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Vol. 7, No. 5: January 16, 2001


Failure To Connect:
How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds – for Better and Worse

by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998, 350 p.

by Patricia Ploetz,
Instructional Technology and Multimedia Educator/Coordinator,
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Failure To Connect is such a wonderfully uncomplicated read that it is easy to underestimate the power of the content. Jane Healy’s investigation of computer use in the teaching and learning environment plots a techno-pushing teacher against the realities of positive practical classroom application. Failure To Connect examines learning in children from birth through high school, providing both positive and negative examples of computer use in the classroom. As Healy moves through the different age groups, she provides the reader with practical tips on appropriate software--software that, with the aid of parents and teachers, provides meaningful learning experiences. Sprinkled throughout the book are narratives and anecdotes from parents, teachers, physicians, and community leaders. These real-life experiences give Healy’s book a personal feel that adds to its power.

"Today’s children are the subjects of a vast and optimistic experiment," claims Healy. "It is well financed and enthusiastically supported by major corporations, the public at large, and government officials around the world. The experiment, of course, involves getting kids on computers at school and at home in the hopes that technology will improve the quality of learning and prepare our young for the future."

In the first chapter, "Blundering Into the Future: Hype and Hope," Healy addresses the social issues that surround computer education by examining the present state of affairs. She notes that eighty percent of the people who plan to buy a computer most often cite children’s education as the main reason. A 1995 survey of parents, teachers, and leaders revealed that computer skills and media technologies were identified as the third most important skills needed by high school graduates of the twenty-first century. Basic skills (reading, writing, and math) and good work habits were one and two, respectively. Citizenship, the arts, and history where much further down this list of sixteen possibilities.

Once the stage has been set, Healy begins to focus on scenarios that explore both the positive and negative aspects of computer software and the context of its use. In this section Healy begins to ask what many educators have been asking for some time--what do computers add to the classroom experience that teachers can’t do better? Why are we spending what meager funds we have on hardware and software upgrades, Internet access, and infrastructure instead of literature and the arts, to say nothing about more teachers, new books, and teacher training?

In part two, Healy tackles the physical ailments directly related to computer use. Vision problems, hand and arm injuries, and back pain are becoming increasingly commonplace in the classroom. More and more physicians are seeing these kinds of problems in school-age children. Healy goes on to identify the processes related to mental growth and brain maturation and the danger of inappropriate computer use. As Healy and cohorts point out, the growth processes that occur between birth and seven years are the foundation for ongoing social, emotional, and language development--all critical to the learning process. The research cited throughout this section supports Healy’s claim that "computer learning" for young children is far less brain-building and potentially more dangerous than we might otherwise think.

In her conclusion, Healy directs us to "do it right when the time is right." Putting the needs of children first, Healy explores the possibilities that computers bring to the teaching and learning environment and urges more research in all areas of technology. Failure To Connect is well worth the time and effort for both a first and second read.

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