The number of computers in schools more than doubled during the 1990s, while government and corporate initiatives to wire schools for Net access has been aggressive. But how are computers affecting the way children experience school? The Child and the Machine offers one possible answer to that question. Authors Alison Armstrong and Charles Casement argue that "computers put our children's education at risk" by diverting funds from art, music, and other programs. What Armstrong lacks in scholarly or professional accreditation she makes up for in tenacity. A concerned mom's polemic, The Child and the Machine meets Armstrong's laudable goal of providing a framework for a "long overdue public discussion" about computers in elementary schools. Chapters about keyboarding, reading on-screen, using word-processor programs, and playing computer games are spiked with useful tidbits of educational theory. The importance of physical stimulation in children's learning is uppermost for Armstrong. Despite the computer's much-vaunted capacity to retrieve pages of information about ladybugs, for example, it is an inadequate substitute for holding the real thing in the palm of your hand. What's missing from Armstrong's account is sufficient attention to the role of parenting. Computers may indeed be a bland experiential diet for hungry young minds, but Armstrong's worry that computers are ruining children's appetite for other kinds of activity is unsupported. Still, The Child and the Machine views with healthy skepticism the benefits of the influx of computers in the elementary school classroom and will sharpen one's thinking on this vital subject. --Kathi Inman Berens --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
Armstrong and Casement thoughtfully consider the use of computers to teach children. They explore theories of how children learn and their application to the hottest trend in education, computer literacy. The pressures of accountability and burgeoning technology drive the interest in computerizing schools, but Armstrong and Casement see computers as being in danger of becoming, like TV, a threat to educational development. They cite research critical of computer learning, which maintains that computers deprive children of sensory experience and may actually hurt academic performance. They note that most studies on how computers affect learning are inconclusive. The amount of benefit that students derive from computers depends on their state of developmental readiness and the adequacy of their teachers' training. Armstrong and Casement examine integrated learning systems, schools with heavy reliance on computer learning, and software packages for children as young as eight months, but their bottom line is that money spent on computers would be better spent on more teachers to reduce the student-teacher ratio. Vanessa Bush
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