FAILURE TO CONNECT: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- and What We Can Do About It
||Author: Jane M. Healy|
List Price: $14.00
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Publisher: Touchstone Books (01 September, 1999)
Sales Rank: 38,786
Average Customer Rating: 3.52 out of 5
Customer ReviewsRating: 5 out of 5
Great book. Very counter-culteral. Computers are attractive because they mean children need less one-on-one, and because companies can make money off of them. Healy tackles the important question, are they good for children?
Yes, it would be good if there were more research. As Healy points out, there is not much profit motivation in showing computers do not help children.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Failure to Connect - Failure to Explain
All right, all right. I get the point. "Computers are bad. They keep our children from learning. Yet adults keep buying them. Therefore adults are stupid." I've read almost this entire book and I am really getting the feeling that Healy is beating a dead horse - she keeps pushing the same points over and over. Her arguments have some credibility, and her examples are generally valid. However, as critical readers we need to examine her basic premises for validity. I think that her basic premises are over-stated and somewhat simplistic.
Although she wavers a bit, the basic premise of "Failure to Connect" is a genuine concern that computers have become an integral part of children's education without regard for their usefulness, educational value, or potential harm to children. These are real concerns. However she addresses these concerns anecdotally, rather than citing real vigorous research. This book is mainly a string of stories of her visits to this school and that school (lots of tax-deductible traveling - even to Hawaii!) with stories of little Susie or Brandon not learning from a computer, while clueless teachers, administrators, and parents hover nearby. Any effective software, or research showing benefits of computer-aided learning, is dismissed as "from the software companies". However, I had a tough time finding many references to valid academic research.
Also, over and over computers are blamed for not only preventing learning, but physically damaging our children. For example, in Chapter 4 "Computers and Our Children's Health" she bemoans the physical damage computers do to our children, while longing for the good old days of book-learning. However, couldn't the same arguments be made that reading books physically damages our children? Our bodies and minds have evolved to make us efficient hunters-gatherers. In nature, we focus most of our sight and energy to distant objects, hunting with an intense focus to any subtle sounds, smells, and sights that might show food or an enemy. However, with the introduction of reading and books children spend time alone (social deprivation) in quiet (deafness) artificially lighted rooms (blindness) huddled over (weakness) a book crammed against their faces. That is why so many children have poor vision, bad hearing, and are fat and weak. C'mon! Dr. Healy! Change is not necessarily bad. Humans are marvelous creatures who can ADAPT to change. And Adapt we will, because whether you like it or not computers are here to stay!
Here is another interesting thought. Take every argument, every horror story, and every warning in this book and transport it all back fifty years. Also, instead of "computers" substitute "slide rules". You will come to the conclusion that introducing slide rules into schools will prevent any real learning, while turning our children into mindless anti-social creatures.
However, I see some value to this book. As Educators who specialize in Information Technology, we MUST look at all innovations, technologies, software and hardware with a critical eye. We cannot accept ANY Educational Technology product at face value. We MUST look at a Product long and hard to determine if it has real educational value for our children, to see if it actually aids education, to see if it has any deleterious effect on these young and growing children, to determine if it is appealing to our vanity or a desire to take "the easy way out" of the difficult work of education, and to ascertain if it is money well spent. On this, I agree with Dr. Healy and her book "Failure to Connect".
(Forgive the tone of this piece. Reading this book - which its flabby lack of intellectual rigor - is making me cranky.)
Rating: 2 out of 5
The book ┐Failure to Connect┐ failures to connect┐
It is hard to tell how Ms. Healy's book contributes to the field of educational knowledge regarding kids and computers' use. The first problem with the book is the lack of a clear focus in a specific audience. Is she writing for parents? Is it a book written to help teachers ("How do we teach kids this skill"p.252)? Or is it addressed to scholars in the field? That does not seem to be clear and the book "failures to connect" with its audience.
That happens because in some parts the author tries to make the narrative more light and pleasant, but she misses important and deep content that would back up her ideas about how computers have not been appropriately used in schools or at home to teach kids. In some parts, for example, she come up with a list of topics in how to use computers to lead to learning that seems to be more appropriated for a teachers' manual (even though most of this step by step manuals lack research background and seems to be based most in the author's experience that is not really related to computers use in kids education). The way her book is market-driven is itself an irony of her own criticism about how schools are market-driven when dealing with computers.
