Real Computers Versus Toys, Part 2

I can understand how some might feel that devices like iPads and tablets aren’t real computers, especially those who’ve never really used an iPad or those who think a real computer has to have a keyboard, mouse and USB port. Anything less are just toys, expensive toys, but still toys. Like I mentioned before, I don’t encounter this sentiment that too often, mostly because I normally find that the long-suffering classroom teachers I’ve worked with are used to taking whatever they can get and making the best of it. This bunch would gladly “put up with” a classroom full of iPads.

When I first started teaching I populated my classroom with two PCs that I’d thrown together from parts left over from my latest computer upgrades. With the lone Mac in our non-networked classroom (this was before the Internet had reached our outpost elementary school in Cerritos, California), I set the computers up as stations for student to use in pairs for their language arts and social studies assignments. Basically I used what I had or could cobble together and the addition of the two vintage PCs meant that my students got to be on computers more than just once a week. There was a teacher in another district who populated his classroom full of Apple ][cs that he bought very cheaply or retrieved from school that were going to throw them out. On his own, without school money, he was able to populate his classroom with one computer for each student, long before any one-to-one program existed. Part of being a classroom teacher is working miracles with very little or out of your own pocket, usually both. Ha, we’re used to working with “technology” that’s missing things like working keyboards or mice. Bring it on!

We’re used to working with less than ideal situations. But that’s no excuse for decision makers to underfund us or make purchasing decisions purely on the basis of how much they think they can get for how little and expecting our resourcefulness will make it work. An outspoken hater of iPads-in-the-classroom, Dr. Garry Stager, feels that the technology is too crippled to be truly useful and that decision makers are only thinking of dollars and cents and not the educational value of how technology should be used in the classroom. Granted, we’re still in this asinine numbers-driven/testing mindset, so the value of technology in the classroom from the point of view of district people tends be focused on managing the testing regime and not on learning or Dr. Stager’s beloved (and politically exiled) Constructivism. Screw all that we learned in the late-70s and 80s about useful learning models in the classroom. Hell, because of the scripted test-prep curriculum, we don’t even have time for the wasteful drill-and-kill tech-model, it’s all about training for the test. So, iPads for everyone, my friends, just make sure they’re properly locked down (LAUSD!).

In the end, this version of “real computers versus toys” isn’t about technology but about how little we regard the teaching profession and that, as much as we say we believe in education, we’re not willing to properly fund it. When my district stripped out a huge chunk of our Magnet grant funding, we were able to make it work anyway because something called the”iMac” had just been introduced and cut the expense of buying computers in half. Given any kind of say in the process and we’ll make it work. But it’s shameful that we’re forced to do so because decision-makers have forgotten that this enterprise of learning is more valuable to our culture and society than all other civic responsibilities combined. Fail at this and forget about your healthy economy or tax-base or middle-class, etc. If bringing iPads into the classroom is based on the usefulness of the tools for learning, than go for it. If it’s another workaround more underfunding than shame on you decision-makers and disinterested community for not giving teachers and students the proper tools to get the job done.


  • image: 2011-04-14 FaceTime Everywhere by Joe Bustillos,, retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • Point/Counterpoint: Should Students Use Their Own Devices in the Classroom? By Jen LaMaster and Gary S. Stager (posted Aug 7, 2012, 16:36 PM), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • L.A. Unified’s iPad rollout marred by chaos: Confusion reigns as L.A. Unified deals with glitches after rollout of ambitious an-iPad-for-every-student project, By Howard Blume and Stephen Ceasar (posted October 01, 2013), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • youtube video: Seymour Papert 1983, posted by Cynthia Solomon (posted May 25, 2007), retrieved 10/23/2013.

One Comment

  1. lyndahaviland

    Oh, so very, very true, Joe. My experience with my own kids has been frustrating in regards to curriculum and stress. At least it was in the early years. In elementary school, I swear the entire curriculum is centered on teaching “to” the FCAT. And leading into the test was stressful – the teachers and the administrators were stressed and of course stress rolls downhill just like crap does. And who’s at the bottom of the hill? My kids. (And more aggravating to me is that the stress REALLY comes from money – because money is tied to the test. Better performing schools get more money. But what are they truly better at? They are better at teaching “to” the FCAT.)

    And after the test (which was typically in March, I think), it seemed like the rest of the year was chaotically unorganized. I always wondered what would happen to the curriculum if they suddenly eliminated the FCAT. What would be left to teach???!!!!

    But then in middle school, I noticed a shift. The curriculum still had FCAT in mind, but not nearly as tense about it. Now, in high school, it’s hardly mentioned at all. Probably because the kids have a plethora of tests in HS: FCAT, PSAT, SAT, ACT, etc.

    To me there is one huge shame in all of this test-focused system. We are not taking advantage of a truly natural gift this upcoming generation has – creativity. Standardized tests did not create the light bulb or discover that Pluto is not a planet. Creativity and passion did.

    Give teachers a change to instill these qualities, and we’ll be the best nation in the world again.

    (Sorry Joe. Didn’t mean to jump onto a soap box. I guess you just brought up a great topic today. ;D )


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