GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE

VOLUME 14, NUMBER 3

Published by GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS; 10201 YUMA COURT;

P.O. BOX 1586; MANASSAS, VA 20108; 703-369-5017    www.giftededpress.com

The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved (2003) by Todd Oppenheimer. Random House, New York.

Oppenheimer, an education journalist, covers the history of computers in education during the last thirty years and discusses many current problems in America's public schools caused by computer technology. His book includes a comprehensive and interesting account of the early educational uses of computers beginning in the 1980s at schools located in Silicon Valley, and at Stanford University with Professor Patrick Suppes' work on computer assisted instruction (CAI). Other major figures such as Professor Seymour Papert (LOGO programming) of MIT and Steve Jobs (Apple Computer) are discussed in fascinating detail. Throughout this book the author says that computers as currently used in most schools have caused more problems than they have solved because of poorly planned and implemented curricula, poor teacher training and an over-reliance on technology as the main instructional tool. The author describes educational computer applications in several different areas, e.g., inner city and rural education, corporate-public school partnerships used to purchase computers and train teachers and students, and teacher training through online instruction and technology workshops.

After studying the issue of educational computing for five years, visiting dozens of schools and interviewing numerous educators, Oppenheimer concludes that this technology has been overrated and in many cases detrimental to student learning. He stresses that high quality teaching and the investment in good school facilities are more important than the current obsession with computers as offering a panacea for the public schools' problems. This book suggests many topics regarding the effective use of computers in gifted education programs: (1) What are the characteristics of effective computer programs for gifted students? (2) How can gifted students learn to effectively use the internet to search for information and study new topics? (3) What is the proper balance between learning through interaction with the teacher and other students, and learning via computer programs and the internet? These are just a few of the questions that should be addressed to successfully use computers with gifted students.

"As I explored the way the ALL School and others use technology, it became clear that technology itself has sometimes caused this confusion; often, however, the prevalence of computers is simply an outgrowth of a school's general academic breakdown. In that respect, technology serves an oddly useful purpose-as a kind of red flag warning of deep, fundamental decay. Fortunately, as readers of this book will discover, remnants of education's sturdier traditions-practices that constitute real building blocks are still available. These traditions are now scattered through a random assortment of schools across the United States and other countries, like archaeological artifacts. With occasional modification, their example offers great hope for American education. In fact, a collage of these practices could open up a whole new direction in education policy-a turn to what might be called enlightened basics." (Introduction, xiii)

"I also hope that before schools sink much further into the computer world's unpredictabilities they at least attend to their basic responsibilities. Those obligations start with fixing leaky roofs and crumbling playgrounds and erecting enough buildings to offer uncrowded classrooms. They move on from there to include funding the many valuable curricular priorities visited throughout this book-music and the arts, books, physical education, field trips, 'wet' science laboratories, modern-day shop classes, additional teachers-all of which have been cut back to make way for technology. In today's rushed, work-oriented world, school is often the only place where students can engage in some of these experiences. Once our basic responsibilities on these fronts have been met, schools can begin thinking about computing-an activity, it should be remembered, that is clearly not in short supply outside of school. But here, too, educators should do their homework. No school has a right to stuff classrooms with computers unless it also has an equal amount of money set aside for smart teacher training and technical support. That support involves far more than mechanical maintenance. It also means at least one staff member who knows educational software thoroughly enough to help trusting teachers steer clear of the junk." (p. 403)

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science (2002) by Atul Gawande. Picador, New York.

Gawande originally wrote the essays in this book for The New Yorker and Slate online magazine while he was a surgical resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He follows the outstanding writing tradition of two other physicians and writers, Lewis Thomas and Sherwin Nuland, who have also provided exceptional accounts of modern medicine. As the son of two medical doctors, Gawande has been immersed in medical issues and practice since childhood when he and his sister waited in emergency rooms while their mother (a pediatrician) attended to patients.

Every essay has insightful accounts of different areas and issues - among them are Gawande's initial surgical training, his description of the feedback system established by surgeons to prevent mistakes, methods within the medical profession for stopping bad doctors, the study of pain, and surgical remedies for overeating. All of these accounts reveal Gawande's willingness to interact with patients in a humane manner and to follow them up after leaving the hospital. One of the best essays is the last one, "The Red Leg," the story of a young lady Gawande diagnosed as having "flesh eating Bacteria" (A Streptococcus) in her leg. She was saved by prompt and intelligent surgical intervention. The author also makes several insightful statements regarding talent, practice and performance in earlier parts of the book. Gifted Students interested in medical careers will find that Complications provides them with a real-life experience of current medical practice.

