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The Flickering Mind 455

daltonlp writes "The Flickering Mind deals a crippling blow to the blind faith that educators and politicians place in computers as solutions to education's woes. The level of research and breadth of evidence is tremendous. The book sums up America's past 20 years of false promises, senseless faddism, and wasted millions in attempts to computerize the nation's education system. And no, open source won't help a bit." Read on for the rest of Dalton's review of The Flickering Mind.
The Flickering Mind
author Todd Oppenheimer
pages 512
publisher Random House (Oct. 2003)
rating Excellent
reviewer Lloyd Dalton
ISBN 1400060443
summary An extremely well-researched critique of technology's role in education.

What's bad:

The first 350 pages of The Flickering Mind are as depressing as anything I've read. In case after case, Oppenheimer describes politicians' and educators' mindless acceptance of claims by technology pundits and technology companies. The sheer number of tax dollars poured into worthless software and soon-to-be-obsolete hardware is appalling The fact that so few lessons have been learned in 20 years beggars the imagination.

Those are my words, not the author's. The book's examples are laid out in very plain, factual language. No raving rants, no wild tangents. Just record after record, study after study, interview after interview.

Oppenheimer has researched the book by interviewing teachers, students, former students, educational software employees, district policymakers and government officials across the U.S. People with hands-on experience using things like distance-learning systems, CD-ROM-based textbooks, math and reading games, multimedia software, student laptops, school intranets, web-based research papers, and dozens of pieces of educational technology.

A recurring theme in these interviews is how computers either make formerly easy things harder (like classroom discussion), and hard things avoidable (students who know how to copy-paste don't have to construct sentences).

"One English teacher could readily tell which of her students essays were conceived on a computer. "They don't link ideas," the teacher said. "They just write one thing, and then they write another one, and they don't seem to see or develop the relationships between them."

The many interviews give The Flickering Mind a personal feel, and make the reading easier. In many ways, it's like a record of the author's travels from school to school. But one of the book's great strengths is Oppenheimer's unwillingness to rely on anecdotal evidence. Much of the book is devoted to analyzing studies of technology's impact in schools. A good chunk of these studies are commissioned by firms that sell educational software. Not surprisingly, they tend to be shallow and nonscientific. Many pages are spent pointing out flaws in this research. This becomes important when Oppenheimer turns the same critical eye on studies which support his own conclusions. An interesting sub-topic of the book is how very few truly objective educational technology studies exist.

All the evidence against computers as useful learning tools wouldn't be so alarming if computers didn't cost so much. But educators seem especially blind to the continual costs of staying on the technology bandwagon. There are two faces to this problem, and The Flickering Mind addresses both. The first is schools cutting faculty and programs in order to purchase hardware and software. The second is local and national governments granting subsidies and to companies who promise to assist schools with technology. In both cases, taxpayers foot the bill.

The Flickering Mind relies mainly on educators' own criteria for determining how technology helps learning (can the kids read, write, and do math?) But it also takes time to puncture the oft-recycled dogma that society has a shortage of graduates with high-tech skills:

"When employers who were fretting about this gap were asked what skills mattered to them, this is what they said: Most important of all is a deep and broad base of knowledge. "Want to get a job using information technology to solve problems? Know something about the problems that need to be solved." This statement reflected the sentiments of nearly two thirds of the Information Technology Association of America's members. Following far behind this priority was "hands-on experience" with technical work, which less than half the nation's IT managers considered critical (Most apparently felt perfectly capable of teaching those skills on the job.)

What's good:

All is not Luddite doom-and-gloom. The Flickering Mind is careful to highlight the areas where computer technology helps kids learn. Many schools do benefit from computers--as long as the computers are in central labs (not in the classroom), and not networked. One school has a senior-level class in which students build the computers used in the labs. Programming classes are valued by upperclassmen with an interest in technology careers. Some educators have made adjustments, like the teacher who removed all but a single-size font from the machines "so the students can write instead of wasting time adjusting the text".

The final third of the book is an uplifting counterpart to the ignorance and frustration described in the first two thirds. Oppenheimer gives details of visits to several schools which buck the trend of embracing technology as an end in itself. They use computers, but not in the class:

"In an aging brick building on New York's Upper East Side, a dozen teenagers of varying ages, half of whom look like street kids, pull their desks into a circle as their teacher distributes several thick handouts. "You're killing trees," one student complains."

"Yes," says the teacher. "I'm killing lots of trees"

After the students have spent fifteen to twenty minutes with the handouts, discussion begins. The debate is constant and heated. Whenever the dialog bogs down or goes off course, the teacher quickly interrupts. "I want to hear some pieces of evidence here!" he insists.

A university professor contrasted former students of this school with others she'd met: "I've had the experience of asking students a question and there's a one-sentence answer. And it's not a question of shyness or dumbness, but the person hasn't learned how to develop an idea. How to make a statement and then qualify and describe and give examples and illustrations. Each and every one of these people could do that."


The Flickering Mind is one of the most well-researched books I've read. It is well worth checking out from your library. It's even more worth buying, because you'll likely be re-reading it and lending it to your friends.

You can purchase the The Flickering Mind from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Flickering Mind

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  • Cut 'n' Dried (Score:4, Insightful)

    by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) * on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:46PM (#9130146) Homepage
    The Flickering Mind deals a crippling blow to the blind faith that educators and politicians place in computers as solutions to education's woes.

    Methinks the submitter doesn't speak with educators and politicians all that often. It's simply absurd to suggest that your typical educator or politician blindly believes that computers are the solution to America's education woes.

    One wonders about the reviewer's credentials if this is how he frames the debate surrounding the use of technology in our schools. This is a complex issue with no clear answers--not some good vs. evil Joes 'n' Cobra brawl.

    • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:50PM (#9130214)
      They don't see is as a full solution to the woes but they see is a big enough part to cut the Arts, Music and any other area that encourages free thinking.
      • wasteful (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        >> They don't see is as a full solution to the woes but they see is a big enough part to cut the Arts, Music and any other area that encourages free thinking.

        of course, artists create art whether or not they are in art class. whereas no-one will build the next generation of robot soldiers unless the market has a glut of engineers and scientists to burn through at half-wages.

        b-i-t, t-e-r, & j-a-d-e-d... I'm so pissed... I'm so pissed...

      • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:3, Insightful)

        by linzeal ( 197905 )
        What is wrong with giving students a computer with a multitude of programs and tutorials on it and let them figure it out? The problem I have seen as a first year teacher's assistant is that kids simply will not study anything that is not directly related to what they need to pass their classes for the majority. The minority use computers as tools and excel at using some of the 10,000's of acedemically related software from Art [] Programs [] to Zoology [] out there not to mention the billions of information spigg
    • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:5, Insightful)

      by taliver ( 174409 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:54PM (#9130262)
      I have spoken to both educators and politicians, and in my opinion, they both believe that by giving students the 'technological edge', they will be better pupils and move farther faster.

