Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 551. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: 2020-01-14 23:34:31+00:00 From: Francois Lachance
Subject: Fwd: Missing from the Humanist Archive ( [Fwd: 10.0351 Meme 2.13 [long]] Willard, > There seems to be a gap in the Humanist Archive for October 1996. > > I discovered this when I checked the archive before disposing of some old email. This interview with Seymour Papert might be of interest to others. I was particularly interested in the remarks about the role of teachers. > -- Francois Lachance Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance https://berneval.hcommons.org >> ---------------------------- Original Message ---------------------------- >> Subject: 10.0351 Meme 2.13 [long] >> From: "WILLARD MCCARTY" >> Date: Mon, October 21, 1996 11:40 am >> To: "Humanist Discussion Group" >> -------------------------------------------------------------------------- >> >> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 351. >> Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers) >> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London >> Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/ >> >>  From: "David S. Bennahum" (355) >> From: Wendell Piez >> Subject: (Fwd) MEME 2.13 >> >> -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= >> meme: (pron. 'meem') A contagious idea that replicates like a virus, passed >> on from mind to mind. Memes function the same way genes and viruses do, >> propagating through communication networks and face-to-face contact between >> people. Root of the word "memetics," a field of study which postulates >> that the meme is the basic unit of cultural evolution. Examples of memes >> include melodies, icons, fashion statements and phrases. >> -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= >> >> >> MEME 2.13 >> >> >> In this issue: >> >> o School's Out? A conversation with Seymour Papert. >> >> >> >> >> >> On Tuesday, October 15, I met Seymour Papert >> (http://www.ConnectedFamily.com/cf13seymour.html) in the lobby of a >> mid-town hotel in Manhattan, where we spent the morning discussing >> children, computers and schools. Professor Papert teaches at the MIT Media >> Lab (http://www.media.mit.edu/), and for most of his career he's pursued a >> mission to redefine how children learn. >> >> Educated at Cambridge University (http://www.cam.ac.uk/), Papert studied >> mathematics, and later went to the University of Geneva >> (http://www.unige.ch/) where he studied with Jean Piaget, whose theories of >> education deeply influenced Papert. Since the early 1960s, Papert has >> taught at MIT where he fused his interests in mathematics, learning, and >> artificial intelligence. In the 1980s thousands of children, including me, >> encountered Papert's programming language, LOGO. >> (http://lcs.www.media.mit.edu/groups/logo-foundation/Logo/Logo.html) >> >> This week, Papert has published a new book, The Connected Family: Bridging >> the Digital Generation Gap (http://www.ConnectedFamily.com/), which >> explores the gap between parents and children when it comes to using >> computers. We discussed the big questions -- the future of learning and >> schools -- and whether we would still have teachers in the future. >> >> >> >> >> David Bennahum: In 1980 you published a book titled Mindstorms: Children, >> Computers and Powerful Ideas, which had a tremendous influence on teachers >> and schools by giving them a conceptual framework for how computers could >> be used in education. This week you've come out with a new book, The >> Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap, give me a sense of >> how the landscape has altered in the intervening years. >> >> Seymour Papert: The big shift is social rather than technological. In 1980 >> kids used computers in schools, and if you wanted to talk about changing >> education, school was the place to do it. Now there are many more >> computers in homes than schools, and there is more interesting innovation >> and alternative learning taking place in homes than in schools. The >> transformation is in the kids. They are the power that will change >> schools. They know a lot more than many teachers do -- certainly >> collectively they do. Computers in the home is the biggest source of >> change in education. >> >> DB: Why is it an improvement that education might be happening in the home >> rather than in the schools? Why is that a cause for optimism? >> >> SP: We have to step back to a bigger story. If I think in terms of my >> three books on this subject, when Mindstorms was written there were barely >> any computers in schools. Throughout the 1980s many schools got in the >> act, acquiring computers. The most important phenomenon I understood at >> that time was the power of school, as an institution, to assimilate >> anything new that came along. School is like a living organism. A foreign >> body comes along -- the computer -- and the organism's immune system and >> defense mechanism takes over. So we saw a shift in the 1980s. >> Before then computers were being used in exciting ways. They were >> in the hands of visionary teachers who were trying to use computers because >> they were