Friday, July 21, 2017

Where Have All the Computers Gone?

Reformy Chalkbeat NY just ran a piece about how a lot of computers were missing from city schools. I'm not remotely surprised. I've been teaching since 1984, and I've been hearing stories like that almost since I started. My first exposure to computers, if I recall correctly, was that year, when we were sent to some PD to observe some crappy computer program that seemed a complete waste of time. Fortunately, I saw better things shortly thereafter.

The thing that hooked me on computers was the word processor. When I was studying for my master's, we were assigned to do groupwork for a course I was taking. One of the women in my group had a Commodore 64. She showed me the editing capacity of the included word processor and pretty much blew my mind. We did this project according to what we were good at--One woman designed and administered the project we were to write about, I wrote about it, my friend typed it on her magical word processor, and the other woman did nothing whatsoever. We all got As.

When I worked in John Adams, we had rooms full of computers. They were very expensive. The computers needed air-conditioning, unlike the humans, who were left to swelter and suffer in summer months. I remember being sent to the computer room once a week. One of my students identified a washing machine as a washing machine, but the computer said he was incorrect. It was a "clothes washer." How ignorant of us not to know.

Of course, ever since computers have been in school, there's been theft. My dad knew someone who worked for the DOE back then, when it was the Board of Education. He told me how his friend walked into a school, looked for 40 computers the school had been given, and didn't find them. He told them he'd be back the following week, and the computers had better be there too. And waddya know, they returned.

There are a million stories like that, I'm sure. I'm particularly sure because I knew no one back then, and the chances of someone like me hearing a story like that, were it isolated, were very low. I have a better one. A friend of mine was working in a large Manhattan high school in the late 80s. One day, two guys walked into the auditorium and said, "We're here for the piano." They walked out with a grand piano. No one asked them for credentials, and no one knows what happened to the piano.

Of course, those were the bad old days of community school boards. You know, the people would get elected, and they would steal all that stuff. Maybe the grand piano is in the home of some former board member. Who knows? Now, fortunately, we have mayoral control, and that doesn't happen. Instead, someone else steals the computers. You see why de Blasio and Cuomo and every reformy on God's green earth battles for mayoral control?

Technology is a very bad investment, actually. The shelf life of a computer is not long, maybe a few years. I don't know how many thousands of dollars I've wasted on them. For the last decade or so, I've been buying Macs. While they cost a little more up front, they last a lot longer and crap out a lot less.

And with all due respect, school computers suck for a whole lot of reasons. I certainly don't blame admin for buying them, and they'd be remiss if they didn't. But school wifi is incredibly buggy. You never know when or why it's gonna go down. Also, there's always competition for school computers. You never know when your colleague is going to need one, and you don't want to throw some student off a computer, saying, 'My work is more important than yours."

One of the best things I've ever bought is the Macbook Air I'm using right now. I bring it to work with me every day. I don't have to fight anyone when I need to write a PowerPoint. Sometimes at lunch, if I'm lucky, I can sneak off and write the blog. If I'm giving a test and a student doesn't show, I can look up the student's phone number without flashing it on the screen in front of the class. And when the school wifi drops dead I can tether it to my phone and use it anyway.

I don't know where the computers go. I don't know who steals them. I can only tell you it isn't me.

I realize, of course, that this narrows it down to a field of many.
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