Home About Subscribe Search Member Area

Humanist Discussion Group

< Back to Volume 33

Humanist Archives: Jan. 15, 2020, 6:34 a.m. Humanist 33.551 - missing from the archive (a LONG message)

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 551.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.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]]


> 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
>> ---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
>> Subject: 10.0351 Meme 2.13 [long]
>> 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/
>> [1] 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 davidsol@panix.com.
>> --- End of forwarded mail from davidsol@panix.com (David S. Bennahum)

Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted
List posts to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org
Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/
Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php

Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
Software designer: Malgosia Askanas (Mind-Crafts)

This site is maintained under a service level agreement by King's Digital Lab.