(22) What “shoulders of giants” should we stand on? What is it that children should learn? Are there any universals? How do children decide whom and what to believe?I've been providing what I think is a good answer to these questions for some time now (since December 2006: what should schools teach?) but often the response is muted and contradictory. It's not my original answer, it originates from alan kay and his analysis originates from anthropologists.
The answer is not that children should learn the universals but what Kay has called the "non universals". From anthropological research of over 3000 human cultures, Kay presented two lists, the first were universals, the things that all human cultures have in common. This list included things like:
- tools and art
- religion and magic
- play and games
- differences over similarities
- quick reactions to patterns
- vendetta, and more
- reading and writing
- deductive abstract mathematics
- model based science
- equal rights
- perspective drawing
- theory of harmony
- similarities over differences
- slow deep thinking
- legal systems
The resolution of the tension (between how children learn and the complex, non spontaneous nature of the development of advanced scientific or Enlightenment ideas) is to develop an honest children's version of the advanced ideas. For some of these ideas (not all) the computer can aid this process. Which ones? The list would include the laws of motion, turtle geometry, calculus by vectors, exponential growth, feedback and system ecologies. I think this should be the starting point or at least one of the starting points for thinking about how computers should be used in schools.
Part of the discussion here is establishing that computers are not currently used to their full potential in schools. IMO once the above vision of how computers could be used in schools is understood then it becomes obvious that they are currently poorly used in schools.
I've been wondering why this particular idea, the non universals, is not spreading more. I think it's because it goes against the culture of pseudo progressiveness which advocates that process is more important than content, that discovery is more important than knowledge and/or that education should be entertaining or at least laid back, that we shouldn't put too much pressure on children. The problem is how to teach the non universals without sounding like a "back to basics" fundamentalist. But that is a real problem that needs to be faced and resolved.
Is this an example of the unsane, the mental state where our ideas don't fit reality, the map doesn't represent the territory. We like to think of ourselves as mostly "sane" and contrast that with a few "insane" personal moments or the more permanent state of a few unfortunates. But the "unsane" idea makes room for a different self perception. What if more often than not we are unsane?
powerful ideas discourse (follow the links there for a fuller discussion)
in general programmers are not creatures of the Enlightenment (or why I quit teaching year 9 computing skills and went back to teaching maths and science)
our human condition "from space" (sources the unsane idea)
alan kay's educational vision (summary of a presentation I gave about alan kay's ideas)