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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #83      A Publication of The Nature Institute      January 19, 1999
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Editor's Note
    Quotes and Provocations
       Trust Me: I'm Vulnerable
       How to Beef Up Your Infant's Knowledge Base
       Imagining a Better Potato
       When Technology is Smoke and Confusion
    Letter from Des Moines (Lowell Monke)
       Wired Schools, Broken Trust
       Does NETFUTURE Hold to a Masculine Standard? (Rebecca Lynn Eisenberg)
       Response to Rebecca Eisenberg (Stephen L. Talbott)
    Announcements and Resources
       The Monsanto Files
    About this newsletter
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    One of the stranger notions in modern journalism is that every bit of
    commentary, in order to be relevant, must be given a tie-in to some kind
    of "breaking news".  I hardly need to tell you that this is not the policy
    of NETFUTURE.  Rather, the truth and importance of an item, together with
    the likelihood that it contains something fresh for most readers, is what
    I require.  That's why, for example, the current issue summarizes and
    comments on an "ancient" story from last October's New York Times
    That's also why I often do not report "breaking news" such as the
    Carnegie-Mellon study on Net use and depression or the recent Educational
    Testing Service study about the effectiveness of computers in teaching
    math to fourth and eighth graders.  As these studies pile up by the
    hundreds, they do little to affect the attitudes of knowledgeable people
    -- and for good reason.  They give nice, precise numbers that no one has a
    clue about interpreting.  The imbalance between statistic-gathering, on
    the one hand, and conceptual profundity, on the other, is so great in
    contemporary social science that almost the only responsible thing for any
    investigator to do is to work at clarifying and deepening concepts.  One
    needs to struggle to see things in different ways -- even though every
    such alternative view effectively scrambles all the data gathered from
    previous vantage points.
    Take, for example, the computer's use in math education.  What exactly is
    the comprehension, what are the skills, we are trying to teach?  You'll
    recall the piece in NF #80 ("Toddlers as Geometricians") where I cited
    John Alexandra's remark:
       We may think ... that we need to get children to memorize the idea that
       a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.  But even
       one-year-old children already know this:  when frightened, they will
       run to their parents in the straightest of