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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 10|No 2|October|2000

Speaking of Fool's Gold
an Editorial

by Jamie McKenzie
About the Author

Not all that glitters is gold.

The Alliance for Children has issued an important and timely report questioning the value and safety of engaging our youngest children in the frequent use of computers and the Internet.

Signed by some of our wisest and best educational and social thinkers1, "Fool's Gold" marks an important stage in this global rush to network schools. It makes good sense to improve the questions asked during this experimentation with children and new technologies. It seems reasonable to call for thorough, objective research into the fabulous claims made by vendors and cheerleaders.

Go to "Fool's Gold" at

After several years of unbridled and unrestrained fanfare from the Microsofts and Tapscotts of the world, we now have serious skepticism and questioning emerging from leading educators and even some of the digerati2 such as David Shenk, author of Data Smog and a writer for Wired Magazine.

"Fool's Gold" outlines a comprehensive set of beliefs and issues that responsible educators should be considering as they plan for the tools that belong in classrooms. The report is also an important read for all parents who wish to provide their children with a reasonable sense of balance.

The wired and connected,, frantic-paced lifestyle glorified by recent cell phone ads is not necessarily the dream we hold for our children and our society.

Have you seen the voice activated view of the future with the young man trading stocks in front of the cathedral surrounded by birds?

While I do not agree with the idea of a moratorium on further purchases, one of the key proposals of the report, I do concur with many of the issues and concerns raised by the authors. Having worked as an elementary principal and teacher of four year old children, I think many early childhood educators would tend to concur with the first six recommendations listed below from the report.

(reprinted from the report)


1. A refocusing in education, at home and school, on the essentials of a healthy childhood: strong bonds with caring adults; time for spontaneous, creative play; a curriculum rich in music and the other arts; reading books aloud; storytelling and poetry; rhythm and movement; cooking, building things, and other handcrafts; and gardening and other hands-on experiences of nature and the physical world.

2. A broad public dialogue on how emphasizing computers is affecting the real needs of children, especially children in low-income families.

3. A comprehensive report by the U.S. Surgeon General on the full extent of physical, emotional, and other developmental hazards computers pose to children.

4. Full disclosure by information-technology companies about the physical hazards to children of using their products.

5. A halt to the commercial hyping of harmful or useless technology for children.

6. A new emphasis on ethics, responsibility, and critical thinking in teaching older students about the personal and social effects of technology.

7. An immediate moratorium on the further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education, except for special cases of students with disabilities. Such a time-out is necessary to create the climate for the above recommendations to take place.

From Now On has published a series of cautionary articles during the past five years even as the journal has suggested valuable uses of new technologies. Readers may find considerable resonance between these articles and the content of "Fool's Gold."

The Importance of Research

What we really need is well structured research to determine which learning practices and which tools are most beneficial.

We have spent a fortune on new technologies without investing in sufficient program assessment to know how and where to steer the ship.

As outlined in the February, 2000 issue of eScool News (reproduced in this month's issue), we have a serious "Research Gap" that could be closed with a relatively modest investment by the Department of Education and groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But the "Fool's Gold" report helps to clarify and extend the research agenda to include many questions about the health and well being of our young ones. Instead of asking only which practices and which tools might enhance student performance, the report reminds us that we should also be asking which practices and which tools might be healthy.

I applaud the authors and the signers for their courage and their wisdom.

1. Among the signers of the statement, sponsored by the Alliance for Childhood, are Alvin Poussaint, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; Deborah Meier, Macarthur award-winning Founder of the Central Park East Schools in East Harlem; Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education; and Professor Larry Cuban of Stanford University, former President of the American Educational Research Association. Joan Almon, former kindergarten teacher and U.S. Coordinator of the Alliance for Childhood. Bailus Walker, Jr., Ph.D., M.P.H. Chair, Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, Professor of Medicine, Howard University, and former President, American Public Health Association. Lowell Monke, Ph.D., former award-winning teacher of advanced technology classes for the Des Moines Public Schools, now at Wittenberg University. Edward Miller, Ed.M., educational policy analyst, former Editor, Harvard Education Letter, and co-author of Fool's Gold. David Shenk, author of "Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut."

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.
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