As education officials around the state publicly prepare their upcoming budget requests, it’s at least as eye-opening to see what they value most as it is to observe where they’re opting to cut.

Locally and statewide, there’s a demonstrable emphasis on technology. Improved electronics and added tech support are at or near the top of nearly every administrator’s wish list.

Laptop computers are a particular passion; many superintendents, school board members, teachers and administrators advocate having each child in their middle and high school equipped with one.

Technology is undeniably a large part of the future, and to insufficiently prepare students in that area would be, to borrow a phrase, leaving our children behind.

It’s hard to argue with those who maintain that students less technologically savvy than their peers elsewhere will face multiple hurdles later in life when competing for admission to an institution of higher learning, or for desirable employment.

But purchasing state-of-the-art computers that will in all likelihood soon be rendered obsolete by new and improved items can be an expensive proposition.

In the past, ethically challenged merchants selling items designed to permanently hook customers were either purveyors of tobacco or dealers of illegal narcotics.

But today’s technology peddlers are far more successful at addicting young clients on their products than Joe Camel’s creators ever were.

There’s considerable value in keeping America’s youth competitive by supplying them with the most up-to-date electronic labor-saving devices, along with the appropriate accompanying hardware, software and other related accoutrements.

But doing so at the expense of de-emphasizing other areas of education is folly, the equivalent of constructing an attractive and expensive penthouse atop an apartment building with a foundation that’s crumbling after years of neglect.

Math instructors regularly deal with far too many young people unable to perform even the most basic computations without the aid of an electronic calculator.

Teachers of history, English, science or any other subject requiring written fluency and/or cogent thought are seeing a continuing free fall in literacy skills, thanks at least in part to word processors which point out (and in some cases “fix”) any and all perceived errors in spelling, grammar and even usage that students make while attempting to put their thoughts in writing.

That’s assuming such pupils are actually attempting to conceptualize and subsequently express original ideas in their own words, rather than regurgitate those of others by cutting and pasting previously written (and all-too-easily accessible electronically) compositions.

And children learning keyboarding skills at increasingly youthful ages often yields another unintended consequence: sloppy, hard-to-read handwriting that grows increasingly indecipherable as students become more computer-dependent with each succeeding year of mandated technology use.

But perhaps the most obvious shortfall created by American education’s love affair with electronic devices hides in plain sight.

Physical education programs have been de-emphasized to the point of irrelevance in many places, despite skyrocketing increases both locally and nationally in the rates of childhood obesity and early- onset diabetes.

A generation ago, custodians had to clean the locker room assiduously lest youngsters who routinely showered after gym class pick up a case of athlete’s foot.

But today, the greatest risk students take when entering a locker room shower stall is walking into a cobweb.

Participation rates for many high school sports are plummeting.

This season at least one local Class A boys high school basketball program made no cuts; everyone who showed up was placed on the varsity, JV or freshman team. Less than a generation ago, most high school coaches conducted tryouts that took several days and nights just to winnow their three squads down to somewhat manageable numbers.

No one is suggesting a ban on electronic devices in schools, at least not yet.

But how long will parents, teachers and administrators continue tolerating shortening attention spans, expanding waistlines, plunging literacy rates and declining social skills before deciding there are more important (to say nothing of less expensive) priorities than equipping students with iPads, iPods, iTunes, and iMovies in a society that’s becoming more I-centered with each passing day?

 

– Special to The Press Herald