The CPSR Newsletter
Volume 12, No. 2 COMPUTER PROFESSIONALS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY Spring 1994
COMPUTERS AND EDUCATION
COMPUTERS AND THE DESKILLING OF TEACHING
NH IN EDUCATION: ACCESS ISN'T ENOUGH
CAN'T WE EDUCATE ALL OUR CHILDREN?
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF EDUCATIONAL COMPUTING
MULTIMEDIA: A LIMITING TECHNOLOGY OR A CHANCE FOR CHANGE?
COSTS AND BENEFITS OF COMPUTERS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
CLIPPER: GOVERNMENT SPONSORED, GOVERNMENT COMPROMISED ENGRYPTION
Technology in Education: Everybody's Business
In this issue of the CPSR Newsletter we focus on education. As computer professionals, we need to be
concerned about what happens in education for two reasons. One is that technology is increasingly used
as a tool in educational settings. The other is that education is essential in our increasingly
The articles in this newsletter focus largely on the ways in which technology is used in education and
how it affects those involvedÑteachers, students, institutions, and society as a whole. Even so, we've
had to limit our focus to the learning that happens in schools, ignoring less formal educational settings,
such as libraries, community centers, homes, workplaces, end Job training centers.
The articles cover topics that are receiving a lot of press today, but with a perspective, often critical,
that is missing in the mainstream press. We've seen enough articles that get us excited about the
tremendous potential that technology offers in the educational realm: .
CPSR's role, however, is to go beyond the hype, acting as a watchdog. So, in this newsletter, Michael
Apple discussses how technology negatively affects the profession of teaching. In a brief report
summarizing some current Internet-based projects, Philip Bell and I point out a few things that we
need to watch out for when it comes to the use of the National Information Infrastructure
(NII) in education. Hank Bromley warns about how technology use in education can often reproduce
inequities in society. For those who are hearing all about multimedia, Brian Harvey points out how,
counter to what it may seem, multimedia can actually be very limiting. Christopher Hoadley and Sherry
Hsi provide a counterpoint to Brian's article, but in doing so provide their own warnings about how
educators need to approach this technology. Finally, Marsha Woodbury spells out both the benefits and
costs of using computers in higher education.
Far from throwing our hands up in despair, however, there are plenty of things that CPSR members
can do if we're concerned about education. As Mike Brand et al. stress in their article in this issue, it is
urgent that we educate all our children, and this can only be done if we stop distributing educational
resources so unfairly. CPSR/Berkeley's A Computer and Information Technologies Platform (1992)
We reaffirm that quality education is a basic human right. We call for full funding for education
through the university level to insure that everyone obtains the education they need to participate in
and contribute to the "Information Age. " Education must remain a public resource. .. . The public
education system must provide students with access lo computers as well as the critical and analytical
tools necessary to understand, evaluate and use new technologies.
Beyond the ever important goal of working towards equality, here are some specific suggestions for
action, contributed by CPSR members Rick Crawford, Brian Harvey, Jeff Johnson, Aki Namioka,
Marsha Woodbury, and BMUG member Gretchen Brewer:
Raise consciousness. Start by understanding the issues yourself. Read the articles in this newsletter,
and other places. Always read critically! Don't let the media, politicians, administrators, or anyone else
get away with promoting simplistic technological fixes to educational problems. Try to make sure that
technology is used in responsible ways. Find out if your state has a statewide plan for technology, and
try to influence its development. Write letters to the editor. Attend public school board meetings. Talk
to parents and others in the community about your concerns.
Donate equipment to schools. There are organizations that will make sure your donated computer gets to
a school that can use it. If you want to donate directly to your local school, don't get angry if your offer
is rejectedÑthe school may not be able to make use of your particular computer because it's too old,
because it is incompatible with equipment they already have, or because they're lacking the technical
support to make use of it. It's often better to donate via an organization that matches equipment to needs.
Some examples: Detwiler Foundation is working with the California Department of Education to place
donated computers in schools. Call (619) 456-9045. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Computer
Recycling Center (415-428-3700) takes donations of computers and peripherals and places them in
Volunteer in a school or other learning institution. Oftentimes technology isn't used because teachers
lack necessary support. There are a variety of levels at which you can offer to help, such as setting up
equipment, advising on hardware and software purchases, providing ongoing technical support, or
teaching students or teachers about technology with which you are familiar.
Right now, many classrooms need help getting on the Internet. Some states, including Texas, North
Dakota, Virginia, Florida, and California, provide low-cost or free connections for schools, but often
specific schools and teachers don't know about it, or how to take advantage of it.
Again, there are organizations that are great for matching up your technological skills with existing
needs. Some examples: The CoNECT project, in the Boston area can use | volunteers at all levels of
participation; volunteer coordination is being taken care of by Vivienne Begg of the ACM, who is also
collecting names of volunteers who want to I work in schools outside the Boston area. Contact
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, consider volunteering to help outside of schools. Check out the
"Community Computer l Center" movement: read Peter Miller's article in the Fall 1993 issue of the
CSPR/Newsletter (Volume 1 1, No. 3). (He's got a listing of Community Computing Centers
And don't overlook volunteering to use your non-technological skills. We need people to teach literacy
more than we need people to teach computer literacy.
Help students prepare for jobs. Visit the school and give a presentation on what your job is and what
your company does. Invite students to visit your workplace. Set up partnerships between your
company and a local school. Most valuable: take on apprentices; give a teenager an opportunity to do real
We all know the importance of education to society. Let's all do something about it.
Computers and the Deskilling of Teaching
by Michael W. Apple
John Bascom Professor of Education The University of Wisconsin, Madison
We are repeatedly told that unless we have a "technologically literate" work force we will ultimately
become outmoded economically. This has created immense pressure on schools to quickly, and often
relatively unreflectively, get large numbers of computers in schools and to institute 'computer
literacy" classes for their students. Yet, as I have shown in both 'reachers and Texts (Routledge, 198X)
and Official KnowIedge (Routledge, 1993), not only are these economic claims more than a little
inaccurate, the proposals for a technological future in schools have little understanding of some of the
most major negative consequences of such a technological fix, especially on the lives of teachers.
A helpful way of thinking about these consequences is to employ the concepts of deskilling and
intensification These concepts signify a complex historical process in which the control of labor has
altered, one in which the skills that workers have developed over many years are broken down and
reduced to their atomistic units, automated, and redefined by management to enhance profit levels,
efficiency, and control. In the process, the employee's control over timing, over defining the most
important way to do a task, and over the criteria that establish acceptable performance, are slowly
taken over as the prerogatives of management personnel who are usually divorced from the place where
the actual labor is carried out. Loss of control on the part of the employee is almost always the result.
Pay is often lowered. And the Job itself increasingly becomes exactly thatÑjust a jobÑas it becomes
routinized, boring, and alienating as conception is separated from execution and more and more aspects
of jobs are rationalized to bring them into line with management's "need" for increased
"accountability," control. and "cost effectiveness."
These processes are not limited to what have been called working class positions. The separation of
conception from execution, for example, has expanded rapidly into professional labor as well. Let us
take as a prime instance the aforementioned pressure to bring the unbridled benefits of the new
technology into the classrooms of America. Given these kinds of pressures, what may happen to teachers
if the new technology continues to be pushed into schools in an uncritical way?
One of the major effects of the current (over) emphasis on technologizing classrooms may be the
deskilling and depowering of a considerable number of teachers. Given the already heavy workload of
planning, teaching, meetings, and paperwork for most teachers, and given the fiscal crisis that is
having such a negative impact on so many school districts throughout the country, it is probably wise to
assume that very few teachers will actually be given more than a tiny amount of training in computers,
programming, their positive and negative social effects, and so on. This will be especially the case in
our elementary schools where teachers are already teaching a wide array of subjects. Research
indicates in fact that few teachers in any school district are actually given substantial information
before computer curricula are implemented. Often only one or two teachers are the resident "experts."
Because of this, most teachers have to rely on pre-packaged sets of material, existing software, and
specifically purchased material from the scores of software manufacturing firms that aggressively
market their products, the vast majority of which have quite questionable educational merit.
All of this is happening in a time when teachers' labor has become "intensified." There is ever more to
do as widespread economic and social problems are given over to the school to supposedly solve. Thus,
time is at a premium. Time to evaluate these purchased computer programs and even to learn how to use
them is nearly nonexistent.
The impact of this can be striking. What is happening is the exacerbation of trends we have begun to see
in a number of nations. Instead of teachers having the time and the skill to do their own curriculum
planning and deliberation, they become the isolated executors of someone else's plans, procedures, and
evaluative mechanisms. In industrial teens (and we need to remember that like many other
professionals. teachers are workers employed by the state), this is an aspect of the transformations of
the paid labor process I noted earlierÑthe separation of conception from execution.
This reliance on prepackaged softwareÑwithout either the thne or resources to sufficiently evaluate its
real educational worthÑcan have a number of long term effects. It can cause a decided loss of Important
skills and dispositions on the part of teachers. When the skills of local curriculum planning, on which
so much of progressive, community based, and culturally responsive pedagogy is based, are not used
they can tend to atrophy. The tendency to constantly look to one's own or one's colleagues' historical
experience about curriculum and pedagogy is considerably lessened as most major parts of the
curriculum, and the teaching and evaluative practices that surround it, are viewed as something one
purchases. Substantive skills, including the ability to design relevant experiences for those students
who are least likely to find a culturally responsive curriculum in schools, are lost through lack of use
over time. And in the processÑand this is very importantÑthe school itself is transformed even more
into a lucrative market as all manner of material is introduced. While the situation has improved in the
last ten years since the following statement was issued by the director of software evaluation of one of
the largest school systems in the United States, his claim that of the more than 10,000 computer
programs currently available less than 200 are educationally significant still has power. The effects of
this on students, as well as on the labor process of their teachers, has not been given the attention that
My point in these brief comments is not to take a neo-luddite position. There are many interesting,
socially critical, and pedagogically creative uses to which computers can be put in schools throughout
the country. Rather, I want to argue in the strongest possible terms that unless we situate the
introduction of this technology back into the social reorganization of the labor processes that many
professional employees are now experiencing, we may be reproducing some of its most deleterious
effects into schools. Teachers and students are too important to let this go on uncritically.
