Friday, November 6, 2009

My Time at Lincoln High School...


Once upon a time, computers were a new paradigm in schools, in libraries, out in the world we knew. I recently bought a phone/address book from radio shack for fifteen dollars that boasted an enormous amount of memory compared to the Apple II+ to which I was introduced in 1981. It would be two years before my mother would buy me the Commodore Vic-20. My friend, Howard would get a Commodore 64, and groups with 1200/2400 BAUD modems would be assembling bulletin board services.

Times were fun for people now able to establish relationships with BBS's, and the pre Internet world of online chat was born. But, with this infantile world of information being digitized and sent over phone lines, one man found a computerized machine, and he found an important application for it. With a trunk line installed in his home, and a box attached to his phone with a companion box attached to another phone line in the office of his client.

He says his first client was Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose, California. They purchased from him a specialized computer that nightly would compile a list of students names and phone numbers. The computer then would call the homes of students, one by one, informing the person answering the phone that their student had missed one or more classes that day, and that the absence needed to be cleared.

He seems like such a nice guy. He spoke to me about all the ADA money that a school loses for every unexcused absence. This business of absences leads us back to the ultimate issue which is money. Every student absence lost the school fifteen dollars in government funding. Considering how many students stay home sick every month, that can add up to a large amount of money, even today.

Still, I am thinking about production loss. I am thinking about how many productive hours are lost across the board by these students that could have been studying, practicing sports, working on a play script, or enjoying quality time with family. Instead, many of these students were put in the position of hovering near the telephone, waiting to intercept that unnecessary phone call.

Anyway, the discussion also involved the technology, this little black box in the attendance office was programmed daily with all the numbers to call. By modem, this information found its way to this man's house, and all the calls were made. It is silly to recall there were times that even mild-mannered, conformist me had opportunity to anticipate such a phone call. I even remember when my mother chose to ignore my lame excuse about the fallibility of computers when she did catch the phone before me.

I am grateful to have not cut class too much in my high school years. I just wonder how many times I could say "it is probably a computer glitch" and not sit in despair over my parents' disapproval. Since I mentioned this, I have heard from many fellow students who relayed their own memories of those calls. I have to ask myself how much anxiety could have been avoided if students just did not cut class.

Well, that is a ridiculous thought!
Thank you for reading.

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