these types of events. He wants to show his readers the extreme so they understand how large of a problem it could grow to become if no action is taken. Oppenheimer does not say that computers are not important in education, rather that they are taking the place of more important programs.
Oppenheimer also makes a point that hands-on classes, such as shop classes are also being cut to make way for computers. He points out that “administrators are stuck in this idea that all kids will go to a four-year college and become a doctor or a lawyer, and that’s not true” (258). There are certain individuals who will never use a computer in their profession; therefore shop class is far more beneficial for them than any computer technology class.
Oppenheimer is scared that important traditional areas of education have become increasingly endangered because they are the most beneficial. Oppenheimer also attacks this issue from a financial standpoint. He makes a point that school districts lose a large amount of finances that could be focused towards other areas of education in the process of advancing the school technology. While big businesses regularly assist in the computerization of school districts, they often bail out of the situation once it is installed.
This raises problems for schools because the costs of upgrading software and maintenance on the machines usually outnumber the costs of the original installation: “The business community…offers tangible financial support…by donating equipment…Once a school’s computer system is set up, the companies often drop their support…saddl[ing] the school with heavy long-term responsibilities…which can cost far more than the initial hardware and software combined” (276-277).
The cost of computerizing schools often results in the loss of other important school programs: “…in Mansfield, Massachusetts, administrators dropped…art, music, physical education, and then spent $333,000 on computers…” (257). This is a large problem when it comes to the education of the individual student. Students need the ability to study a variety of different areas in order to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Without diversity in education, students who do not enjoy the areas offered may lose interest and reduce their level of effort and participation, therefore reducing the effectiveness of their education.
Putting such educational programs at risk only causes a negative effect on students. Computers in the lower levels of education turn students’ attention away from what they are learning and towards what is happening on the screen, according to Oppenheimer. He gives an example of a second, third, and forth grade class in San Francisco during their weekly visit to the computer lab for math exercises to illustrate his point: “Once the children arrived at answers, they frantically typed them onto the screen, hoping it would advance them to something fun, the way Nintendos, Game Boys, and video-arcade games do” (264-265).
While the students were working on mathematical exercises, their attention was not on how to arrive at the solution, rather the reward if they happened to stumble upon the right answer. An effective educational tool would adjust the students’ attention to focus onto learning the mathematics and away from how to win the game. Therefore, the computers usage in the class proved more of a distraction than a helpful educational tool. The teacher actually admits that she takes her students to the computer lab “for the computer literacy” (266) rather than to learn the class material.
Oppenheimer argues that the distraction that the computer brings to the classroom deters students from learning, therefore hindering the effectiveness of learning. Oppenheimer ends his argument with a possible solution. He recommends to “ban federal spending” (282) on the computerization of schools. He points out that the computer industry is already handling the situation well enough that the government intervention is no longer needed. Oppenheimer suggests that if schools and “technology donors” (282) could “impose some limits…on themselves” (282) they would most likely see that they have no need for any more help from the government.
This solution also frees up billions of dollars that could be spent on other areas of education such as “teaching solid skills in reading, thinking, listening, and talking; organizing inventive field trips and other rich hands-on experiences; and, of course, building up the nation’s core of knowledgeable, inspiring teachers”(282). These are the areas of education that Oppenheimer believes truly assists in the learning process and are more important than technology. While banning federal spending seems like a fairly good solution to the computer dilemma, Oppenheimer contradicts himself slightly with this proposal.
After convincing his readers that accepting assistance from big businesses hinders education in the long run he gives a proposition that requires schools to depend on such assistance. While he slightly reduces this contradiction by adding that limits should be put on the computerization process, he contradicts himself nonetheless with his proposal to “ban federal spending”(282) on the computerization of schools. In the era of an expanding technological society, Oppenheimer is skeptical of the emphasis of computer technology on education.
He points out that computers are taking the place of fundamental educational programs such as art, music, and shop. Oppenheimer demonstrates that the computer industry may assist schools in the advancement of their technology, but the real funding crises occurs once the machines need maintenance and upgrades. His most important point is that computers are more of a distraction than a useful tool. Students do not learn how to solve the problems generated by the computer programs, rather how to run the computer programs themselves.
Oppenheimer’s solution to this computer crisis is to stop government funding of computerizing schools as the industry will facilitate that on its own. His views on computers in schools are only becoming more and more relevant in society. Oppenheimer’s essay, “The Computer Delusion,” would most likely open the eyes of numerous individuals in the educational field to some important problems in the educational system and at least one possible solution to the ever growing problems with the computerization of schools.