from the publisher: Care for a twenty with that Big Gulp?

Few are more enthusiastic about technology in education than eSchool News, but some of the stories in this month’s issue have to make you wonder.

Take our Front Page report on ATMs.

That story is not a piece about the steady expansion of asynchronous transfer mode. As delightful as a report like that would be, it must await another issue of eSchool News. No, I’m talking about the slow insinuation of automated teller machines (ATMs) into the nation’s high schools.

For colleges and universities, where students are old enough to handle cash as responsible adults, ATMs are nearly a necessity. (I know; some parents–and perhaps even a professor or two–would quibble with that characterization of college students.)

But the case for using cash machines in high schools seems less compelling–not to mention the tribulation doing so could cause in junior-high and middle schools. Nobody, as far as I know, is talking about putting the machines in elementary schools–yet.

To be entirely candid, I wonder how much good can come from extending the trend much beyond the 6 or so percent of high schools already using ATMs.

Even if our cafeterias start selling Big Gulps, we should maintain a clear distinction between the environment of a high school and the local 7-Eleven. (Teenagers need their own special place to skulk about playing loud music and annoying older customers, and schools just shouldn’t interfere with that.)

The potential for trouble seems high with ATMs, though. It’s not just the specter of a felonious bully forcing a 98-pound weakling to clean out Mommy’s bank account, although that’s bad enough. It’s also the prospect of kids using high-school-doled-out dough to acquire all manner of illegal substances.

Police Officer: “Don’t you know those ‘adult sophisticate’ titles are prohibited to minors? Just where did you get the money to buy all those copies of Maxim and FHM, son?”

Student: “From my high school cash machine, officer. It’s not my fault. The 7-Eleven clerk told me I had to buy something or quit skulking around here.”

In the immediate aftermath of a recent hurricane in Florida, alleged thieves were arrested as they attacked a local cash machine with chain saws. Don’t tell me educators want the bother and expense of having to post “Chain-Saw-Free Zone” signs all over school grounds.

Then, there’s the considerable cost of acquiring, maintaining, and protecting the cash machines. I, for one, would not like to stand up at the school board meeting and try to explain to my tax-weary neighbors why I’m asking for funding to install surveillance cameras to watch over the cash machine in the hallway outside the principal’s office.

Finally, there’s the sneaking suspicion that cash is downright retro, anyway. As you might have noticed, currency nowadays requires all sorts of sophisticated elements ranging from special inks to minute fiber strands that help distinguish the genuine money from the counterfeit. How much do you think that’s costing the federal government? No wonder the feds are so hot to cut education funding in the Fiscal 2006 budget.

Having succeeded so well at eliminating hard-copy documents and creating the paperless office, I think it’s time we turned our hand to eliminating paper money, too. It’s an achievable dream. Many of my friends in the school field tell me their bosses already are doing an excellent job of keeping to a minimum the volume of paper money in their pay envelopes.

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