Computers as Tutors, by Dr. Bennett, ISBN 0-9669583-6-5

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Faben, Inc., go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $25.00

The premise on which Dr. Bennett's book is based essentially states that teacher interaction with students in the current incarnation of the U.S. public education system is fundamentally flawed; variously inadequate, uncaring and catering to the lowest common denominator. The flaws, as described by Dr. Bennett, are endemic to a system which promotes a general standard of quality as opposed to individual student achievement. It's an okay premise as far as it goes and Dr. Bennett certainly tears apart, in some detail, many of the wretched inequities and failures of the U.S. public education system.

As you read through the 220 page book, it becomes increasingly clear that while Dr. Bennett is skilled at pointing out all the terrible inadequacies of the current system, 'championing' obscurities such as "Spacing Effect", coining neat phrases and titles such as "Leader Teachers" and promoting unearned value for so-called "Learning Schools", he is less apt at providing organized details and specifications for the revolution of computers as tutors which he insists must be part of the wave of the future. This is not surprising if you consider that while Dr. Bennett's theories seem to be all too clear to himself, he simply seems unable to fully explain them, spending many pages insisting how wonderful things could be without providing the reader with any practical descriptions. Metaphors abound, along with hyperbole. Absent are practical replacements. Perhaps he wrote the book hoping it would attract some education consulting contracts? I can't say for sure.

The author understands that successful classroom use of computers requires a sea-change in thinking and attitude on the part of school boards and administrators. Such a change is only likely to come about when the majority of that group is populated by truly computer-literate individuals. The good doctor also understands that computers must be one entrenched item within the pantheon of educational tools, but the point is obscured by his endless lecturing and repetition of the obvious.

The point is that the book is long on criticism and short on practical and detailed solutions which can be implemented by current education administrations and human resources. It is also clear that while Dr. Bennett may have earned some success as a computer programmer and latter-day software developer, he proposes nothing with respect to hardware and software implementation and maintenance that hasn't already been tried. An overview of his general principles reveals the need to expend many billions of dollars in each region of the U.S., apparently just to build the infrastructure required to begin implementing what I think are his plans. In any event, it's difficult to say for sure because it's also evident that when Dr. Bennett wrote the book he may have had only a limited sense of the massive, intractable and expensive state of the current infrastructure. That fact, combined with the manner in which Dr. Bennett ignores how difficult it is (to this day) to establish stable interactive computing on a wide and maintainable scale across vast financial and geographical boundaries, renders most of the book's good points into little more than pie-in-the-sky idealism.

Cons: The fundamental premise behind any theory being propounded should most often be supported by provable fact and specification, or at least an understandable system of action, communication and structure in this case. It's all absent from this book, examples from other countries (which have little bearing on the needs of the immensely varied U.S. student demographic) and a few narrowly construed U.S.-based experiments notwithstanding.

Pros: Dr. Bennett clearly elucidates many of the basic problems (and a few of the more complex ones) in the U.S. public education system. If you want to read this book, look for it online through the publisher's links or at your local bookseller.

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