Ignorance is not written on a CD-Rom

January 19, 1996

So: modern students find reading books irksome and challenging, finds Vincent Mitchell (THES, December 22). This is terrible news. It clearly requires a radical solution. Mitchell has one: books are "anachronistic" and should be replaced by computers.

This educational principle could be followed further. Many students find figures irksome and challenging. Innumeracy is obviously the wave of the future and university science departments must ride it. Who needs maths? Only an elite of mathematicians.

Then again, many young people find physical exercise irksome and challenging. Out, then, with sport and physical education degrees, and welcome the BSc in video games. Why stop at higher education? Many comprehensive school pupils find reading irksome and challenging. Let them develop their native skills by playing on computers. (After all, they will not need to read as adults - not at university anyway). Heavens, my five-year-old daughter already prefers drawing to writing.

To be serious for a moment, computers do not make books obsolete any more than the car makes walking obsolete or the telephone abolishes human contact. History is littered with the corpses of myopic visionaries like Vincent Mitchell who could see no further than the latest technology.

Mitchell's views clearly owe more to marketing (his own discipline) than to education, but they are not even sound marketing. What on earth do people want education for, if not for developing new capacities? Why is reading and writing the only skill to which Mitchell's twisted logic is applied? A misplaced fear of elitism, perhaps? If so, computers are a good deal more elitist than books. Higher education has many legitimate purposes; promoting a democracy of ignorance is not among them.

ROBERT POOLE St Martin's College, Lancaster

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