The Public Interest

Computers don’t help

David Skinner

Spring 2002

WHY one revolution failed to occur can be as hard to understand as why another took place. But not in the case of the failed revolution described in Larry Cuban’s book Underused and Oversold: Computers in the Classroom, † a revolution that aimed to transform American education through the computer. Representatives from the highest reaches of business, politics, and the academy all promised fundamental change. Leaders who promoted the use of computers in the classroom included President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, IBM CEO Lewis Gerstner, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and many others. But what exactly they hoped to achieve was often hard to discern, as the differences among competing agendas vanished behind a public consensus that these machines should be purchased, installed in classrooms, and connected to the Internet as soon as possible.  So many perceived the revolution as inevitable that little effort was spent trying to explain or justify it.

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