Are Texas Lawmakers Funding ‘Digital Heroin’ for School Children?

Part 1 of a “Technology in the Classroom” Series: UCLA neuroscience calls them “electronic” cocaine”, while Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” 

By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D.

Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas legislature’s Public Education Committees wants to utilize high-tech digital learning to improve student achievement and fulfill future workforce demands. The popular notion is that students need computer time to compete in the 21st century.

Yet at the epicenter of the technology industry some parents hold a contrarian viewpoint, choosing instead to send their children to schools that have no computers at all and some even frown on home computers.  

Google Executive Alan Eagle told the New York Times:

“I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school…The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.”

Eagle insists there’s no need to rush children into technology, “It is super
easy.  It’s like learning to use toothpaste.”  He believes kids can figure out technology when they are older. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain dead easy to use as possible.” 

Also disagreeing with the popular notion that students without digital tools are being cheated is Paul Thomas, an associate professor education at Furman University and author about public educational methods.

“Teaching is a human experience… technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

Explaining why he imposes strict limits on his children’s use of technology, Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of drone maker 3D Robotics says,

“That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

Ignoring the growing body of negative research, some Texas educators are pushing for increased Pre-K funding so they can purchase more interactive games and smart-device applications.

Not so fast, writes Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, one the nation’s foremost addiction experts and author of Glow Kids.

Video games, computers, cell phones and tablets are all “digital drugs” that stunt a child’s neural development. Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic” cocaine” while Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.”

Recent studies show these digital drugs affect the brain’s frontal cortex in exactly the same way that cocaine does.  According to Kardaras, “An MRI of a tech addict and an MRI of a drug addict are the same
– they both neurophysiologically affect the brain.”

In his clinical work with more than 1,000 teens, Kardaras found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than a true-tech addict.

American K-12 schools are spending nearly $5 billion annually for digital tools. For profit publishers are the driving force behind this while educators are buying in with little thought for negative consequences – or perhaps they fear losing their jobs.

The impact of computer access on student achievement

Consider some of the results from this report addressing computer access on student achievement:

  • Distractions.  85% of students confess to multi-tasking while reading online, compared with 26% who multi-task while reading print.
  • Lower Comprehension.  Students cite being distracted on e-books and skimming materials. Online sentences tend to be short with links to the complicated information. Because their comprehension is so poor, students are having difficulty reading the classics because they are unable to read the longer sentences with multiple, winding clauses full of background information.
  • Shallow Reading.  Digital reading impedes the development of critical thinking because students are skimming rather than reading deeply.
  • Taking Notes on Computers.  Students who write notes by hand must listen, digest, and summarize rather than writing each spoken word. The handwritten method forces different types of cognitive processing that foster comprehension and retention. Students taking longhand notes performed better on assessments than those who used laptops to take notes.
  • Lower Assessment Scores on Computers.  Students who took the 2014-15 Common Core aligned PARCC exams via computer tended to score lower than those who took the exams with paper and
    pencil.
  • Social & Emotional Skills are Affected.  Students who spend more time on-screen are disconnected emotionally because emails and texts lack the emotive qualities of face-to-face interaction. School districts in Texas are now remediating this disconnection by setting up social and emotional learning classes with testing on these non-cognitive skills. Of course, Texans get the bill for this additional expense to solve a problem created by educators.
  • No Added Instructional Value.  In a study by University of Southern California Professor Patricia Burch, English language learners and students with disabilities were significantly less likely than other students to benefit from the combination of personal interaction and online programs. They performed better with personal instruction.

An international study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that 15-year-olds in 31 nations and regions, using computers more frequently at school, had both lower reading and lower math scores on the Program for International Assessment (PISA).

There are very few positive findings about online learning in K-12

Nearly every study of virtual school performance has found student performance to be lagging. Few studies exist about the effectiveness of blended learning in K-12.  Most studies are for older learners in other settings such as medical, career, military training, and higher education.

So where do we go from here?

Since access to computers has not improved academic achievement and has profound negative consequences, that leaves the purely vocational aim of preparing students for jobs in the information-driven labor market as the justification for K-12 to spend taxpayer money.

High-tech entrepreneurs, vendors, media executives, and school district policy makers will continue to claim that computers and technology will make fundamental changes in education.  Because the K -12 educational technology market is so lucrative for investors, entrepreneurs, and vendors who benefit from sales, there is great pressure on Texas policy makers to, not only continue, but expand the use of technology in the classroom, regardless of the negative consequences for students.

With the continuing trend away from academics toward job training by public education, the deeper issue is being ignored:  What is the main purpose of taxpayer funded public education?

Much was written by our Founding Fathers about the necessity of an academic education to prepare all citizens to be guardians of the American democracy. With the collectivist workforce training now being the primary reason for American public education, our founding principles are undermined.

Do Texans really want to continue funding millions annually for educational technology in the face of such negative consequences for children and for the future of our American experiment?

What You Can Do:

Call or write your Texas State Legislators in the Texas House and the Texas Senate.

  • Tell them to stop using public education money to enrich technology companies that do not care about the negative consequences they are creating for Texas children.
  • Tell them Texas children deserve the type of education that many elite tech leaders provide for their own children: a traditional paper & pencil academic education.

Additional articles by Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. include:

Follow Dr. Carole Haynes at www.drcarolehhaynes.com

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