      No, the teachers have no idea what the students are doing on the computers. No, the teachers rarely have a clue how to even use them effectively. Yes, they think that by setting a child in front of one, and letting them play 'educational games', that learning will be FUN, and therefore better, and therefore the students will learn more.

      And politicians find themselves with a very good problem that they can truly throw money at. "Give every child a laptop!" "Every desk should have a computer!", etc.

      I swear if the school my kid attends ever starts pushing computers in front of him, I'll switch to homeschooling where I can trust he'll be reading actual books.
    • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:5, Interesting)

      by raider_red ( 156642 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:55PM (#9130269) Journal
      Unfortunately, a lot of them do. I got into an argument with two friends over this one day. One's the principal of a school in Austin, the other is a teacher there. They both feel that computer skills are the number one thing they need to teach to make sure that students are successful, while I believe that Math and Science are. (I'm a computer professional.)

      The fourth person in the argument is a math teacher, (and soon to be head of her school's math department) who feels that computers are a distant second to Math, Science and Writing skills.

      Unfortunately, the computer has become the panacea to bad teaching. They think that if you put a student in front of a computer and he is taught to use it, he'll magically acquire a competence in the pure sciences. Really, they'll be qualified to work as data-entry clerks, but the educators don't seem to understand that.
      • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:4, Insightful)

        by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) * on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:08PM (#9130442) Homepage
        I agree with you that there exists a body of educators and politicians who do have an inflated sense of the value of technology in our schools. There is also a large contingent of intelligent, informed educators and politicians who have a good understanding of the limitations of computers.

        What I disagree with is the sweeping, black-and-white generalizations the reviewer uses to set the tone of the debate. It's wrong and counterproductive to frame the entire educational and political community in such a simple, petty fashion. It makes me think that the reviewer more interested in parading his own opinions than making thoughtful contribution to a complex issue.

        Computers do have a place in education, and mistakes are made in both directions when it comes to technology spending in education. To start a discussion by painting educators and politicians as uninformed, mindless zealots does nothing but trivialize the matter at hand.

      • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:11PM (#9130493) Homepage Journal

        Unfortunately, a lot of them do. I got into an argument with two friends over this one day. One's the principal of a school in Austin, the other is a teacher there. They both feel that computer skills are the number one thing they need to teach to make sure that students are successful, while I believe that Math and Science are. (I'm a computer professional.)

        Do you not see your own brand of blindness here? I readily admit I'm a math and science geek, and love both. But I will also say that math and science are completely useless to a LOT of people who could not care less about it, and in fact, it's OKAY that they don't care. Very few things in this world require science or high-level math past arithmetic.

        Reading and writing are infinitely more important, because they underpin everything, including critical thinking. I've known a lot of people who liked math and science, but were utterly useless as thinkers. Hell, just look at Slashdot. :)

        • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Do you not see your own brand of blindness here? I readily admit I'm a math and science geek, and love both. But I will also say that math and science are completely useless to a LOT of people who could not care less about it, and in fact, it's OKAY that they don't care. Very few things in this world require science or high-level math past arithmetic.

          Teaching math and science is the foundation for teaching abstract critical thinking. What seems to pass for "crtical thinking" with many people today is th
        • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:4, Insightful)

          by nelsonal ( 549144 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:31PM (#9130790) Journal
          Algebra and Calculus underpin a whole lot of the current world, while calc isn't neccessary, understanding things like exponential growth, rates of change (and their relationship to position), and they make explination of how the worlds of business and finance work. Those two worlds will at a minimum tangentially affect most people's lives. Saving for retirement and a mortgage are just two examples. Sure, anyone could be taught to use an ammortization calculator, but the person with a calculus education can tell pretty quickly calculator is off, using tricks that make sense looking back at the problem (like the rule of 72).
          Ironically, having computer skills is just a bit of rote training, the jobs that everyone was (is?) pushing so hard to get kids up to speed for require more of an understanding of how the computer system works which usually require a good measure of critical thinking, logic, and math skills, not basic training on how to use Windows and Office. Better to know how a spreadsheet works, and apply that knowledge to Office.
        • by GreyyGuy ( 91753 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:33PM (#9130835)
          Please send me the names and addresses of all the people you know who find math and science useless. My personal business needs more customers that can't understand the math on the bill I send them, and who will nod blindly to the scientific gobbledygook that I use to describe my products. I think I can sell a lot of stuff to people unaware of the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide. It's in the food you eat, you know.
        • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hazem ( 472289 )
          science are completely useless to a LOT of people who could not care less about it, and in fact, it's OKAY that they don't care. Very few things in this world require science or high-level math past arithmetic.

          Just because people don't care to use it, that doesn't mean it's useless.

          For example, a car costs $16000. Which is better?
          $1500 cash back, with a 4.75% APR for 48 months?
          or 0$ APR for 48 months?
          (about 40 cents difference)

          Or, how about the new Sawdust Diet - low carb, low fat, low protein. It's t
        • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:4, Insightful)

          by An Onerous Coward ( 222037 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @06:36PM (#9133376) Homepage

          That was my first reaction, anyhow. My second reaction was a bit more respectable. That was the reaction where I stopped thinking how horrible it was for you to say, and started thinking about why you're saying it.

          If it's just about employability, you're right: most jobs these days don't require anything beyond basic algebra, and what little tidbits of science are needed can be trained on the job. Why learn all about the radio spectrum when all you need to work at Dish Network's call center is "trees and power lines block our signal?"

          But there's something very dehumanizing about the idea of only teaching people that which they need to know to perform their function in life. It reminds me of Plato's ideal state, where astronomy, geometry, and dialectic were to be taught only to a few initiates. Everyone knows their place, and people are discouraged from ever straying from it.

          But the more important argument against this position is a pragmatic one: People need to know science. People need to know it so that they don't get suckered by alternative medicine scams, so that they can critically evaluate claims in a debate between a business and an environmental group, so that they can have some conception of what claims are reasonable and what claims are utter hogwash. How do we expect to run a democracy with a citizenry who decides issues like genetically modified foods and abortion rights based on trite aphorisms?

          A firm understanding of science is a powerful innoculation against those pernicious memes which want to infect your brain and steal your money.

          Hell, I once had a very long debate with a music teacher over a certain cash-only multi-level marketing scam. I could mathematically prove that the only money coming into the system was money provided by other people, and that it was entirely impossible for everyone to see their money come back eightfold. But no matter how I dumbed it down for him, he just didn't get that you can't make money by simply trading it around with other people. I lost touch with him, so I don't know the outcome, but he's probably a few hundred dollars poorer for it.

          I grudgingly have to agree with you on one point: Given a choice between a school that turned out mathematicians and science geeks and one which turned out readers and critical thinkers, I would have to choose the latter. But given that our educational system has these kids for 1260 hours per year from first grade onward, there should be plenty of time for both.
      • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:41PM (#9130954)
        Unfortunately, the computer has become the panacea to bad teaching. They think that if you put a student in front of a computer and he is taught to use it, he'll magically acquire a competence in the pure sciences. Really, they'll be qualified to work as data-entry clerks, but the educators don't seem to understand that.

