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High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian Hardcover – October 19, 1999

3.9 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Clifford Stoll loves computers. He loves them so much he even converted his old outdated Macintosh into an aquarium rather than put it out with the trash. What this veteran programmer and self-made social critic doesn't love, however, is "the cult of computing"--the "blind faith that technology will deliver a cornucopia of futuristic goodies without extracting payment in kind."

In particular, Stoll hates the way computer cultists have infiltrated America's schools, and in High Tech Heretic--a straight-talking, fast-moving broadside of a book--he aims every argument in his arsenal at the widespread belief that computers are the greatest educational invention since chalk. While he's at it, he also takes some potshots at the hype about virtual community, the Internet economy, and the death of the book, as well as the scourges of buggy software, ugly hardware, and PowerPoint.

Stoll's contrarianism is so wide-ranging he sometimes flails as he rushes to keep up with himself. But for the most part he hits his targets dead on. Stoll's chatty style and cracker-barrel wit (both of which occasionally grate) seem tailored to convince you he's just talking home-spun common sense, yet he's obviously done his research. Whether he's quoting Thomas Edison's predictions for that great educational tool, "the motion picture" ("in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks") or breaking down the grim budgetary implications of the high-tech school system (more computers means fewer teachers, music rooms, and books), Stoll's choice factual details--and spirited indignation--blow holes in the pretensions of the digital age. --Julian Dibbell

From Publishers Weekly

Stoll's first book, The Cuckoo's Egg, an exhilarating account of how he brought down a ring of computer hackers, was a 1989 bestseller. By 1995's Silicon Snake Oil, he'd become a digital apostate. He reiterates many of the points made in his second book here, focusing on the increasingly widespread use of computers in nurseries, preschools, classrooms and libraries. Throwing down the gauntlet in his introduction, he states, "I believe that a good school needs no computers. And a bad school won't be much improved by even the fastest Internet links. That a good teacher can handle her subject without any multimedia support.... That students, justifiably, recognize computer assignments primarily as entertainment, rather than education." In the first half of the book, he explains and justifies these beliefs: computers are expensive, quickly become obsolete and require maintenance by an expensive technical staff, usually paid for by eliminating other services (e.g., money for Internet connectivity sometimes comes from library budgets). He contends that computers and calculators work against familiarity with numbers, learning basic arithmetic and an understanding of algebra. Distance learning is a high-tech successor to correspondence schools, and neither has the impact or fascination of live courses, he believes. Stoll takes society's responsibility to educate children seriously, but his excessively anecdotal approach weakens his arguments, which would have been bolstered by a short bibliography. Still, there is much useful ammunition here for parents who share Stoll's views. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (October 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385489757
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489751
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,148,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Clifford Stoll's worries about the (mis)use of computers in education ring true. Like him I am no computer Luddite and, as a university teacher, make extensive use of computers. However, he is right, there is no substitute for a certain amount of hard slog when it comes to learning. A lot of multimedia software attempts to make learning fun and there is nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn't trivialise the learning process.
There is much of value in this book but for me the most important part was Stoll's thoughts on the differences between hypertext and "real" text and just how detrimental an effect those differences can have on the reading habits and abilities of young people. I also enjoyed Stoll's exposé of the eagerness, at many levels of government throughout the United States, to install technology at any cost. This demonstrates a lack of understanding among officials who should know better. Often, it seems, the funding of technology in schools becomes a political gambit.
Stoll points out that there is little need to emphasise the learning of technology within the curriculum, especially at the expense of other subjects, because young people pick it up so easily anyway. I think it wouldn't be too strong to say that he views a large part of the US policy on computers in schools as crazy. He puts a lot of strong arguments to support this view.
This book is easy to read and it will certainly give you a lot to think about. It is worth reading (if you aren't too busy surfing the web).
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Format: Hardcover
Stoll shares his skeptical and sometimes cynical view on the use of computer technology in education and society in general.
I found the part on education a bit repetitous and thought that Stoll could have shortened it after the first couple of chapters he tried to make his point (or condense into less chapters). The part on computer technology and society is more general and covers several loose topics (PowerPoint and the grey mass of presentations with non-essential gadgetery!)
His insight is refreshing and somewhat daring in a time you seemingly should not speak 'against' computer technology: It sometimes feels you are either on or off in the current trends regarding the Web and computers in general. Stoll simply asks questions on the blind use of computer technology and makes us think about it (I happen to agree with him a lot), but he isn't against it: he also thinks there are a lot of good uses but computer technology should not become the goal, only a means to get where we want to go.
Unfortunately, I found commentaries like "Uh, right." below the level of competence of Stoll as a writer. He explains and tells other stuff so well, so he should not have to fall back on short (cheap) comments like that.
I give 3 points for the book (it is not great nor badly written; well above average) and 1 point for the refreshing and daring view on computer technology.
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Format: Hardcover
Maybe this is not the right forum to discuss a book that debunks the internet, but I presume that you have enough sense to read between the lines here as with Stoll's book.
More than his writing style, I enjoyed his perspicacious understanding of how computers and everything related to high tech has radically changed our society and individual lives. For some odd reason, we never challenge new gadgetry, we just assimilate it. But for everything we gain, we lose something.
I particularly enjoyed the first half of his book, in which he challenges using computers in our public schools. It is a high cost, low benefit formula. (Read Jane Healy's books, Failure To Connect and Endangered Minds, if you want to follow-up on this topic.)
In the second half of his book, he rattles technology in general, and although his tone sounds at times like the whiny Andy Rooney, his message needs to be heard, particularly his chapter on Library management.
If the title appeals to you, you will like the book; he's a radical from the inside. This book should be a companion to Bill McKibbon's The Age of Misinformation and Jerry Mander's In The Absence Of The Sacred.
This is a quick, scatalogical read, friends, and worth it.
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Format: Hardcover
Non-conformist Cliff Stoll, previously having taken on computer hackers and silicon valley, points his street-wise chatter sites on the educational use of computers. Stoll is concerned that the computer has drained resources instead of providing quality education. While admittedly a big user of computers (even to the point of keeping his old Mac for a fishtank, which is admittedly also being a recycler instead of a waste generator) Stoll finds numerous examples of the use of computers which does not enhance the learning environment. He intersperses his own anecdotes with quotes from seasoned educators. In the end, you have a humorous rendition of a serious matter, namely, how much better learning by our youth is being accomplished by the reliance on the computer and its web-based technologies, as opposed to instilling in our youth an earnest desire to comprehend the world within which they live. Not to mention the ability to think for one's self.
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