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The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology

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The Flickering Mind, by National Magazine Award winner Todd Oppenheimer, is a landmark account of the failure of technology to improve our schools and a call for renewed emphasis on what really works. American education faces an unusual moment of crisis. For decades, our schools have been beaten down by a series of curriculum fads, empty crusades for reform, and stingy fund The Flickering Mind, by National Magazine Award winner Todd Oppenheimer, is a landmark account of the failure of technology to improve our schools and a call for renewed emphasis on what really works. American education faces an unusual moment of crisis. For decades, our schools have been beaten down by a series of curriculum fads, empty crusades for reform, and stingy funding. Now education and political leaders have offered their biggest and most expensive promise ever—the miracle of computers and the Internet—at a cost of approximately $70 billion just during the decade of the 1990s. Computer technology has become so prevalent that it is transforming nearly every corner of the academic world, from our efforts to close the gap between rich and poor, to our hopes for school reform, to our basic methods of developing the human imagination. Technology is also recasting the relationships that schools strike with the business community, changing public beliefs about the demands of tomorrow’s working world, and reframing the nation’s systems for researching, testing, and evaluating achievement. All this change has led to a culture of the flickering mind, and a generation teetering between two possible futures. In one, youngsters have a chance to become confident masters of the tools of their day, to better address the problems of tomorrow. Alternatively, they can become victims of commercial novelties and narrow measures of ability, underscored by misplaced faith in standardized testing. At this point, America’s students can’t even make a fair choice. They are an increasingly distracted lot. Their ability to reason, to listen, to feel empathy, is quite literally flickering. Computers and their attendant technologies did not cause all these problems, but they are quietly accelerating them. In this authoritative and impassioned account of the state of education in America, Todd Oppenheimer shows why it does not have to be this way. Oppenheimer visited dozens of schools nationwide—public and private, urban and rural—to present the compelling tales that frame this book. He consulted with experts, read volumes of studies, and came to strong and persuasive conclusions: that the essentials of learning have been gradually forgotten and that they matter much more than the novelties of technology. He argues that every time we computerize a science class or shut down a music program to pay for new hardware, we lose sight of what our priority should be: “enlightened basics.” Broad in scope and investigative in treatment, The Flickering Mind will not only contribute to a vital public conversation about what our schools can and should be—it will define the debate. From the Hardcover edition.


