Incredibly, this man is an engineer

Greg and I read an article recently about a study that involved giving computers to children from low-income families. Researchers then followed the students to see whether having computers at home improved their test scores. And – no surprise here – it did not. The children’s scores in math and reading fell.

Greg and I discussed why that was the case. The article theorized that the children might have lacked supervision and thus spent less time doing homework now that they had a computer. This sounded right to me.

“But they would have already had television” Greg said.

“Yes, but I think computers are a lot more compelling than television,” I said. “They can get on there and chat with their friends and play games.”

Greg disagreed. He said that they probably just exchanged computer time for TV time, so it shouldn’t have made a difference.  I challenged him to explain why they had done worse at school.

“Because they could use the computers to do their math homework,” he said.

“No way, people do not use computers for math,” I said. “I know that’s why computers were invented, but that is not what people use them for.”

“You use our computer for math,” he retorted. Yes, I use the calculator function to balance our checkbook.

“But we had calculators in our house when I was a kid, and I never used them for math homework because I knew that was cheating,” I said.

“But these kids probably did,” Greg said.

The mind of a geek is fascinating. Would kids really race home from school and get in front of the computer to do their math homework? Nevermind video games and Facebook, let’s cheat on this long division!

I remember how excited my brother and I were when we got our first computer. We would run home from school to — brace yourselves for this — play Tetris. I never thought to use it for math, which probably explains why I’m a journalist.