        I think that what modern education administration (not necessarily teachers, although the stupid ones do play a big part) and modern media has failed to realize about 'Generation-X' and all of us now in our late-20's, 30's that are now making good salaries in the computer industry is that we weren't slackers that learned computers because of video gaming and sleeping in half the day. We learned computers because that was one outlet of learning and exploring that was challenging, new and exciting to us at that time because our middle/high-school experiences were filled with teachers not skilled at TEACHING! And getting a master's in education does not a good TEACHER make! You can't simply train any random person to be a good teacher, just as you can't train any random kid to be a whiz with computers.

        Personally I found learning BASIC programming to be a challenge waiting to be conquered most nights at home while I neglected the boringly-taught subjects of Social Studies and History. That's sad, because I have always been interested deeply in History and Social Studies (to a degree) from when I was a kid to the present. Unfortunately I knew more about Vietnam, WW2, and several other historically major events than the majority of my teachers because I read on my own. Most other kids didn't do that. Because I was bored to tears being forced to learn the basics of those courses and regurgitate info on paper, I simply focused more of my 'learning' efforts on things like computers which I did not have to regurgitate info in a typical classroom setting. I learned faster and worked harder at it since it was fresh and new.

        If the education administration would quit trying to dumb down the courses for the least common denominator so that every kid felt good about themselves, we'd have a lot less wasted money in our schools today. And yes, I'm sure that will cause both economic and political disparities between groups of people, but which would you rather have? A declining educational system with a bunch of happy, dumb adults running society; or an at times divided society with mostly educated people trying to do their best?
        • I wish the teaching profession would be seen more as a profession, with certain standards of performance, professional development, study into best practices, and the whole lot. Right now, teachers are given a minimum of training, maybe a couple hundred hours of apprenticeship under a more experienced teacher, then shoved into a room full of kids and left to fend for themselves.

          I've read that a promising practice is just to let teachers observe each other teaching on a regular basis, so that they
    • Re:Cut 'n' Dried (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheWanderingHermit ( 513872 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:00PM (#9130337)
      As a former teacher, I'd have to agree that teaches do NOT believe computers are the solution. Many teachers avoid computers, since their students know so much more about them than they do.

      On the other hand, I have seen cases where politicians are more interested in looking good than in fixing the real problems (would you believe that!?), and come up with plans to use computers and claiming they'll fix all the troubles.

      The bottom line is the teacher-student relationship. That is one of the most important factors in teaching. A good teacher (as long as they have support in discipline issues), can teach students with nothing but a blackboard and chalk for the teacher and paper and pencils for the students. Any teacher who thinks computers are the solution should find another job! On the other end, a good teacher who learns how to use computers, could find many ways to integrate them into the classroom and assignments.

      I mentioned support on discipline. In my experience, if politicians and educators want to focus on one "answer" that will have the greatest effect on improving education, that's the one subject to tackle: making sure teachers get support on enforcing appropriate classroom behavior. (Just one example: I had an obnoxious student. I had worked with him, kept him after school, given him disciplinary assignments, talked on the phone many times with his parents, and nothing worked. I finally wrote up a referral for him to see the assistant principal. 6 weeks later the referal was in my mailbox with a sticky note saying, "Has this been resolved?" without the principal ever seeing the student. The next year this assistant princiapal was promoted to principal of the county's new school. If you want solutions for education, censure administrators like that and focus on discipline, not on adding computers.) (Sorry for the rant, but it's to point out there are many worse problems in education than worrying about using computers.)
    • Maine spent millions of dollars giving every school kid a fucking laptop. Every kid in the whole goddamned state. That right there is plenty of evidence that either politicians, educators, parents, or all three believe this.
      • We have a county nearby (Henrico County, VA), where all the students (or maybe all High School students) have Powerbooks. The school system administration definately believes that computers are an answer.

        But, when saying that it is evidence that educators believe this, please remember educators is a wide range. In my experience, these decisions are made by administrators who haven't worked in a classroom in a decade or more and the teachers have little or no input.

        I'd paraphrase and say it's evidence ed
    • It's simply absurd to suggest that your typical educator or politician blindly believes that computers are the solution to America's education woes.

      Why not? Look at the similar problem with the illinformed bandwagon to switch to electronic voting, and in the electronic voting case its some of the folks around here too. Well I suppose there are some extremists around here that think laptops should replace pen and paper as well. :-)

      Politicians knowingly support dump things all the time, its all about the P
    • It's simply absurd to suggest that your typical educator or politician blindly believes that computers are the solution to America's education woes.

      You discount the real reason for public school: Dumbing down the general populous to make obedient factory workers and soldiers.

      Don't take my word for it, read the works of those people who founded the forced public schools.

      I can whole heartedly recommend the works of New York State Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto. []

      The public school system in America
  • by The I Shing ( 700142 ) * on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:46PM (#9130150) Journal
    Astronomer Clifford Stoll similarly makes compelling arguments against computers in the classroom (libraries as well) in his books Silicon Snake Oil and High-Tech Heretic.

    I saw Clifford Stoll in person at a lecture given in front a group of librarians. He animatedly pointed out, with his lecture notes written on his hand, that in the distant future the jobs that people do will still require old-fashioned learning and hands-on experience.

    "If I were around even a hundred years from I now I wouldn't want to visit a dentist who's learned his trade from a CD-ROM," he explained, "I would want a dentist who had hands-on experience at a dental school."

    He talked about how software packages make the outrageous claim that they can "make learning fun," when actual learning takes self-discipline, hard work, and effective human teachers.

    As for me, I love being able to order books from the library online, and have them sent from faraway libraries to the one down the street from my office, but I still sometimes feel a bit cheated that I had the Dewey Decimal System and its card catalog lookup method drilled into my head from an early age, only to have the latter removed from the library and replaced with a row of computers. When our library system first implemented this change, the computers were far more difficult to operate than the alphabetized drawers of the card catalog. Nowadays, with the web-based system, it's much easier to find exactly what I want, but I still sometimes miss the thrill of the hunt, as it were, flipping through cards organized by subject, title, and author, searching for just the right book.
    • by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:55PM (#9130271) Homepage Journal
      A computer is a tool. A well prepared mind can make a computer do amazing things, just like a well prepared mind can make a hammer and chisel do amazing things. However, an unprepared mind will just turn the block of stone into a pile of dust. Let's focus on preparing the minds before giving them all the tools. Like the teacher removing all the fonts from the computer, we need to get people to think about what they're doing, not how it looks or is perceived. Reading, discussion, and experimentation are ways to do this, and while they can be done on a computer, the complexity of the system gets in the way. People learn how to use the computer to prepare their minds, when it should be the other way around.
    • by SquadBoy ( 167263 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:08PM (#9130441) Homepage Journal
      I was just thinking about this. Let me tell a long story. I'm a network guy and kind of known as a PC/Server guy. I get asked a lot of questions that take me about 10 minutes with Google to find answers to. Now I'll date myself when I was in debate in High School we used to spend hours at the local Uni digging through their stacks to find information and stuff to build debate cases with. This was both fun and I learned a lot about research. I think this accounts for why I can find answers on the web that some of the kids I work with who never really had to do research without computers can not.

