March 23, 2015

464 words 3 mins read

Schools Don't Need More Technology--They Need Less

I was on my high school’s board of education for a year. It was quite an honor, honestly, but I screwed it up.

At the time, I was a software architect. They put me on the board as the technology guy. I was supposed to make the case for more funding for smart boards and other tech stuff.

But I said kids really don’t need more technology in school. Technology, I said, was like sex education: they’ll get more than they can handle on the streets or watching TV. What they need is a better understanding of how they can use it.

I was thrilled to read that Eric Greitens agrees with me. Maybe not on the sex education part, but on the technology.

This is from Eric’s new book, Resilience:

Today we spend huge effort and millions of dollars to bring more technology into the classroom, when the great majority of students in the great majority of circumstances can learn almost all of what they need to know with a supportive family, a pencil, some paper, good books, and a great teacher. The schools that produced Shakespeare and Jefferson and Darwin had some writing materials, some printed books— and that was it.

Greitens, Eric (2015-03-10). Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Kindle Locations 1551-1554). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

The more I learn about Eric Greitens, the better I like him. He understands that a good home and good teachers are more important to education than computers and whiteboards that record what’s written on them. If what’s written on the board is wrong or stupid, smart boards record errors and stupidity. That helps no one.

Here’s more from Resilience on this point:

Imagine you’re a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old school kid at Radley Hall in England in 1837. Here are some of the questions on your winter exam:


Why is not virtue either παθος or δυναμις?


Give Aristotle’s reasons (4) why true self-love cannot exist in vicious men.


Find the length of an arc whose chord is 18, and the chord of half the arc 10 ⅓.


Give the characters of Alfred the Great, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry the Eighth, and Queen Elizabeth.

Greitens, Eric (2015-03-10). Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Kindle Locations 1554-1558). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

I think I can handle the last question, but only superficially. So, are we moderns really smarter than 19th century Englishmen?

Schools don’t need more technology. They don’t need money to buy smart boards. They need the courage to empower their teachers to teach. We train teachers, then tell them to simply follow Pearson’s marketing education guide. That’s not teaching; it’s robotics.

Maybe Eric Greitens gets it because his mom was a special education teacher, like my wife. :-)