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The Flickering Mind, by National Magazine Award winner Todd Oppenheimer, is a landmark account of the failure of technology to improve our schools and a call for renewed emphasis on what really works. American education faces an unusual moment of crisis. For decades, our schools have been beaten down by a series of curriculum fads, empty crusades for reform, and stingy fund The Flickering Mind, by National Magazine Award winner Todd Oppenheimer, is a landmark account of the failure of technology to improve our schools and a call for renewed emphasis on what really works. American education faces an unusual moment of crisis. For decades, our schools have been beaten down by a series of curriculum fads, empty crusades for reform, and stingy funding. Now education and political leaders have offered their biggest and most expensive promise ever—the miracle of computers and the Internet—at a cost of approximately $70 billion just during the decade of the 1990s. Computer technology has become so prevalent that it is transforming nearly every corner of the academic world, from our efforts to close the gap between rich and poor, to our hopes for school reform, to our basic methods of developing the human imagination. Technology is also recasting the relationships that schools strike with the business community, changing public beliefs about the demands of tomorrow’s working world, and reframing the nation’s systems for researching, testing, and evaluating achievement. All this change has led to a culture of the flickering mind, and a generation teetering between two possible futures. In one, youngsters have a chance to become confident masters of the tools of their day, to better address the problems of tomorrow. Alternatively, they can become victims of commercial novelties and narrow measures of ability, underscored by misplaced faith in standardized testing. At this point, America’s students can’t even make a fair choice. They are an increasingly distracted lot. Their ability to reason, to listen, to feel empathy, is quite literally flickering. Computers and their attendant technologies did not cause all these problems, but they are quietly accelerating them. In this authoritative and impassioned account of the state of education in America, Todd Oppenheimer shows why it does not have to be this way. Oppenheimer visited dozens of schools nationwide—public and private, urban and rural—to present the compelling tales that frame this book. He consulted with experts, read volumes of studies, and came to strong and persuasive conclusions: that the essentials of learning have been gradually forgotten and that they matter much more than the novelties of technology. He argues that every time we computerize a science class or shut down a music program to pay for new hardware, we lose sight of what our priority should be: “enlightened basics.” Broad in scope and investigative in treatment, The Flickering Mind will not only contribute to a vital public conversation about what our schools can and should be—it will define the debate. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    At one point in The Flickering Mind, the author points out that, given the extreme difficulty of defining good, measurable indicators of progress or success in education, a large quantity of education "studies" are essentially worthless, or, worse yet, deceptive. As a result, people in education tend to be very dismissive of the studies or statistics that support alternative views, viewing them as flawed, while still maintaining the merits of the studies or statistics that bolster their own view At one point in The Flickering Mind, the author points out that, given the extreme difficulty of defining good, measurable indicators of progress or success in education, a large quantity of education "studies" are essentially worthless, or, worse yet, deceptive. As a result, people in education tend to be very dismissive of the studies or statistics that support alternative views, viewing them as flawed, while still maintaining the merits of the studies or statistics that bolster their own views. This is an important point to be made, yet it also manages to suck much of the power out of an otherwise interesting book, as the author himself can't help but fall into that trap at times. When discussing the Las Vegas conference for Renaissance software, the author goes to great length to show that the testimonials given by teachers who saw great success with the software were either misleading or suffering greatly from a latent variable bias; yet when making a criticism of a certain program or technology, the author would frequently use testimonials of dissatisfied teachers as confirmation of his point. When discussing standardized test scores and other ways of measuring progress for the masses, the author strongly critiques both the concept and the studies that attempt to use gains in test scores as proof of efficacy; yet when offering examples of school-done-right in the final section, the author can't help but include statements from teachers saying that they have been able to increase their percentage of students at a certain reading level (as measured by standardized tests) from some low percent to some high percent. In many ways, this isn't really the fault of the author. Measuring success in education - *real* success, rather than hollow gains in standardized test scores - is notoriously difficult, yet if some discussion is to occur regarding which approaches have merit and which don't, some standard of comparison is needed. This leaves those engaged in the debate with the need to find something, anything, that will help defend their hypothesis. Yet without strong, carefully handled statistical analysis and conclusions (which is woefully absent), we are left with an argument based on anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence can be very compelling, yet ultimately the argument seems to boil down to: "my anecdotes are good and correct; their anecdotes are false and misleading." In this book we are given a snapshot of the author's experiences monitoring kids in high-tech schools ("many of the kids sat at their computers, looking around with bored expressions...") as well as kids in schools that are closer to the author's ideal approach ("some of their artwork was so good it could have been shown in a professional gallery..."). We are also told anecdotes by teachers supporting technology, which are then investigated and shown to be misleading, as well as anecdotes by teachers against technology, which are taken at face value. I suppose we are to believe that the author has already weighed the evidence for us and is pointing out the places where critique is needed. But for someone who is not already convinced of the author's argument, that may be too much of a leap. And yet, I am largely convinced of the author's argument. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am in agreement his skepticism. I am less sure about his proposed remedies - his examples of successful schools remind me of food writers who discuss the merits of local organic farms, which leave me interested and compelled, yet ultimately unsure how such a concept could ultimately replace the factory farms that feed the vast majority of the country. But simply on the basis of the fact that The Flickering Mind even asks the question of whether or not technology is good for education, I would recommend it for any interested parent or educator. Anecdotes aside, one thing we can say with certainty is that technology is expensive and requires a sustained commitment of investment, upkeep, and training, yet we have very little evidence regarding the efficacy of it. And all of this investment, upkeep, and training could be put towards things that we know improve education, like more and better teachers.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Smith

    Was difficult to get through, boring at times. Overall message to me was the technology in the classroom is here to stay, but we need to find other methods of using it in our teaching practices.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mr. Shoemaker

    A scathing and well researched critique of the push for "computerized" education. Published in 2003, some of the examples are a bit dated, but the main thrust of the argument is timeless. Fast fix gimmicks from computers to standardized testing waste money, and more importantly, our intellectual resources. Jump off the bandwagons and start teaching.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Immanythings

    This was a pretty good book to combine with my Instructional Design and Technology text. Unfortunately like many researchers prior to 2003 when this was published, no one ever thought internet and web would be the grounds for educational technology

  5. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Dalton

    http://perlkonig.com/2011/02/12/the-d... http://perlkonig.com/2011/02/12/the-d...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    One of the best books i have read. We really have to challenge our wanton experimentation on our children's future.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    From Frontline's Digital Nation episode http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontli... broadcast 2/2/10 From Frontline's Digital Nation episode http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontli... broadcast 2/2/10

  8. 4 out of 5

    Edit Ostrom

    Sounds interesting! This book gives suggestion how to use technology in education while not expecting miracles from it and not placing too much emphasis on gadgets.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amy Bartell

  10. 5 out of 5

    John

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  12. 4 out of 5

    E. Stauffer

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sanjib Mukherjee

  14. 4 out of 5

    Don Marchant

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Smith

  16. 5 out of 5

    Blair Johnson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elena

  19. 4 out of 5

    Marc Joanisse

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Peterson

  21. 5 out of 5

    MrDotson

  22. 4 out of 5

    J

  23. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kyra Brogden

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leslye

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ronda Gettel

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kem Barfield

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sergio3535

  29. 5 out of 5

    Danuta

  30. 4 out of 5

    Northside Classical

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