VOLUME 12, No. 2 The CPSR Newsletter SPRING 1994
NII in Education: Access Isn't Enough
by Philip Bell and Judith Stern
University of California at Berkeley
"For every complex question, there is a simple answer and it's wrong. "
ÑH. L. Mencken
Everybody, especially CPSR, is talking about the NII. What then are the NII-related issues for
education? Access is obviously the primary (and most often cited) concern. It is clear that we must
ensure that the information resources are made available to all schools. However, it is equally
important not to confuse "equal access to information" with "equal learning potential." Educational and
cognitive research definitively show that pedagogy is not that simple.
As always, there is a danger that technology will be seen as the solution to our most pressing and
complex problems. This invariably leads to band-aid treatments for very deep wounds. As politically
and socially unpalatable as it obviously is: complex problemsÑwith education being about as complex as
they comeÑnecessitate comprehensive and complex solutions. For example, the following (taken from a
recent newspaper article) presents a potential application of NII technology:
A single physics teacher beamed by satellite or as blips of light on a fiber channel could provide
university-quality education to all the 11th grade students in Texas. Teacher's aides on site could help
students study for tests; telephones, video cameras and computers could allow for direct interaction
with the physics superstar. The courts would get the equality of education they want, because students
in the poorest districts would get exactly the same lesson as those in the richest. (emphasis added)
Here we have a scenario where it is assumed that technology can single-handedly solve a very serious
problem we have in this countryÑeducational inequity. The author demonstrates a lack of
understanding, not about the technology involved, but about education. Learning does not occur simply
by presenting and testing on the "correct" materialÑeven if the presenter is a "superstar." It is
important to realize that children are not blank slates into which we can pour information. Research
clearly shows that students bring initial conceptions to the classroom based on their individual life
experiences. Working with these initial conceptions presents the bridging opportunity for showing
students how school subjects relate to their own livesÑthereby keeping them interested, involved, and
learning in a more robust and integrated fashion. Learning occurs when students actively build upon
their own knowledge and cooperatively interact with peers and teachers. This student-centered and
inquiry-based approach to education (usually labeled "constructivism") then becomes part of the
necessary fabric for weaving a technological approach to education. It dramatically changes the tenor of
that approach and is also dependent upon factors extending beyond the technology as well.
Of course, many social and economic factors must be taken into account. Referring back to the NII
example, sending a video image of a great teacher to poor school districts just isn't going to do the trick.
Learning in rich and poor schools will still be remarkably different because of such factors as: the
number of students per teacher, the quality of the teachers (often dependent upon what the school
district can afford to pay), and the availability of other resources (desks, books, paper, pencil,
supplementary materials, laboratory equipment)Ñnot to mention external factors such as whether the
students are hungry or are having to deal with drugs and violence on or off campus.
It is obviously beyond the scope of this article to present a comprehensive treatment of educational
reform. In fact, true reform represents one of the greatest challenges facing society today. But at the
same time, as we forge ahead let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the real problems of education
are going to be solved by the NII or any other technological innovation. Therefore, a better approach is
to make sure that the way we use technology for education is consistent with what we do know about
learning. A few current Internet-based projects can give us a feeling for how the NII could be used in
education. (Please note that this is just a small sampling of what's going on around the country.)
The Kids as Global Scientists (KGS) project, based in Boulder, Colorado, has middle school students
using the Internet to investigate atmospheric science concepts by analyzing different representations of
weather phenomena and communicating with other students from all over the world on relevant issues
and real-world phenomena. They have characterized the types of Internet-based knowledge available to
their students as today's knowledge (recent information that can be obtained quickly) and interactive
knowledge (information that students can obtain by interacting with first-hand sources). KGS builds
upon the constructivist approach, recognizing that learning happens only when students can work with
and build on their own ideas. Currently, however, says principal investigator, Dr. Nancy Songer, "a
large majority of K-12 Internet-available activities do not permit two-way, interactive
communication. This encourages a relatively passive model of student interaction which is based on the
assumption that others are contributing important knowledge which Our student should know about and
To counteract this idea of students as receivers of knowledge, Songer and her research team at the
University of Colorado, are developing curricula and software which will make the Internet a "child-
focused" resource, one in which students are "empowered to make the Internet an interactive resource
which has nodes of information developed, maintained. and focused for themselves."
Learning Through Collaborative Visualization (CoVis), a research project based at Northwestern
University, is attempting to transform science education by allowing students to engage in activities
that resemble the question-centered, collaborative practice of real scientists. Students study
atmospheric and environmental science using state-of-the-art scientific visualization software which
has been specifically modified to be an appropriate learning environment. Students are provided with a
"collaboratory'' workbench which includes video-teleconferencing, shared software environments,
access to Internet resources, a multimedia notebook, and the scientific visualization software. CoVis
emphasizes the social nature of learning by encouraging students to become enculturated into a
community of scientific practice and explores how networking and remote communication can play an
Finally, in a unique program at Richmond High School in Richmond, California, junior and senior high
school students learn to manage and use a vast array of computer tools, including Internet tools. Here,
125 low-income students in the Computer and Business Partnership Academy essentially run their
own computer system. These are students that are not necessarily thinking of going on to college. And
typically, such students would get very little exposure to technologyÑlet alone be encouraged to control
it. But here, teacher Les Radke teaches all his students to use the simple tools of the Internet (telnet,
ftp), as well as Mosaic, gophers, veronica, archie, and WAIS. Some are creating their own MOO. Others
are learning HTML and setting up a World Wide Web server (the first thing they're putting on it is a
memorial to a recently murdered fellow student). Students serve as the Unix system administrators.
and others manage the 10-base-T network in the school. The important thing to note is that these
students are in control of technology and their own learning; they're not being controlled.
Although we have been arguing that technology is tar from being a panacea for educational problems, we
do believe it can figure prominently in the solution. Indeed, computers offer very unique capabilities
for education, and the resources associated with NII, in particular, can be used to augment learning if
they are appropriately harnessed to encourage the social nature of learning and allow for individual.
interactive access to information.
Can't We Educate ALL Our Children?
by Mike Brand, Phd, Marc Steiner, and Ed Zeidman, Phd.
The crisis in American education is well documented and frequently written about. There is no shortage
of descriptions of the two-tiered educational process which continues to develop and characterize the US
education system. A shrinking minority of students is trained to take its place within a shrinking
hightech job base. For these students, Email and Cyberspace are realities that indicate the potential of
electronic technology to uplift the educational level of at least the chosen few. But an increasing
majority are not so fortunate. For them, growing class size and a decreasing level of expenditures per
child characterize a school system that is increasingly unable to educate its pupils. Here, hi-tech
applications are either absent or so inefficiently used as to be worthless. (See Bromley article on
Thus, the use of hi-tech within the education system is fully consistent with the structural inequality
that characterizes the system as a whole. The use of technology is often recognized as a factor which
favors the better off students. That is certainly true. Educational technology is just one more resource
that is increasingly available to the better-off kids while the poorer kids go without. Thus, the historic
situation in which education or lack thereof becomes a cause (excuse) for economic and social
inequality is reinforced.
It will only be when the educational system as a whole is radically democratized and when the poorer
school districts no longer are forced to go without, that the most useful applications of technology, as
well as other resources, will be discovered.
POVERTY AND EDUCATION
It is sometimes not appreciated that it really is possible to educate all our children. Once adequate
resources are provided, the possibilities for uplifting the educational level of society are boundless.
But they are real. Yet, the educational gap is widening. So are the per pupil expenditures among school
districts. We all know of cases throughout the US of impoverished city public schools that spend
substantially less per pupil and pay less per teacher than their suburban public school neighbors (to
say nothing of the private elite institutions). For example, Baltimore City spends about 20% less per
pupil than its more prosperous neighbors. And the highest predictor of student performance in
standardized tests continues to be the poverty level. By the time kids finish high school, if they finish,
the die is cast. More than 25% do not finish. In many so-called inner city school systems 50% or more
do not finish. And at least 25% of those who do finish are not prepared for either higher education or
employment. In the main, students' accomplishments are restricted by where they go to school. Self-
fulfilling prophecies abound. Kids who are poorly taught do not learn. Kids who are not expected to do
well, do not do well. Kids (fewer and fewer) who are judged to be bright "bright," act "bright." Kids
with no future and nothing to do act like kids with no future and nothing to do etc., etc. With the
exactness with which Adam Smith's "the invisible hand of God" regulates the free market system, the
educational system helps the economic classes reproduce themselves from generation to generation in
"proper" proportion to each other to supply the economy with properly trained, but not too trained,
DISPARITY BETWEEN POSSIBILITY AND REALITY?
To account for the disparity between possibility and reality we look at the interconnection between
economics and control of public policy. In the economic arena, the application of electronics to the
production of goods and services eliminates the amount of labor needed for their production. Thus, it
shrinks demand for educated (and uneducated) workers below the number of workers available. AT&T's
announcement of the elimination of 15000 jobs raises its recent total to 100,000. It is a small part of
a growing phenomenon. In 1993 there were more layoffs at service jobs than in manufacturing.
Moreover, it is becoming clear that the way life-sustaining resources such as education (and health
care and housing, for that matter) are allocated is according to the economic and social interests of the
dominant elite. They will not pay to educate or otherwise adequately care for those whom they do not
need. Thus, educational technology as well as other educational resources remain in the hands of only
those with money to buy them. Hardly what we can call equality of opportunity.
It is not possible to predict the specifics of the path to adequate technology for public school students in
the US. None-the-less, we should point out that the struggle for equal, quality education is rooted in the
history of the US. (Recall Brown vs. The Board of Education). There is currently a growing movement
of students, parents and teachers who are fighting for equal, quality education. There is already an
organized effort to shape the NII in the public interest which is expressed in the program of CPSR. The
movement is in primitive stages, but it's a beginning.
[Brand and Zeidman teach Math at Essex Community College in Baltimore, Maryland. Steiner hosts The
Marc Steiner Show on WJHU in Baltimore.]
