Macs in Schools: A Personal Horror Story

2003: Last week I dropped by my old high school. Unlike most people, I appear to have a certain attachment to the old place, and my former teachers are always happy to sit down and catch up on one of their prodigies (ahem).

Mac Scope

In this particular instance, I went with a purpose. A high school friend is currently teaching at the old alma mater, and she’s been having problems with the iBooks she’s using in her second-grade classroom. Upon my arrival, I was absolutely appalled at the how computers were being used.

12" Dual USB iBook G3Here’s the situation: The kindergarten through grade seven classes have access to two mobile iBook labs. These machines were purchased a year and a half ago and, I assume, included the full complement of software (AppleWorks, Explorer, etc.). All are running Mac OS 9. All are on the school’s Windows network.

These machines seriously frustrate my friend. She has a passion for teaching and prefers Macs to PCs. However, these machines had essentially been stripped of any useful software by the IT department. She was using AppleWorks in her grade two class for painting, drawing, and basic word processing. It was working just wonderfully until she came in one day to find that AppleWorks had been deleted from every single machine. Why? The IT fellows apparently thought that it was bogging down the network.

So now my friend is stuck with teaching Microsoft Word (the only software the IT folk will allow on the machines) to kids in grade 2. Learning is clearly a priority here.

Because of the lack of software, my friend had designed and built several Web quests to give the kids some computing and Internet skills. Horror number two reared its ugly head.

The AirPort base station that they are using is a rev 1 base station. Ten is the maximum number of users allowed on these base stations. My friend (and likely, the IT department) was not aware of this. This meant more frustration for her as a class of 22 tried to pile into a single base station.

I’m not certain why the simple solution of the built-in software base station wasn’t used. I suspect, however, that it’s because the IT department neither knows nor cares to know about these features.

Normally, I have a fairly relaxed attitude about Macs and PCs. I think people should use whatever works for them. Of course, I still believe that Macs are inherently superior but, hey, whatever floats your boat is fine with me.

I do, however, have a serious problem with willful ignorance and ridiculous policies that damage the learning environment. There are plenty of solutions available that help Macs and PCs play nicely together. A little ingenuity and resourcefulness will overcome any issues that crop up.

The bottom line is that computers can be used as teaching tools – and having 70 iBooks with nothing but Word on them is a colossal waste of money. On top of that, the kids are the ones who get the short end of the stick, because they’re stuck with less than useful paperweights that hinder them rather than help them learn.

As for the IT folks, they seem hell-bent on doing everything they can to make sure that the Macs don’t work.

I’m wondering if this is a common situation. Send me your thoughts.