A. Pelletier: NY state of mind

I have written several letters to the editor about my opposition to laptops for youngsters in the public schools paid for by the taxpayers; now here you go.

I just saw a report about a school in Harlem, N.Y., called the Harlem Village Academy. The kids in that school are about the brightest in the nation, and they do it without laptops. The school does not have a set curriculum but, instead, a curriculum designed by the individual teachers allowing them to use their imaginations to get the most out of their students. There is a uniform dress code, no talking in the hallways and strict discipline in the classroom without corporal punishment —  just positive reinforcement.

If Maine wants to start turning out smarter children, perhaps modeling the schools after that outstanding New York school would be worth looking into, instead of giving out laptops, then having taxpayers pay to police them.

Al Pelletier, Norway

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Steve  Dosh's picture

A. Pelletier: NY state of mind

Al, 15:33 Monday from Hawai'i on a laptop
Keep writing but , pray tell, where have you been ?
All ME Jr High students had Apple ® laptops last decade and this decade they are getting iPads®
Sure , and i think they should learn how to use an abacus and a slide rule , too
h t h ? Steve



Well I can think of one job off hand that was eliminated and that's the CMP guy that used to check my meter. Other examples would be elevator operators and telephone operators. When that salesclerk registers your sale at the store she is doing several jobs at once; marketing, stock, inventory customer approval all stem from the data she enters. That's why her boss prefers that she be able to work a register rather than be able to make change. Students who cannot do math and spell or write lack practice. There is such an increase in curriculum that the schools no longer have the time to spend months on the multiplication tables or handwriting. That's where computers come in. They are perfect for practice. It is the modern version of homework. Students are reluctant to practice on worksheets and mostly won't do homework but love to practice on a computer game. Also computer programs are individuallized. As the student improves the questions get harder. And the student gets instant feedback instead of having to wait for the teacher to correct a pile of papers. Modern public schools have to individualize instruction more and more because the students that come to us are no longer culturally homogeneous. And their previous educational experiences are now hugely varied.

 's picture

FYI Miss Gamache

The CMP guy is still employed doing other duties. Phone operators are still employed doing what they have always done, directing long distance connections for us. Go to the Fairpoint office in Portland, you will see a room full. Oh did you know that some of those same operators have opted to go out into the filed and became phone techs. Yep, they are out there installing data circuits, T1 and PRI circuits, testing those circuits, just like the boys do. The store clerk still has to make change for people who still pay in cash. That's her job along with taking inventory and stocking the shelves and clothing racks. She does little in the way of marketing. The school curriculum overloaded? Really. Well why don't they remove some of that useless curriculum that they somehow deem important and yes spend more time on addition, subtraction and multiplications. Pretty sad when I stand at a McDonald's and the 18 year old behind the counter can't make change cause he hasn't been thought by our wonderful public school system how to think and do math without a calculator or computer. These children are not being thought to use the computer or calculator as tool but more like a crutch. The computer I use every day in my work as a Voice Communications Engineer is my tool that I use to perform my duties. Noting else. Today very few students can complete a calculation and really understand how they arrived at their answer, provided it is correct. It is sad when that same student has to ask how to spell the capital of his or her state.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Claire, I’ll agree with you


I’ll agree with you that computers are an important component to a modern education, but I also agree with Al that there is no need to finance a computer for all students at the taxpayer’s expense.

Poor counties like India and Thailand don’t finance computers for all students, mainly because they cannot afford them, but can still produce students that outscore our students and do well in technical fields such as computer science and engineering.
In my opinion, Maine is using this concept to mask failures in education; failures in student body; failures in parents. In school computer labs are more cost effective.

