Seattle private school to make laptop purchase and use mandatory
March 25, 2001 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Seattle private school to make laptop purchase and use mandatory. Lakeside School -- well known as the alma mater of Bill Gates -- is making laptop ownership a precursor to grades 7-12 beginning next year. Some parents are up in arms despite a glowing pilot program assessment and a somewhat cloying letter from Lakeside's head of school, who also assures families on financial aid that help will be available. Is this just one school getting a jump on the future of education, or a corporation-driven attempt to lock in younger and younger consumers?
posted by jessamyn (15 comments total)
Being a private school I guess they can do this at their own peril. Either the parents shelling out the cost of sending their children will ante up, or they will not. If not, then I would imagine that the policy would be shelved. As affluent as the school, and its studetns, sound, I don't think cost is the issue here. I personally think that children need to get exposure to computers at an early age to keep them technically savvy for the future workplace/world, but also think that you can't ignore traditional education completely. As it is I can barely write anything that can be considered legible on paper anymore :-)
posted by a3matrix at 1:16 PM on March 25, 2001

I read that my old high school (public, east coast) was recently testing out a program where 10th graders all had laptops too - with financial aid readily available. (And this is a big high school.) When I went to college (in '86 - private university) we were all given computers (286s - deluxe! *grin*) as part of the basic package - included in tuition costs. I think computers can definitely be helpful in education, but writing things down manually follows a different process which is ALSO helpful, IMO - fires different neurons - diversity being a good thing. I use a computer all the time, except when I do personal writing, and my handwriting is excellent - but then, I find it fun, like art, not just writing to get something down. *shrug*
posted by thunder at 1:32 PM on March 25, 2001

It's situations like this that make me wish that Apple's eMate had been more successful. Because you don't need the power (or the encumbrance) of a modern laptop for schoolwork -- or for most work, come to think of it -- it's good to have something that negates the traditional rationing of access to computers.

(Linux appliances, where are you?)

That said, from reading the details, it looks like a retrograde step for the school: an attempt to replace pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil interaction with a system more associated with corporate workflow. And as thunder says, there's a visceral difference with writing things down longhand (and reading dead tree literature) that's important for the brain cells.

Anyway, I bet these posh kids don't travel to and from school on their own: muggers would have a field day.
posted by holgate at 1:46 PM on March 25, 2001

A local parochial high school has had this policy in effect for about 3 years. There's an assistance program to help those who can't afford one without a little help.
posted by Mick at 1:49 PM on March 25, 2001

When I worked at the Gates Foundation there was a definite push to get computers into the schools. While I think they are useful tools, I'm not sold on the idea of having them be an indivisible part of an educational setting, and I question the motives of pseudo-philanthropic entities creating a new consumer market, however inadvertently. I liked this quote from the Weekly article:

"...rather than be occupied with machines, we want time on campus spent in interactions between teachers and students."

Part of education has always been about socializing students to be able to interact with people as well as with information -- and to make them good cogs in the future workplace machine. Mandatory laptop use seems to me to be a step away from human-to-human interaction, inevitable though it may be.
posted by jessamyn at 2:06 PM on March 25, 2001

Is this just one school getting a jump on the future of education, or a corporation-driven attempt to lock in younger and younger consumers?
Those are my choices?
posted by holloway at 2:14 PM on March 25, 2001

"Starduck, do you know the answer? Starduck? Starduck?"
"Teacher teacher! Starduck's looking at pictures of heidi klum on the internet again!"
"Shut up or I'll h4x0r j00r report card"
posted by starduck at 2:34 PM on March 25, 2001

There's certainly nothing novel about the concept. I have several friends whose kids attend schools, both public and private, that require laptop ownership. If anything, Lakeside is behind the times.

And since none of those schools had any big ruckus about mandatory laptops, I can't help but feel that something else is going on here, most likely some latent anti-corporate feelings on the parents' parts bubbling up to the surface. "Hmmm ... Our school has many big-time computer elite alumni, and gets much of its endowment from them. So this must be an attempt by them to brainwash our kids into using their products!!" Which is no different than blaming Mead for indoctrinating our innocent children into a lifetime of addiction to paper, note pads and binders.

