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The following is an unpublished letter to the editor of the Portland (Maine) Press Herald newspaper written by Gary Stager in November, 2000. The letter was a response to the criticism of Governor Angus King's plan to buy a laptop computer for every 7th grader in the State of Maine.

Dear Editors:

I have followed the controversy surrounding Governor King’s proposal to provide laptop computers to Maine seventh graders with great interest and would like to join President Clinton in applauding this thoughtful proposal.

You do your readers a great disservice if you allow state politicians to portray the laptop initiative as a kooky idea without precedent. There are schools entering their eleventh year of providing every student with a personal laptop. I know since I began providing professional development services to Australian “laptop schools” in 1990. Today, more than 100,000 American and 50,000 Australian school children use their laptops as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. Schools from Harlem to Sydney have “gone laptop” with few regrets. Maine would just be the first state bold enough to lead in laptop implementation.

A variety of research studies have demonstrated the wisdom of combining laptops and learning. Laptop classrooms tend to be more collaborative. Students become more confident, creative and expressive learners. Teachers are re-energized. Work quality and quantity increases as does school attendance. Pedagogical practices become more learner-centered. Learning neither stops nor starts at the sound of a bell.

It is Representative Davidson’s alternative proposal that deserves scrutiny. His proposal to establish a blue-ribbon panel to investigate how computers should be deployed in schools is imprudent and fiscally irresponsible. Governor King convened Maine’s wisest educational leaders and technology pioneers several weeks ago. They support his laptop proposal! Seymour Papert began writing about personal computing for all kids thirty years ago. The experiences documented by schools around the world provide ample evidence that laptops are the way to go.

Mr. Davidson’s scheme has failed in schools for two decades. Scattering more computers here and there will do little to close the digital divide or inspire great teachers to use computers in rich ways since scarcity is a major obstacle to use. Girls are less likely to fight over limited computing resources. Teachers will not invest their energies into integrating computers in their curriculum if there are too few computers to make the activity worthwhile. Children, increasingly disaffected by schooling, will be more so when the classroom lacks the learning tools they are accustomed to using outside of school. “Non-laptop” schools will react in haste and ignorance when kids arrive at school with their own personal computers. The Governor’s proposal provides each school with an opportunity to invent the future of education.

Governor King’s proposal is on the right side of history and will make a great stride towards supporting the intellectual development of Maine’s youngest citizens. The habits of mind developed by laptop kids will pay dividends for decades to come. If the proposal fails, some other state will embrace the idea. It would be a shame for children elsewhere to experience the jobs and joy of learning intended for Maine.

Gary S. Stager
Torrance, California

Gary Stager is an adjunct professor of education at Pepperdine University, Senior Editor for Curriculum Administrator Magazine and an international expert on laptops in education.

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