"Surgeons, as a group, adhere to a curious egalitarianism. They believe in practice, not talent. People often assume that you have to have great hands to become a surgeon, but it's not true. When I interviewed to get into surgery programs, no one made me sew or take a dexterity test or checked if my hands were steady. You do not even need all ten fingers to be accepted. To be sure, talent helps. Professors say every two or three years they'll see someone truly gifted come through a program-someone who picks up complex manual skills unusually quickly, sees the operative field as a whole, notices trouble before it happens. Nonetheless, attending surgeons say that what's most important to them is finding people who are conscientious, industrious, and boneheaded enough to stick at practicing this one difficult thing day and night for years on end. . . ." (p. 19)

". . .There have now been many studies of elite performers-international violinists, chess grand masters, professional ice-skaters, mathematicians, and so forth-and the biggest difference researchers find between them and lesser performers is the cumulative amount of deliberate practice they've had. Indeed, the most important talent may be the talent for practice itself. K. Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist and expert on performance, notes that the most important way in which innate factors play a role may be in one's willingness to engage in sustained training. He's found, for example, that top performers dislike practicing just as much as others do. (That's why, for example, athletes and musicians usually quit practicing when they retire.) But more than others, they have the will to keep at it anyway." (p. 20)

"Three decades of neuropsychology research have shown us numerous ways in which human judgment, like memory and hearing, is prone to systematic mistakes. The mind overestimates vivid dangers, falls into ruts, and manages multiple pieces of data poorly. It is swayed unduly by desire and emotion and even the time of day. It is affected by the order in which information is presented and how problems are framed. And if we doctors believed that, with all our training and experience, we escape such fallibilities, the notion was dashed when researchers put us under the microscope." (p. 238)

Looking for Shakespeare in the New York City Public Schools: A Study in Sensibility and Giftedness

By Michael E. Walters

Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools

This month (January 2005) I had the privilege of seeing my book, Teaching Shakespeare to Gifted Students, An Examination of the Sensibility of Genius (1990), demonstrated on the stage of an elementary school in the South Bronx, New York. Fifth and Sixth graders participated in Looking for Shakespeare, a program under the direction of The Knowledge Project (1998-), which concentrates upon literacy enrichment. This project uses the Humanities as one of the primary means of instruction. The leader and designer of The Knowledge Project is Margaret Hunnewell who is a veteran of the performing arts. She was a line producer for many films such as Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) and Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club (1984). She also worked with one of the greatest Italian film directors, Bernard Bertolucci, on a film entitled La Luna (1979). Her work in film involved story development and eventually led to her designing and managing the Children's Creative Writing Campaign (1994-). It was this endeavor that led to The Knowledge Project.

As a part of Looking for Shakespeare, Ms. Hunnewell hires playwrights to adapt works by Shakespeare and others so that they can be read, understood and performed by elementary and middle school students. I evaluated a rehearsal of The Tempest. The director and stage manager were recent graduates of Emerson College's theater arts program in Boston. The student intern-director is now studying at one of New York City's special high schools, The High School for the Performing Arts.

The fifth and sixth graders are volunteers for this project. They learn not only the themes of The Tempest but important communication arts associated with the play. The discipline required to perform this play reinforces an entire range of skills necessary for achieving literacy. Among these skills are practice, concentration and focus. What this rehearsal brought vividly to my attention was that enrichment activities can be an important vehicle for teaching skills necessary for passing state mandated tests.

The concepts of sensibility and giftedness are expressed not only by the students themselves but by the contributions of Ms. Hunnewell, the school's teaching staff (classroom and cluster teachers) and administrators. Ms. Hunnewell is a good example of a gifted individual whose sensibility can inspire students. The Looking for Shakespeare program represents the cultural continuity of the Humanities from Shakespeare's time to modern society. Programs such as this one can stimulate children to develop their sensibility and provide educators with a vehicle for identifying their giftedness.

Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright by Gifted Education Press, February-March 2005