The Social Context of Educational Computing
Hank Bromley CPSR/Madison
Understanding the full educational impact of any computer-based curriculum necessarily involves
matters well beyond the technical, and even well beyond the classroom. Many proposed computer
curricula acknowledge the shortcomings of previous initiatives, yet make recommendations still
addressing only technical questions. My frustration with such purported "advances" led me to the
conviction that ongoing social dynamics in (and beyond) the classroom, long pre-dating the introduction
of computers, are of crucial importance. No matter how painstaking the design of a computer-based
curriculum, what actually happens when it reaches a given classroom will depend partly on what's
already going on in that classroom. How the new technology gets swept up into its users' pursuit of their
preexisting goalsÑin essence, the context of use, the effect of the social environment on educational
computingÑis the subject of this article.
One of the most noticeable influences on schools these days is the increasing application of economic
reasoning to their activities. Under pressure from many quarters to improve their "productivity," to
yield a higher level of measurable student performance with little or no increase in funding,
educational institutions are increasingly being run as businesses.
Such pressure to "produce" more efficiently is one of the many reasons for the influx of computers.
Just as their use in the business world enables firms to produce more with fewer employees, it is
hoped that computerizing the operations of the educational world will enable more learning to happen,
especially individualized instruction, without hiring more teachers Unfortunately for this line of
argument, tar from saving money, adding computers to the classroom commits the school to additional
spending in the future (for software, equipment upgrades, maintenance, staff training, etc.), and
actually increases teacher workload rather than reducing it. (Ronald Ragsdale cites several studies
demonstrating the added burden on teachers on page 207 of his book Permissible Computing in
Under pressure from many quarters to improve their "productivity," to yield a higher level of
measurable student perfomance with little or no increase in funding, educational institutions are
increasingly being run as businesses.
With teachers already pushed to the limit as schools "streamline" their operations, adding new
responsibilities is practicable only if something else is dropped. Reducing class sizes would be a
healthy solution, but that would mean spending more on teacher salaries, just the opposite of the
economies computer advocates are promising. Some even suggest computer purchases should be funded
by increasing class sizes further to save on salaries.
The argument from economic efficiency just doesn't hold. Other pedagogical innovations, like peer
tutoring programs, produce better results more cheaply, without consuming resources from all sides
as computers do. (Marc Tucker cites research to this effect in his article in Journal of Communication,
vol. 35, no. 4.) Introducing computers to schools does offer some benefits, but saving money isn't one of
them, and if they are introduced in a manner that presumes spending reductions, then some other
necessity will inevitably be ousted, especially at a time when shrinking resources at all levels of
government have made it extremely difficult for many school districts to keep up with overdue building
maintenance, buy up-to-date textbooks, or even, in some cities, keep schools open for the requisite
number of days each year.
But given that the computers are there, and the teachers are short on time (increasingly so, due to the
computers and their effect on school budgets), the computers do get used. And exactly how are they
used? Of the various kinds of instructional software available, one is notably more responsive to the
pressures schools are under to boost their "efficiency" and the predictability of their "output": drill-
and-practice programs. Such software allows precise control over, and tracking of, student activities.
The activities themselves are arguably much impoverished, but the programs do train students to
perform at known levels on multiple choice exams, thus satisfying the call for efficient and predictable
output. A study by Michael Apple and Susan Jungck (chapter 6 of Apple's book Official Knowledge)
shows how the day-to-day realities of teachers' lives leads a conscientious set of professionals to
employ an utterly routinized and vapid computer curriculum, simply because it was already prepared
(freeing them from having to write one) and kept the students busy (freeing the teacher to complete
other tasks). Perversely, the least intellectually engaging instructional software can become the most
attractive to teachersÑfor keeping students wholly occupied, in a known activity with few surprises to
require the teacher's attention, for a predictable amount of timeÑbecause of work conditions brought
about partly by the very reforms touted as freeing teachers to spend more time working with students
individually. [For more on how teachers are affected see page 3.
From a technical point of view, the computer is just as amenable to running an open-ended simulation
as a drill-and-practice program. But in the current social context you tend to see one a lot more than
the other, because it's much easier to measure a student's performance on a standardized test than to
verify that she has learned, for instance, to ask good questions.
One may also see a lot of computers sitting in schools without any well thought-out plan at all for what
to do with them. This phenomenon is a result of pressure on school officials to do somethingÑanythingÑ
about America's faltering economy, about Japanese and European competition, about students' job
prospects, about the impending information age. The problem of how to appear to be doing something
about these assorted crises is easily solved: buy some computers. The problem of how then to render the
machines educationally useful is a good deal more challenging. Outcome: swarms of classroom computers
without a clear mission. Expensive public relations insurance, paid for out of instructional funds.
Another way economic rationality is visible in the educational realm is in the treatment of schools as a
source of profits. With several million microcomputers already in U.S. schools alone, educational
institutions are, of course, a significant site for the sale for both hardware and software. But selling
directly to schools is only one way to make money from them; another is to package access to their
inhabitants as a product to sell someone else. Whittle Communications transmits Channel One into over
10,000 schools. The satellite-delivered news program, carrying paid advertisements, is notable for
converting students themselves into a commodity, as Whittle sells its sponsors access to its captive
audience. One can also generate profits via the schools by enlisting them to train students to be
consumers of one's products, creating a future customer base. It is no coincidence that regional
telephone companies are generously underwriting school purchases of computers at the very same time
they are busily merging with cable television operators in preparation for offering new information
services piped into our homes. For the new products to be profitable, someone has to buy them.
Pressure to add computers to the curriculum also stems from concern over how well schools are
preparing students for the workplace. (I should note that views differ on how much schools should
emphasize training in job skills; some might say the primary function of schools should instead be
teaching students how to be active citizens, or passing on the collected knowledge of our predecessors,
or establishing some sense of community in a nation of many cultures. But concerns over job skills are
prominent at present.) Many claims about how schools "need" to change begin with discussions of how
the workplace has changed recently. There is much talk about the "post-Fordist" mode of production,
and "flexible manufacturing systems." In the new economy, the story goes, firms must be adaptable,
opportunistic, quick to respond to constantly changing circumstances, "lean and mean," all of which
implies considerable dependence on information technologies to track both external conditions and the
firm's operations. And the new firm needs a new worker: rather than being a cog in the machine, she
must exercise responsibility, recognize what needs to be done and do it, solve problems creatively.
Accordingly a new education is called for: to thrive in a work environment involving continual shifting
to new tasks, students will need to become self-motivated learners, prepared to keep acquiring new
skills their whole lives; they'll need to be adept at "critical thinking"; and most of all, they'll need
proficiency with the high-tech equipment that will typify their work environment.
So what's wrong with this story? For one thing, it blames schools for problems they can't solve. It is
simply not the case that the failure of the schools to provide enough of this new kind of worker is what's
constraining the economy. Even if every graduate matched the profile of the post-Fordist worker
perfectly, there still wouldn't be post-Fordist jobs for them. Although the occupations with the greatest
rate of growth are in prime, high-tech fields, the actual number of such jobs being created is quite
modest, as the high percentage increases are from a small initial base. The bulk of the growth will be in
far less attractive fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics now projects that the occupation in which the
most new jobs will be created over the next decade is salesperson, followed by nurse, cashier, general
office clerk, truck driver, waiter/waitress, nursing aide, janitor, and food preparation worker (chart
in The New York Times, March 12, 1994, p. A7). Even though nurses are relatively well-paid, the
median wage across all these occupations is approximately $14,500, and new entrants are likely to
start well below the median. Furthermore, full-time, permanent jobs are in short supply, even in
these fields; ominously, the temp agency Manpower has recently become the largest employer in the
Clearly, what the post-Fordist labor market presents is not a ravenous demand for as many self-
motivated, multiply skilled, critically thinking young people as can be supplied, but a split demand, for
a few such fortunates, and a much larger population shunted into marginal and temporary work, at best.
The "flexibility" in flexible manufacturing includes payroll flexibility, wherein the employer adds and
drops workers immediately as they're needed. Moreover, even for those working consistently, and in
highly technologized environments, high-tech schooling is largely irrelevant. Productivity on the job
is essentially unrelated to what happens in school, and the skills needed are overwhelmingly acquired in
the workplace (see Randall Collins' book The Credential Society, chapters I and 2).
The impending Information Age is nonetheless a convincing pretext for initiating major educational
change. Despite the irrelevance of curricular content to job performance, the rhetoric of high-tech
schooling for a high-tech economy has lent effective support to various reforms, including the
installation of computers in schools. One reason the rhetoric has been so effective is that parents are
legitimately worried about the job prospects of their children. No matter what the data say, common
opinion has it that computer skills will be an increasingly necessary job qualification, and no one wants
to be left behind. Groups whose participation in the mainstream economy is already marginal fear being
totally closed out if their schools don't keep up. And groups which historically had no trouble securing
more lucrative positions are finding it more difficult. What was once virtually automatic, for instance,
upon receiving a college degree, is now not so easy to obtain. With wider distribution of educational
credentials, and shrinking opportunities, the same credentials no longer buy what they once did; the
historically privileged need a new way to pass on their advantage.
If such an effort at "redifferentiation" is, in fact, a significant element of computer adoption by schools,
one would expect parental pressure to be a visible factor. That's exactly what Marc Tucker reports in
the article cited above. In his experience, the initial push for computers in schools came not from
educators but from upper-middle class parents. The pressure was also backed up with money: in one
year during the major build-up, funds raised by suburban parents paid for fully 27% of all computers
bought for U.S. schools.
These actions can be seen as a response to credentials inflation. Although curricular changes have little
to do with on-the-job performance, new technologies of production do enable the creation of new forms
of "cultural currency" (borrowing from Randall Collins again). The older credentials have become
badly inflated: everyone has them and they no longer guarantee a cushy sinecure. The formerly
privileged react by creating a new credential. Initially, of course, no one has it, so the first few to
acquire it are now distinguished from the crowd that has inflated the old credentials, and stand to
benefit substantially. Once the computer credential catches on, a mad rush for it is likely to follow,
yielding exponential growth in school computersÑprecisely what ensued throughout the 1980s (with
the numbers doubling approximately every 14 months). But not everyone is in a strong enough position
to obtain access to the new credential. The computer-intensive classroom is a very expensive
innovation, out of reach for the many communities that cannot afford it (or lack the clout to force their
school officials to find a way to afford it).