dissatisfied with how schools did things. By the end of 1980s >> the larger number of computers were under the control of the school >> bureaucracy and the school as an institution. There were still visionary >> teachers, but they were being neutralized. Previously teachers with a few >> computers in the classroom were using them to move away from the separation >> of subject matters, and the breakup of the day. >> When the administration takes over they make a special room, and >> they put the computers in that room and they have a computer period with a >> computer teacher. Instead of becoming something that undermines all these >> antiquated teachings of school, computers became assimilated. It is >> inherent in school, not because teachers are bad or schools are bad, but in >> all organisms that have come to a stable equilibrium state in the world, >> that they have a tendency to preserve the inertia they have. So school >> turned what could be a revolutionary instrument into essentially a >> conservative one. School does not want to radically change itself. The >> power of computers is not to improve school but to replace it with a >> different kind of structure. >> >> DB: The kind of learning that children do with computers you have called >> "learning by doing", is that generally the distinction here, that using a >> computer the child is able to build a model and learn from seeing a >> complete system in action? As opposed to learning by rote, or in >> fragments? >> >> SP: Yes. But it is incomplete. I think any way of summarizing this is an >> incomplete assessment. It's like -- what's the difference between a living >> thing and a dead thing? Is it any one particular characteristic? I think >> that to put this in perspective we should recognize that school has >> developed a very particular approach to learning. A child starts learning >> from day one. The learning is driven internally. It comes from personal >> interest. It is often passionate. It is not cut up into fragments. There >> is a long list of ways children learn. You can see creative adults doing >> this too. At the MIT Media Lab you see this, or any research lab, music >> studio or creative business enterprise -- people are learning what they >> need to know in order to carry things out. That is much more like the way >> a pre-school child learns. School developed a particular artificial way of >> learning at a stage where knowledge technologies probably made it >> impossible to do it any other way. >> >> DB: What are other examples of old technologies, no longer suited to >> education? >> >> SP: The segregation of children by age is such an absurdity. I talked to a >> group of educators recently, and I said "Before I talk to you let's put the >> 20 year old there, the 22 year olds there, and so on." Nobody would do >> that. It is absurd. We do it for kids because of this fragmented way of >> handing out knowledge in order to systematize it. And you'd better divide >> the day into periods, and the kids into grade levels. >> >> DB: It's an industrial process. >> >> SP: It is. Many of these things are so associated with school that it is >> hard for people to shake them off. I give talks about this sort of thing >> to educators and at the end they say, "Well exactly how is the computer >> going to help me teach fourth-grade math?" And that's exactly the wrong >> question -- there's not going to be a "fourth-grade." There's not going to >> be a separate math class. There's not going to be teaching. >> >> DB: So what's left? What do you have in this future? What does it look >> like? >> >> SP: What it looks like in terms of lives of kids? >> >> DB: Yes. >> >> SP: The kids being involved in interesting projects, enterprises. >> >> DB: Do they go to school? Are there places they go to? >> >> SP: Do you mean, "Are they places they go to, or do they stay at home?" >> >> DB: Yes. >> >> SP: Will these be called schools, I do not know. Will they look like >> schools as we've known them? Very definitely not. >> >> DB: Will they have teachers? Will "teacher" still be a word people use? >> >> SP: Yes. Will they have adult professionals to facilitate the learning >> process? Yes. Will these teachers be people who are in a privileged >> position as the ones who know and the source of knowledge? I do not think >> so. Not at all. They will have a very different role. Sensitive >> well-informed adults who understand deeply about learning processes and >> social interactions will be able to give advice. They will be able to spot >> that this kid has a problem, or this kid needs more interesting challenges, >> or put pressure on them and make suggestions. >> >> DB: And the computer is the catalyst then. It is the means by which we get >> to this end? >> >> SP: I would use the word "media." I do not like the word "catalyst." >> Computers are more than a catalyst. It is a material with which you can do >> much more interesting and varied projects. You can handle complexity like >> never before. As a society, if you think of what is involved in putting a >> space shuttle in orbit, the complexity of doing this without computers >> would have made it impossible. At all levels of society we have taken on >> projects