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To the Editor

We were surprised, on reading François Lachance's review of our book, The Child and the Machine (Feb. 1999), to discover that it had been written by "Alice Armstrong" and "Charles Clement" (as the second reference had it). His editor, if he had one, ought to have seen to that. "Details, details, details," indeed.

To correct some more substantial errors in this review, which unfortunately doesn't give the reader even the briefest description of what our book is really about: We don't just call for a reinstatement of funds for the arts, with less spent on computers, but rather question the whole premise of reshaping elementary schools in favour of a technology whose usefulness in young children's education has yet to be proven. Reducing class sizes and increasing hands-on science activities (which, along with arts education, involve "varied activity and exercise") are also listed among positive strategies. The book requires facts, figures, and even footnotes to counter the insubstantial hype often used to inflate the advantages of computer technology. Readers can, as they already have, assess the benefits and drawbacks for themselves.

Our research on the physical effects of computer use is anything but slim and covers far more than the use of appropriate furnishings. On this particular item, however, Mr. Lachance's comments are facile at best. Ergonomically correct computer furniture for children doesn't exist, and only a small minority of teachers and parents are even aware that this is an issue. An international study led by Sweden's National Institute for Working Life is now documenting the ergonomic problems of computers in the classroom, and the results thus far are dismal, showing a striking misfit between furniture and children's bodies.

As for our reference to the Bank Street School of Education, we should of course have written "the Bank Street School for Children". This is a lab school situated in the Bank Street College of Education, and it has been in existence for many years. In labouring to correct our error, Mr. Lachance gives the impression that the School for Children does not exist, and thus only adds to the confusion. It's a pity he didn't do "some prestige fact-checking" of his own.

Alison Armstrong & Charles Casement

Toronto, ON

(Re.: the errors in the authors' names-our apologies. Re.: Mr. Lachance giving the impression of the Bank Street School for Children not existing-no such implication can be logically drawn from the review. Re.: the rest-Mr. Lachance will respond. Ed.)

The point in my review is the important role of editors, copy editors, and the whole production team. The larger point is the importance of correct reference details for readers who wish to pursue further reading. I still want to see a proper bibliographic reference to the source the authors cite. Why don't they supply it in their reply? Such information would certainly clear up any confusion.

Just in case the review didn't make it clear enough.

First, in reference to classroom furnishings, it is alarmist and self-defeating to bank on a rhetoric of anecdote (single one off examples) to declare no one is doing anything. The authors were arguing from the experience of one teacher/designer being unable to locate a manufacturer willing to invest in a specific scheme for computer workstation furniture, to the school furnishings industry as a whole, and in the process offering an implicit indictment of the practices of school board purchasing agents. Even a cursory review of the ergonomic literature will indicate that solutions are ready at hand. My reference to the pedigree of the kindergarten table is intended to lift the important question of constructing appropriate work and play environments out of the mire of a discourse demonizing computers. Reading a book in a poorly ventilated, poorly lit, crowded classroom is no gem of an experience either. Good practices have a history. Most of that history involves struggles to justify the allocation of communal resources to ensure the social good. If that sounds socialist, so be it. Conservatives and libertarians of all stripes are more likely to very dichotomously demonize or laud technology. It is a tactic that clouds issues and is a very poor coalition-building strategy.

Second, it is exactly on ideological grounds that the review stakes its ground. On that score, of the two books reviewed together, Heather-jane Robertson's No More Teachers, No More Books: The Commercialization of Canada's Schools is simply more sophisticated and, one would venture, more attuned to the standards of quality polemics expected by a Canadian readership. Canadian readers have always proven, in my experience, to be skeptically supportive especially of authors with a sense of audience.

François Lachance


In Aleksander Rybczynski's "Linguistic Disobedience and the Code of Conscience" (May 1999), the following quotation is attributed to Bertold Brecht: "what is poetry which does not rescue either nations or people?" I may not know my Brecht that well, but I do know my Milosz, in whose poem "Dedication" we read: "what is poetry which does not save/Nations or people?" (Collected Poems, 1988). If Rybczynski is right, and Milosz borrowed the line from Brecht, then I will stand corrected, but if he didn't, then the error should be corrected.

Bogdan Czaykowski

Vancouver, B.C.

Thanks for pointing out and correcting the error. Milosz is indeed the author of the quotation, though the Brechtian sentiment is unmistakable.


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