What I hope these arguments have suggested is that educational computing has unfortunately been
technology-driven rather than curriculum-driven; i.e., an attitude of "this technology exists, we've got
to have it" has been the predominant motivating force, rather than starting with a determination of
what we want schooling to accomplish, and then examining how computers might be used to achieve
those goals. Without such reflection, putting computers in schools is likely to mean we just get more of
the same, only automated now. And for the most vulnerable members of our society, already getting a
raw deal in school, that's very bad news.
In the absence of a more mindful approach, students from different backgrounds are given different
experiences with computers, tending to perpetuate existing inequalities. Girls, children of color,
poorer kids, and students labeled "low-ability" are disproportionately engaged with drill-and-practice
software, "mastery" learning of decontextualized basic skills, and vocational training in the use of
specific software, while boys, white children, middle-class kids, and students labeled "high-ability"
are disproportionately involved with open-ended simulations, integrated applications, and
programming (data in Henry Jay Becker's newsletters from the Center for Social Organization of
Schools, Johns Hopkins University). The differentiation process that once reserved certain privileges
for wealthy white men through, for instance, college attendance, may be breaking down due to
demographic and economic changes, but it may also be reestablished through preferential provision of
computer-based education. Some students will learn how to direct the new technology while others will
learnÑif they can afford any exposure at allÑhow to be directed by it.
While I am asserting a tendency for social disparities to be reproduced, I am not claiming that is
necessarily an intended result. It may not be that privileged groups push for introduction of certain
kinds of computer education specifically in order to distance themselves from other groups. That may
be the furthest thing from their minds when they lobby for computer purchases; perhaps a benign
initiative is colonized by the dynamics of a preexisting social structure, telling us nothing about why
the computers are first introduced. But that is exactly my pointÑregardless of why they are introduced
into the educational setting, computers become part of the preexisting social dynamic of that setting.
And the effect of their presence, their impact, depends on how they may be swept up into ongoing
conflicts. If you drop an artifact like the computer into a setting where some people are more powerful
than others, it should come as no surprise that unless specific measures are taken to assure otherwise,
the computer ends up perpetuating the advantage of the more powerful, for they are most able to reap
the benefits of its presence.
Hank Bromley is currently completing his PhD in Educational Policy Studies at the University of
Two Perspectives on Using Multimedia in Education
A Limiting Technology
by Brian Harvey CPSR/Berkeley
About 15 years ago, at the dawn of the personal computer era, I attended a talk by one of the early
leaders in educational computing. The Votrax voice response unit had just been introduced, and he was
very excited about it. To demonstrate the potential of this early multimedia technology, he first showed
a standard, boring arithmetic drill program. The program presented a problem on the screen, the
student would type in an answer, and the program would either announce that the answer was correct,
and go on to the next problem, or announce that the answer was wrong, and repeat the same problem.
The speaker "improved" this program by using the voice response unit to give messages such as "that's
still wrong, but you're getting warmer" for incorrect answers. The machine was able to control the
tone and syllable emphasis enough to present these hints in an amusing fashion, and most of the audience
was quite entranced by this new technology.
Unfortunately, the modified program's standard for "warmer" or "colder" was nothing more
sophisticated than the numerical distance between the student's answer and the correct answer. So, for
example, if the problem was 6 times 8, and the student first answered 42 (confusing this problem with
the nearby 6 times 7), then answered 47 (a ridiculous answer), the program would congratulate the
student for getting "warmer." The result is that the program was turned into a "guess my number"
game, and the idea of learning arithmetic was lost!
Of course, the voice technology could have been used in more helpful ways (for example, the program
could have recognized common errors and given messages such as "No, 42 is 6 times 7, not 6 times
8"), but the point of the example is that this otherwise intelligent designer of educational software,
who would never have thought to use "warmer" and "colder" in the program's printed messages, was so
mesmerized by the new technology that he wasn't thinking at all about the educational issues.
Now move forward a dozen years. The new technology is video-based. A leading multimedia researcher
at Apple Computer demonstrates educational applications; one example is a program to teach physics
students about levers. On the computer screen is a depiction of a see-saw. Using the mouse, the student
can position three children, of different weights, at various positions on the see-saw. The goal for the
student is to get it to balance. The see-saw is held in the horizontal position until the student finishes
placing the three children; then the student clicks a button to release it. This is where the multimedia
part comes in: The developers have videotaped three actual children, with the correct weight ratios, at
all possible integer positions along the length of an actual see-saw. If the student has put two children
at the same position, the actual children are seen in each other's lap, or on each other's shoulders. It's
fun to watch.
Now imagine you're a student using this program. You've positioned two children arbitrarily, and
you're trying to figure out where to put the third child so that the see-saw will balance. Most likely,
the correct position is not at an integer distance! This wouldn't be a problem for the computer
simulation alone, without the video enhancement, but in fact the program had to be written to allow
only integer positions, because that's all they videotaped.
What these examples have in common is that in their eagerness to use the latest technology, both
developers have actually made their programs worse, from a pedagogic point of view. Multimedia is
limiting! You end up tailoring your work to the demands of the medium, rather than the other way
Multimedia is limiting in another way, also. Because good video is difficult and expensive to produce,
the range of ideas available is restricted. One of the prototypical educational applications of multimedia
is to ask students to prepare a report on Martin Luther King in which they use multimedia software to
select and arrange excerpts from available videodiscs. But the Martin Luther King presented by Time-
Life and by ABC News is the "I have a dream" integrationist, the pacifist, the martyrÑ not the socialist,
not the angry militant, not the multifaceted King that students could find in books. The videos don't
emphasize the FBI's spying on King's sexual activities, nor the recent accusations of plagiarism in
King's scholarly works. Similarly, the ABC videos on the Gulf War are based essentially on information
provided by the United States government, some of which has been shown to be inaccurate.
Do all of these examples merely reflect the immaturity of the technology, rather than inherent
weakness? Perhaps, but only if slick, professional video production will someday be as easy as
computer programming is now. As long as it takes dozens of skilled technicians to produce television
shows, the literature of multimedia will be limited. Of course there are better examples, such as the
"Voyage of the Mimi" project developed at Bank Street College. (This project centered around a weekly
broadcast TV show in which the protagonists explored the world by boat; the broadcasts were
supplemented with a range of written material, interactive computer programs, and classroom
activities.) But that project took years to produce, using federal research funds. And the result only
teaches specific lessons; it's not open-ended in the way that programs like Geometric Supposer (which
allows learners to perform geometric constructions on the screen; measure the resulting lengths,
angles, and areas; hypothesize general rules; and test the hypotheses by repeating the construction with
different starting shapes), or programming languages like Logo (a dialect of Lisp designed specifically
for children learning mathematics, with simplified syntax and with a variety of mathematical
"microworlds" to explore, of which the best known is turtle graphics), are open-ended. Therefore, the
payoff for all that money is quite limited, compared to non-multimedia computer software development.
It is possible to use multimedia technology in a more open-ended way. Coco Conn, for example, has done
some spectacular work with kids and video, in which the kids themselves plan and carry out the entire
project, operating the cameras and the video editors. If there is any promise at all in educational
multimedia, I think it's in that style of work. But it hasn't happened on a large scale because it requires
both expensive equipment and a lot of skilled adult support. Even then, the kids' work probably won't be
as slick as professionally made video, so we may find that students will be tempted to stick with the
professional work rather than make their own, just as interest in computer programming has declined
because of the wide availability of slick programs with graphical interfaces.
Because multimedia revolves around video, it shares many of the questionable properties of broadcast
television: the emphasis on visually strong news such as violence and disasters, the short attention
span, the focus on celebrities. People have argued for many years about whether these things are
necessary implications of television. but even programs like Nova that attempt to be somewhat
scholarly use the quick-cut style, and show the faces of Nobel laureates talking while the soundtrack
gives us the simplified platitudes of a narrator. The more honest media enthusiasts don't even deny that
a diet of television works against literacy; instead, they're proud of it, describing print literacy as
obsolete in the light of the new "media literacy."
Like much of the "information superhighway" that's been in the news recently, multimedia provides the
illusion of interactivity, in which the user's control extends merely to a selection among professionally
prepared alternatives. Selecting images from an ABC News video is essentially similar to the idea of the
"electronic town meeting," in which TV watchers can vote on choices presented by Al Gore and Ross
Perot. In a real town meeting, the decision-makers are the same people who carry out the discussion
and who invent the choices. The electronic version is deeply antidemocratic.
Why don't the same arguments apply to any educational use of computer technology? My answer is that
in some cases they do apply. The kind of computer technology that presents a learner with multiple
choice tests, or with "Computer-Managed Instruction," is indeed just as limiting as multimedia
technology. But computers lend themselves to a different style of work, one in which learners are
presented with tools rather than with constraints. Word processing, spreadsheets, calculators, and
drawing programs can help learners explore and present their own ideas. Most flexible of all is a
programming language, in which learners can invent their own tools. So tar, at least, multimedia is a
much less accessible medium.
A Chance for Change by Christopher Hoadley and Sherry Hsi University of California at Berkeley
"If I only had a computer with a CD-ROM, I could learn better faster." This is the current perception of
many students who blame the lack of technology available to them as the key problem in their education.
Let's assume a magic genie grants every student a CD-ROM player with supercomputing capabilities.
Now what? The next, more challenging step is finding out how computer technology affects learning and
instruction. Originally, the computer was seen as an infinitely replicable substitute for real teachers,
later as the determining skill of the future required for economic advancement, and now as the
broadcast vehicle of multimedia. Brian Harvey (see A Limiting Technology) has taken the stance that
this may turn out to be an empty promise, like many other promises made by new educational
technologies over the yearsÑfrom slide projectors to VCRs. With his basic premise, we agree:
technology does not make bad teaching good. All the computers in the world will not make drill and
practice more intellectually stimulating. However, it does add an important tool to the teacher's (and
the student's) toolbox. Moreover, this latest generation of technology gives us a chance to right some of
the wrongs of past technologies.