Also because of that market-approach, the author tries to incorporate other sources of information in her narrative beyond traditional/formal research. This seems to be both good and bad. It is good because not all the knowledge necessarily comes from formal research and academic studies. But it can be bad when the audience is not convinced that the information presented is a valid one. When she talks about how to choose good software programs, for example, she quotes "Josh Barbanel of the New York Times." She does not tell us who is he and why the readers should give him some credit except by the fact that he is related to the biggest newspaper in this country.
Because of that, the book seems to lack the scientific rigor necessary to criticize such a polemic subject. The author points some problems in the field such as the lack of validation for research related to computer use in schools ("some computerized instruction raised achievement scores, but some significantly lowered them" p.63.) But she does not go deep in those topics. In a certain point she quotes a "suburban mother" to try to show how computers can be harmful to kids. The author says that kids that use computers a lot can suffer visual strain "due to the screen flat and it is viewed on the horizontal plan" (p.112). But the American Academy of Ophthalmology found no convincing experimental or epidemiological evidence of any organic damage to the eye. The lack of a research method is another problem. I am not convinced that the author's "impressionist" observation of an informal sample of kids in an informal sample of schools is really representative of the subjects that she is talking about. (Buy the way, the book not even tells us where the author got her PhD!)
The author's skeptical view of computers use among kids sometimes get close to an apocalyptical view ("the few studies showing positive results for educational technology have been largely founded by computer corporations" p.22). That does not help teachers, schools and policy makers to solve a very basic problem: what to do with the computers already bought by schools? Just ignore them? She also seems to emphasize a dichotomy of computers being good or bad instead of exploring more the idea that even though computers can have generate bad problems, they are already part of society's life (such as cars that pollutes and can kill people) and there is no evidence that this is going to change. She prefers to emphasize, "what computers can't do" instead of telling the readers what they can do to improve their kids learning process.
Even though I am not a parent, I tried to put myself in that position and at the end of the book I became very concerned about the use of computer by kids. That's because the author indeed come up to some important questions about the subject (such as health implications related to computer use in early age, brain development, etc) but the answers that she offers are not conclusive simply because the science does not know enough about such themes. Ms. Healy has a hard task trying to explore computers' effects on children's minds. She has a problem right in the beginning because she has to deal with areas of knowledge that lack answers for many of her questions. What Science knows about computer effects on people? Almost nothing until this point. When her question focuses in children the answers are even fewer. I once had an opportunity to interview scientists who study the brain for many decades and all the best ones were always very clear in stressing how little Science knows about the human vital organ, not to talk about mind, the ethereal concept that over pass the physical brain. In this case her lack of answers should not be a surprise at all. Because Ms. Healy never acknowledges the weaknesses in her reasoning her discourse seems to be on the limit of propaganda (in this case, contra-propaganda, since she heavily criticizes computers use among kids).
Because of Ms. Healy's lack of proofs to reasonable advocate against computers use by kids in early age and also the lack of scientific research to show how computer affects a kids mind, one can wonder about what remains from the book. When she criticizes computer use in schools I think about Larry Cuban and I believe that he did a better job than her (at least because he had a more formal method of research and he presented enough evidence about what he was talking about). He convinced me. When the author talks about philosophical implications of computer use I think about Brown and Duguid in The Social Life of Information and so on...
What I found interesting in the book is, first, her alert to the fact that computers in early age can be harmful to children (even though she does not prove this or even explain how exactly this can happen). Also, she shows some differences between poor and rich schools dealing with computers and how that can impact poor kids' future. I also considered interesting her interview with a school administrator that emphasized the need to use computers to lead to meaningful learning and improvement of social skills (again, she fails to show research that tell us how to do that). The author posts an important questions regarding software to promote motivation among kids. She asks, "how much intellectual rigor must we sacrifice in order to get kids motivated?"
· The Child and the Machine: How Computers Put Our Children's Education at Risk
· Teaching With Technology: Creating Student-Centered Classrooms