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October 1, 1993
Vol. 51
No. 2

Voices: The Administrator / If Kids Were Computers . . .

    Instructional StrategiesTechnology
      After much thought and study, I have concluded that teacher training, top-notch textbooks, and time-on-task will do little toward improving schools if we don't standardize our student body. Students are continually rechanneling the mainstream, deviating from the norms, and turning lesson plans into contingency plans. However, I have a simple, humane, and cost-effective solution: replace them with computers!
      Computers do not require hot lunches, talk in the library, or stuff toilet paper into restroom drains. Computers can be programmed to do all their homework assignments neatly and on time, and they can file and recall information many times more efficiently than our present enrollment. A mandated national test would be simplicity itself.
      Wouldn't it be nice to teach a room full of computers? I once spent two weeks teaching human students about the Norsemen: we wrote epics, built miniature dragon ships, wrapped ourselves in fuzzy Orlon blankets, and drank warmed ginger ale from my Aunt Rose's pink plastic goblets. On the test, one pupil wrote that the Vikings had been defeated by the Steelers in the Super Bowl because Eric the Red had been traded to Miami. A computer would have resisted such foolishness.
      Just think how easily we could improve linguistic skills! We could scan entire worksheets and enter them into the computers, ridding our closets of photocopies. Whenever we felt moved to assign a formal composition, we could call up one of the new writing programs from the hard drive. These automated authors (so I am told) organize information into paragraphs, write linguistically accurate sentences, correct all the spelling (although some programs still confuse there, their, and they're), and even grade their own work. A voice synthesizer could read the compositions to the rest of the computers, who would sit quietly and not poke their neighbors surreptitiously during even the most boring presentation.
      And how about cultural literacy? E. D. Hirsch's entire list, with answers (in 25 words or less), could easily be added to ROM, taking only about 3K of storage. Definitions and dates could be keyed to dedicated memory locations, eliminating any confusion between fjords and football.
      Messier teaching methods would especially benefit from computer assistance. Learning centers, for example, take a lot of set-up time. I once made 32 tagboard Ferraris with a contraction on each one, to be matched with the corresponding pair of whole words printed on little wire-spoke wheels. The sports car theme was a deliberate effort to engage the boys in the back of the room, and I was delighted to find that the boys eagerly vied for a chance to visit the center, which I had located behind the bookcase. Then I discovered that Elizabeth Ann McCarver, who sat near the bookcase, would meet each scholar in the learning center and give him a kiss, five cents per smooch. A computer would not need racing engines or smooches to learn contractions.
      Unlike our present distractible classes, whole-group instruction of computers would stay completely on task. Once, the entire county school board visited my class when we were studying Macbeth. Frances Pridgeon had been taking elocution lessons, and she could give each “r” just the slightest trill, so that every word came out as perfectly as the telephone recording's “thrree, fourr, nyen, thrree.” To impress our visitors, I (who was not born yesterday) gave Frances the part of Lady Macbeth. She did not let me down. The reading droned on until page 24, when Frances declaimed, “But Serrrew your Courrage,” and the class exploded. I must confess that I laughed, too, but the school board members didn't. At the next board meeting, they unanimously passed a motion to accept textbooks that deleted certain passages. Audio Cliff Notes à la CD-ROM would have been more predictable.
      Computers could also have improved my teaching evaluation the year that a classroom observer called in sick and missed my carefully organized bang-up discussion on how planning ahead influences good luck. Unfortunately, when the observer finally came, she saw only our cumulative “Plan Ahead” bulletin board on which “ACTIVITTY” was spelled wrong, due to too much student involvement from Charles. So much for “plan ahead.” I should have replaced Charles with Character Spell Check.
      Replacing students with computers would save much more than teacher embarrassment. Administrators would realize the savings of busing bits and bytes along electric impulses instead of busing boys and girls over blacktop roads. The Department of Agriculture could spend its funds on home visits, teaching parents how to prepare and serve Class A meals, rather than trying to interest children in wheat bread and green beans when they are used to a diet of ketchup and Chocolate-Flavored Crunchies. Textbooks would be eliminated, and accumulated data could be transferred to more advanced central processing units as older machines became obsolete.
      For improved teaching and more efficient learning, computers should replace students. Test scores would rise each year with the production of more sophisticated hardware. Computers would cop the highest SAT scores and attend the most prestigious universities. And children could be tracked into applied and tech-prep classes, where they would learn to provide human enthusiasm, ingenuity, and insight for those jobs now being delegated to wires, winches, and processed printouts. Yes, neat, organized schools attended by well-behaved and docile computers would create a more orderly future for us all.

      Nancy R. Carwile has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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