First, let's state the obvious; the more ways available to present information, the better. Multimedia,
by definition, is the combination of different media, like sound, video, text, or images. With computer-
based multimedia, we unlock the prior constraints of text alone on the computer. And indeed, some of
the finest multimedia applications excel on this point alone. Voyager's Mozart CD-ROM combines
critical analyses, definitions, historical background, and exercises with the sounds they refer to. Not
the score, but the music itself, is co-presented with texts that describe it. Compare this to the old way
of doing things: juggling printed scores, critiques, and recordings, constantly searching for passages or
themes discussed in various books, while trying to verify what you're hearing is what they're
discussing by following the score as well. No novel educational theory is embodied in the software;
indeed, it contains multiple-choice questions reminiscent of the Votrax Harvey mentions. But because it
integrates the pieces and makes information accessible in different ways, multimedia is an
And computer-based multimedia can be better since media may be truly integrated Teaching materials
including audio cassettes, text references, photographs, personal letters, maps, and videotapes can be
combined and carried on a single disc. For instance, the "Voices of the 30s" CD-ROM is a compilation of
materials about the Great Depression originally collected by a school teacher and librarian, Pat Hanlon
and Bob Campbell. The multimedia repackaging of their teaching materials didn't change their teaching
philosophy, but eliminated the annoyances of carrying and coordinating several pieces of AV equipment.
In general, instructors could create their own multimedia teaching materials from scratch, but current
technology makes this difficult and expensive venture, as Harvey concurs.
Does this benefit outweigh potential disadvantages? Will multimedia help students and teachers develop
deep conceptual understanding, or will it produce a generation of jaded couch potatoes waiting for
infotainment? This depends on several key factors. Foremost among these is control; who controls the
Television is passive, few-to-many communication where the few are entrusted to an enormous degree
with creation of viewpoints. The people who control mass media like television or major newspapers
are people with expensive equipment, large professional staffs, and regulatory approval. The only
incentive to run such a gauntlet is large profit, which comes from advertisers. They in turn join the
Multimedia can be similarly inaccessible, but this is rapidly changing. Key technologies including video
cameras, multimedia-capable computers, and audio digitizers are now within the financial grasp of
many schools. Television broadcasting is still out of reach for the average school, but video development
and multimedia composition are not. The Bell High School, a public school in East Los Angeles, provides
a fine example in which students develop near professional quality videos as part of a class; Brian
Reilly has collected and coalesced these videos as a computer-based multimedia project, which
showcases students' projects and students' points of view. Students and teachers can have control of
multimedia production. Multimedia is putting the power of creation into the hands of the viewer.
"But do the students learn anything from building multimedia presentations?" one might ask. Indeed,
Harvey suggests these students are trading in playing with cameras for text-based literacy. Our belief
is that the quality of the educational experience with a medium depends on the quality of activities
performed with that medium. Any medium requires literacy. We have book literacy, in which we
understand typical genres (essay, novel, etc.) and literary devices (metaphor, sarcasm, etc). We also
have video literacy with current genres including news program, debate, game show, sitcom, etc. and
cinematographic devices. The point is that we create literacy for each medium ourselves, as a culture.
We invented the newspaper, and we also invented the grocery store tabloid. What elevates or debases is
not generally the problem of the medium, but of the society that creates it.
Once one has created a "document" in a medium, how can one share it? Another key characteristic of
media is reproducibility. Print is a very democratic medium in the age of photocopiers because it is
easy to create and share with others. Copier and printer technology are so widespread that nearly
anyone can be a "desktop publisher". We envision a similar set of circumstances now that
computer-based multimedia is available. Unlike film and images that are difficult for the average
person to reproduce and distribute, digitized images and sound can be easily copied, or even transmitted
over networks. This has a great potential to enhance education, since students can share their work with
each other and with outsiders. By opening the door to communicating and sharing with people outside the
school walls, students may actually be able to participate in real activities and not just contrived
exercises. For example, in Roy Pea's CoVis project at Northwestern, a collaboration between scientists
and elementary school kids through networked multimedia has allowed students to use real weather
satellite images of meteorologists, and engage in scientific inquiry and group discussion with real
experts. Again, the media itself will not change bad habits of the past; if students are not allowed to
share with other people either because of classroom practice or legal issues of media ownership, or if
sharing is trivialized to video note-passing, nothing will come of it. But the possibility for exciting
interactions between schools and the rest of society remains.
The promise that multimedia holds for change rests ultimately on how the technology is shaped and used.
To the extent that multimedia becomes an accessible, transmittable, and democratic medium, it can have
a positive impact on schools.
INTERNET SERVICES FROM CPSR.ORG
CPSR now provides a wide range of electronic services for its members and the public including
administrative and informational mailing lists and an extensive online library. General information on
CPSR and electronic access of all forms is available by sending email to <email@example.com>.
The Internet CPSR library now houses files on a wide range of subjects: privacy, networking,
conferences, computer crime, gender, disability, the workplace, and others. Files in the library are
available via email, gopher, FTP and the World-Wide Web.
ACCESS TO THE INTERNET LIBRARY IS SIMPLE.
For users limited to email: Send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, the subject should be blank, with
the command HELP in the mail body. A help file will be mailed to your address explaining how to use the
For anonymous FTP: Type the command ftp ftp.cpsr.org and you will be asked to login (use the word:
anonymous) and provide a password (use your own login id). You will then be in the home directory of
For Gopher Access: Type the command: gopher gopher.cpsr.org and you will go directly to CPSR's home
For World-Wide Web access (via Mosaic, Lynx, or other browsers): Point your browser to the
following URL: http://www.cpsr.org/ which will take you to the home page of CPSR.
The main announcement mailing list, originally created by Paul Hyland as CPSR@GWUVM.BITNET is
now called CPSR-ANNOUNCE@CPSR.ORG. It disseminates official, short CPSR-related messages. We
encourage you to subscibe and widely publicize the list. To subscribe, send email to
<email@example.com> with the following message: SUBSCRIBE CPSR-ANNOUNCE <your firstname> <your
You will get a message that confirms your subscription. If you have a problem, send email to
<firstname.lastname@example.org>. To find out what other email lists are available on cpsr.org, send email to
<email@example.com> with the message: LIST
There are two new USENET newsgroups. The first, comp.org.cpsr.announce, is an echo of the CPSR-
ANNOUNCE mailing list to the netnews system. The other newsgroup is called comp.org.cpsr.talk. It is
open for use by anyone to discuss CPSR-related issues.
If you would like to reach a chapter contact, send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. This email
address will reach one person who has been designated as a contact. Email lists have been set up for a
few chapters (cpsr-boston-members, cpsr-paloalto-members, and cpsr-berkeley-members) in
order to send announcements to chapter members or for the purpose of chapter discussions.
Otherchapters that wish to form member lists should contact <email@example.com>.
HANDY LISTSERV COMMANDS
Send the following commands in the body of an email message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>: HELP to receive
basic help, LISTÑto find out the list of email lists the listserv supports, GET CPSR CPSR_FILE_LIST to
receive a list of files that may be retrieved, GET CPSR NII_POLICY- to receive the CPSR NII position
paper, GET CPSR/CPSR_MEMBERSHIP_INFO CPSR.ALIASES- to receive organization contact names.
Volunteers are needed to help run CPSR.ORG. There are three fundamental classes of assistance that are
needed. First and foremost is the need for contributors to and maintainers of the library of information.
Individuals with FTP access who are interested in controlling a directory of information on a particular
topic or helping with the library in general are needed. Second is the need for those who can moderate
some of the email discussion lists; a direct connection is not required for this function. The third class
of assistance involves maintenance of the software on the CPSR server; those with knowledge of
listserv, FTP, WAIS, Web, Mosaic, sendmail and gopher software would be helpful. C programmers are
also useful for special functions. Anyone interested in this kind of involvement should send email to
<email@example.com>. Additionally, we need access to a faster link as well as upgrade the software for
managing our library. We currently use the WAIS software that is publicly available. Any help in this
would be appreciated.
AI Whaley, CPSR/Palo Alto
A Quick Look at the Costs and Benefits of Computers in Higher Education
CPSR Director at Large
Until now, the two technologies which have had a lasting impact on schooling were the textbook and the
blackboard (Hodas, 1993). Maybe the computer is the next "big leap." As computer professionals, we
are delighted to have work and money thrown our way, yet we wear other hats, too. We are parents and
taxpayers who need to know that our money is being put to good use by the universities which we
support. When we send our children to college, we want them to meet and get to know professors, as
well as computers. We want them to develop humanitarian values, as well as gain job skills.
Here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the campus doesn't have a child-care
center, but it has workstations to die for. As a community, we choose to pay for computers and not
creches; we cut back on tenure-track positions while adding PowerPCs. Sometimes these choices worry
me, so I decided to step back and look at the motivations for how we allot our resources for this CPSR
The move toward computers had a big push from institutions and business. Apple and IBM, Microsoft
and Sun, the CIA and the Army, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and many more organizations
have helped universities finance computer projects. The way these institutions typically support
education is by providing equipment and expertise, or by giving computer grants. Sometimes the
companies are trying to sell their products and hook in new users while students are young. Sometimes
an end-product is needed, such as courseware developed for the CIA to help train people to speak foreign
languages. Sometimes companies seek hardware or software development.
Theoretically, everyone comes out a winner, all the way from the company to the public-at-large to the
student. Capitalism isn't necessarily evil, although we might get suspicious as truckloads of computers
come onto campuses. Students surely will benefit from the new inter-connectedness and access to
information flowing from the ever-expanding networks. They also must be prepared to buy their own
equipment and spend hours on end staring at video monitors during their
As a community, we choose to pay for computers and not creches; we cut back on tenure-track positions
while adding PowerPCs.
We seem to value computers at a university in these ways:
¥ Students have a chance to learn material in different ways, using touch, hearing, and sight (not taste
as yet). The jury is still out on how effective computers are, but common sense can tell us that students
aren't millions of dollars smarter for the millions we've spent. For those of us who fall asleep in dull
classes, multi-media offers promise and excitement, particularly with nonlinear display of
information. Also, students gain from becoming familiar with the machines they will be using later at
work, and their class papers have gone from typed-with-corrections to laser-printed-with-graphics.
¥ Parents can relaxÑtheir kids will emerge from college computer literate, job-ready.
