commodorecomputerBack in the 1980’s kids didn’t grow up with computers.  Only the most affluent or tech savvy households had computers.  But it was obvious that the growing importance of computers was requiring schools to ensure that their students had at least a basic aptitude in computers.  This is a very interesting article from the 1984 Science publication and talks about how schools began to implement computer science programs.

Computer literacy embodies a set of skills, variously defined. In general, a computer literate person knows the parts of a computer and what they do, has learned to operate a few of the more popular programs, and can write some elementary programs, usually in the language called Basic.

Courses offering to teach these skills have popped up everywhere. In the San Francisco Bay area alone there are more than 500, not including the public schools. Local business institutes offer night classes to ambitious workers; museums promote hands-on computer projects for kids; four-year-olds at private preschools receive computerized tutoring. Major computer manufacturers encourage the busy march toward self-improvement. Tandy, which makes Raido Shack computers, runs a national program to introduce teachers to computers. Atari has a chain of summer computer camps. Apple has gotten a state tax break by donating a computer to every public and private school in California.

Similar proposals at the national level would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax breaks.

What the computer literacy movement seems to be mostly enriching is it backers: sellers of computers and computer programs; promoters of retraining courses for workers and teachers; and writers and publishers of the industry’s books and magazines. Last year, for example, U.S. schools spent nearly $500 million on personal computers and programs.

“I see computer literacy as the New Math of the 1980s,” says Daniel McCracken, professor of computer science at the City College of New York, author of well over a dozen textbooks on computer languages and former president of the Association for Computing Machinery, a professional organization for computer scientists. “I suggest that we might save a lot of wasted opportunity to do more useful things if we were to pinch this one off before it has a chance to get well rooted.”

Pinching it off won’t be easy.

In a catchy ad by Program Design, Inc. for “Baby’s First Software,” for example, a confident toddler stares out at the reader and his future. “Your child becomes part of the action, while acquiring new skills,” the ad proclaims. The Children’s Television Workshop, which created Sesame Street, now is pushing Enter, a new computer magazine for children 10 to 16. “The computer is as basic to your child’s life and lifestyle as paper was to yours and mine,” states a letter to parents. “And learning computer skills is (not will be) as fundamental as learning to read and write was to you and me…you can consider these to be overstatements, but only at your youngster’s peril.” In a commercial for Commodore computers a college freshman returns home in disgrace. If his parents had bought a Commodore in the first place, suggests the voice-over, this never could have happened. Out of school? It’s not too late. “Learn: computer programming or computer operations. Take the First Step…Now!” reads a newspaper ad for the Computer LEarning Center, a business institute in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.”

Menosky, Joseph A., and Geoffrey Moss. “Computer worship.” Science ’84 5 (1984): 40+.


It’s very interesting, isn’t it?  It’s crazy to see how far technology has come, and it’s also very exciting to think about what computers of the future will be like.