Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tap, tap, tap: Schools (finally) entering digital age

News flash – Schools throughout the area spent the summer ramping up their wireless networks in an effort to enhance learning sans traditional textbooks.

Now, if you’re a nostalgic, cranky curmudgeon who gets a kick from those e-mails that test your knowledge of the ’50s, you might think that it’s certainly a sign that times are changing and, at least in your mind, certainly not for the better.

Books? How do you get rid of books?

I think the digital initiatives in our schools are long overdue. As an occasional substitute teacher, there were times when I wanted to show students a particular video, or research an issue – the Facebook initial public stock offering, for example – but was blocked by Internet filters that didn’t understand the educational value of certain search terms.

Yes, spending an hour on Facebook has little intrinsic educational value, but the company’s formation and business strategy offer a multitude of lessons.

It’s true the kids are not reading books. Their world – the real world by most standards today – is a digital one. says it is now selling more electronic books for digital readers than the old-fashioned ink-on-paper-bound-by-two-covers kind.

In addition, the banking industry believes that some 40 percent of its customers will use their smartphones to access their account information by next year. And smartphones, which are actually mini-computers that can make phone calls, are carried now by 40 percent of all cellular customers.

It was announced this week that Apple, maker of the ubiquitous iPhone and iPad among other must-have gadgets, was deemed “the world’s most valuable company, ever,” according to a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Apple’s stock was valued at $623 billion, beating the previous record set by Microsoft.

Yes, it’s time the schools acknowledge the 21st century. I welcome the initiatives.

In another week, we’ll have the unofficial end of summer in the form of Labor Day weekend, which marks the unofficial start of the political campaign season.

Do I speak heresy if I claim that this year’s presidential campaign seems fairly tame?

I mean these guys are arguing over tax returns.

You want contentious?

I caught television coverage of the 1972 Democratic political convention while I was working as a hospital orderly on the night shift. I think I was one of the few Americans awake when George McGovern delivered his acceptance speech of the Democratic nomination in the wee hours of the morning. Great strategy there (kidding, of course) and a far cry from the orchestrated speeches delivered now on the convention floor.

After the Democrats battled each other over ideology, McGovern selected Thomas Eagleton as a running mate. Eagleton later withdrew from the race when it was revealed that he suffered from mental illness and had undergone electroshock therapy. Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy brother-in-law, was his replacement.
That didn’t help McGovern, whose credibility had been damaged critically with the Eagleton pick and whose anti-war stance and liberal leanings had split the party faithful.

President Richard Nixon trounced McGovern that November, earning a second term that ended prematurely because of Watergate.

When people talk how mean-spirited the Obama-Romney race has become, perhaps they don’t remember or were alive for the political happenings of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was a tough time and split the country along generational lines.

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford told the country in 1974.
While the “nightmare” in Ford’s speech was Watergate, I think you could also include three political assassinations and an unwinnable foreign war that claimed the lives of 55,000 Americans.
Throw in race riots, campus unrest and out-of-control inflation for good measure.

Be suspect of those who tell you things have never been worse.

They have.

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