¥ Universities get discounts and free equipment from outside sources during an era of declining support
for education. It certainly attracts students when a school can offer computer labs in every dorm, or
showcase labs developed with Apple Grants or two-to-one (sometimes five-to-one!) IBM
¥ Faculty find they can teach things they never could before. Also, professors who grasp the significance
of the digital revolution, and realize its impact on the history of ideas and communications correctly
try to bring their new knowledge to class (T. Johnson, Professor of Journalism, San Francisco State).
In the early days, a few sly professors may have imagined that the computer could be a way to get out of
teaching, that they could just sit the students down and the computer would do it for them, hoping the
software already existed, and all they had to do was load it onto the hardware. Those days are past. The
teachers have become the courseware creators.
Through designing their own software, faculty can maintain ownership of their course content. They
recognize that they have the educational expertise and don't leave creation of the software to the
"professional." Professors have to re-organize their material in a logical way for the computer, and
that process alone makes them come to grips with the material in a new, constructive way (Szoke,
Research Programmer, University of Illinois). Of course, the hardware "puts a gleam in their eye." At
a recent campus demonstration of the Apple Power PC, the gleams practically drilled a hole in the
¥ Computer Companies perhaps gain the most:
1. The students get contact with the donor's equipment and so are likely to want/recommend/ask for
said equipment when they find employment. "In the 70's DEC subsidized the cost of providing mini-
computers for most of the "big computer" universities. The result was that DEC grew tremendously in
the 80's when all those students graduated and went on to become computer purchasers or key
engineers. In the 80's SUN displaced DEC as the university's provider of choice. The result is that SUN
now dominates the workstation marketplace in the 90's," wrote Newman.
2. It's hard to change horses midstream. Sticking to one machine makes life much simpler for
developing materials and running labs. The developers also make a commitment: One UIUC unit locked
onto the Macintosh, and a few PC labs are now unable to use their software.
3. Sponsorship and underwriting of education helps the public image.
4. Free advertising. For example, now the UIUC is recommending that its students buy their own
computers, and the university is describing suitable configurations for the students and parents.
5. Faculty may buy extra units or upgrades. The professor will often purchase the same type of system
for home or a similar laptop for travel and presentations.
6. Fascinating and useful new software might be written. Faculty and students will develop it, and even
more people might want to buy the donor's equipment.
With so many people benefiting from computers, you risk being labeled a Luddite if you question the
final outcome. Here are some issues to mull over:
The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most needed to
confront Ñspiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future. Does
one blame the computer for this? Of course not. It is, after all, only a machine.
ÑNeil Postman, Informing Ourselves To Death
Many reasons can be ascribed for the ,failure of computers to live up to its promise, but I think the
chief one is that it's very hard to write software that can be as flexible, creative, and caring as a good
ÑTodd Newman, Special Director, CPSR
The money is better spent, I think, on real teachers rather than mechanical ones.
¥ "Beware of bright boys bearing toys," said a salesman for Hewlett-Packard. Computers are sexy.
According to him, with the introduction of computers in any university department, the equivalent of
one full-time faculty is lost from his calling, seduced by the computer. The professors can spend oodles
of hours creating programs without any sure payoff, either in proven instructional effectiveness, or in
job promotion or tenure.
Time is a huge investment, at a ratio of 100 to 600 production hours for every one courseware-hour.
As for doing it the fast way, making a "page turner," you might as well write a text book. (Szoke)
¥ Hidden Expenses - One of the big outlays for computers is providing the infrastructure to make it all
work. Putting in wiring and furniture and security is backbreaking. "We spent more (money)
renovating and furnishing our new second generation workstation lab, than we spent on the 31 IBM 23T
color workstations to equip the lab," wrote Jon Finke, Senior Network Systems Engineer.
¥ Robbing Peter to Pay Paul - The money for the computers comes not only from companies and
institutions, but from public revenues. Underfunding of universities and colleges is a chronic problem,
and in the era of tight budgets. choosing computers means lopping off something else.
Hank Bromley, University of Wisconsin, voiced these common fears when referring to the November l
5, 1993, issue of Newsweek, which had pages of paid advertising for computers in schools. "What
they're calling for is taking $ l5 to $20 billion of public money away from buying textbooks and chalk
and art supplies, from paying teachers and custodians and school nurses, from replacing roofs on
dilapidated buildings, and from other needs schools are already too broke to meet, and using that money
to purchase their products. And all so that our children can become more efficient workers in their
companies, and more inclined to consume even more of their information technology products." The
same arguments can apply to higher education.
¥ Schools as Markets - Are we comfortable with the school delivering up consumers to business? That's
the dealÑthey give us generous discounts and grant money, and we use their machines. If profit weren't
the motive, then non-profits would get an equal donation, but they don't. "Corporations and universities
may get to learn by doingÑbut the rest of us are simply going to get the applications the big guys want
us to have," wrote Evelyn Pine, director of Partners consulting firm.
Our schools have accepted Whittle's Channel One TV in the classrooms in exchange for equipment. Are
we as (un)comfortable with what we are doing with computers?
¥ Upgrades - You are forever feeding the insatiable monster. Hardware seems to have a five-year
lifespan, if that. People cannot seem to lower their expectations, and it pricks our pride to have
¥ It's Gotta Be My Baby - We don't like to use other people's material, so all the previous work is
dumped. There's little recycling. "Professor Jones" develops software for an introductory course, at
huge expense. After teaching it for a year or two, the course is taken over by "Professor Smith," who
wants to have his/her own software, to go with the new textbook and new syllabus.
¥ Lower-Order Thinking - Technology has a downside, and one frightening outcome is predicted by
Lawrence McCluskey, who wrote, "If snore and more advanced technology is introduced into the
educational scheme without a concomitant emphasis on knowledge acquisition, it will allow some
students to operate and increasingly lower levels of thought...Students who possess knowledge will use
technology as a tool; those who do not possess knowledge will use it as a crutch...higher-order thought
processes will be displaced into the control of smaller numbers of people, while lower-order thought
processes will proliferate and be supported by progressively advancing technology" ( 1 994).
If we are going to pour money into technology in Higher Ed, let's at least make sure that it goes for
worthwhile projects. This isn't easy. Lenny Siegel, of the Pacific Studies Center, echoed what others
have been saying, "I don't know of any case where a computer-assisted training program has grown out
of a balanced analysis of unmet educational needs."
Currently, I am on a committee which is reviewing grant applications for one million dollars of student
computer tee funds. This money will support faculty in "providing innovative uses of technology in
education." I am reading page after page of professors' pleadings for upgrades and new projects, and
wondering who should get what. These may not be highly scientific criteria, but I like to give funding
when . . .
. . . computers replace huge lecture classes. (Anything is better than piling students into large
auditoriums, I hope).
. . . computers prevent science buildings from being blown up (for example: simulated Chemistry
. . . the computers can be shared by the rest of the campus (in labs which are open at least 16 hours a
. . . computers can be used in master classrooms to guide projection, or mounted on carts to be used in
. . . people are safe snaking their way to and from the computers (access for handicapped, safety for
In the longer run, we really have to take a hard look at where reliance on computers in undergraduate
education is leading us. The Wingspread Report (1993) challenges us to assure that next year's
entering students will graduate as individuals of character more sensitive to the needs of community,
more competent to contribute to society, and more civil in habits of thought, speech, and action. We are
modeling our values for them, by making them "one" with the technology. Perhaps less seductive
alternatives would mold a better citizenry for the future.
Steven Hodas, "Technology Refusal and the Organizational Culture of Schools", Leadership and Policy
Studies, Vol. ], 10, Sept. 14, 1993, School of Education, University of Washington.
Lawrence McCluskey, Gresham's Law, "Technology, and Education", Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 75, 7,
March 1994, pp. 550-552.
Neil Postman, Informing Ourselves To Death, a speech given at a meeting of the German Intormatics
Society (Gesellschaftuer Informatik) on October 11, 1990 in Stuttgart, sponsored by IBM-Germany.
Wingspread Group on Higher Education, 1993. An American Imperative. Higher Expectations for Higher
Education, First Edition, Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation, INC. or ftp to csd4.csd.uwm.edu, find it
Contributions from: Ellen Brewer, Hank Bromley, Rick Crawtord, Jim Davis, Steve Dorner, Nikki
Draper, Jon Finke, Allen Holub, Marge Jerich, Tom Johnson, Professor of Journalism, San Francisco
State, Jim Levin, Jim McCord, Barbara Meyer, Todd Newman, Evelyn Pine, John Schmitz, Judy Stern,
Ron Szoke, Research Programmer, University of Illinois, and Mike Waugh.
An Open Letter to CPSR
Kent M. Pitman CPSR/Boston
I attended last year's CPSR annual meeting to carry a message of concern about our NII vision statement.
To my dismay, there was only a pro forma discussion of the document. Further, neither my concerns
nor those of others present were mentioned in the CPSR Newsletter summary of the meeting.
Based on my experience, which I consider to have been a waste of personal money, I wish that published
trip reports were required in cases where CPSR funds are used to pay CPSR officials for travel to a
meeting. Further, more time should be allocated at annual meetings for member discussion. Panels can
be fun, but they don't justify the cost of a plane ticket and/or lost days at work.
THE BASIC PROBLEM
I worry that we are trying to be all things to all people, and I believe that this could result in our
missing many opportunities to really make an observable impact.
I see two basic sources of trouble in our approach: Conflicting Goals and Lack of Focus. Either of these
by themselves would be bad enough; taken together they magnify each others' effects.
We must choose goals that do not conflict, or we must be plain about how they conflict and how we would
resolve that conflict. If we fail to resolve or at least identify conflicts ourselves, we make it hard to
send a clear message. Anyone who doesn't like our agenda and understands that we are sending an unclear
message can use that confusion to our disadvantage by pointing out that we don't even agree amongst
An example of such conflict I find in our present document is the paradox of "encouraging standards" and
"encouraging experimentation. " While these might be resolvable at some detail level, they are not
resolvable at the high level we are presently speaking. People wanting to walk away with just a short
take-home message are left with a dilemma: are we for having everyone do the same thing, or letting
everyone disagree? This hurts our cause by distracting attention from the things we can say that are
LACK OF FOCUS
With so many recommendations, we blur the "must do now" part of our message from the "ultimate
goal" part. We must prioritize better.
