Sunday, January 28, 2007

Alan Kay Still Waiting for the Revolution

Alan Kay is saying that the problem with education is the adults, their lack of imagination and their dislike for maths and science

I think this assertion has some truth in it but needs to be deepened. I think its closer to the mark to blame the system. Some adults conform to it; others don't. However, it does seem to be true that teachers are too trapped within the system to be able to change it radically. And with each passing day radical change is more and more required to Schooling. So how will School change? Hard to say, I'm thinking about it.

Extracts from an interview with alan kay (well worth reading the whole interview):
If you look with a squinty eye at most of personal computing today, you'll see we're basically just automating paper—using digital versions of documents and mail ...

I can go into virtually any school that has computers and see children who are happily using them, as well as see teachers who are happy that the kids are using them. Parents are happy, principals are happy, and school boards are happy. But if you know anything about computing or about math and science, you can see that very little of importance is going on there ...

I think the most difficult part is helping the helpers. Logo was a great idea and it failed. It didn't fail because computers couldn't do Logo, and it didn't fail because Logo software was bad. It failed because the second and third waves of teachers were not interested in it as a new thing, and virtually none of them understood anything about mathematics or science. It's very hard to teach Logo well if you don't know math...

The most critical thing about the 20th and 21st centuries is that there's a bunch of new invented ideas—many of them connected with modern civilization—that our nervous systems are not at all set up to automatically understand. Equal rights, for example. Or calculus. You won't find these ideas in ancient or traditional societies.

If you take all the anthropological universals and lay them out, those are the things that you can expect children to learn from their environment—and they do. But the point of school is to teach all those things that are inventions and that are hard to learn because we're not explicitly wired for them. Like reading and writing.

Virtually all learning difficulties that children face are caused by adults' inability to set up reasonable environments for them. The biggest barrier to improving education for children, with or without computers, is the completely impoverished imaginations of most adults...

Don't even worry about computers yet. When did math and science actually start becoming important for everyone in our society to know? Probably 200 years ago. Now think about how poorly math and science are being taught in elementary school today. So don't even worry about computers; instead, worry about how long it takes for something that is known to be incredibly important to get into the elementary-school curriculum. That's the answer. Of course it's taking forever—because the adults are the intermediaries, and they don't like math and science.
More information about alan kay at learning evolves wiki.

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