What? A school without computers?

Clifford Stoll loves computers. But he doesn't want kids anywhere near them. At least, not in school.

The astronomer/computer jock/author of bestsellers on the computer industry has one comment about the rush to wire schools: Enough already. The way America's love of computers is playing out in classrooms has him more than a little frustrated.

Stoll writes in "High Tech Heretic" (Doubleday) that he'd rather see a child push a pencil or a high-schooler do a chemistry lab than tackle a similar task the virtual way. The reason? It's more likely that the students (and the teachers) are actively thinking about what they're doing.

Mr. Stoll has my attention - aside from the fact that his new book is an often funny and acerbic look at the new computer priesthood. A few years ago, my then-fifth-grader had to do some drawing for a project. The art, he announced, would come from a computer program. It was better than what he could create, he said - and he'd get a better grade for using the computer.

I didn't agree - but I understood. Kids were turning in reports worthy of college fund-raising brochures, with precooked pie charts and museum-quality maps. No one seemed to question how long they'd retain information they got from a quick search and a push of the "print" button.

As Stoll argues, kids will always figure out computers. And they should. There are, of course, many good uses for the tools. But teachers often lack computer skills, meaning kids may type a lot, or get stuck with meaningless exercises. Until that changes, the jury's still out on the latest in educational must-haves.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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