I fear that we are shying away from a prioritized message for fear of sending a message that the
"ultimate goal'' portions are not important. "Ultimate goals" are very important, but we will never get
there if we confuse them with infrastructure.
It's great for CPSR to have members who are committed to "ultimate goals." These people inform our
sense of what is a "must do now" item. It's also good for chapters to work actively on these projects
under the CPSR name. But saying that CPSR benefits and is benefited by people with vision is different
than saying that the message CPSR should be sending is "just do lots of things that show vision." We
must think and act strategically if we're to have any real effect.
Members are often called upon to speak for CPSR. If our message is clear and simple so that it is easily
and often repeated, it might eventually sink in. Our current message is not clear, not easy to
remember, not easy to repeat, and in my opinion will only (and can only) be given lip service in its
RIGHTS VS. GOALS
I once learned a useful way of distinguishing a right from a goal: Rights are things which happen at no
cost in an ideal society. Goals are things that require investment. (Sometimes the enforcement of rights
requires investment, but the enforcement of a right is a goal, not a right.)
In this view, free speech, privacy, and access to existing information are things that can be rights.
Education is an example of something that can only be a goal and never a right by this definition, except
insofar as self-education through access to public information facilities like libraries is a right.
Libraries, however, are something that can never be a right since they actively require resources to
create and maintain.
This distinction is important because violation of a right can be made to be a crime (since anyone can,
without cost, respect your rights). Failure to achieve a goal must not be an automatic crime because the
best of intentions combined with inadequate resources might not be enough to ensure that a goal is
I would like to see us re-examine the set of issues that are now active and make a decision to focus in on
just a few (at most three) criteria. For discussion purposes, I suggest three such criteria here. Note
that each could be made to be a Right as I have defined the term, not just a Goal.
1. Privacy. The NII backbone should ensure completely private communication, just as the present day
telephone and mail system. Access to the NII should not require a promise to give up this right. Access to
the NII should also not require anyone to give up personal information except that which is necessary to
verify the identity of the user; second-hand use of such information should be prohibited.
2. Free Speech Communication on the NII should be regarded as "speech" and all existing rights of free
speech should be applied in this new medium.
3. Access. Barriers to new users or service providers should be avoided. There should be no arbitrary
limit on the number of individuals or organizations that can directly connect to the NII. Fees should be
permissible only when absolutely necessary, only if commensurate with actual costs incurred, and only
if distributed such that users with modest needs can participate at correspondingly modest cost. The
specification for any protocol or software service necessary to be NII compliant must be made available
to anyone that requests it.
REEXAMINING EXISTING RECOMMENDATIONS
In what follows, I'll suggest some ways to reexamine our existing Policy and Design Recommendations
with the aim of simplifying our message.
The following should be a non-goal because the organizations we are advising think they are already
doing this. It's not that this is a bad sentiment,
it's just that it isn't really likely to help and might even distract from other messages that could help.
¥ Policy: Consider the social impact
The following are effectively just restatements of one or more of the important three goals I have
¥ Policy: Guarantee equitable and universal access.
¥ Design: Enable users to act as producers and consumers.
¥ Design: Address security and design issues from the beginning.
¥ Design: Develop open and interoperable standards.
The following should be non-goals because they will be naturally tended to by my suggested three goals
above and/or by the presence of a free market. Internet experience has shown that the freer the flow of
information, the more information and services will arise on their own. The marketplace has already
demonstrated that it is economically motivated to consider these, and deserves a chance to operate on its
own before we meddle.
¥ Policy: Consider the social impact.
¥ Policy: Promote widespread economic benefits
¥ Policy: Promote diversity in content markets.
¥ Design: Ease of use.
¥ Design: Require high reliability.
The following are interesting goals but our other goals do not depend upon them. They should be deferred
until later so as not to dilute our message.
¥ Policy: Provide access to government services and information over the Nll.
¥ Design: Encourage Experimentation and Evolution
The following should be non-goals or secondary goals. While many of us might consider library, snow
removal, police, and fire services to be essential, it is possible to find communities that have
consciously elected to invest small to non-existent amounts of money in these activities.
¥ Policy: Protect public spaces
¥ Design: Full service to homes, workplaces, and community centers.
What I want is an initial agenda based on promoting "common sense" and "cost free" needs of the NII.
Privacy, Free Speech, and Access. These may seem like small things, but they won't come automatically.
Now is the time to demand them.
Where I would characterize the present-day CPSR/NIT statement as Liberal (in both goals and
spending), I would characterize my proposed alternative as Libertarian (in both goals and spending). I
have no fundamental objection to the long-term goals people have cited, except insofar as they distract
from "must do now" issues.
Whether you agree or disagree with my specific choices, I hope you will agree that we must have a
dramatically shorter list of priorities to go after for the near term. When those are achieved, we can go
on to the next step. But if we try to do everything at once, our voice will be hopelessly diluted.
The President's Column
The most important news on the CPSR front is the formation of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center (EPIC), which was formally announced on April 29 at a press conference in Washington, D.C.
We are excited about this development and believe it will work to the mutual advantage of CPSR and the
EPIC project. More details on the EPIC announcement are contained in the letter on the facing page.
Another timely piece of CPSR news is the just-completed Directions and Implications of Advanced
Computing conference, which was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 23 and 24. Focused on the
theme of Developing an Equitable and Open Information Infrastructure, DIAC-94 was our most
successful such conference to date, attracting almost 300 participants. The conference attracted
attendees and speakers from a wide range of disciplines, which made for many interesting and valuable
interactions. More details of the conference will appear in the Summer issue of the CPSR Newsletter,
but I wanted to take the time to thank the conference chairs, Coralee Whitcomb and Hans Klein, and the
program chair, Doug Schuler, for putting on a wonderful event.
The DIAC conference was the most recent event in a succession of CPSR activities focused on the National
Information Infrastructure. Prior to this conference, CPSR's most visible contribution to the NII
debate has been the report we released in October under the title Serving the Community: A Public
Vision of the National Information Infrastructure, which appeared in the Fall-Winter issue of the
Newsletter. The report has gotten extensive circulation in Washington, and the feedback we have
received has been quite positive. We sent copies to the members of the Information Infrastructure
Advisory Council and have received several letters in return, all of which contain very positive
comments about out report.
Not everyone, however, is happy with the report. This issue of the newsletter contains a long letter
from CPSR member Kent Pitman, in which he criticizes the CPSR Serving the Community report and
our process in producing it. Because we believe that discussion and debate are essential to the success of
CPSR, we have published Kent's letter in full in this issue.
Generating a documentÑ particularly one that seeks to integrate contributions from a membership that
is widely scattered across both the geographic and the political mapÑ is a difficult task. Throughout the
process, we tried to solicit as much opinion from the membership as we could. We circulated an initial
draft on July 15 and spent the next two months collecting responses from the membership and several
chapter-based working groups. We received approximately 75 comments in response, and we
considered each of them carefully; most of those suggestions found their way into the final report. There
were, as is often the case in distributed writing projects, some timing glitches in the process. For
example, as the report moved through the various drafts, we would occasionally get detailed comments
critiquing portions of a previous draft that had changed radically by the time those comments were
received. There are aspects of the process that we now know how to improve, but much of it ran as well
as one could expect.
Kent's letter does not describe fully what happened at the Seattle meeting. In the time that we had
allocated for discussion of the NII report, there were a couple of membersÑof whom Kent was oneÑwho
argued for substantive changes in the content of the NII report. What was fascinating was that the
arguments from these members argued for completely incompatible changes in the report. As Kent's
letter notes, he lobbied for CPSR to emphasize a more Libertarian perspective in the report. A member
from Seattle, however, argued equally strongly that the report should be rewritten in a direction that
most members would identify as Socialist. Both members wanted the report delayed until their position
could be accommodated within it. On this point, the two agreed. There were few other points of
The most important omission in Kent's discussion of the history of the Seattle meeting is that Marc
Rotenberg, who was chairing the session, asked the meeting participants whether they wanted to delay
publication of the report to provide additional opportunity for input. In the discussion that followed,
several people pointed out the enormous value of publishing the report in a timely fashion. The
Telecommunications Policy Roundtable had scheduled a major press conference on the NII eight days
after the CPSR Annual Meeting, and our report would gain would gain significant visibility if it could be
released at that time. We took an informal vote on the motion to delay publication and discovered that
the sense of the meeting overwhelmingly favoredÑby a majority of 90 percent or moreÑto publish the
report so that it would be available for the TPR meeting
In publishing the Serving the Community report, our goal was not to find a consensus document that
everyone in CPSR could endorse in its entirety. Instead we sought to develop an effective, well-written
document that would meet two goals. First, it had to have an impact on policymakers in Washington.
Second, it had to represent a position that a significant majority of the CPSR membership could
endorse. We believe that we have achieved both and that CPSR's voice in the NII debate has been
considerably strengthened as a result.
Dear CPSR members and friends:
At a press conference on April 29, 1994, the staff of the CPSR Washington officeÑMarc Rotenberg,
David Sobel, and Dave BanisarÑannounced the formation of the Electronic Privacy Information Center
(EPIC), a public-interest research center based in Washington, D.C. EPIC will focus on emerging
threats to personal privacy in the electronic domain and direct public attention toward the critical
privacy issues raised by the National Information Infrastructure, such as the Clipper Chip, the Digital
Telephony Proposal, medical record privacy, and the sale of consumer data.
EPIC is a joint project of CPSR and the Fund for Constitutional Government (FCG), a nonprofit
charitable organization established in 1974 to protect civil liberties and constitutional rights. After
negotiating the design of the new arrangement for several months, we are convinced that the creation of
EPIC will strengthen both organizations. In particular, the establishment of EPIC broadens the base of
organizational support for privacy issues, increases the independence of a very capable Washington-
based staff, offers expanded opportunities for fundraising, reduces administrative overhead, and
improves efficiency to the point that we will be able to dedicate more of our energy to program work.
During the last few years, the CPSR Washington office has played a large part in strengthening CPSR's
public-interest voice. The work of Marc, David, and David has been nothing short of terrific. They have
done an impressive job..
CPSR does not intend to abandon its Washington policy activities. In particular, we will pursue our
FOIA lawsuits and continue our membership in the Telecommunications Policy Roundtable, either by
contracting for services with organizations such as EPIC or through our own staff and volunteers. In
any case, CPSR will continue to serve as a powerful voice for responsible computing.
