A Place In The Classroom

The bell rings, it’s nine o’clock on the dot, and you sit down in your chair and class starts. As normal, you look around to see what’s in the room. You see the normal, ya know, the chairs, the desks, the other kids, etc. You also see the computer; it’s a newer Compaq Deskpro, 300 some MHz, 17 inch monitor, color printer, the normal setup in your school. You also notice the one thing: it’s turned off, just like every other computer in the school. No one uses it, for anything.

This seems to be the case in my school, as well as many others. The school pays for a bunch of rather expensive computers that no one uses. There can be many reasons for this: One, maybe they don’t work, though with today’s technology, it’s not very possible. Second, you could argue that no one needs them, but come on, it’s 2001! Everyone needs a computer. Finally, the most logical option is that kids are afraid to use them or just don’t plain know how to use them. Being a student myself, I observe this unfortunate reality every day.

Ninety-five percent of the computers in my school are PCs. There are a few 266mHz Dell’s in any of our six library based “media centers,” but other than that, the other 15 or so labs have Pentium II Compaq’s, and all of the classrooms with computers, around 50%, have Pentium III’s. All of them have a color inkjet printer, unless they are networked on a lab system, which has three or four laser printers, one of which is always color. Now, having a system such as this in the schools that virtually no one uses raises many questions.

One: Why does no one use them?

Let’s go back to my elementary school days, five years ago. I can remember that all they used were Macs, many of which were LC580’s. There were also a few PowerPC machines, and people were fighting to use them. This can either be attributed to the fact that children are just drawn to anything bearing the name “Oregon Trail” or the fact that the Mac, even “beige boxes” of that era are just friendlier to children.

In the past, when children were welcomed to Newtown Elementary by the well-known “Peg People” of At-Ease, they were drawn to the computer to see what they could learn. However, that no longer is the case for these children, because once they leave their cute, cuddly, elementary schools, their cute, cuddly computers must be left behind as well, leaving them open to the world of the IBM PC compatible monster.

In the elementary schools of our district, everyone was fighting to get onto their classroom’s one or two Mac compatible machines, or to use one of the many e-mates (yeah, remember them?), but now, in the Junior Highs, and the few Elementary schools that have been converted into PC only labs, kids are more reluctant to go onto a computer with some boring blueish-greenish background and plain old, cold looking icons, as opposed to their cuddly blue teddy bears of yesteryear.

If even back then, when there was no such thing as a candy colored computer, people were more drawn to the aesthetics of a Mac (since all our school had was all-in-ones), could you imagine what it would be like now, if our schools stocked purple, green and white iMacs and blue and silver G4’s?

The vast majority of kids today, like myself, only care about what is on the outside and what things look like. This aside, kids would be much more interested to try out these computers instead of letting their many helpful uses go to waste. It pains me to see a kid, when assigned to make the best looking “grade-sheet” he is capable of, chooses to execute the grade sheet by hand because he was scared and did not know how to accomplish the assignment on a computer. We all know that the grade sheet could have been done pristinely in any of today’s spreadsheet programs.

No one who first sits down at a PC using Windows 98 with many additional software programs that they are unfamiliar with, knows what they’re doing. Furthermore, just looking at a typical, non-XP system is enough to detract many people. Had this child in my previous example actually learned how to use a computer, he would have done his good looking grade sheet on the computer, looking much better and in half the time. But instead, he had a PC sitting in his classroom, where he was afraid to use it, or even learn how to use it. Most people don’t know what Excels capabilities are, or even know what Excel is, and I can’t really think of anyone that’s really that much into exploring the program and trying to find out how it works anyway.

But, then you go and look at a Mac, running AppleWorks, just looking at the main screen of the program pretty much tells you all you need to know about running the correct program to have a great grade sheet. The more advanced student, of course, would click the “Stationary” option to be presented with several pre-made possibilities for a good grade sheet, but even just the novice user knows what a spreadsheet is.

Two: If no one uses Wintel machines, why don’t we have Macs in the classroom?

And of course, this is another question better left up to the philosophers. But, of course, I can try. I see two major reasons for this.

The first one is that it seems that the Mac has a type of stigma attached to it. People either see the Mac as a “hippies computer”, a “girly computer”, or one that is in the toilet. The second reason is that people are just too stuck in their ways to see an alternative. However, with the current change of operating systems from NT/2000/ME/98/95 to XP, there is a large change anyway that everyone will have to face, so moving up to a Mac then might not be that much larger of a change, and you can keep your MP3s while you’re at it.

Personally, I think that we, as Mac users, need to better inform the general public about why the Macintosh and it’s operating system are such a viable option. We are generally stereotyped, and the only way to remove this is to show the critics that the Macintosh is a viable solution for students to use in school, not just as a candy-colored play-toy at home.

The “hello” ad campaign of 1984 and a few years ago was a good start, it let people know just how friendly our computers were, and how easy they were to use. Now, we need that type of campaign again. We need to show how we have no frightening DOS background and we have hundreds of viruses compared to the tens of thousands for the PC. How has Apple never capitalized on this?

So, in the end, there really never will be a true answer to any of these questions, but one day we can all hope for the Mac to once again reclaim it’s place in the classroom.

Evan Kleiman

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