vastly more complex thanks to computers, and it trickles all the >> way down to kids. Kids now are able to do things on their own that are >> much more complex thanks to computers. So it is more than a catalyst. It >> is the actual instrument that makes it possible -- to search for knowledge. >> Knowledge can be presented and accessible in many more varied ways. >> >> DB: Presumably it is up to human beings to use and shape the computer in a >> fashion that supports learning. There is nothing innate about computers >> that would push people to learn this way. After all, people have used >> computers to support bureaucratic and hierarchical systems. >> >> SP: Absolutely. I think if you take, if you were to go and count all the >> computers being used with the label "education," most of them are being >> used counter to this vision. >> >> DB: What is the greatest misuse of computers that you have seen in education? >> >> SP: I think the most important is what we discussed before. Here is this >> institution called school, and this new thing comes along, the computer, >> and we say, "How is this going to change school?" We should not be >> surprised that in the end school changes the computer. It would be >> unnatural if school didn't. Because school is a living, natural >> institution it is going to do that. So if the purpose of school is to keep >> itself going, then it is using computers very well. It is a use of >> computers that is inevitably associated with this phase of development. If >> you asked the question differently and said, "What is the worst, most >> dangerous limitation of computers?", then it is the assumption that >> everything will be the same and computers will just help us do things >> better. That is a disastrous assumption. >> >> DB: The hope is that children who learn with an appropriate use of >> computers become adults with a greater capacity to do what? What's the >> benefit? >> >> SP: We have to look at different kids differently. The most common element >> with all kids is that they start off as enthusiastic learners, but by the >> time they have been in school for a few years they have stopped being >> enthusiastic about learning. The learning instinct is strangled. That >> makes their lives poorer. It makes society poorer. It makes the economy >> rigid and inflexible. It makes for a more rigid society all around. For >> those kids computers could make a very big difference by shaping education >> to fit their approach to learning. The kids who are already doing very >> well, who are already going to turn out being successful, I do not know if >> computers are going to make a deeper change in their overall quality of >> life. It is hard to say what level they will go to. >> The performance of kids in school is determined by intrinsic >> limitations. "This kid is not mathematically minded. He does not have >> that kind of intelligence. There is something about that kid that is >> responsible for bad performance in mathematics." I think that is absurd. >> If you look at kids in French classes in American schools few of them learn >> French. But the kids in France have no trouble learning French. Normal >> human beings can learn mathematics to a much higher level than we do in >> schools. Now whether beyond that they might all be Einsteins? Presumably >> not. >> >> DB: In your book you talk about personalization as key to the way of >> learning you propose. Is this a reflection of the ability of computers to >> personalize learning, so that a student you thought was a bad math student >> was really someone who just needed to learn math in a different context >> than school was prepared to deliver, and that computers can be flexible >> enough to give that context. Is that a fair interpretation? >> >> SP: Yes. >> >> DB: I have to confess that when I was 13 we got LOGO in our school. I >> learned to program in LOGO in 1981, and we had one of these visionary >> teachers where we learned about programming and computers, and how to model >> things. I came back to my high-school six months ago, and the computer >> room was completely different. The students were all using Apple >> Macintoshes, and learning how to use computers the way a consumer learns to >> use a product. >> >> SP: That is a profound shift. There is no doubt that if you look at the >> predominant uses of computers, that is what schools are doing. There are >> still a lot of visionary teachers that have stuck to their way of doing >> things, but they are a minority. Conditions are ripe for things to become >> personalized again. One reason why schools could get away with this >> trivialized stuff is that there weren't enough teachers who understood >> computers. If one teacher is really excited and trying to do great things, >> he is limited to certain number of students. He cannot be there for all of >> them. If schools want to bring this kind of learning to everyone, they get >> caught in bureaucratic problems. It is much easier for them to say "We >> will do keyboarding skills, load up Microsoft Word," or some other program. >> But after awhile everyone gets beyond that. The new generation of kids, >> and of teachers-- >> >> DB: There is a generation of teachers