Lastly, I cannot find any data on the money wasted replacing and repair computers students destruct. Perhaps there is a reason this information is buried.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Lazy teachers--Lazy students

Claire, as I said in my letter, teachers in this school system are given the freedom to use their imagination to inspire their students to excel and certain dress and discipline codes are mandatory. What I'm getting out of your comment is that putting laptops in their hands frees you up to do what ever and allows the student to educate themselves as they please with our taxpayer laptops.
And your comment about "love to practice on a computer game"--get real! They're practicing looking up porn sites, that's why we're being asked to pony up $100,000.00 for more cyber cops to monitor this growing problem.


frees you up

Frees you up to do whatever? Whatever is individualized instruction, planning, research, correcting student work,record keeping, consulting with parents, counselors etc. etc. etc. As for teachers using their imagination that refers to teaching techniques. Math is math. No one is imagining a newly invented math and although some people like to reinvent history it mostly does not happen in school Teachers use their imagination all the time everywhere. That's what teaching is. As for students using the computers for porn, that does not happen in school. On the rare occasion that it does the students lose their computer privileges. In school they learn to use the computers as a learning and work tool. Nowadays that is a life skill. What they do with them when they are out of school is the concern of their parents. And as for practice, it is a vital part of achieving proficiency in reading and math. Just because the students like to practice on a computer doesn't make it less valuable than if they hated it. The alternative is that 20 year old dusty encyclopedia in the library. Oh wait! Brittanica stopped publishing encyclopedias because everyone is using the internet.

 's picture

The railroad analogy is strained.

Riding a train prepares you for riding a train. Playing with a computer in JHS and HS prepares you for ...? Three guesses. Ready, set, go!

If the intent is, as we were told years ago, to prepare kids for "good" jobs using computers or in the computer industry itself, our money would be much better spent on in-school-only computer labs and on teachers who know what they're doing in them.

What we have accomplished with the laptops is to turn out a generation or two of kids who can't add and can't read or write well enough to fill out their welfare applications after graduation. The students who took calculus still do OK, just like they did 50 years ago.

I have a degree in computer science and 40+ years experience in the field, and I have never seen a job, except the most menial, eliminated by computers. If that's the point, the program is even more pointless than I thought.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Mike, Most people in their


Most people in their late 40’s or early 50’s probably did not have access to computers at all during primary education, yet many work in the field of computer science and engineering. How is that? It is because they learned how to learn, so they can adapt to changing technologies – and many people did.

Jason Theriault's picture

Can't disagree more.

As someone with 10 years in the field(IT/IS), I can say I have PERSONALLY seen people lose their jobs due to computers. I can't really talk about it(NDA), but it it happens.

And it's about being comfortable with technology. If kids are familiar with computers and know how to use them, they are better prepared to enter the modern workforce.

I do worry about math skills, as computers can allow people to cheat far to easily. Writing(the physical act), I don't care if kids can do that well... I failed penmanship numerous times in school, and I write in print. I don't think my lack of prowess with the quill has held me back one bit. I would like to see more programming courses in schools. Kids need to know how to talk to computers, and I don't mean "TTL, BFF!"

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Nothing wrong with that

Nothing wrong with that thought, but this can be achieved without buying each kid a computer. There is nothing wrong with an in-school, supervised computer lab.

Zack Lenhert's picture

I would imagine as a computer

I would imagine as a computer scientist you would be able to see the vast potential of computers to teach in creative and interactive ways, but I may be wrong.

Education needs to keep pace with society. We are increasingly moving towards a digital world. Computers and tablets have the ability to replace bulky textbooks and open up new possibilities with regards to teaching. These programs are still in their infancy and I believe we will start to see great ROI of these programs if we see them through.

"What we have accomplished with the laptops is to turn out a generation or two of kids who can't add and can't read or write well enough to fill out their welfare applications after graduation." Can you site any references to this or is it just an opinion? Is this the fault of the laptops that these kids can't read or write? "What we've accomplished" These programs have just started, nothing has been accomplished yet.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

An IT professions is not

An IT professions is not necessary a computer scientist. The later requires more discipline. Becareful with that advice.

