Computer literacy for the technologically literate

Graphic by Aaron Newman and Wesley Emblidge

Graphic by Aaron Newman and Wesley Emblidge

By Aaron Newman

Graphic by Aaron Newman and Wesley Emblidge

Over this past summer, I resolved to advance further on my path towards high school graduation by eliminating one of the least liked and most condemned objectives: “Student Learning Outcome #3,” the computer proficiency exams.

For the benefit of those in my audience who are unaware of these exams, I’ll fill you in: the Computer Literacy requirement is a group of five tests, each on a different program or subject related to (you guessed it!) computers.

Examples of test subject matter include Microsoft Office PowerPoint, keyboarding, and computer terms. All students in the Tamalpais Union High School District must pass all five tests with minimal error—and by minimal error I really mean insignificant error; I will explain this later—in order to graduate from high school.

The TUHSD has set Student Learning Outcome #3 as a graduation requirement, so that students are forced to learn how to “use technology as a tool to access information, analyze and solve problems, and communicate ideas.” A noble purpose, I’d say. We do, after all, live in an era when technology is running with more speed and endurance than most of America’s youth; knowing the basics of how to navigate the digital sea of information is an important skill in our current world.

But that’s enough exposition. This summer, I signed myself up for three days of workshops at Redwood high school. These workshops were designed so that it would be possible to pass all five tests after a few hours’ learning the subjects. Three days of minimal work seemed like the best way to eliminate the computer objective—certainly better than taking a semester-long class to achieve the same end. The workshops were completely filled with other students who, like me, sought the quickest way to be rid of the irksome ordeal.

For the most part, these summer workshops worked, and I passed all of my objectives save one: the word processing test, which dealt with formatting Microsoft Word documents. I evidently failed the test because of three “minor errors,” which included mistakes as small as capitalization and using a period instead of a comma.

That misused period was an error large enough to decide the fate of my examination. This was a little confusing and somewhat frustrating, considering the test’s intention was centered on formatting, and I had failed for a typo. Such a trivial error as that seemed insignificant—I knew how to format my document, didn’t I? Once my outrage subsided, though, I did the smart thing and signed myself up for the next test session offered at Tam.

Needless to say, I passed the test the second time through. The weight of an unfulfilled duty lifted off of me as I left the computer lab that day.

There is a veritable army of people who consider the computer literacy tests to be pointless and out-of-date. TUHSD disagrees: they uphold the claim that “students who do not possess basic computer skills will be at a disadvantage in many of their classes, as well as in the years after high school while they attend college and/or look for jobs.”

Although the above statement is true, students of our century do not need technological instruction. They say that our generation doesn’t need to prove our aptitude on computers, when teens as a whole are more proficient in using them than older generations. This is why so many Tam seniors have procrastinated on their computer tests – they don’t feel like it’ll be anything difficult.

That may be true for a majority of students in the district. But not all families have computers; to all of you Mill Valley-ites, not everyone is as affluent as you are. Student Learning Outcome #3 is, unfortunately, a perfectly reasonable requirement.

Even I, a competent computer connoisseur, ended up learning new things from the tests, like how to make spreadsheets and how to bore people silly with technology-speak.

It’s like eating vegetables. You can whine that they’re icky, that they taste bad, that they fail you for incorrect punctuation; you can procrastinate and let them get cold and even nastier before eating them. But mother TUHSD won’t let you leave the table until you’ve shoved every last stalk of asparagus down your throat. So suck it up and realize that the vegetables might even be good for you.