      Kind of like once you learn math without a calculator you can then do amazing things very quickly when given the tool. But if you never learn math without the calculator you are stuck being able to not do any of those really amazing things the tool can help you do.
    • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:13PM (#9130525) Homepage Journal
      >He talked about how software packages make the outrageous claim that they can "make learning fun," when actual learning takes self-discipline, hard work, and effective human teachers.

      Cats and dogs can't survive on instinct alone. Both need to have learned hunting skills. How do they acquire them? They play.

      Play is how mammals learn. They expend enormous energy in play. If play weren't a vital function then non-playing creatures would have taken over the world through sheer efficiency.

      "Self-discipline, hard work, and effective human teachers" could be a description of what happens when humans "play" soccer.

      Learning *is* fun, inherently. We're programmed for it. Any healthy young child is constantly exploring, taking things apart, and asking "why?".

      The great mystery of our educational system is how it has made learning seem like a chore.
      • by Neil Watson ( 60859 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @05:04PM (#9132274) Homepage
        The great mystery of our educational system is how it has made learning seem like a chore.

        The minute you tell me I have to learn something and, give a deadline; it becomes a chore.

      • this is quite true if you expect humans to have to relearn everything every generation. however, that is not the case. education provides a way to teach kids what has been discovered by other people over that last few thousand years.

        at this point in the history of human intellectual development, it is impossible for any one human to learn every discipline in detail.

        so, the process is expediated by requiring self-discipline, hard work and effective human teachers." even WITH such things, education of most
      • The "play is how we learning, learning is fun" thing has a lot going for it. BUT: The reason we go to school is to learn things that DON'T come naturally. The school curriculum doesn't teach kids how to talk, or recognize faces, or interact socially. That's not because those skills are easy (they're bloody hard), but because those are skills that we have evolved we learn naturally.. Schools do have a hell of a time trying to teach things like basic statistics, and basic physics, because those do NOT co
    • by kzinti ( 9651 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:16PM (#9130556) Homepage Journal
      I saw Stoll give a similar lecture at the Embedded Systems Conference a few years ago. A one-line summary of his thesis: Don't take computers out of the schools, but don't try to substitute them for real learning. Teach kids to use computers, but also teach them why computers work, how to program them, how to take them apart, how to build one, etc. I couldn't agree more.

      Cliff Stoll is one hell of a good speaker. Bizarre too. He showed up at the ESC with two TV camera crews in tow, trying to interview him. He sat on stage before the talk, writing out his lecture notes on his hands. He had three or four milk-carton crates full of gadgets that he wanted to demonstrate, although I only recall one actually making it out of the box: a radar "speed gun" made out of an old coffee can and some electronics. He wandered all though the audience during his talk, at one point even coming out and taking over one of the TV cameras taping the talk. Although he had notes written all over his hand, he constantly seemed to diverge down new paths as they occurred to him. Oh yes, and then there was the four cartons of milk (or was it chocolate milk?) he drank during the talk. Very entertaining, and despite the apparent chaos of the lecture, he had the audience right in the palm of his hand when he wanted their attention... as at the end, when he talked about computers in schools.

      If you ever get the chance to see this guy talk, don't miss it.
    • Well that dentist analogy is an interesting one in light of the recent story about teeth being grown from stem cells. I'd rather not have dentists at all. If the vision of the distant future is a vision that still includes such barbarous professions as dentistry then it sound dystopian to me.
      Perhaps the link to computing skills seems tenuous, but high performance computing and network attached storage are essential for the kind of medical research being done today. In fact, even shell scripting skills
      • In fact, even shell scripting skills and knowledge of the unix filesystem are important skills in medicine. So, as others have pointed out, it's not so simple as saying we shouldn't emphasize computer skills.

        Computers are good for automating what you understand. They are not a substitute for that understanding. In fact doing something with computers requires more understanding than without computers to just break even.

        Computers are good for automating things that are tedious, monotonous, and repetitious.
    • I still sometimes miss the thrill of the hunt, as it were, flipping through cards organized by subject, title, and author, searching for just the right book.

      Yes, I miss that too. I can remember the thrill of adventure, going to the card catalog and finding things that were related to what I was looking for but which I wouldn't have thought to look for. Or just getting distracted and exploring. Or browsing the shelves, picking up whatever caught my eye. I read voraciously (and often indiscriminately, a

      • Yes, because a card catalog is obviously just as good as a computer at cross-referencing information. Think about what you are saying, people! You can learn a lot more on the Internet with the proper technique then you can in a library, simply because information flows faster. 5 years ago, I may have agreed with you. But as a much larger percentage of information goes online, the balance tips more and more favorably to the side of the digital age. If you want to have your kid spent lots of time in a library
  • by Neil Blender ( 555885 ) <> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:47PM (#9130170)
    I rate this book a.....Q
  • by Gunnery Sgt. Hartman ( 221748 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:48PM (#9130182) Homepage
    What I don't understand is that schools spend thousands and thousands of dollars to upgrade technology, but they still don't have any teachers that are worth a damn or teachers that are severly underpaid. Seems like schools also forget the fact that that computer is hard to use if there is no decent desk to put it on. I've had classes that use desks that were here when the college was founded. There's not enough room on the writing surface for single sheet of paper. WTF?
  • by nycsubway ( 79012 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:49PM (#9130198) Homepage
    Computers were absent from my grade school years, but as the years passed, computers became more pervasive. By college, my major was computer science & engineering. The only things that I learned from computers were how to program and how to use a computer to get things done.

    Computers did not teach me how to interact with other people. They did not teach social or moral skills. They provided a fraction of the education I needed. Computers will never be able to replace the social education that every person needs.

    • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:51PM (#9130229)
      "Computers did not teach me how to interact with other people. They did not teach social or moral skills. They provided a fraction of the education I needed. Computers will never be able to replace the social education that every person needs."

      You just didn't spend enough time playing Quake.

    • So far, computers are good for teaching children how to use computers. They are not a panacea for teaching any other subject. For some, they are a useful tool-- you can proofread English papers, do research, and math more quickly perhaps-- but they have generally not meant that students learn these things to a greater degree. In that sense, computers "in the classroom" is a stupid idea on par with a mimeograph in every classroom. If you can afford a classroom with a $70,000 teacher at the front, the tea
  • TRS-80 Rules! (Score:3, Informative)

    by filesiteguy ( 695431 ) <> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:53PM (#9130247) Homepage
    I don't agree that educators for the most part belive blindly in the technology. I do, however, have much experience in this area. My mother and wife are both primary level teachers and have been at the forefront of "education in the classroom" initiaves. All of which failed to one degree or another. I often spent hours helping them setup systems that broke with no support. The only thing I remember as positive is when my 6th grade teacher got two TRS-80 Model I computers back in '79. We were invited to go after school every day and learn BASIC. That started me off.
    • The only thing I remember as positive is when my 6th grade teacher got two TRS-80 Model I computers back in '79. We were invited to go after school every day and learn BASIC. That started me off.