You should also ask yourself how can relatively poor countries (i.e. India) can produce well educated students when they may not touch a computer until college?

Zack Lenhert's picture

I do most all of my work on a

I do most all of my work on a computer. Knowing how to use "the tools of the trade" is VERY important.

The jobs of the future will most likely will require the use of some type of computer and I have no problem with school children learning how to responsibly use them, I would actually encourage it.

Remember the kids who's parents wouldn't sign the permission slip to use power tools in shop class? How well do you think they learned that subject?


running a railroad

It never fails. People think they know how to run the schools because they sat in one 50 years ago. That's like saying you know how to run a railroad because you rode in a train once. Anyone who has taught at all will tell you that when the teacher, the student, the administrator and the parent are on the same page and share the same goals learning will occur easily and cheaply. This also occurs in public schools but it is more obvious when it occurs in private schools or home schooling because it is usually universal. In public schools you have a bunch of parents who think you are babysitting, a bunch who are social networkers and a bunch who are really interested in measurable proficiency. You often find the third group in calculus class. They always get a good education no matter where they are and they are cheap to educate. The point of computers in the public schools in my opinion is actually the same as computers in the business world. They can replace workers and are cheaper and more reliable in the long run. So far the public schools have not figured out how to replace teachers with computers but they are figuring it out. Alvin Toffler in his latest book about wealth had it pretty well worked out. The future is on our doorstep and it will involve computers.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Generally I agree with these

Generally I agree with these comments, but I need to point out that while I don’t have experience with running a school, I am capable of spotting wasteful spending.

On-campus computer labs are more economical for the taxpayers.

 's picture

What a novel concept!

Modeling what works instead of tinkering to see what happens. I wonder what the teachers' union would think.

The laptop program was an expensive mistake when King Angus started it, it has been a mistake ever since, and it is a mistake now.

You want to prepare kids for real life? Teach 'em to play poker and hammer home the good advice: Don't throw good money after bad.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Add to it Mike,

Since computers were given out to students Maine SAT scores have dropped dramatically which only tells me that computers are not teaching them what is needed to solve everyday problems to prepare them for college or the blue collar job market. Claire, please check out SAT scores in Maine for the past 8 years and tell me I'm wrong.



putting the previous comment into graphs:

total number of students taking SAT vs mean math score, 2001-2011

students scoring 700-800 vs students scoring 200-290, 2001-2011


I am not Claire...

but on the subject of SAT scores, I will take the liberty of saying that you are wrong.

Looking at the historical data on SAT scores, there is not a steady decline, but a stair-step drop from 503+/-2 from 2001 through 2006 down to 467+/- 2 from 2007 to 2011. However, recall that in the fall of 2005, Commissioner Gendron ended the MEA testing for high school students, instead requiring that all high school students take the SAT. In the years up through 2006, approximately 65% of each graduating class had taken the SAT; starting in 2007, that jumped to over 90%.

Not surprisingly, many of the students in the 25% or so of the class who previously would have avoided the SAT had lower scores than the 2001-2006 average, and so pulled down the statewide figures.

In 2001, there were 383 students (out of 11355 total) who scored at least 700 on the math test, and 224 who scored under 300. In 2011, the number scoring over 700 rose somewhat to 433 (out of 14975 total), but the number scoring under 300 increased much more—to 789. On the reading side, the extra weight at the bottom is even more dramatic: 221 students in 2001 up to 978 students in 2011.

So while it is true that average Maine SAT scores have dropped, I don't see any indication in these numbers that individual students are getting lower scores than they would have a decade ago; only that we are now counting students who were completely ignored in the SAT data prior to 2007.



AL PELLETIER's picture


For clarifying the difference between a dramatic decline and a "stair-step drop". Either way, it still looks like reverse to me.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Al, but they’ll be unafraid

Al, but they’ll be unafraid of technology when looking for the “supersize” button on the register.


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