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 He loves them so much he even converted his old outdated Macintosh into an aquarium rather than put it out with the trash.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.)
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