      I agree that computers in the classroom are a valuable benefit for those who will later require computer skills. I learned programming when the TRS-80 first came out. It wasn't any initiative. My teacher thought I was retarded and preferred that I spent all day in the 'special education room' (aka the supply c
  • ... in the same way that books are.

    I mean, if you don't know how to read, them thing 're useless.
  • by TedCheshireAcad ( 311748 ) <ted&fc,rit,edu> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:53PM (#9130251) Homepage
    Teachers are just being stubborn. They have to change with the times. Instead of grading a paper "F", grade it "OMFG n00b".

    Instead of grading it "A", grade it "<3".

    When the kids get rowdy, instead of trying to yell over the crowd, just write "STFU kthx" on the board.

    Change with the times, people.
    • by happyfrogcow ( 708359 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:12PM (#9130509)
      d00d, u jst m@d3 m3 w@n7 t0 b3c0m3 @ t3ach3r.

    • Very funny examples, but as with most humor the grain of truth at the center of it is dealing with pain and suffering. In this case it's the suffering felt by the younger who listens to an older spouting slang by rote, and the pain felt by an older who's verbal faux pas kills a conversation like "it's da bomb".

      Don't get me wrong, slang can truly be cross-generational and used in mixed age group situations but the speaker must use it freely and with the knowledge of a "second native tongue" at least. Such a
  • I've read heavily in the research on computer assisted instruction and related topics.

    In general the usage of computers has been horidly awful, and the software design has been attrocious.

    Bad implementations are not the same as bad concept, something which many critics seem to have difficulty distinguishing between.


  • Grumpy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KnarfO ( 320113 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:55PM (#9130267) Homepage
    Author and submitter sound like they're a bit grumpy over this whole computer fad thing. "Darn kids and their technology! Why, when I was your age, I had to write my reports on *paper*... with a *pencil*!!..."

    C'mon... the only success stories in schools were where the comps were not in the classroom, and weren't networked (how do you print??) sounds fishy to me, and smacks of some serious anti-tech bias, IMHO.

    • Re:Grumpy (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:07PM (#9130430) Homepage
      Agreed. I think anybody would be a fool to question the value that access to computers has for education.

      On the other hand, computers in the classroom doesn't necessarily sound like a good idea to me. A friend of mine is a teacher at an art college here, where they have invested a ton of money in technology and teaching the latest Web design, 3-D graphics, etc. He says he has a hard time keeping kids' attention in class when every one of them has a computer installed on his or her desk. He'll be trying to give a lecture and they'll be leaning over, giggling at each others screens as they pull up random pages on the Web. And these are *college students*, let alone high school age kids or younger.

      Seems like you're better off having a large computer lab that students can use as a resource on their own time, the same way they do the school library. Or, wirelessly networked laptops on the desks would be fine, too -- just so long as they stay closed until it's time to get to work.
    • Were you in a school that spent god knows how much on computers in every classroom, and in a computer lab and in a special 'design' lab?

      My High School was brand new, so it had to have the latest and the best, which at the time was Pentium 133's and 166's. At least 3 in every room, usually 5 or 6. Computer lab had 30, the 'design' lab had 166's with mmx, 64mb ram, 3d studio Max 1, some Corel stuff, that sort of stuff.

      No one was allowed to use them.

      You could only use them with a teacher present, but the te
  • I've always thought the best way to a REAL education is reading the classics.

    Whether they be Dickens, Shakspear, Aristotle, Newton, Tolstoy, Darwin, Hemmingway, Galileo, or whoever... Reading the classics is what creates minds that think about solving real problems and doing great deeds.

    Everything else is just skills, and skills can be easily acquired by minds that are anxious to solve problems.

  • I worked for a school district for a year, doing computer support. Computers are good for writing papers. And the Internet is good (sort of) for research. For general "learnin'"? No. If you want to learn about COMPUTERS, then yeah, they're great. But most educational software is nothing more than an elaborate set of flash cards.
  • by burgburgburg ( 574866 ) <<splisken06> <at> <>> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:58PM (#9130319)
    valuing these individuals known as teachers and paying them a decent, livable wage and treating them with the respect you'd "expect" for someone that is educating your damn children, instead of seeing their profession as something any idiot can do (because they have life experience after all) and anyway, they should be doing it for the love of the job and anyway we're already overbudget because of these cool computers and ...

    I'm sure if I hold my breath, it will happen before I pass out and bump my head against the desk. Here I go ....mmmph...mmmprhu .....BAM!

    Owww. Thanks a lot, /.

    • valuing these individuals known as teachers and paying them a decent, livable wage

      Here in the Northeast US, median salaries for public school kindergarten teachers with 3-5 years' experience is in the mid $40's. Median salaries for secondary school teachers with MA/MS degrees and 10 years' experience is $65-70. Top-step teachers in many states earn over $80k. This is for 6.5 hours/day and 180 days per year.

      By my accounting, this is a decent, livable wage.

  • In fairness... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @02:59PM (#9130322) Journal
    Math education goes back to, who, Euclid? (And various Mayans, Chinese and others -- the point is that there's an extensive history to draw on.)And we're still lurching from one way to teach kids to multiply to another, and then to that it only matters how they feel about 6 times 8, and then back to memorizing tables.

    Meanwhile, personal computers are now on their second generation of students, their capabilities change every year, as does what is needed to know to use them and The Future is all about them. It's not astonishing that teachers haven't quite figured out what to do with them.

  • by Knights who say 'INT ( 708612 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:01PM (#9130347) Journal
    "One English teacher could readily tell which of her students essays were conceived on a computer. "They don't link ideas," the teacher said. "They just write one thing, and then they write another one, and they don't seem to see or develop the relationships between them."'

    But you can actually structure your essays better when you can first type out ideas and chunks of sentences, and then restructure until they form a coherent, logical progression.

    Unless you like to handwrite endless drafts, handwritten work would generally be more confuse.

    Now, really, perhaps these are nonlinear times. I have a class with a philosophy professor who keeps on saying that mind is hypertextual, and he`s fascinated with the possibilites of nonlinear argumentation. Not John Negroponte or some hypermedia freak, a 60-years-old Medieval Philosopher scholar whose idea of a fascinating subject is the Summa Teologica.

    I gotta say I learned all my english and all my french on the net (it's not that bad, check my post history), and have generally learned to write better and been more exposed to intellectual, structured debate than I'd ever be without it. Moreover, I've had contact with all these scholars from around the world who research subjects that interested me at one point, and learned about many research areas I didn't even know that existed.

    Of course, I've also seen a lot of freak pr0n, but we were discussing education, weren't we?
    • Of course, I meant NICHOLAS Negroponte, the MIT hypermedia pundit.
    • For structured ideas, there's PowerPoint.

      Now there's a scary thought.

    • by Bob Uhl ( 30977 ) <eadmund42&gmail,com> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @07:08PM (#9133746) Homepage
      But you can actually structure your essays better when you can first type out ideas and chunks of sentences, and then restructure until they form a coherent, logical progression.