In the last few months, we have been unusually busy and productive. We published a comprehensive
report on the NII entitled Serving the Community: A Public Interest Vision of the National Information
Infrastructure. We have circulated an electronic petition opposing the Clipper program that has been
signed by over 47,000 people. Last weekend in Boston, CPSR presented its fifth Directions and
Implications of Advanced Computing symposium (DIAC-94), which focused on Developing an Equitable
and Open Information Infrastructure. The conference was extremely successful and attracted almost
300 participants. We are going as hard and fast as we can!
A great deal of the credibility and respect for our work comes from the fact that our membersÑ
computer scientists and others concerned about the impact of technology on societyÑuse their expertise
and knowledge to talk realistically about the limitations and possibilities of computer technology. They
testify before policymakers and influence major decisions, such as those concerning the NII. That work
will continue to grow in importance as the use of computing technology expands. We look forward to the
success of both CPSR and EPIC in the new configuration.
ÑEric Roberts CPSR Board President
Clipper: Government-Sponsored, Government-Compromised Encryption
Clipper has become the code name for an encryption system designed by the National Security
Administration (NSA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Clipper is
deliberately compromised to allow law enforcement officials to wire-tap phones in the digital age. The
fear is that authorized wire-taps would be rendered meaningless if the speech is encoded with an
unbreakable encryption technique. Clipper would be a standard encryption system used by individuals
and businesses to keep their communications secret and for which the government would hold a master
key for decrypting messages.
During the Bush administration, several attempts to pass legislation to require Clipper to be installed
in domestic telecommunication systems failed in Congress. Under Clinton, the government is using its
purchasing power to create a market for Clipper by requiring Clipper-equipped telephones for
government use, both within and outside of the defense department. The Clinton administration has also
funded initial development to guarantee low per unit cost.
Cryptography is the process of writing in or deciphering secret code. It dates back to ancient Rome and
has most often been used by the military. In very basic terms, the way encryption works is as follows:
you have a message that you want to keep secret; you run the message through an encryption process
with a key which produces unreadable text. This coded text is then sent to the intended recipient, who
presumably has the appropriate key to decipher the text.
Encryption processes are implemented with mathematical algorithms that convert the original message
into a coded or ciphered text based upon the key that is used. In a well designed system, the algorithm,
or mathematical basis for the encryption, may be public and have no impact on the secrecy of the
messages. The security of the encryption depends only on the secrecy of the key. Good systems are hard
to design and are difficult to verify because of their mathematical complexity; good design requires an
open process of design and review.
In a well designed encryption system, there should be no way for a stranger to decrypt a message except
by trying all possible encryption keys; any shortcut that is found to exist is considered to be a serious
weakness. The present encryption standard, DES, has 56 bit keys, and there are therefore
72,057,594,037,927,936 possible keys. It has become fairly easy to crack this code by brute forceÑ
i.e. by trying all possible keys. Because of this, DES is being decertified in 1998, and the
administration wishes Clipper to become the new standard. The Clipper encryption algorithm, called
Skipjack, uses 80 bits, resulting 16 million times as many keys. It is unclear how long a lifetime will
result from such a modest increase in key size.
The essence of Clipper is the Escrowed Encryption Standard (EES). This combines the Skipjack
algorithm and an escrow system which is cast into an integrated circuit called Clipper, to encrypt
digitized communications. The key escrow system involves dividing up the decryption key into two parts
and giving one half to two different government agencies. Currently, the government agencies receiving
the keys are NIST and the Treasury department. This is supposed to ensure that the keys can only be
obtained with proper court authorization.
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
There are many concerns raised about Skipjack. The NSA developed the algorithm in secret and demands
that it must be kept secret. This suggests to encryption experts the possibility of a severe weakness in
the algorithm. Perhaps it can be easily cracked without the keys. DES, a previous NIST designed
encryption system, suffered from the same lack of confidence after the algorithm was modified from
IBM's original Lucifer. It was only in the last two years that it has been found that the algorithm was
There are also important technical and structural problems with Clipper and EES. The key escrow
system takes an algorithm that is supposed to be robust enough to take hundreds of years of
supercomputer time to crack and reduces this supposed protection to padlock level security; if one has
friends at the two agencies who can be bribed, then one can tap any link for which they hold the keys.
Additionally, the escrow system is constructed in such a way that once a key has been revealed for a
Clipper chip, it is then known forever. And, the court order procedure does not include any verification
that the chip to be defeated actually belongs to the individual cited in the wiretap order.
The Clipper chip implementation may also have some problems. Apparently, if the initial handshake and
setup between chips is interfered with, the chips silently revert to an unencrypted mode of
communication. Due to the classified nature of the design, problems of this sort are difficult to identify,
and if identified are hard to verity. Again, the secrecy surrounding the development of Clipper has
people worried that a back door or secret access method may exist. Also, all chips use the same key
worldwide to encode the initial handshake; as soon as it becomes known, various weaknesses are
exposed, such as the ability to easily track digital cellular phones, even for those who cannot read the
messages. It is also possible to wiretap and record conversations and then decrypt them later when a
wiretap court order is obtained, violating the time limit on the court order.
Currently, the government says that it won't stop people from using their own encryption systems.
Clipper will be a very expensive effort to install. Is the government hoping that criminals will be
smart enough to use cryptography to hide their illegal activity but dumb enough to use the government
designed system without including a second, more secure layer of encryption? Are they hoping that good
encryption does not become commonly available in normal consumer items, such as in facsimile
machines? There are already inexpensive systems that are available like Viacrypt's Pretty Good
AND THAT'S NOT ALL . . .
Clipper is a technical collision between the scientific capabilities of the 21st century and a medieval
understanding of crime fighting and of science. I'm reminded of a cartoon depicting a Pentagon soldier
guarding a computer against viruses by pointing his gun at a modem. Similarly, cryptographers point
out that there is no security in algorithms that need to be secret, or in crippling a system and then
trying to keep the Achilles heel in a vault; either of these can be compromised in minutes, regardless of
the supposed mathematical integrity provided by cryptography.
Despite technical flaws, perhaps the biggest problems with Clipper are policy Issues:
¥ Clipper was developed by the NSA without a public review process. The public must be able to decide
how much freedom to give up through open debate.
¥ The NSA is barred by a 1987 law from working on systems destined for public use.
¥ Clipper cripples privacy mechanisms in advance of due process. Historically, our system of
government has prevented anticipatory interference in the design and deployment of
telecommunications mechanisms without a demonstrable clear and present danger or evidence of
¥ The government is allowed to bypass court orders in obtaining the escrowed keys if national security
is involvedÑa frequently misused justification.
¥ The government won't discuss Important issuesÑwho will know the algorithm used to generate keys,
or have access to keys without court order? A government response to criticism, published in the
Federal Register (Vol 59 No. 27), was a mixture of denial. evasiveness, and promises for
¥ Clipper will be resented by the international community. Good encryption systems are available
overseas and other countries will not want their banking system (for example) to be forced, in order to
interface with our own, to use a compromised security system to which the U.S. holds the keys.
¥ The voters do not want Clipper. A brief email campaign produced 47,000 petitions against Clipper in
a few weeks. This is a remarkable response.
¥ The administration has said that non-escrowed encryption is not a matter of right, suggesting that
other systems may be outlawed later.
¥ Encryption systems need to be constantly reevaluated and tested, which is impossible if the plans are
In addition to the above, Clipper is a government program with a not-so-secret agenda. The claim that
only the government itself is required to use the system is undermined by the statement that Clipper is
aimed at catching terrorists and organized crane. This implies that the government expects to succeed in
pressuring society into widespread adoption of Clipper. Many people are tired of this form of deliberate
misrepresentation and lack of forthrightness.
Attempting to deploy an expensive, compromised encryption system is likely to be a doomed experiment
in economics, politics and law enforcement. Americans consistently show that they do not appreciate
being manipulated by their own government. It is unfortunate that the agencies we have set up to
protect us against criminals are so lacking in diplomacy and technical competence.
WHAT CAN I DO?
First, educate yourself. More detailed information about Clipper is available from CPSR.ORG by
electronic mail and other means (see page 14). Second, write to your congressperson and indicate how
you feel about Clipper and write to the administration as well. 47,000 signatures were recently turned
over to the White House, but individual letters are relatively rare and are quite important.
VOLUME 12, No. 2 The CPSR Newsletter SPRING 1994
The CPSR Newsletter is published quarterly by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, P.O.
Box 717, Palo Alto, CA 94302, voice: 415-322-3778, FAX 415-322-4748, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 1994 by CPSR. Articles may be reproduced as long as the copyright notice is included. The
item should be attributed to The CPSR Newsletter and contact information should be listed.
Guest Editor Judith Stern Executive Editor, Layout & Design Nikki Draper Board of Directors Eric
Roberts, President Jeff Johnson, Chair Judi Clark, Treasurer Steve Dever, Secretary
Jim Davis Jim Grant Paul Hyland Steven Miller Todd Newman
Aki Namioka Dave Rasmussen Coralee Whitcomb Terry Winograd Marsha Woodbury
CPSR's National Office Staff Kathleen Kells, Managing Director Nikki Draper, Communications Director
Susan Evoy, Database Manager CPSR's Washington, D.C. Office Marc Rotenberg, Director David Sobel,
CPSR Legal Counsel Dave Banisar, Policy Analysist
CPSR Washington, D.C. 666 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Suite 301 Washington, D.C. 20003 202-544-
9240 FAX: 202-547-5482 email: email@example.com
If you move, please notify the CPSR National Office. The CPSR Newsletter is mailed bulk rate and the
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CPSR'S NATIONAL INFORMATION INFRASTRUCTURE WORKING GROUP
CPSR has an electronic discussion group on the National Information Infrastructure. The list is open to
any interested members. To subscribe, send email to email@example.com. In the message type:
SUBSCRIBE CPSR-NIT <your firstname> <your lastname>
You will receive a message that confirms your subscription. After that, you should begin receiving any
messages sent to the group. In order to send messages to the discussion list, send mail to cpsr-
firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any problems, send email to email@example.com.
Created before October 2004