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Computers Aren't Cure-All, but They Can Do Some Educational Tasks Better Than Teacher

December 30, 1990

Michael Schrage's tirade includes so much misinformation that the validity of his conclusion was probably lost.

He accurately assessed the error of computer junkies' obsession with the machines as education's panacea. The problem is exacerbated by the hype that computer skills must be taught if the work force is to be "competitive in the global, technologically driven economy." Computerphobia is the greatest impediment of technology. But the generation born in the 1960s was the last to have computerphobes in large numbers.

Though they are attractive to students, it will be years before machines with the capability to interact comprehensively with students will be available at reasonable costs. Beyond costs is the question of desirability.

I manage a computer lab and I believe that students should always be grouped at computers, never interacting alone with the machine.

Computer labs are rarely given the extras that Schrage associates with them: "teaching assistants, community volunteers, software company representatives and bright-eyed graduate students." These extras are generally assigned to the classrooms based on need determined by class size, teacher proficiency, etc.

Both Schrage's examples of technological failure are probably wrong. I believe that language labs and calculators are successful, but often are incorrectly applied (or not used at all in the case of calculators). I am a product of the language lab, and I'm extremely comfortable with my knowledge of German as a result. I wish more teachers had the foresight to see the freedom from tedium calculators offer.

Using the SAT as a reference point indicates Schrage's misunderstanding of that test. The SAT is not based on enduring standards of performance, but changes in content depending on the scores on previous exams. It essentially gets tougher as time goes on. To accommodate the "best" performers, it creates a larger gap between the "best" and the rest of us.

Schrage states that computers "don't quite fit into the hurly-burly interactions of a class filled with 25 children of different talents and temperaments." Not true. They fit quite well--even in classes of up to 40 children.

Great programs exist that teach basic skills such as writing and access vast quantities of information in minimal time--the primary consideration for the use of the computer.

K. KAMAU SMITH

Mt. Vernon Jr. High School

Los Angeles

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