      The facts don't bear that out: the end result of computer-editing tends to be rather scattershot. I would argue that this is because coherent arguments start as fully-formed thoughts (in the short term; in the longer term obviously they develop, as one learns). The sad fact of the matter is that most folks don't seem to think well, and computers just give them an easy out.

      Writing drafts by hand forces one to think--it's slow, and painful and spends money (paper's not free). Typing, by contrast, is easy and cheap. There's no incentive to think before jotting down whatever comes to mind. Much of my /. output is proof of this:-)

      Back in college, I finally figured out how to write good papers: I went down to the local pub with a briefcase full of books and paper, spread it all out and started. First I read the books; then I wrote an outline; then I fleshed it out, then I wrote the paper a few times, then I went home an typed the whole thing up in LaTeX, printed it out, proofed it one last time & turned it in. Much beer was drunk and much tobacco sacrificed in my pipe throughout the process... Anyway, I ended up with straight As that year, compared to low Bs, a few Cs and some As.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:02PM (#9130362)
    The problem with Computer education is that they use computers for every area of studies but they don't teach them how to use the computer as a tool. For Science Class students will use computers to virtually dissect a frog. But when it comes to doing a calculation they will still reach for the paper. Or what happened in college there was a student working on there math homework in the computer lab, they were using the application called Maple (for those who dont know about it it is a fairly powerful math program) now he needed to do some simple arithmetic so he went around asking people for a calculator. Not even thinking about using the calculator that comes with almost every OS on the planet. Or in maple where you just need to to type the formula in and follow with a ;. He was trained to use the computer and Maple just as he was taught but it never occurred for him to use the computer for a problem that wasn't required for class to solve. But because the teacher are so inflexible about computer they don't teach the students to use the computers as a tool. They just use them as a way to sit down and grade papers.
    • and doing things with the computer in school that isn't what the class is exactly doing at the time is verboden. Rather than let the students explore and have a shot at learning something useful, they're taught by rote. What a waste.
  • When I was in school and still today (as I have family still i school) they may have technology but don't know how to utilize it. They make bad purchases and dont' use the full potential.

    Bad use example: School buys a lab of computers. Computers come with antivirus software for free as part of the bundle but school still buys second antivirus license at $100 per computer. Was a waste of money.

    Not using full potential example: The business computers class teaches the bar bones of office but not how to
  • by taradfong ( 311185 ) * on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:04PM (#9130392) Homepage Journal
    You need good people teaching good things to good people to get good results. We barely pay the teachers, and so we scare away lots of good people from teaching. Our curriculums are weak and far away from reality. We raise our kids without a parent at home using the TV/computer as a surrogate and feed them non-stop hyperactivity chow, and so they are more or less unteachable.

    Computers won't fix this situation. Maybe if we fixed the other 3 problems, they would make a good situation better.
  • There is one really compelling application of computers in grade and middle schools: The various typing tutor programs. Back in my day (boy am I old!) we had electric typewriters, and learning to type was as mindnumbing as can be. With computer programs it is still mindnumbing to a degree, but it has been made more compelling, AND the tutor programs adjust to your skills and revisit problem spots right away. It still takes perseverance and lots of repetition, but it isn't nearly as dreary as it used to be.
    • The best way to learn how to type fast is to do IRC or IM. You have to type fast to keep up with the conversation, and you have to be accurate or you sound like a doof. A great app would be a communication tool (maybe using gaim) that would gauge accuracy and speed during a conversation and show it throughout to both yourself and the other person. You then compete to see who can get the higher score. Simple, interactive, social, and effective.
    • The high school I attended in the late '90s had a pretty good supply of newish macs (mostly used for lunchtime gaming), but the typing class was on a farm of Apple IIs, using a word-processor instead of a typing program, and books that were designed for typewriters--and half the class was spent on typewriter-specific tasks, like how to center text, configure tab stops to make tables, and anticipating line-endings and hypenation rules.

      It was quaint even then, lessons on how to churn butter or use a straight
  • Speak For Yourself. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    When I was 7, I lucked out. My elementary school was one of the first in the state to have computers for students to use in the library. This was, eh, about 1980-81 or so. Apple ][s, to be exact. Three of them. They were available for students to use both during and after school.

    Within a few weeks of their being installed, the demand was high enough that the librarians had to set up a list where you had to reserve blocks of time in advance. On monday mornings, I used to go to the library, and allocate ti
  • part of my thesis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by b17bmbr ( 608864 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:08PM (#9130454)
    I am finishing a masters in Ed. (Computers and Ed. Technology) and this book was a big part of my thesis. I have been involved in my school's technology for years. This book should be required reading for every princpal and teacher. Sadly, he exposes the "education industrial complex" (paraphrasing Eisenhower) and highlights many problems with our education system. I could go on, but that's my thesis. Schools need to go back to the basics, readin', writin', 'rithmetic. Literacy and critical thinking should be the goals of school, and if the kids never even touch a computer in school, they won't miss a thing. Though I do believe there should be a technology component, where kids do learn basic computer skills.

    I might also suggest Jane Healy's "Failure to Connect" and Clifford Stoll's "Silicon Snake Oil". Please take it from me, I am a high school history teacher, and I see this problem as wide scale.
    • I've read Jane Healy's book. While I generally agree with the sentiments, I found her book far too pessimistic and her statements far too sweeping. I'm an IT Curriculum Specialist for a K-12 school. My job is to critically assess technology and assist teachers in integrating the more useful technologies into our curriculum.

      We've established a laptop program that has been quite successful. The girls (it's a girls' school) learn the traditional curriculum, enhanced with laptops, a knowledge management sy
    • by 0x0d0a ( 568518 )
      Schools need to go back to the basics, readin', writin', 'rithmetic. Literacy and critical thinking should be the goals of school, and if the kids never even touch a computer in school, they won't miss a thing.

      While I agree with some of what you've written, a few things here set me off.

      I agree with reading. Students need to read more. The problem is that I have universally hated everything that schools have made me read. I even have a couple of controls -- I read Catch-22 on my own before I was made
  • Coming from a Math/Science magnet school where the administration believed the school itself was responsible for the success of it's students, this definately hits home. Over the years, the school made it a point to put a computer lab in every classroom. They seemed to think that if there was a computer to use, it would make everything better.

