A Parallel Universe: No Laptops For These Kids

The school is situated in a leafy glen, smack in the middle of a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city in the Southeast United States. We’re here because kid #2 is testing into its upper school. Nervous? Well, we should be, but we know that her K-8 years in Fullerton have prepared her well. She’s had diligent teachers, a solid home environment and the helpful staff at the Richman Boys And Girls Club who’ve been instrumental in taking her and some lucky teenagers through a nationally recognized leadership program. The only thing she hasn’t had, was a laptop. Her school, Beechwood, has never embraced the program or the belief that they were necessary for success.

The private school here is the stuff you dream of: tetherballs in the lower schools situated in the middle of forest surrounded by tall trees. The sixty-five acre campus is awash with nature. Most students have attended since Pre-K and will graduate with their high school diploma.  The teachers are vibrant. Many went to Ivy League colleges, and some have doctorates. They come here because they can teach subjects in depth, while enjoying the support of parents and the enthusiasm of children and teens.

Yet, for all its bells and whistles –which are considerable, the school does not allow students to bring laptops on campus. Why? Because everything is provided for them at school. The computer lab looks similar to the ones found at the public high schools in Fullerton, as do the classrooms and library. But, while the computer is heavily used, they also put a lot of stock into writing with paper and pencil –the kind of writing that catches kids off guard, makes them think on their feet without the luxury of googling for facts, that challenges to formulate a story, idea, argument –and support it all on their own. Tiring? You betcha. That’s the point.

So, if a top tier school that has 19 AP courses, whose students apply to an average of 13 colleges, are admitted into the best colleges and universities, and has garnered over $4 million in Merit Scholarships doesn’t support personal laptops in school, why should we?

Granted, a lot of the students could probably well afford it. Most of them might have them at home.  But one thing we noticed was that the students were actively engaged with the instructor. In other words, they were being taught how to learn, to interact, to figure things out. They were listening to the ideas of the other students. They weren’t on their laptops, googling, facebooking, or IM’ing.

The Fullerton School District would be far better off taking those precious resources and investing heavily in leadership skills, the humanities, and social skills that will help the students function in times of adversity. Adversity? Of course. As much as parents want to plan their children’s lives, the only certainty in life is that  no matter how well you’re doing, bad things and unfortunate times  take place. Plans change constantly, and the more we prepare our children for it, the better they will fare. Nothing should be etched in stone except for your love.

FFFF makes no secret of its opposition to the laptop program. But, we’re not Luddites. The fight against it has been led by Travis, who makes his living in the field using and refining internet technology.  What is so appalling about the program is the presumption that laptops are the key to a portal that leads to instant success. It’s simply not true.

We also know that not all kids are college bound, and worse, many enroll without knowing why they are there. Paranoia gives rise to the worst kind of snobbishness –the type that warns children if they don’t follow a beaten path, they will fail in life. This paranoia drives parents to go in debt using high interest credit cards to buy laptops in the hope that the magic of Google will take up permanent residence in their child’s brain. This snobbery drives kids crazy, it depresses them, can even extinguish their deepest desires.

One friend of mine, a social networking theorist with many advanced degrees (and clients to boot) has said that the students who are going to do the best over the next 20 years are the ones who make their living by touching something. That is, healing, building, fixing, growing, organizing, and making things. With this in mind, the school district would be far better off giving each kid a tool kit, a community project, and a detailed lesson in financial management.

What we know is the most interesting and fulfilled adults are often the ones who have overcome great adversity and started off with little. What do they have? Passion, vision, timing. And most of all, persistence and the willingness to work hard and take risks.

This top private school has spent considerable time developing an ethics program. They care very deeply about the character of each student. They place students into very good colleges, including the Ivy Leagues. Many have gone on and will continue to do so to write books, found non profit organizations, lead corporations and be innovators in established and new fields. If they have done all of this without requiring laptops for every students, then we shouldn’t see them as a classroom necessity either.

9 Replies to “A Parallel Universe: No Laptops For These Kids”

  1. So, the main idea of this specific blog is it is academically and financially rewarding to learn how to think as opposed to knowing how to surf the net?

  2. God, I didn’t think about my above sentence. It is horrible due to my addiction to the internet. So, the main idea of this specific blog is it is academically and financially rewarding to learn how to think instead of knowing how to surf the net?

  3. Yes van, you got the idea. Our schools are leading our children down the wrong path – towards a future of hopeless reliance on technological gimmicks and mindless Powerpoint presentations – all to boost the administrators own egos and resumes.

    When the laptop program reaches the bottom of its downward spiral, Fullerton will learn what advanced schools knew all along – teach kids the fundamentals, stupid.

  4. Yup, it’s called Death By Powerpoint. Powerpoint presentations are often mindless condensed reports.

    How much longer will the board decide to shovel more money at this program at the expense of programs such as Music, Art, History and Literature? It seems to me, they’re far more enamored with the gee-whiz aspects of the technology, and while each of us here uses it everyday, we all know that all of us have and still “hit the books.”

  5. Thanks for the great post DMK, oh how I wish we as a community could just learn how to think for ourselves and have the courage to stand up against evil and stupid things.

  6. Have you ever been in a store when the power fails. The clerks can’t work if they dont have a cash register that tells them how much change to give back. I have even had to count my own change for the clerk and they are amazed that you can do that. Most stores just close until power is restored.

    No computer no work.

  7. Art, you’re absolutely right. No one except Disney teaches employees how to count change backwards these days.

    I think one of the greatest injustices ever inflicted on high school students when was the board of education (everywhere) decided to rid themselves of vocational education. This left a high number of kids with literally very little reason to be there, and I think for the most part they felt out of place.

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