Technology and Teaching

Mortimer B. Zuckerman's ridiculous and maddening "Technology as Our Teacher" [September 2009] came with a silver lining.

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Mortimer B. Zuckerman's ridiculous and maddening "Technology as Our Teacher" [September 2009] came with a silver lining. As an educator, I am reassured in the fact that no educator in this country would seriously consider assimilated, technologically-exclusive curriculum as the "crucial difference" in solving our educational problems. Please leave the burden of bettering our national education system to those with genuine emotional investment and a frontline perspective.

Brock Lange Normal, Ill.

For some years as an attorney who specializes in representing parents of special education students, I have wondered as Zuckerman did why current technology is not used more effectively in our schools. I listened to a lecture last year where a special education director in a central Pennsylvania school district expounded on the use of assistive technology as having significantly raised their state No Child Left Behind testing scores among the students under her charge. I asked a new elementary center (which had just opened in another district) with interactive white boards if they intended to use their new technology to assist homebound students interact in real-time with their instructors and classmates. The special education director had not thought of that use, but I suspect that by her reaction, she is now doing so. My wife and I home school our son using, among other things, The Great Courses lecture series (www.teach12.com) in a number of subjects—lectures by the best teachers and professors that they can find in numerous subjects placed on DVD. We, as a society, must understand that technology is just another tool. With the Internet virtually at my fingertips 24/7, I no longer need to memorize long lists of basic information. I just need to know how to find the information I need and how to critically assess the reliability of the information that I do find. 

Jonathan S. Corchnoy Philadelphia

Zuckerman forgot to mention a key factor in student achievement: specific and directed feedback from teachers. How could a technology teacher whose lessons would be broadcast to hundreds of students, possibly dedicate the same amount of time correcting papers and essays, and helping students to develop writing and research skills? These are crucial lessons in the secondary years, especially as students prepare for college. And while it's tempting to see technology as the answer to all our problems, is it really worth sacrificing the myriad meaningful interactions and teachable moments that occur every day in a real classroom? If the only goal for education reform is higher test scores, then we are all in trouble, especially our students. 

Anne Young, Social Studies Teacher, North Branford, Conn.

Zuckerman has it only half right when he writes, "On average, children with a very good teacher will learn 1½ years of material in a school year. Those with a bad teacher will learn only half a years worth." He forgot or didn't know that teachers with bad students (those who are disruptive and/or hostile) will be lucky to teach half a year's worth of material in a year regardless of how good the teacher is. Give any competent teacher students who want to learn, and they will teach that 1.5 years of material in a year. Give those teachers support from the school administrators in eliminating disruptive students and the possibilities will increase.

Ross Jesswein Grants Pass, Ore.

While I agree that good teachers are important, data cited by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers suggests an even more basic need, more time in school. Most children around the world spend more days in class and have much shorter vacations. The information presented in Outliers shows that students from poorer families don't fall behind during the school year, but during the time away from school. If our students are to compete they need to have enough time to learn what others learn, and not enough time to forget it while away from school. We do not need "technology-teaching" to determine who are the good teachers. I have yet to meet anyone who cannot recall their good and bad teachers, or those who taught their children. Let the parents evaluate the teachers and the administrators can go on vacation.

James William Haltiwanger Columbia, S.C.

Zuckerman makes the point that the most important thing is the quality of the teacher. Then, unfortunately, he continues to suggest various ways to mechanize the relationship of the pupil to the teacher. I suggest that the only significant way to improve American education is by making the profession more attractive in order to attract more competent teachers, especially by improving teaching conditions and raising teacher pay.

Leo Horacek Morgantown, W.Va.

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