[Edu-sig] Python as Application

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Sun Oct 30 21:47:02 CET 2005

> We are in fundamental disagreement about what is and is not appropriate -
> and all we are doing is flushing out the fact that our disagreement is 
> fundamental, rather than rhetorical.  

Note that I didn't say anything approving about the scenario I sketched.  My
goal was to provide some fairly realistic science fiction to keep our
discussion concrete and Python focused.

In actual fact, Texas Instruments (TI) has a pretty strong grip in K-12 in
the USA these days, and in community colleges.  Many teachers require that
students have a calculator, and they specify the brand, because that's
what's used in the course materials.

There's no such thing as a generic, no-brand calculator.  It'll be either
TI, Sharp, Casio...  Should these devices be banned from math and science

> > Microsoft signs on as a major sponsor for Pycon2008.
> Google, I know, sponsored Alex Martelli's appearance at a Linux Users
> event this week in New York.

I notice Google's share price is doing wonderfully of late.  That company
has some serious capital.

> Wonderful for Python, and wonderfully appropriate in any case.
> But I am a schoolmarm, when it comes to schools.  The entire point of my
> relentless efforts to reach you is that what is appropriate in Industry
> and the Market Place is not what is appropriate in the context of 
> education and schooling.

So is it OK with you if I share Google Earth with 8th graders in a public
school next month?  

I intend to do precisely that, in a curriculum segment about latitude and
longitude, GIS and GPS, and as a lead-in to Python.  We'll be using that
latitude/longitude data structure I just posted, or something like it.

I shared Microsoft's Terraserver with Saturday Academy high school aged kids
at Oregon Graduate Institute last time I taught Python and mathematics.  We
zoomed in on the campus, then I let the kids go looking for their own homes
and haunts.  One student mentioned he thought Keyhole was better (a team
Google teamed up with).

What a wonderful way to start seeing the whole earth and one's place upon it
(a curriculum goal -- not a new one).  I use a spherical earth to set the
stage for systems thinking (per my Fuller School:  systems connect around in
all circumferential directions).

> And making great headway in my efforts to be convincing, I sense ;)
> Art
I think you're in a bind:  

1. For students to think more like computer scientists, engineers,
mathematicians, what have you, they need to get a feel for the tools, not
just the concepts (in fact, there's no wall separating the two).

2.  Private industry is a major source for these tools (as well as

3.  Ergo:  we can't pass on our culture without using commercial products.

But how new is this, really?  Is it a new thing for marketers to cultivate
brand loyalty among faculty and students around school supplies, including
text books?  Isn't education, like health care, a huge business, with lots
of vendors?

I say it's important to provide students with choices, alternatives, access
to competing world views and information.  Critical thinking is key.  Don't
take everything they tell you on faith.  Question authority.  Think for
yourself.  Learn how to learn.  Use the library.  Study for the fun of it.
Indulge your curiosity.

Students should take an active role in selecting what they want to expose
themselves to.  They should remain open to new experience.
Overspecialization is debilitating.

But there's just no way to stop recruiting in general.  I see the fact of
competing ideologies, religious, political and so on, as a permanent feature
of human existence.  Cultures have a natural desire to propagate, and
education is a principal means for doing that. 

Nor do I see evidence of some simple rule that those with the most money
inevitably win the most recruits.  It ain't that easy.


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