Monday, June 24, 2013

iPADS FOR SCHOOL KIDS: Blushing at unanswered questions? ….or leveling the playing field for the poor?

By Doug McIntyre, L.A. Daily News columnist |

6/22/2013 04:40:07 PM PDT  ::  At first blush, it seems crazy.

The perpetually destitute Los Angeles Unified School District will spend $30 million to purchase thousands of iPad tablets to give away to students at 47 LAUSD campuses.

At second blush, it seems crazier.

This purchase all but commits the nation's second largest school district to hundreds of million of dollars of additional spending with Apple over the next two years.

That's right, two years, hundreds of millions.

At third blush, it seems like a rip-off.

The LAUSD will pay $678 per iPad, even though you can belly up to the Genius Bar at the local mall and pick one up retail for around $500.

At fourth blush, it looks like a conflict of interest.

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy is not only an Apple stockholder, he has appeared in at least one Apple promotional video.

At fifth blush, it doesn't seem ethical.

The funds slated to buy the iPads come from a school construction bond approved by voters for brick and mortar construction and maintenance on existing structures. Would voters have said "Yes" if they knew hundreds of millions would end up in Apple's pocket?

And at sixth, seventh, eighth and 50th blush, it raises all kinds of unanswered questions.

Questions like what happens when kids lose them? What happens when kids drop them? What happens when kids steal them from other kids? What happens when kids view porn on them? What happens when kids download personal photos onto them? What happens when kids drop out of school? What happens when kids move out of the district, or out of state, and take their LAUSD iPad with them?

And what happens to a generation of kids who will go through life without ever having opened a book? I mean a real book with covers and pages and print?

In our increasingly semi-literate, short attention span world, do we really need to expunge the few remaining books from our kid's lives only to replace them with yet another digital device offering flashy images and slickly produced video.

I know I'm a quasi-Luddite and I might as well take a kitchen broom to Zuma and try to sweep the Pacific back to China. Still, actual textbooks and the physical act of reading a full-length book is an exercise in long form study and concentration that trains the eye and mind to think.

No doubt the iPad is an amazing device. The wife has one; so do each of the kids. It's a magical machine with remarkable capabilities to educate and amuse.

But it's not superior to books. A reminder to the digital generation, Steve Jobs didn't have an iPad when he went to school.

Superintendent Deasy defends the move as a necessary step for students living in an increasingly online world. He specifically cited state and national standardized tests that will soon be offered only in digital form as one of the many reasons this program is not only necessary, but visionary.

So a case can be made. But this massive investment has been sprung on the public with far too little input from the people paying the freight and far too many unanswered questions.

For the record, I do not believe Deasy pushed this plan for personal profit and he correctly recused himself during the debate and vote. And the superintendent argues the high cost per iPad is deceptive because it includes an educational software package that replaces expensive textbooks. Fair enough.

But I suspect what's really driving the bus is the ugly underbelly of Los Angeles, massive poverty.

As more and more of life's processes are converted to online operations, the disparity between the haves and have-nots has become a digital divide. With so many kids living below or hovering near the poverty line, the LAUSD is attempting to level the playing field by giving every kid a tablet, costs be damned.

Doug McIntyre's column appears Wednesdays and Sundays.

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