now who have spent 10 years with >> computers-- >> >> SP: We are at an interesting time. We are just beginning to get this wave >> of people who took advantage of computers in college and teacher's school, >> with computers taken for granted. This wave is now hitting the schools. >> At the same time the kids who have grown up since babyhood with computers >> is also hitting the schools now. These two waves are coming in, and that >> will make a huge difference. >> >> DB: A huge difference in terms of schools accepting computers. There is >> this internal dilemma, which is why, if schools are headed for >> obsolescence, would they want to accelerate it? Any system is going to >> want to protect itself. >> >> SP: We are seeing a new movement towards more progressive schools and >> alternative schools. We saw a lot of this in the sixties, and it failed >> then because it did not have the technological infrastructure to support >> itself. They were learning tie-dying, but they were not learning math and >> science. My patent solution is just to find a million adults who love kids >> and love learning and have them around. That would do it in the sixties. >> And of course it was impossible. Now it is possible with computers. >> >> DB: The Internet as well? >> >> SP: The Internet has to change. As it is at the moment it can only give >> limited support. But if Internet is a code word for connectivity then it >> is radical, a transformation. One of our graduate students at the Media >> Lab, Michelle Evard (http://mevard.www.media.mit.edu/people/mevard/), is >> injecting into a school environment communications connectivity. It is an >> inner-city Boston school, and she had kids work on long-term projects. The >> one that worked best was creating a video-game. They spent four hours a >> week throughout the school year developing their game, and in doing this >> they ran into lots of problems. The biggest obstacle was that many >> teachers could not answer their questions. The kids had difficulty getting >> access to ideas. Michelle's project was to create a communications >> network, so kids could throw questions in there, with other kids answering >> them. At first it was full of flip answers, and then it settled down into >> a solid state where a few kids really got into the role of being >> consultants. You can be in touch with kids who did something similar last >> year or the year before. Together they can give answers. It has made a >> qualitative difference in the development of these kids. I can imagine >> that on a global scale that other people interested in similar ideas could >> create a collaborative learning community, compared with a teacher handing >> out knowledge. >> >> DB: But isn't there a role for teachers in telling truth, especially in >> history. History can be seen as a mass of interpretation, and the teacher >> is essential, more than in math or science, in pointing in the right >> direction. For instance the moral consequences of a war, or of genocide. >> If you go on the Net searching for answers you could stumble across >> information whose purpose was not truth but a political agenda. How then >> could you filter? Who would be the trusted authority? For instance if you >> had to research the Nazi Holocaust and you came across a White Supremacist >> site that denied the existence of the Holocaust, how could a kid know this >> was an outright lie? >> >> SP: I am not advocating spontaneous uncontrolled learning. I think as a >> society we have an obligation to pass on values. I think this is an >> important function. I am sure there will be professionals dealing with >> kids who will do this. But that is a very different function from the >> traditional teaching function. This future teacher is acting like an >> advisor, maybe more like a faculty advisor in a university. >> >> DB: So these people are still with us. We might call them advisors or >> coaches, but not teachers. >> >> SP: Teacher has this other function. When you think of a religious teacher >> -- Buddha was a teacher. He was not a teacher in terms of giving >> assignments or grading papers. He was a teacher in the sense that defended >> ideas and cultivated them, and set an example for people. That is more >> like the role model of teacher I am thinking of for kids today. >> >> DB: Is it fair to say that computers are better suited in certain >> disciplines, like math and science, than others, such as history or >> literature? If you studied Chaucer, what value would the computer bring? >> It would bring some, but it would be severely less than in math or science, >> where those are about modeling, building environments and testing >> hypotheses. >> >> SP: If we look at what blocks the development of kids today that is true. >> The computer is a more potent de-blocking agent in relation to road-blocks >> we see in mathematics rather than literature. If fact, our world does >> provide multiple perspectives into literature, much more so than in math. >> That is a matter of how mathematics, versus say poetry, is reflected in our >> culture. Mathematics is presented as a narrow thing that if you fall of >> the track it is very difficult to get back on and continue. Reading