This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

June 16, 2004 - the endangered mind

I spent a lot of time watching TV as a kid. I mean a LOT of time.

I was the eldest of five kids, and both my parents worked. Our black and white TV, I now understand, was a strategy that succeeded in getting all five of us corralled in the living room for hours at a stretch.

I remember getting up on a Saturday morning at about 5:30, which was when broadcasting began. The show was "The World at War," World War II newsclips. Then, chomping on sugarcoated cereal and cinnamon toast, I stayed glued to the tube till about noon.

Sundays weren't quite as bad, but I did watch Jubilee Showcase, live from Chicago's black churches. This gave me a lifelong love of gospel and soul music.

As I got older, I watched TV less and less. Today, there isn't a single program I watch. Not one.

On the other hand, I now spend many hours a day in front of a computer, whether at work or at home. The difference, I like to think, is that on the computer, I'm in charge. I'm searching, thinking, following links, writing to friends, working on columns and articles, and in general, DOING something. I am active, rather than passive.

So it makes a kind of intuitive sense to me that children should get more out of computer games, for instance, than they do from TV.

But now comes Jane Healey, author of "Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think," and "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- and What We Can Do About It." She argues, mostly on the basis of brain development research, that between TV and computers, it's a wonder our children can think at all.

Her particular concern is the estimated $4 billion a year the federal government pumps into the purchase of "computer laboratories" throughout the nation. As an Amazon.com review puts it, "... there is scant evidence that computers teach basic skills any better than traditional methods, or that children who don't have computers are somehow 'left behind.' Conversely, there is abundant evidence that an uncritical infatuation with computers as an educational panacea is replacing skill building and learning with formless play while forcing art and music lessons, and in some cases math textbooks, off many school budgets."

I have to say, I've been to several school libraries, some in Douglas County, and have been impressed by their computer labs -- only to be utterly dismayed by the school libraries. One computer buys a lot of books, and many school libraries have science books with an average copyright date of 1970. That's not an exaggeration, and it applies to more than science.

Clearly, there HAS been a shift in educational funding priorities, away from text, and toward sexier technologies.

This issue has importance not only to parents (buy the Game Boy or not? put limits on TV time or not?) but to your humble library director.

We are now going through the process of defining various specifications for computers throughout the library. We were about to say, "let's make sure we have new machines, and a good mix of educational software, in the children's room."

But now I wonder: why? Some children's librarians have noted, wryly, that the future of children's librarianship may be to babysit Internet orphans. Just possibly, the things we've done more traditionally -- live story times, presenting deep collections of print, guiding children to new favorites -- is way more important, and more educationally defensible besides.

I'd like to hear from you. Should we be using your money to pay for children's computers? Or should our children's rooms have just enough technology to help us find good books?

Feel free to call me at 303-688-7656, or email me at jlarue@dclibraries.org. I'll let you know the results.

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