View from a dinosaur

My family and issues of adoption are the twin passions of my life. But coming in at a close second is education, and, specifically, the way children learn. That’s why I was so thrilled to read A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute, in the New York Times on Sunday, October 23, 2011. The article discusses the number of Silicon Valley computer executives who are sending their own children to non-computer-driven schools such as Waldorf, to learn skills the old-fashioned way.

The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.

My daughter, Olivia, calls me a “dinosaur,” because I refuse to buy either of my children an electronic hand-held game or i-anything. My own ancient cell phone is viewed as a museum piece. Nevertheless, I stand by my belief that, for children, a book is better than a screen, and a crayon preferable to a mouse.

Today, a blog titled “Tech Execs Send Kids to Anti-Computer School” by Amy Graff appeared in “The Mommy Files” on, the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle. Graff asks:

Is there irony in all of this? These tech execs don’t want their kids on computers yet they’re working for companies that are encouraging our children and schools to adopt technology? The Silicon Valley giants have long sold schools on the future generation of technology, and now many schools feel that a computer lab is necessary, even if they can hardly afford to pay for books.

And here I will add, “Books? Do schools still use books?” My children attend our local public school and never once has either brought home a textbook. Photocopied pages from a math workbook that exists somewhere, perhaps on a teacher’s desk, and books to satisfy a computerized “reading goal.” But textbooks? None that I’ve seen.

In a world where so many people have so little, ranting against computers in school sounds ungrateful, I realize. But I hate to think that “public school kids” like mine aren’t given the same opportunity to learn as the kids of execs at Apple and Google—with real pencils, real paper, and real textbooks.


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8 Responses to “View from a dinosaur”

  1. Sveta says:

    As a teacher and as a parent, I am wholeheartedly with you, Jessica! No i-anything, or hand-held (or heavens forbid, bigger) game systems in my house, either. And if it is any consolation, I finally started seeing textbooks in Mill Valley Middle School, as well as the ones that come home now. I was thrilled to see that they are actual books, with hard covers, paper pages, and real content. And yes, we had to bear through endless copies of homework pages in elementary school here. Not sure exactly why.

  2. Jessica says:

    So glad to hear you I’m not the only one. And if my children turn out as well as your fantastic son–well, that’s a bonus. Interesting that MV Middle is transitioning to textbooks. I realize that for me part of the appeal is thumbing through the book–seeing what’s ahead, looking back at how much has been learned, stumbling on a paragraph that’s exciting. Always a discovery. I guess some would say the same can happen with a Google search, and it can, but in a different way, esp. for small children, who are lured by bright and fast and shiny.
    Another reason why we’re friends, Sveta….

  3. Cynthia rovero says:

    We only afforded our daughter her cell phone when she went off to college , we bought our first apple when she was in middle school, and she is just wonderful. A slower pace and simpler lifestyle is preferable as long as you can hold out with kids

  4. Jessica says:

    Good for me to hear this from moms with more experience, who have been through it before. Cynthia, I’m very impressed your daughter made it all the way to college before she had a cell phone. Wow.
    Really, for me, it’s about being tactile and present and hands-on. Seems as if that’s essential for kids. (Another losing battle, but I’ll keep trying.) Thanks for the input!

  5. Dorothy says:

    Jessica, I read this article, too, and thought it made so many great points. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking our kids NEED computers in order to learn. Phoebe would LOVE to get an i-phone, but it’s not happening any time soon. She does have an i-touch for games, which I have mixed feelings about. I also have a relic of a cell phone that’s falling apart, so I may give in and get an i-phone when it finally dies.

  6. Jessica says:

    Dorothy, “brainwashed” describes my feelings exactly. Computers are a great tool, a marvelous adjunct. But are they the solution to every learning style? For some, maybe. For us, definitely no. Learning the basics presents challenge enough. The rest feels like bells and whistles, and ones that aren’t particularly effective either. The comments in the original article, by the high-tech execs sending their kids to low-tech schools, were eye-opening.
    As for i-stuff, it’s everywhere and impossible to avoid.
    Thanks for reading.

  7. Scalene says:

    Creative math teacher of dinosaur vintage, where real life math includes a tangible paper to engage with initially and non-virtual text, trying to glean what the math textbook series is used at MVMS.


  8. Jessica says:

    I believe it’s Houghton Mifflin. (HM seems to be one of the few surviving textbook manufacturers.)
    Someone also recommended to us the “Spectrum” workbook series; also try searching for “homeschooling” materials?

    Nice to know I’m not the only one.
    Thanks for writing.

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