Computers are hazardous to the health of American children – at least according to a new report from an outfit called Alliance for Childhood. Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology takes a very negative view of what the authors see as the large amount of time that kids spend in front of computer screens (including video games) both at home and at school. They also are extremely critical of the amount of money spent on computer equipment by schools and of the close political connections between government and the high-tech industry which, they say, has forced the adoption of unnecessary technology.

I haven’t had time to read the full report but there is so much to agree with in the summary and overview, along with much to disagree with. However, what is really strange about this report is their recommendations:

Finally, we call on parents, educators, and policymakers to make seven key reforms to foster a new approach to technology literacy:

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

While I’m sure the critics of "progressive" education will find plenty to fault in these proposals, I find it hard to dispute most of them, especially the item about encouraging creativity and the arts. But only one of these ideas really has anything to do with the use of computers in schools.

The authors make a good point about money wasted on computer-related equipment for schools over the past decade, funds that could have been better spent. But many schools took a blanket approach to using computers in the classroom instead of targeting them to those classrooms and subjects that could make the best use of the tools. And it’s certainly true that the high-tech industry has targeted schools as a profitable cash cow.

I may rant a little more about this report after I read the whole thing, but I doubt there’s much new in there. Four years ago this same group published another report called Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood which said very much the same things. It’s rather sad that little has changed in that time.