- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

A group of educators, scientists and doctors yesterday called for a temporary ban on computers in elementary schools to evaluate the risk they pose to children's physical and intellectual growth.

The timeout could create a climate for a broad national discussion about the serious developmental risks of computers in childhood, according to a report released by the group, "Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood."

"Powerful technologies are distracting children and adults from each other," according to the report, which was released in the District of Columbia by the College Park, Md.-based child-advocacy group Alliance for Childhood.

The report also called for a discussion on how the emphasis on computers affects children in low-income families.

"We entered the computer age in schools without doing our homework," said Lowell Monke, an assistant professor of education at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and one of the 75 signatories to the statement.

"It is better to stop now and re-evaluate, rather than spend billions of dollars later" to rectify the problems caused by early use of computers, he said.

The report said that as school divisions channeled resources toward computerizing schools, they were cutting down on essential aspects of children's growth, like field trips in nature, hands-on projects in science, music, the arts, library books and play time.

"There is no clear, commanding … evidence that students' sustained use of [computers] has any impact on academic achievement," said Larry Cuban, professor of education at Stanford University and one of the signatories to the statement.

Mr. Monke added that several studies had found that children could suffer from stress-related injuries, eyestrain, obesity and social isolation due to early computer use.

Mr. Monke, who taught computer technology for 15 years to students in kindergarten through 12th grade students in public schools in Des Moines, Iowa, said he had realized over years of working with students that computers did more harm than good when introduced at a very early age.

Although there was an emphasis to give children an early start on computers, he said he found that students who started training on computers very early in childhood actually had more difficulty learning when they entered more advanced technology classes because their creative thinking was not very well developed.

The Alliance for Childhood is calling on the U.S. surgeon general to prepare a comprehensive report on the full extent of the physical, emotional and other developmental hazards posed by computers to children.

Area teachers, however, said that the computer was an important educational tool in elementary classrooms and that the use of computers had not affected their children's learning in any way.

Holly Hawthorne, principal of Arlington Traditional Elementary in Arlington County, Va., said, "We don't use computers for computers' sake, but as tools for learning."

She said that students at her school did not use computers for a fixed number of hours every day, but as and when they needed to use them in the course of their class work.

"Technology is here to stay, and we need to use it appropriately," she said.

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