poetry >> there are so many different ways to do so. I think that explains the big >> difference between the learning and teaching of mathematics versus >> literature in schools. So, yes, I think computers now have a more dramatic >> effect in math and science. But ultimately it opens up huge new ideas and >> possibilities. For example, being able to publish changes your >> relationship to writing. Desktop publishing, Web publishing, gives you >> openings into how kids might see literature in the future. Greater use by >> kids of literature as a model of how they themselves might create, write >> and express themselves -- it helps them formulate their ideas and >> sensitivities. All that is further away from the immediate roadblock now, >> but it is just as important. >> >> DB: I think authorship is the great promise of computer technology, >> especially computer networks. It gives voice to people who in the past >> were socially constrained not to speak. >> >> SP: Those kids in Michelle's class are programming and grappling with >> problems of how to express themselves in this new media. >> >> DB: If I look back at my education, I see that I learned how to program >> computers at a relatively young age for that time. One of the impacts that >> had on me was I tended to see things in terms of systems, as systems of >> things. So history might be part of a larger system, and the question is >> what are the inputs, what are the outputs? >> >> SP: There is a set of ideas to which kids can get access because of >> computers, like thinking in systems terms. Ideas like "feedback" and >> "adaptive systems" -- all these ideas were very abstract in the way they >> were presented to small children before computers. >> >> DB: With computers you really get a feel for it. Is that one of the big >> intellectual shifts of this generation, a tendency to see things as >> systems, interconnected. People in the past used to see history and the >> world differently. >> >> SP: Many people did get there in the past, and understand systems theory. >> But many more had a lot of trouble getting there because it was hard to >> visualize. In the context of computers it is possible for ideas to be >> empowered, to be concretized, so ideas like systems can be made accessible >> to many more people. Whether the peaks go much higher or not, I am not >> sure. I think so, but from the point of view of mass education we do not >> have to worry about that. If we could get a much larger number of people >> to get to the level where the best people currently perform, we'd be doing >> very well. I think most of the concepts that really make a difference in >> our lives were there before computers. That does not mean that new ideas >> will not come from computers. It takes a certain amount of time before a >> culture can absorb new ideas. I think the idea of computation is one of >> those. And as an idea in our culture it is extremely young. >> >> DB: Why this book now? Why should people read The Connected Family? >> >> SP: I think "this book now" because we are at a point where the locus of >> innovation and learning is moving from the school into the home. Computers >> coming into the home present an enormous opportunity to create new forms of >> learning culture, and to allow parents to participate in this change. In >> the last few years this has become possible. This book is an invitation >> for parents of children with computers to think about learning, about the >> learning culture, and how it could change. I noticed that most parents >> accept the software industry's definition of what makes a computer >> educational. Often I think that definition is retrograde, pushing down to >> lower levels the schooling model. This book might stimulate a lot of >> parents to see computers in a new way. >> I think of this book as presenting options. If we can get parents >> to not take for granted what they think kids can do with computers, or what >> kids can learn, that could be the biggest force for change in society. >> >> >> >> -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= >> The contents of MEME are (c) by David S. Bennahum. Pass on the MEME >> anywhere you want, including other discussion lists, for *non-commercial* >> use. >> Just be sure to keep this signature file at the end. >> >> MEME propagates bi-weekly. You can subscribe to MEME directly via email by >> emailing LISTSERV@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU with a message that reads "subscribe >> MEME firstname lastname" where firsname is replaced by your first name and >> lastname by your last name (do not include the quote symbols.) >> >> MEME is sponsored by Marketing Computers magazine: >> http://www.marketingcomputers.com/ >> >> Visit the WWW home of MEME, including back issues at Into the Matrix: >> http://www.reach.com/matrix/ >> >> Send comments to email@example.com. >> -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= >> >> >> --- End of forwarded mail from firstname.lastname@example.org (David S. Bennahum) >> _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: email@example.com List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php
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