Attend school - get cool stuff.

I want to go back to school. Why would I want to return to the classroom? I've already got a BA and MA degree. Some would say I have a PhD in BS, but that's another story.

No, I'm not looking for another degree; I just want all the cool stuff that new students are being given. Today's students are no longer buying hundreds of dollars worth of books. Instead, they're given cool new technology and electronic freebies under the guise of better education.

The latest taxpayer giveaways are free Apple iPods to freshman entering Duke University. Yes, it seems that the popular MP3 recorder has been reclassified from toy to tool by Duke's professors. The university received a $500,000 grant to equip new students with “minicomputers for educational uses.” In reality, the minicomputers are Apple iPods. Calling an Apple iPod loaded with 5000 songs an educational tool is like telling your parents you need an HDTV because you want to watch the Weather Channel. While Apple did discount the Duke iPods, the university's cost was nowhere near the FOB wholesale price on a generic MP3 player ($18.00). But, of course, we couldn't have our new students running around with a generic $20 MP3 player when we can get federal funding for a $300 one, could we?

Initially, the iPods will be loaded with Duke-related downloads, including freshman-orientation information and the school calendar. Just how long do you think it will take the students to erase that information to make space for some serious tunes? Duke also will create a special Web site modeled on the Apple iTunes site, where students can download music and course content, including language lessons, recorded lectures and audio books. Doesn't this all sound so academically important?

Not content with just giving away MP3 players, the grant also will fund the hiring of an academic computing specialist (that means one new head count), provide additional funding for faculty (that means bonus money for the professors) and provide research funds (that means an academic slush fund for all the stuff they'll want to buy later).

This program is only one of many federally funded grants allowing schools to scam (I mean, distribute) free technology to students under the guise of new technology for education.

Here in Kansas City, one elementary-school district recently gave all its students PDAs, complete with wireless interconnection capability. The reasoning was that the technology would allow teachers to walk among students and wirelessly distribute class assignments, tutorials and other teaching aids. Students are supposed to “sync” their PDAs nightly to get the latest assignments.

Colleges regularly give entering freshmen laptop computers, claiming these, too, are “tools.” I wonder what the MTBF is for those “free” $1400 laptops. I spent 15 years on college campuses and I know how students treat things for which they don't pay.

I'm not suggesting that students regress to the days of chalk and slate, but classifying MP3 players as “minicomputers for education” goes way too far in my book.

Oh well, I just hope that, by the time I reapply for admission, they are giving away free HDTV sets. After all, couldn't that be called “digital image-enhancement technology” for education? There's probably a federal grant program somewhere for just that.

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