    So, they blindly added hundreds of donated, underpowered PCs to our network. More often than not, they were used for downloading pr0n, playing games and cheating on t
  • by OglinTatas ( 710589 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:12PM (#9130507)
    Personal anecdote here: way back when I was in high school, the PTA scraped together some money to buy a dozen Apple II computers for an after school computer club. The following year they were incorporated into a computer lab, and a course was offered as an elective for us nerdy kids, but computing wasn't part of the general curriculum.
    Anyway, for my final project in that course, I wrote a program that could take a term paper draft and size requirements as input, and then it would produce an expanded draft to meet those requirements by fiddling with margins, word and line spacing, and finally by inserting nonsense phrases if necessary.
    I submitted the source code, a sample input (3 1/2 pages) and the output, a 5 page English paper (which had been graded "A")
    The teacher gave me an "F" on principle, or maybe because I didn't properly comment the code.
    I even used that program to expand this one-line post.
  • The same year my school district initiated retirement incentives resulting in the loss of practically all the senior teachers was the year they put through a $4 Million bond issue to put computers everywhere. I personally witnessed the superintendent of the district say "how can you expect fifth graders to do 3 digit multiplication without a calculator?". The quality of education there dropped like a rock over a 20 year period, and went from producing Westinghouse champions and World Physics Olympiad champi
  • because I've talked to many educators about technology.
    I've also talked to administrators, parents,
    and students from primary and secondary schools.

    There is *brilliant* work on this by Seymour Papert
    (see the book The Learning Machine and Lego/Logo)
    and many, many teachers who also develop software.

    Yes, there are profound problems with technology
    in schools-- as in our everyday corporate world--
    and tech is not a magic bullet for everything.

    Need starting points? Try my site School.Net []
    and please sug

  • Distance learning (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Custard ( 587661 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:16PM (#9130553) Homepage Journal
    Distance learning, offshore development, outsourcing, everything; can all be traced to a neglected education system in the U.S.

    We don't pay our teachers much, so most of our intelligent people are going on to other jobs where their brains get them more money. Teaching could became a coveted profession like being a Doctor or a Lawyer.

    But instead, we're paying our teachers low wages, and chipping away at our long standing scientific advantage over the rest of the world.

    Who needs to pay for this? Every citizen, but those with more must contribute more. The problem is that well-off citizens can just send their own kids to private school -- screw the rest of the kids -- and then vote at the school district meetings for minimal budgets, so their school taxes go down. In some districts, housing and school taxes are so expensive that by buying a house there you are essentially paying for private school for yuor kids, and poor people cannot afford to get into that community.

    Vouchers are not the answer, as all they do is take money away from the school that need it the most, and give it to schools that are already rich enough to provide a good education. It just serves to further separate the rich from the poor.

    What we need is for washington to put its foot down and say "Enough!"

    Listen, those of you who've made it big in America: It's not just your own hard work that got you where you are in life, it's your education, your community, your country, and your fellow citizens that made this environment that allowed you to have a chance at all. So stop whining and help out your fellow man; pay 1% more in taxes, so that poor kids can go to better schools, and lead better lives. Heck, you'll probably make up the lost taxes in the money you save by not being robbed or carjacked by some kid who dropped out of his drug-laden junior high school to become a thief.

    I'm spent.
    • get real. money has absolutely zilch to do with education. I send my children to private school. I spend approximately $6,000 per year per child. The public school system in California, OTOH, spends approximately $9,300 per student. effectively, the fact that i do not send my children to public school should free up another $18,600 for those that do.

      the public schools in my district have higher paid teachers and vastly superior facilities (i mean its not even close) compared to the private school. in spit

    • The problem isn't the computers or other technologies which are invading our schools. It's the environment of Academia, where bad teachers can't be punished, good teachers can't be rewarded, and there's no incentive beyond getting their students to get at least 800 on their SATs. Don't even get started on school boards, PTAs, and other obsticles to education. The rot is in the roots, and there's no saving this tree except to cut them out and replant.

      I read a theory once which I believe to be the best id
  • by mdielmann ( 514750 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:19PM (#9130605) Homepage Journal
    I give an instant 9/10 to any book that puts politician and "flickering mind" in the same sentence.
  • by karmatic ( 776420 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:20PM (#9130613)
    I attended a "alternative" high school for a bit, and nearly everything was computerized. The materials were done over NovaNet, and specifically say "These are to be used for reference, and not as a replacement for the book".

    The books were not available, and we were quite literally set up to fail. It was impossible to even pass without taking tons of notes (I have my library barcode number from when I was 5, all my credit cards, my blockbuster card, and discount card #s memorized, so it's not my memorization skills at fault). This was the school for failures, too.

    As for why I was there, a bad case of ADHD - I literally couldn't pass my classes. It was not because of tests, but because I couldn't focus long enough to finish the homework.
  • Granted, I have not read this book myself.

    However, the problem isn't that we have computers in schools or *gasp* networked computers.

    The problem is simply that most educators are (and I speak by experience both from an academic and a tech-support perspective, everything from kindergarten to grad school to a retail computer store that sold consulting and support to schools) incapable of properly instructing people to use computers.

    Face it. I'd venture to say that most educators (and almost certainly most
  • Seen in real life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ra5pu7in ( 603513 ) <ra5pu7in AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:22PM (#9130650) Journal
    I have watched my children being taught with computers in the classroom, computers in a separated "lab", and computers at home. Much of what the author mentions is very real to me.

    The amount of time spent changing font types, font sizes, paragraph alignment, etc. is added time they could have avoided. Typing speed is a severe limiter for a long report -- and "teacher says it has to be typed/printed". Spell-check and grammar checks give an impression that they don't need to check their own work. I end up reviewing and marking the errors to make them correct them.

    The educational software that they found so fun when they were younger fit into two categories - something they already knew and was easy OR something they hadn't learned yet and had to ask for help with. There was no actual instruction on HOW to do things - just little games using the skills.


    Perhaps the scariest offshoot of this is how computers and software are implemented everywhere else (businesses and government). I've seen people spend hours working on a document that should have taken them 20 minutes. I've seen people who don't bother knowing how to speak or spell because the word-processor will do it for them. I work with people who claim the computer makes them more productive -- when I also know they spend more than 50% of their day online surfing sites completely unrelated to their job and get less done in the 50% they actually do work.

    I'm not a Luddite by any means - I use my computers for maximizing my productivity. I even try to teach my children how to avoid the pitfalls by making them hand-write their rough drafts, research from books, and have a preset format that is used for all documents.
    • when I also know they spend more than 50% of their day online surfing sites completely unrelated to their job and get less done in the 50% they actually do work

      Sometimes I have that problem. just can't stay off the net some days.

      I tried doing my work with paper and pen once, but the HammerMill [] platform just wouldn't compile my code properly.

  • I agree with this guy *and* Cliff Stoll []. The educational arena need to be an electronic-free zone. Until you get to college, the only real use computers have in education is for teaching programming. Short of that, they are a violent distraction. Maybe the last couple of years of high school you get to use a calculator. Maybe. Unless you want to start teaching electrical engineering in high school -- that would be cool, and a valid reason to have computers around, but then they'd have to teach mathematics.
  • by BoneFlower ( 107640 ) <> on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:23PM (#9130673) Journal
    ITs how they are used. If you throw a computer in front of someone and expect them to learn, well, they are fucked.

    If they are treated as one of many tools in an educators toolbox, that would be very good. In high school chemistry class, we got to do some experiments on some old Apple II's that the school couldn't afford the expense or safety risk to do. Those are things that without those computers, we simply wouldn't have been able to do more than just read about, but with them, we got to do the experiments and see what happens. Perhaps not as good as doing the experiments with actual chemicals, but a hell of a lot better than just reading.
  • Why do I say that? Because like software, nobody knows really knows how to make education work. But everyone has their pet theory. Education is intensely faddish. Look at open plan schools, phonics, and what to do with computers.

