OLPC – Why Criticize? And the "Evils" of Computers and Kids

There is some discussion and criticism going on about the One Laptop Per Child program. And while if there’s one thing blogs are good for, it’s criticism. But you have to wonder sometimes how people rationalize their arguments.

Sure, providing a cheap laptop is not as high a priority as sanitary drinking water and food. No brain surgery degree required there. But what point is there to shooting down a perfectly good idea and project? Does providing a computing tool to people who would otherwise never have it necessarily preclude the work being done by humanitarian agencies to provide safe drinking water? Do you think if most of these people weren’t developing the OLPC they’d be doing anything at all? Take what you can get brother! At this stage should we really be waiting for the one and only ‘perfect’ solution and shooting down every other attempt from some other direction? Can we really afford to do that? Let people contribute in any way they want to contribute. Be glad their doing anything at all.

And then in one of the comments on Jeff Jarvis’ blog I read this snippet:

Admittedly, I’m a Luddite parent of kids who go to a Waldorf school, where we still believe in sitting quietly and listening to stories. But I really believe– even though I make my living at a computer– that my young kids (2nd grade and preschool) are getting a lot more out of learning to knit (really!), out of playing on the beach in rain or snow, out of being driven to use their imagination and handle the physical world and interact with each other than they would get, or will get for some years, from a box that’s very good at spoonfeeding information and providing reward cues that make you think you’ve gotten a lot more out of it than you really have.

Whoa! I’m all for getting out there and experiencing the world, natural and otherwise. But to dismiss the computer simply as a box that’s good at spoonfeeding info and providing reward cues that make you overestimate your accomplishments is ridiculous.

What makes using the computer (and Internet) as a research tool any different than the once high and mighty intellectual trip to the local library? You search, you read, you consume. Because it’s easier, is it somehow less valuable? Since when does reading and learning about things NOT count towards life development? Do you think real life experiences are somehow diminished with the advent of computers? Is one taking time from the other? Or is one able to enhance and complement the other?

Computers are what you make of them. I don’t discount the value of trips to the beach (or knitting – actually I was a decent knitter at about 5 yrs of age – don’t tell my friends). But I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive things. One can enhance the other. But that’s entirely up to the parents. You find the balance.

If you treat it as a babysitter (as many parents do the TV) you’ve made your own bed. If you treat it as a tool that makes learning more things more easily, then I feel it can be tremendously valuable. Does it make kids less socially interactive? Does it make them antisocial? Is it a threat to the development of children? Only if parents let it.

I’m of the ilk that thinks too many parents are willing to place the responsibility (or blame) for all these things elsewhere. Anywhere but on themselves. If it’s not the school system it’s the Internet, or computers or the state of television broadcast standards or something else. Parent’s need to realize that THEY are the ones who go furthest in determining how their children grow up.

One look at the throngs of kids hanging out at the malls all day leads me to believe I’m in the minority with that view.

2 Responses to “OLPC – Why Criticize? And the "Evils" of Computers and Kids”

  1. Mike s Says:

    Nicely put. Again – you’ve put into words what needs to put said quite well. Thanks for weighing in on the discussion.

  2. Joel Cory Says:

    One thing the I think you are overlooking is the advantage of learning to use all means of learning at your disposal. While computers are a great tool, I do not want my children relying on them as the sole means to do research, learning to type instead of write, solve math on a calculator instead of writing out problems, draw with Illustrator and never learn to use a pencil. I’m an illustrator, and web developer, but analog means of learning and processing information are critical. Substituting computers for a well rounded education is a mistake, and will cripple our children’s ability to process and absorb information.

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