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Are Computers the Problem or the Solution?

David Gelernter is no Luddite. Indeed, he is a professor of computer science at Yale University. According to his biographical statement at Yale’s Web site, his current interests include “information management, parallel programming, software ensembles and artificial intelligence.” This man is not resistant to technology.

Nevertheless, he refuses to get on the bandwagon for the use of computers in education. As a matter of fact, he argues that if computers are used too much, learning suffers.

In “Misinformation Age: More Computers, Less Learning,” published in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, he presses his point.

Consider his introductory paragraph: We are supposed to be living in the “Information Age.” If we are, exactly what topic are people so well–informed about? Video games? The same experts who know for sure that we are in mid–Information Age take it for granted that young people are colossally uninformed. And young people are more likely than anyone else to spend long hours beating their way happily through the dense, trackless electronic jungle. They grow up with computers, the web, cell phones, hundreds of cable TV channels, and digital electronics in countless forms.

Nevertheless, they are not well informed about current events, important news stories, or many other matters of significance.

His article deserves a respectful reading. His conclusion should be posted on the door of every classroom:

The most important solution to the problematic Information Age has nothing to do with the web. Eventually we will get over the idea that playing with computers and the Internet is inherently virtuous. Schools ought to take the same line on web–browsing as they do on poker; it can be profitable if you’re lucky, but do it on your own time. It’s true that some schools have made sound educational use of computers and software. But my guess is that, on balance, American schools would do better if they junked their Macs and PCs and let students fool around somewhere else. Schools should be telling students to read books, not play with computers.