    For studies which really look into this, as in software the key predictors aren't teaching methods, amount of funding, technology or anything like that, but the people involved. The biggest predictor is how parents feel about education, and right after that is the teacher. Bu
  • by phkamp ( 524380 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:33PM (#9130827) Homepage
    In the 20 years I have followed computers as educational tools, I have yet to see a single credible (ie: not vendor paid) study which showed a benefit from using computers to teach normal kids normal subjects.

    Once we get into special areas, things change.

    For instance there have been many studies which show huge benefits to below average kids, where the computer can be used to implement repetitive teaching techniques.

    Similar positive results have been documented for fringe topics and above average students.

    Most of these fringe areas can be reduced to the simple phenomena of the computer being used to make up for a teacher shortage. None of the studies I have seen argues that the results are different from what would have happened if sufficient teachers where available to implement the same amount of teaching.

    But still not one single study have shown a consistent, tangible benefit for normal kids in the normal basic subjects {$native_language, math, science}

    Many studies and reports have pointed out tangible damage.

    Considering how much money has been spent, that is a pretty disturbing scientific basis.

    Anectodal evidence is distributed slightly different: All the good news is about things which are going to happen. Once the computer have been rolled in, we practically never hear good news.

    Combine this situation with the recent study out of Chicago which documented that for each hour of television toddlers watched per day, they had 10% higher risk of ADD at age 7, and we have a really disturbing situation at our hands.


    PS: And as somebody who is old enough to have written a lot of text on a type-writer, I can personally attest that it makes you think a lot more about the text before you write.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:36PM (#9130871) Homepage
    I haven't been actively involved in the education system for a while but I can agree with the reviewer's summary of the book author's findings... at least in spirit.

    Someone has cited they had a difference of opinion with educating professionals in that computer skills are a primary need versus science and math. I feel similar to this slashdotter except that I feel stronger language skills are needed primarily in our education system.

    If nothing else indicates it to me, it's all the people around me who have difficulty forming good sentences... and in fact, as another slashdotter related, an English teacher was able to tell if a writing was written on a computer rather than on paper based on style and [lack of] structure. I think it's a tremendous weakness we are developing on a national level.

    Consider that for most humans, they language they speak is also the language of their thoughts. Their thoughts are encoded by their native language... mostly. If their coding skills are weak, then it seems natural to understand that their thinking skills will be similarly limited. A lack of language skills may very well link to a lack of many other skills which are needed in day to day life.

    While I cannot deny that math and science skills are required for more advanced formations of the mind, but a stronger basis in language should be imparted than is already. The computer (as understood by lay people) isn't a thinking machine and isn't a teaching machine and certainly not yet a learning machine. I believe, however, that many people believe to the contrary.

    I see it as a communications medium first and foremost and I think that's exactly how it should be used in our schools. I think blogs should be institutionalized and even graded and commented on by our teachers. If it were an on-going, ungraded process, it could prove to be invaluable for developing language skills... which is the encoding for most people's minds.
  • by dokebi ( 624663 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @03:45PM (#9131017)
    The material that a K-12 student has to learn hasn't changed much in 50 years. Material K-9 students learn (reading, writing, and math) hasn't changed probably in a century. Chances are that a 10 year old text book on European history, physics, English, or Math is probably still good today.

    But teaching the same stuff to kids year after year doesn't make someone a "Leader in Education". In order to be a Leader (heads of education departments at the local and national level) one must have "Vision". And of course this Vision doesn't come from updating history or science texts, or finding better ways to teach kids critical thinking. Leaders have to come up with "Visionary" ideas, like Computer in Every Classroom, or Laptop for Every Pupil, or Creation Science, and every other fad/scheme that garners broad *political* support.

    Our K-12 system suffers because politicians are running the system.
  • by LionKimbro ( 200000 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @04:26PM (#9131729) Homepage
    Yesterday, I learned all about Crypto from Wikipedia. [] I learned about:

    • block vs. stream cyphers
    • symmetric key cryptography and public key crpytography
    • diffusion
    • about the use of of Crypto in the US Civil War.
    • Claude Shannon []

    Because of this, I am likely to make better decisions about cryptography. I will not confuse a stream cypher with a one time pad.


    • Who are my teachers?
    • Did technology help them teach me something?
    • Did open-source help?

    More and more, my education is coming from the Internet.

    I believe we need to rethink the whole concept of school, and what it is for.
    • For most kindergarteners, school and education are and should be about:
      • reading
      • getting along with classmates
      • drawing pictures
      • playing soccer
      • unorganized recess
      • doing arithmetic in your head

      And if the kids would prefer not to do these things, they have to be required to do it. They're hard skills that can only be gained by practice. As near as I can tell, a computer won't help with any of them. Maybe after they have these skills a computer would be useful.

  • Missing solutions (Score:3, Informative)

    by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @05:15PM (#9132399)
    I would agree with author that too much emphasis has been placed on the "answer". First it was class size. Now many think that computers are the answer. The current administration seems to think it's all about standardized testing. Some say school vouchers are the solution.

    The problem is that many want a black and white solution to gray problems. The problems facing todays educators cannot be solved with one solution. A few years back both the Wall Street Journal [] and 60 Minutes [] looked at one of the best public schools systems in the nation: The Department of Defense schools for military families.

    At first, you would think that they would be one of the worst performers. The students are uprooted every few years as their parents are transferred. A majority of the students come from families that live just above the poverty line.

    But the students rank among the best in the nations when it comes to test scores. The gap between minority and white students is almost non-existant with a high percentage of the students being minorities. Eighty percent of students go to college.

    How do they do it? Some answers given:

    More money is spent per student than in most public schools. Parents are heavily invovled with the education. Discipline is almost never a problem. A higher percentage of teachers have masters than most other schools. All these factors intertwine.

  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2004 @05:38PM (#9132631) Homepage Journal
    I have actually taught computers to children. There are two roads to take, all others lead to the mistakes the book uncovers.

    First, use the computer as the tool it is meant to be. Use it instead of a typewriter, for example. Nothing beats a computer for teaching children how to type. It's also good for administering automatic rote quizzes. Et cetera.

    Oh, and as an information tool. It shouldn't replace actual books and encyclopedias, but it makes a great adjunct reference tool. But it's use in this area needs to be monitored, or it becomes merely another "glass teat". (you don't teach kids how to multiply by giving them a calculator, so why teach them how to research by giving them the web?)

    Second, use it to teach computer science. As in programming. Logo is a great learning language. Children will learn algorithms and logical thinking. For older (or brighter) students you can use a "real" high level language like Java, Python or Ruby. Or set up a small LAN to learn about networks. Or learn HTML, CSS, and ECMAscript. The trick here is that you're teaching about the computer, instead of through the computer. Of course, this requires considerable knowledge on part of the teacher.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents