Some bright minds these days, such as the Alliance for Childhood (see Page One), seem to want to blame education’s problems on technology. But that’s shortsighted. Genuinely inspired naysayers know the trouble started long before the microchip. You might say the Golden Age of Education ended in a Grecian gulp when Socrates was forced to drain that draft of hemlock. And you could trace the steady spiral of pedagogical performance straight down from then to now. So let’s not blame technology. That’s merely a symptom not a cause. No, the trouble truly started—as I’m sure Alliance allies will recognize once they think about it—when instruction no longer was dispensed outdoors.

It used to be that lessons came without artifacts of any kind, in the tranquil shade of the public square. No attendance, tenure, rigid chairs, or dusty books—just one wise man holding forth before an attentive band of fresh-air-breathing youngsters assembled beneath the spreading leaves of a gnarled old tree.

But where are trees in education today? Why, they’re virtually forgotten in the rush to embrace newfangled paraphernalia.

A growing reliance on classroom tools, Alliance allies must realize, drives a distracting wedge between learner and teacher and leads to obesity. But this ill-advised reliance on equipment clearly took hold only after education became an indoor pursuit. Gone were the days when a teacher relied purely on river, sky, and cave to illustrate his arguments. Back then, if a teacher needed something to lean on, he had strong support readily available: that ever-reliable, spine-stiffening, cost-effective tree.

Student-teacher interaction inarguably has declined since Socrates and Plato plied the profession, and the quality of educational dialogue has toppled like a philosopher after a fatal drink.

Study after study—each receiving less attention than the one before—heralds the salutary impact of technology on education (see Page 17). But don’t be fooled. This is just a crafty ploy to distract us from the ill effects of indoor education! The landmark, long-term study in West Virginia, for example, not only found that students using computers for basic-skills instruction improved steadily from year to year, but it also showed that students from less affluent homes improved the most when given access to computers. Scores rose on a standard achievement test by an average of 11 percent.

And as Columbia University’s Dale Mann, the lead researcher in that study, told an eSchool News audience at the School Technology Leadership Conference in San Diego last summer, schooling accounts for only about 30 percent of the instruction a student receives in our society—the remainder being delivered by television, peers, parents, and other influences. An 11 percent increase deriving from the school-related third of total instruction, therefore, is an impressive impact, indeed, he pointed out.

A study in Idaho and a national study have also come to roughly similar conclusions, each documenting the generally beneficial influence of technology on student achievement.

And now a brand-new study in Illinois (see Page 10) just released after two-and-a-half years of research has found a correlation between technology and test scores: Where teachers’ use of technology to enhance instruction was high, test scores also were high. In this study, researchers found the greatest gains came in the upper grades and among more affluent schools.

The Alliance allies argue that such evidence is insufficient. And that’s for sure. The metamorphosis from an agrarian to an industrial society took a few hundred years to complete. Desktop computers have been around for only about 15. The transition to a post-industrial, Information Age has been under way not much longer. So, of course it’s fair to say the results aren’t in yet. But we’ve had plenty of time to absorb the insidious damage of indoor education, even though some wall-loving leaders prefer to avert their eyes.

Like a true ally of the Alliance, I say enough’s enough. But rather than blaming technology—this classroom Johnny-come-lately—I have the courage to blame the real culprit.

It’s time to end our folly. It’s time to abandon the path of error and turn back. Clap closed the books, turn the desks and chairs to kindling, leave the chalk to the cliffs of Dover, and take education back outdoors . . . where it belongs! It’s time we reassembled in the shade of the public square. It’s time we had philosophers for teachers once again.

If we’re to regain the Golden Age of Education, we must turn away from technology, push students out the door, and head back to the trees.