Computers obviously not harmful (was: Re: [plt-scheme] Computers considered harmful)

From: John Clements (clements at
Date: Fri May 8 13:52:31 EDT 2009

On May 8, 2009, at 10:44 AM, Joe Marshall wrote:

> Sorry for piping up so late.  I was busy arguing about tail calls....
> On Wed, May 6, 2009 at 12:23 PM, John Clements
> <clements at> wrote:
>> [argument elided]
>>  For this reason, I would argue that computers themselves
>> are currently far too central in the study of computer science.
> A physical computer is an uncompromising teacher.  When you run a
> program you will *know* if you have an error in your reasoning.   
> (Unfortunately,
> it's much harder to know if you do *not* have an error.)
> Without computers, computer science is largely a branch of logic.   
> Logic and
> reasoning is hard and takes practice.  It is easy to make errors.  
> There are
> simple errors in logic in some of the most famous philosophical  
> works on
> reasoning.  Many of these would have been easily noticed had  
> Aristotle or
> Descartes etc. had a home computer.
> As a professional, I see far too many complaints about `ivory tower  
> academics'
> that `know nothing about real-world computing'.  I think these  
> complaints are
> ridiculous in the extreme, but I see them all the time.  If you take
> the computers
> out of classroom, you'll lose even more people to this notion.

The bulk of my original posting was clearly garbage.  The only thing I  
think is interesting (and I have nothing further to add at the moment)  
is the notion that using robots as the lead-in to CS education may  
lead to a poor mental model of computation in that it encourages the  
student to think of the computer as a large robot with many state  
variables (a.k.a. main memory).


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