Techno-Idiocy in the Educational Bureaucracy

When my local school district began loaning Ipads to all high school students, the District Superintendent was very excited to announce this great new educational opportunity. But exactly how these gizmos were going to improve students’ education, well, that wasn’t exactly clear. We need a better phrase than “underpants gnomes,” for things like this, but that’s essentially what the plan was. Some hopey-changey without much in the way of process or details.

But, hey, some teachers have found uses. Music students can download the necessary sheet music for free from some specified site; English teachers can have their students read some things that are online for free; and my daughter’s Mandarin class is conducted online (with students both in the U.S. and in other countries). That’s pretty cool, except….

The school district is concerned about what students might get up to with these devices that are, after all, school property, so they’ve put blocking software on them to keep the kids out of the forbidden zone. And what ends up being forbidden? The sheet music site, the site with the reading that English students are supposed to write about, and even the specific school approved (as part of its International Baccalaureate program) site for my daughter’s Mandarin class, which the software specifically identifies as “Pornography.”

It’s a good rule of thumb that no bureaucratic effort shall go untainted by unintended consequences, but actually sabotaging the very purpose of your program always stands out as a doozy of a SNAFU.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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11 Responses to Techno-Idiocy in the Educational Bureaucracy

  1. A prime example of near-sighted leadership that is clueless regarding technology, both in the offering of without specific purpose, an the over-reaction of without fore-thought.

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Exactly. I don’t want to come off as too harsh on our superintendent, though. He’s not an idiot overall, and he’s doing his damndest to improve a school that got ranked in the bottom 5% (not so much because it’s not a good school, but because there’s a large segment of the population that doesn’t emphasize education, and their standardized test scores–scores of students who didn’t give a shit when they took the state mandated test), and was threatened with loss of state funding as a result.

    But, yeah, on this particular issue, you hit the nail right on the head.

  3. Being a good school administrator does not mean one is a technophile. There are people who know how to best use & secure technology like iPads. I would hope such a person could be consulted prior to distributing the devices.

    Of course, it’s possible there was no money for consulting with an expert…

  4. Matty says:

    I’m guessing they bought some off the shelf filtering software that simply blocked anything with certain keywords or parts of words. Much like the story of the hospital technician who was unable to download schematics for an x-ray machine because the string x-ra was flagged as pronography.

  5. J@m3z Aitch says:


    Ahem, this site has standards and will not allow statements that are pro-nography.

    Which reminds me that bumperstickers like “I’m pro life/choice/2nd Amendment/kids/etc and I vote,” always make me want to get a bumpersticker that says “I’m profane and I vote.” Maybe I should get one that says “I’m pronographic and I vote,” just so I can watch people try to puzzle it out.

  6. Troublesome Frog says:

    I write software and design computer gizmos for a living, and I’m super-duper-tripple-whammy skeptical of most technology for teaching. It’s critical that our kids learn about computers, but I don’t see why the have to learn with computers all the time. The best thing that happened to us in engineering school was having the freshman math instructors banish everything fancier than a 4-function (or minimal scientific) calculator.

    I know that at an intuitive level, it seems like technology should make everything more productive. After all, it makes factories better. But at its fundamental level, teaching is taking what’s in one brain and getting it into another brain. It’s not like sorting medical files or driving a welding robot. We don’t (yet) have a technology that does it better than just having teachers and students interact.

    We Americans seem to believe very strongly in the power of buying stuff. “If I get the thing that does X, I’ll be able to do X better,” is often a good instinct, but it also causes us to buy a lot of stupid crap.

    I’m also totally sympathetic to the “bottom 5%” thing. I really don’t understand all the talk about firing “bad” teachers and hiring “good” teachers as if that’s the core issue with education. I remember having some mediocre teachers, but none who would turn good students into failures. I had some great teachers, but even the best couldn’t “fix” more than one or two potential disaster kids a year. It seems to be that our main problem is that we culturally have stopped giving a shit about whether we do well in school or not. The “good schools” are in areas where that doesn’t happen and the “bad schools” are in places where doing well in school is a social negative. Who could we hire (or what could we buy) to fix that?

  7. Matty says:

    Typical anti-nography prejudice.

  8. Matty says:

    It seems to be that our main problem is that we culturally have stopped giving a shit about whether we do well in school or not.

    This is a worry of mine, there is a pervasive “too cool for school” attitude in all sorts of places that really irks me.

  9. lancifer666 says:

    My first “teaching” job at IUPUI was to hand out CD ROMs for a computer taught algebra class.

    It was an unmitigated disaster. Luckily there was a white board at the front of the computer lab and I spent most of each class actually teaching algebra to these poor students.

    The university dropped the course, but because they sent a professor to monitor my class they hired me as a lecturer.

    The course I teach this semester has computer based homework and I think it is inferior to actually reading the book and doing exercises on paper, but “interactive on-line learning” is all the rage.

  10. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Like anything else, it’s a tool, and every tool has a finite number of effective uses.

  11. DensityDuck says:

    It used to be that there were special classes in high school that taught kids how to drive. This was because driving was seen as an essential life skill that, due to the limited availability of automobiles in the typical American family, not every teenager might learn as a matter of course.

    These days, internet use is in that role. Which is the real benefit of things like “everyone gets an iPad”. If students learn how to use Google to find things on the internet, then we’re less likely to end up with things like this.

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