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Why computers have not saved the classroom

A new book says technology - from TV to the laptop - delivers less than hoped for by schools

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What impact has computer technology had on public education in the US? That's the question journalist Todd Oppenheimer sets out to answer in "The Flickering Mind."

Mr. Oppenheimer's conclusion: Putting computers in classrooms has been almost entirely wasteful, and the rush to keep schools up-to-date with the latest technology has been largely pointless.

"At this early stage of the personal computer's history, the technology is far too complex and error prone to be smoothly integrated into most classrooms," Oppenheimer writes. "While the technology business is creatively frantic, financially strapped public schools cannot afford to keep up with the innovations."

Of course, this is not the first time US schools have been seduced by new technology, Oppenheimer points out. He summarizes the history of technological innovations in American schools and explains how each (TV among them) has been hailed as education's savior.

And yet, despite technology's lack of success in US classrooms, many Americans still prefer to invest in computers rather than in teachers, Oppenheimer charges.

On the other hand, Oppenheimer cites Seymour Papert, a computer-science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who beats the drum for more technology and urges a revolutionized concept of school. "School has probably changed less than other major institutions," says Professor Papert. "The evidence that we got it right in school and got it wrong everywhere else is pretty slight."

While Papert's argument is at least debatable, Oppenheimer leaves any serious discussion of it behind to focus on the regrettable role of those he sees as charlatans in the computer and testing industries.

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