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20 September 2014

Children Not Being Taught the Basics

I just read an article in the 7 September 2014 Miami Herald entitled "Teach Kids to Do More Than Click", written by Pam Allyn. In it, she describes how children are not being sufficiently taught how to write by hand and are too dependent on the use of computers. I can well relate to her feelings on the subject because I, as an Engineer, have had similar thoughts on teaching the use of computers before being taught the basics of physics, mathematics, chemistry, et cetera. Since Junior High school, I print, quite legibly,almost everything I ever write by hand, except for my signature. I pulled out my old slide rule, some weeks back, to see how much I remembered about using it. They are accurate to three decimal places and, if one knows how to use them, they are as quick to come up with an answer as a calculator and they do not require electrical power to operate. I can still remember the very basic uses of my slide rule, but I'd have to bone up on some of the other functions, logarithms, exponentials, trigonometric functions, et cetera. If we were to have a natural or man-made catastrophe and lose the use of computers, we would be in sad shape, since so much of our "knowledge" is gleaned from asking the computer for answers. I wonder about this every time I see a demonstration of state of the art scientific equipment - usually computer programs or computer-controlled operations - and I know that few of those using them know how they actually work and do not know how to do the same tasks without them. Whether using a slide rule or a computer, one must know how to set up a problem before either may be used to come up with an answer. Computers are wonderful and valuable tools, but they must be put in use in educational settings after students are taught how to do everything by hand and by researching the hard way, with books and other forms of educational materials. In college, one of my classmates had bought the very first $500 HP scientific calculator. One of our professors took note of this and asked the class to vote on whether this fellow could use his calculator while we continued using our slide rules. We voted to allow him to use the calculator, but he still had the lowest grades in our class. Again, if one does not know how to set up a problem, the computer or calculator is useless. Ditto for the slide rule. Most of us never used slide rules until we enrolled in a technical curriculum, in our case Electrical Engineering. One friend of mine, who was a Physics major (as was I in my Freshman year), was given a failing test grade, once, because the teacher thought he was cheating. He simply wrote down the answers. He had not written down the steps in which the answer would be obtained, as most of us would have done, and he kept the steps in his head, using his slide rule to come up with the correct answers. Generally speaking, and other than playing computer games, I do not believe children should be using computers for technical school work, until perhaps their seventh school year, maybe later. Professional educators and parents should seriously consider the often detrimental impact on children's education of having them use computers too soon. Maybe they'd prefer to have computers in a classroom setting much later in the educational process.

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