Blair featured in The Flickering Mind

Feb. 10, 2004, midnight | By Ellie Blalock | 16 years, 11 months ago

Author uses MCPS in discussion of technology in schools

Author Todd Oppenheimer profiled Blair and MCPS in his 2003 book The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved. The book is an evaluation of public education's attempts to remain current in the face of almost constant technological innovation.

Blair is profiled in chapter four: Money, Bureaucratic Perfection, and the Parenting Gap: Montgomery County, Maryland, which mentions the wide gap between Blair's advanced technology students and those enrolled in the regular program.

Oppenheimer decided to focus this chapter on Blair because it "enjoys both adequate funds and a wealth of administrative support" and is thus a good environment for the study of technology education.

The book mentions and quotes Magnet teacher Mark Curran, Technology Innovations teacher John Kaluta, and former librarian R B Lasco. The chapter mentions many recent technological accomplishments of Magnet students as well as students in the CAP, which competes in The Washington Post's "Crystal Ball Competition" during election years. CAP students use the Internet and research databases to predict candidates' potential success in state, local, and national elections. According to Oppenheimer, the CAP students' success in the competition brings attention to the effect of teacher and student attitude on the usefulness of technology education.

In Montgomery County, the annual budget for technology education is $33 million, or $250 a year for technology per student. This is more than twice the national average, so, as Oppenheimer states, "if computers aren't fulfilling public expectations at Blair, one has to wonder if such expectations can be met in any school."

These expectations have certainly been met in the Blair Magnet, where students engage daily in serious technological problem-solving and engineering tasks as well as advanced research projects. While Oppenheimer attributes much of the students' success to dedicated teachers and a firm grounding in the basics of math and computer science, he adds that "a lot of what makes [it] work is the inherent talent of the students themselves," who must pass difficult entrance exams to enroll in the Magnet.

However, the same achievements are not happening in Blair's on-level technology classes, where issues of resource scarcity often hold back students, even in such a well-funded school as Blair. Kaluta, who is interviewed by Oppenheimer in the book, is dissapointed with his students technological achievement. He in part blames large class sizes, and believes that a better grasp of the math fundamentals would help his students learn more in technology classes.

The same differences in achievement occur even in non-technology classes. Magnet Earth Science teacher Leslie Rogers and on-level Earth Science teacher George Herman also report differences in the amount and level of material they are able to cover.

Later in the chapter, Oppenheimer includes a discussion with data-systems administrator and ESOL director Joe Bellino, who also believes that students must have a solid fundamental understanding of math and science before they can move into more advanced technological learning.

The chapter concludes with a final complaint about public education's use of technology. Oppenheimer believes that often, schools only go halfway towards providing up-to-date computers that are common in "the real world." Since paying for constant updates is unrealistic, schools often become "dumping grounds" for old technology. These issues all contribute to the enormous conflicts involved in the integration of computers in schools, conflicts that must be overcome before technology can become a tool for, not a distraction from learning.

Oppenheimer, a freelance writer from San Francisco, has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Columbia Journalism Review and Mother Jones. Oppenheimer won the National Magazine Award for public interest reporting for a 1997 cover story for The Atlantic Monthly.

The Flickering Mind is available for $18.87 in hardback.

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Ellie Blalock. Ellie is a SENIOR in the CAP program at Blair. She enjoys such activities as traveling, being able to say "water" in six languages and having heart-to-heart chats with eccentric politicians. If you're in need of a laugh, please ask Ellie about her driving … More »

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