Computers and Children


Ed Miller, 508-349-9769; 917-363-1982;
Joan Almon, 301-699-9058; 301-801-5293

Child Advocates Challenge Current Ed Tech Standards

New report says government and high-tech industry foist expensive and unproven technology on schools, hurting children and undermining real technology literacy

Order a copy of Tech Tonic.

Sept. 30, 2004—The high-tech, screen-centered life style of today’s children—at home and at school—is a health hazard and the polar opposite of the education they need to take part in making ethical choices in a high-tech democracy, according to a new report released today by the Alliance for Childhood.

Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology challenges education standards and industry assertions that all teachers and children, from preschool up, should use computers in the classroom to develop technology literacy. That expensive agenda ignores evidence that high-tech classrooms have done little if anything to improve student achievement, the report says.

The report strongly criticizes the extensive financial and political connections between education officials and school technology vendors. It urges citizens to wake up to the increasing influence of corporations in policymaking for public education.

“The lack of evidence or an expert consensus that computers will improve student achievement—despite years of efforts by high-tech companies and government agencies to demonstrate otherwise—is itself compelling evidence of the need for change,” Tech Tonic states. “It’s time to scrap…national, state, and local policies that require all students and all teachers to use computers in every grade, and that eliminate even the possibility of alternatives.”

At the same time, the Alliance suggests, high-tech childhood is making children sick—promoting a sedentary life at a time when childhood obesity is at epidemic levels. The full text of the report is available at the Alliance’s web site:

Today’s children will inherit social and ecological crises that involve tough moral choices and awesome technological power, Tech Tonic warns. To confront problems like the proliferation of devastating weapons and global warming, children will need all the “wisdom, compassion, courage, and creative energy” they can muster, it adds. Blind faith in technology will not suffice.

“A new approach to technology literacy, calibrated for the 21st century, requires us to help children develop the habits of mind, heart, and action that can, over time, mature into the adult capacities for moral reflection, ethical restraint, and compassionate service,” the report states.

The Alliance for Childhood is a nonprofit partnership of educators, researchers, health professionals, and other advocates for children, based in Maryland. Tech Tonic is a follow-up to the Alliance’s widely noted 2000 report Fool’s Gold. In Tech Tonic the Alliance proposes a new definition of technology literacy as “the mature capacity to participate creatively, critically, and responsibly in making technological choices that serve democracy, ecological sustainability, and a just society.”

Tech Tonic proposes seven reforms in education and family life. These will free children from a passive attachment to screen-based entertainment and teach them about their “technological heritage” in a new way, rooted in the study and practice of technology “as social ethics in action” and in a renewed respect for nature.

The seven reforms:

  • Make human relationships and a commitment to strong communities a top priority at home and school.
  • Color childhood green to refocus education on children’s relationships with the rest of the living world.
  • Foster creativity every day, with time for the arts and play.
  • Put community-based research and action at the heart of the science and technology curriculum.
  • Declare one day a week an electronic entertainment-free zone.
  • End marketing aimed at children.
  • Shift spending from unproven high-tech products in the classroom to children’s unmet basic needs.

“To expect our teachers, our schools, and our nation to strive to educate all of our children, leaving none behind, is a worthy goal,” Tech Tonic says. “To insist that they must at the same time spend huge amounts of money and time trying to integrate unproven classroom technologies into their teaching, across the curriculum with preschoolers on up, is an unwise and costly diversion from that goal. It comes at the expense of our neediest children and schools, for whom the goal is most distant.”

The report proposes 10 guiding principles for the new technology literacy and offers examples of each. It also includes suggestions for educators, parents, and other citizens to develop their own technology literacy, with a similar emphasis on social ethics in action.

“Today's children will face complex and daunting choices, in a future of biotechnology, robotics, and microchips, for which we are doing very little to prepare them,” says Joan Almon, head of the Alliance. “We immerse them in a virtual, high-tech world and expect them to navigate the information superhighway with little guidance and few boundaries. It is time for a new definition of technology literacy that supports educational and family habits that are healthy both for children and for the survival of the Earth.”

“It is within the context of relationships that children learn best,” adds Dr. Marilyn Benoit, past president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and vice president of the Alliance Board of Trustees. “As we shift more towards the impersonal use of high technology as a major tool for teaching young children, we will lose that critical context of interactive relationship that so reinforces early learning.”

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You will also want to read:

Reply to CoSN:

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), in its response to the Alliance for Childhood’s new report, Tech Tonic, seriously distorts the Alliance’s findings and conclusions. Joan Almon and Edward Miller of the Alliance reply.


Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood

A Groundbreaking report that examines the real costs of computers; billions of dollars at the expense of key educational programs and the pressing needs of low-income children, as well as serious risks to children's physical, emotional and intellectual development.

Position Statement
Children and Computers: A Call for Action
Dozens of experts in child development, education, health and technology urge us to reexamine the assumption that computers are good for children. They join the Alliance for Childhood in issuing a seven-point Call for Action to help open a broad conversation on this vital issue.