Computers in the classroom

Dean links to a story showing that books are more important than computers in children's scholastic performance. He argues that this should be obvious - computers are just tools, appliances, and so of course they don't really help kids learn.
This in no way surprises me. I've been working with computers for nearly 25 years, and my first job was working on various computer programs in suburban Chicago schools. From the very beginning, until today, I have always been annoyed by the constant political push to "put more computers in the classroom." Indeed, sometimes people make a big deal out of how in some poor schools, "there is only one computer for every 10 pupils!" (or some other such supposedly scandalous ratio). What I keep asking is, "What good do the computers actually do for the students? What are they being used for?"
In most cases, while there is some good educational software, it's long been apparent to me that there's very little that a computer can do in a classroom that can't be done with good old fashioned books, pencils, paper, and chalk/whiteboards.

Well, yes and no. He's right on a basic level - computers are appliances. Books, ultimately, will help kids learn to read. Kids aren't likely to read, say the news (or blogs!) But on a larger level, kids who are familiar with computers are the ones who will be prepared to use them in the future. When it comes down to it, computers are a big part of the new economy. I didn't get familiar with computers as a kid - my family was late in getting one - and I'm definitely not a tech-savvy person. I wish I was. The kids in my class who got computers early, and learned to play with them, are the ones who are most comfortable with them today. Moreover, I'd be willing to bet that the kids who like to play with computers - and computer programming - are likely to develop better math skills than kids who don't.

Kids need to be prepared for the future, and computers are it. Having lots of computers in the classroom is one step. It will never replace good math and science teachers, but it is a step.

That said, one of Dean's commenters points out that teachers today seem to see computers and technology as a "magic wand" - if I have a kid do research on the computer instead of in books, it will be better!. This focus needs to stop.