Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 17 / OCTOBER 1981 / PAGE 16

Reader's Feedback

"With reference to "The World Computer," poor Mr. Dejong. He is not the first and certainly not the last person to have trouble loading a program. His real problem, however, is not software, but his perception of the entire microcomputer industry. The implication that this industry has moved out of its infancy and is maturing, or worse, has matured, is not supported by real world conditions. For example, I sold my first APPLE computer in the fall of 1976, a mere 5 years ago, a time when people didn't know APPLES from oranges (pardon the pun). BASIC was the only language, software was virtually non-existent, peripherals were few and far between, and computer literacy was a term that hadn't been coined yet. Since then great strides have been made in the field of languages, software, hardware and education, but, in spite of this progress, the industry is only approaching its infancy. Second generation computers like the ATARI, the VIC-20, the APPLE III and others from such giants as IBM and XEROX are proof of this. All of these units have expanded on the foundations laid by APPLE, Radio Shack, and others.

The driving force behind this creative work is not universality, but diversity. The opportunity to come up with a better idea, the ability to design and market a more powerful machine or program or peripheral supplies the incentive to change. The prospects of a "world computer" as described by Mr. Dejong are horrifying! First is the problem of design, with so many hands in the pie it would either end up an electronic eunuch or have so many bells, gongs and whistles that it would be frightfully expensive or be a nightmare to operate (or both).

How about an operating language? Do you use BASIC, COBOL, CP/M, SMALL TALK, FORTRAN, FORTH, or should they all be dumped in favor of a totally new language? If the latter, what happens to all the existing software? What happens to the "world computer" if the design is improved? Should any such changes be 100% compatible with older units, thus draining innovations of their potential? Lastly, why even have an APPLE, ATARI, COMMODORE, TRS-80, or any such multitude of manufacturers if, for all intents and purposes, all the machines are cast in the same mold? We could have one large, inefficient firm cranking out "generic" computers, complete with label-less white boxes. The possibility is simply too monstrous to consider seriously!" — Vern L. Mastel

"Concerning Mr. Thornburg's "rebuttal" to my article, it was never my intention to sell "drill" type programs to anyone. The whole point of the article was to allow the teacher to teach. And then use the computer to help him with his job. My remarks concerning games were asides. They were not specifically germane to the major premise of the article, except to this extent: in practice, games too often surplant meaningful work with computers in the public schools. This is even true in colleges.

Games certainly have their place in learning. Any teacher knows that. And I would suspect that this is especially true in the home environment, where the number of computers available for the task is not an overriding consideration. My high school, however, has the use of only one computer for all of mathematics and science. We simply cannot afford games. And unless a particular school is especially affluent, neither can the average public school.

Now about drill: here again, I was — shall we say — misunderstood. It is my contention that if basic skills are acquired as a result of computer games, it is precisely because the program had in some way made drill palatable. These are the only games in Computer Aided Instruction, (CAI,) that to me are of any consequence. These are precisely the games Mr. Thornburg decries. The "Star Treks and "Othellos" that are played and toyed with in school are the domain of the very fine students. These latter have no need of CAI. I teach them computer programming.

The notion that drill "turns a student off" was also not my idea. Quite the reverse. I was quoting the pedagogues; that pervasive philosophic tilt in education generally attributed to John Dewey, which has produced what promises to be the least educated generation in the history of this country. It is exemplified by what is sometimes called "The Sesame Street Syndrome," the notion that something of consequence — aside from various vulgarities — can be derived from a school atmosphere of fun and games.

I teach Title I classes in remedial mathematics. If there is one common thread that unites all these students — aside from their inability to do basic arithmetic — it is their almost universal lack of personal discipline. Nobody has ever required them to do anything of consequence, certainly not in academics. There is absolutely nothing theoretical about their needs. They need to be "told," first. Then they need to acquire skills; much of it by-rote type skills like multiplication and addition facts. We provide those skills. We do it with drill, individualized and scored, with the computer helping to make it all possible. Standing over it all is the most important ingredient of all — the teacher, flesh and blood type, with all the attributes of patience, concern and even empathy for his students, that brought him to the profession." — Alfred D'Attore