It doesn't help that there appears to be little basis for these parental protests other than plain old fear of what they don't understand. "This is DIFFERENT. It's not how I went to school! It must be a plot!" Yeah, okay.
posted by aaron at 2:44 PM on March 25, 2001

okay, aaron, nuh uh. they are not "behind the times". show me record that there are tons of schools doing this and then they'll be behind the times, but required laptop ownership is not even CLOSE to the status quo.

as for the laptops themselves, i would go crazy in a classroom full of laptop-clicking kids. so noisy and obnoxious. and besides which, there will always be problems with one kid MUDding when he's supposed to be watching the teacher's broadcast about proper bibliography format. i don't know... it just seems rather unnecessary. i see the value in them, but required? i wouldn't have liked it very much, at least in 7th grade. well, i mean i would have liked it because i could spend more time dicking around with computers, but not educationally.
posted by pikachulolita at 4:31 PM on March 25, 2001

Now what happens when the laptops start getting stolen? Could you imagine what a few professional crooks could do at this school? They will know that every child with a backpack entering that school has a several thousand dollar machine in there.

On the issue of kids not using the computers for school work, let me just tell you how far I went to get games from the internet entered into my TI-82 Calculator. That at least required effort. Now all they will have to do is pop in a CD.

I as well was issued a computer as part of my college tuition (blazing '486 dx4-100) in 1996. It was very valuable for school work, but not necessary in class, thats what the Mead's are for. Plus, this was college, not middle school. All through my educational career, my schools have always made computers available, but not necessary.

This, in my opinion is just a mistake, and the school will most likely see either a drop in attendance or just flat-out violation of their laptop policy. A better approach would be to first require access to a computer, (i.e. at home) and let the parents work it out from there.
posted by stew560 at 5:06 PM on March 25, 2001

I am Technology Coordinator at an independent school in Athens, GA where we are in the first year of a laptop program. Grades 7 and 8 have them now and 7 through 12 will in the fall. We are working with the University of Georgia on a 4-year evaluation that follows a class through 2 years of Middle School and 2 years of High School to see if the laptops will improve teaching and learning. We have several papers published on our website under the Media and Technology link.
Our parents pay $1000 the first year then $700 a year after that. This is the cost of a laptop, wireless network card, an insurance/warranty package that includes all repair work including broken screens, software packages (Office 2000 is used the most), and it supplements the cost of our network. The students get a laptop in 7th grade and then in 10th grade they receive a new one. They can return the older one (which will then go to a loaner pool or staff member) or buy out the lease.
The teachers are *not* required to use a laptop in every class but they are asked to try and use it 20% of the time. We are seeing much more use than this. The wireless network has been great but battery issues have required us to have several power strips in each room.
posted by spynotebook at 6:47 PM on March 25, 2001

software packages (Office 2000 is used the most)

Why? Unless school curricula have changed a great deal in the ten years since I left, there's precious little reason why 14/15-year-olds need the bloat of Office2k. I don't subscribe to the "that's what they'll need to use in work" theory, because the time they get into an office environment, it'll be Office XP+ with a yet-again-reworked UI, or .NET stuff with web-centric document management.

In fact, I can't think of anything less likely to encourage productivity than dishing out Office to teenagers. From personal experience, it's all too tempting to spend more time picking a font than on the content of a paper.

You're the one doing the study, so good luck to you. Buy I can't help thinking that you'd be better off handing out handhelds with portable keyboards. More robust, less to go wrong, exactly the kind of limited feature set that's useful for that learning environment.
posted by holgate at 9:02 PM on March 25, 2001

Our 5 and 6 graders do have hand helds with a limited feature set. They use these loaded with WinCE for two years and then move on to a more robust laptop in grade 7. I am not so naive as to believe that something the kids use in 7th grade will be the same software that they use when they enter the workforce in 2010. But the basic concepts of word processor (Word), spreadsheet (Excel), presentation tool (Power Point), email (Outlook), calendar (Outlook), etc. will probably still be there. Our decision to give them Office and no curriculum based software out of the gate is a good one. We are *not* sitting our kids down in front of the computer and throwing CD-ROM movies at them instead of teaching, we are not using pre-packaged software that teaches them math by drilling them with questions over and over like many places do. Now, I am not saying we had to go with Office, but I think this basic package of tools does allow room to be creative and productive.
posted by spynotebook at 3:44 AM on March 26, 2001

Educators with experience in this area: What are you hoping to accomplish by introducing universal computing access in schools? What evidence suggests that computation will enhance educational goals?
posted by Twang at 11:48 AM on March 26, 2001

The private high school that I went to started a laptop program while I was a sophomore there. At that time, the program was in its infancy and I don't think that teachers really knew how to do much with the laptops. In those days, I mainly used the computer for word processing and surfing the web from my dorm room (to which we had completely unrestricted access my junior year). In fact, the only class I ever brought my laptop to regularly was my AP Computer Science class in which having the laptop was actually invaluable.

I've heard though that things have changed at my school (since I graduated less than two years ago) with an increased use of the school intranet for classes and extracurricular activities (There was already electronic submission of articles over the intranet for the school newspaper while I was there).
posted by dalryaug at 1:49 PM on March 26, 2001

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