“The Geek Squad” has put out a back-to-school advertisement which argues that technology will “make school easier” – mostly by making sure you are always entertained and don’t have to work. At least they could pretend that school was about studying and not flippantly suggest a football game is “important research material.”

Geek Squad Commercial

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Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Oh this infuriates me to the core! I’m floored by the insane mindset of “technology has to be good for kids, so let’s shovel it at them.” This has become a societal norm without even so much as a shred of solid evidence that all of our whiz-bang technology does in fact boost academic achievement or enhance overall quality of life.

    And perhaps equally bothersome is that if you have the fortitude to question this crap, you’re branded some kind of knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. I have 25+ years in my career as an IT guy – I’m no Luddite!

    Application aptitude is no indicator of how well your child can or will adapt to new technologies in the workplace. And is it even reasonable to think that the software we shove down their throats now will remotely be like what is used in 15-20 years? Sure, you could argue that teaching them to use today’s software will give them a base from which to build upon. I might buy that except that I’m a career IT professional yet didn’t even have a calculator until I was in the 11th grade. Somehow, the lack of a background of technology exposure didn’t hamper my ability to thrive in the workplace.

    We need to teach children to think creatively, solve problems, and communicate in the real, analog world before we aimlessly plunge them headlong into the digital abyss.

    Kids don’t need artificial intelligence – they need to be given the opportunity to use their own, real intelligence. Unplug your children – let their imaginations soar! Equip them to be more than just media consumers.

  2. I’m so glad someone wrote about this. I found myself yelling at the television today–something to the effect of “But I don’t WANT my students turning in papers with special fonts and pictures! Quit telling them that’s real work!”–but as I was home alone…and watching television…that seemed unhealthy. So thanks for this instead.

  3. When I was in 6th grade my father gave me a surplus copy of Visual Basic that he acquired from his office. I was instantly mesmerized and set out learning how to program, building little games for myself.

    Now, while I’m not a programmer, I can easily pick up and use programming languages and databases as tools without any real training. So, instead of being unemployed because jobs in my field are scarce, I’m able to do valuable work developing databases.

    So, anecdotally, learning technology early has enabled me to understand it well enough to learn any aspect of it for use in productive work. I think it’s good for kids to learn technology early.

  4. True, but if the technology is used for mere entertainment that is not useful. I am glad you learned to use computers effectively but much of the education given regarding desktop computers today is only on how to consume rather than program or create.

  5. “much of the education given regarding desktop computers today is only on how to consume rather than program or create.”

    I’ll have to politely disagree. Children know how to consume entertainment – they don’t need to be taught that. The educational usefulness of computers is in creating reports, presentations, research, anything. And let’s not ignore the fact that the ad was depicting college students. Very little work gets done without computers in college.

  6. “Very little work gets done without computers in college.” True, but the ad depicted the consumptive aspects quite heavily. I would also have to question whether some of the uses of Flash player for on-line homework are actually good systems. The “Blackboard” system I used for English class gives the same features that could be done with telnet. Only difference is that it requires the use of Microsoft Windows or X Window System. The latter of which I am using right now, largely because of the sheer number of tasks that seem to require it.

  7. Patrick,
    As one who works for a school district, I can assure you that these computers primarily server to entertain and distract children from learning. Teachers do not sufficiently understand the technology to realize just how much of this is going on. Computers are frequently arranged in the classroom so that the teachers cannot see the screens.

    The kids are constantly playing Halo, Star Craft, and all sorts of other games, or they are spending hours trying to find ways to break through our firewall to get to sites blocked because they host games, suggestive (if not pornographic) pictures, social media, drugs or violence, etc. Most of them are smart enough to have at least one window open to which they can quickly switch to make it look like they are really working on their assignments.

    I do believe that technology can be a useful tool in the classroom, but only if it is properly managed to prevent it from becoming an inhibitor to education. I also agree that early exposure could open a student’s eyes to some possibilities, but keep in mind that your experience came from home and, by your own statement, you immediately used it for your own entertainment. The lessons you learned may have helped you, but what most kids in the classroom are learning is how to avoid work without getting caught.

  8. You would have tremendous difficulty convincing me that the computer has improved education. Students wrote first-rate papers and put together fine projects before the advent of the computer. In fact, I would argue that the computer has signficantly attenuated these skills. There is no doubt in my mind but that the average paper for the average student 30 years ago was far superior to its contemporary counterpart. As for the so-called “smart classroom,” I think David Cooney hit it on the head. The only persons who really need to know computer skills are those who seek a career in computer skills.

  9. “The only persons who really need to know computer skills are those who seek a career in computer skills.”
    Being able to solve ones own computer problems is an indispensable skill, however. With a typewriter computer skills are not needed. With a computer they become indispensable. Almost all careers require computer problem solving today, especially if there is no tech support person on site.

  10. I think my point is that the ad depicts COLLEGE students – not middle or high school students. And college students often need computers in order to learn tasks they’ll need to do in the future. In architecture school for instance, students learn both drawing by hand and using AutoCad because they’ll have a terrible time finding a job if they don’t know both. And my experience has been similar – the computer skills I learned in school have been my primary value to employers. When I wasn’t able to find a job in my field, my computer skills allowed me to find a job in another field.

    “The only persons who really need to know computer skills are those who seek a career in computer skills.” But most jobs – at least most jobs I’ve seen require some computer skills.

    And I’m not trying to debate pedagogy or “technology in the classroom” or anything. Personally, I rarely took my laptop to class because it distracted me. I wouldn’t blame any professor who banned them. But all of you seem to be arguing against them in general, which seems odd, because they clearly have value.

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