[Edu-sig] Shuttleworth Summit

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Apr 22 03:38:36 CEST 2006

kirby urner wrote:
>>If that means Shuttleworth is less interested, then so be it; but
>>you might gain thousands of other developers from the unschooled ranks.
>>--Paul Fernhout
> I don't get the impression you've really read up on the Shuttleworth
> Project, which just had its first London summit, resulting in detailed
> meeting notes, on-line in the Wiki, plus the various blog entries and
> so on.  If you want to speak specifically to the Shuttleworth
> initiative, I suggest you follow more links and at least get on the
> same page?

Maybe we are talking about different conferences or a different Mark 
Shuttleworth? :-) Obviously you were there, but perhaps you saw it mainly 
through the eyes of a curriculum writer?  And so questioning the value of 
a curriculum may be bit like a fish suddenly noticing water?  :-)

"Shuttleworth project for *schools*"

Some of Mark's own phrases from:
as an indicator of what he is thinking about (taken out of context which 
would show he is open minded, true, but look at how many there are):
   "primary and secondary education"
   "to become a mathematics teacher"
   "Technology in classrooms"
   "supply technology in schools"
   "Aim: to produce a curriculum"
   "train teachers"
   "Institutionalize ... exceptional children"
   "correct portfolio of schools to implement the curriculum"

And some phrases of Mark's from the second day:
   "used in schools "
   "In their classroom work"
   "The child has to solve the problem"
   "Did he come to the right answer"
   "identify children who have the answers"
   "How do you deal with kids who work out their own "
   "the sort of skills the teachers should be taught"
   "With the curriculum"
   "If spent more time planning"
   "do all the curriculum training"
   "have a curriculum"
Several are about control here -- planning and telling kids what to do.

Granted, other people, specifically Alan Kay, made constructivist 
educational points (though even he still speaks from a somewhat 
school-oriented context), and Mark responded positively towards them. I 
clearly think Mark is looking for more ideas, and hence his summit. I 
acknowledge Mark's flexibility and potential to change; he's one of the 
few people (dozens?) who has looked at the Earth from space with his own 
eyes, and an ever rarer few (two? three?) who did it with their own money.

Still, I think my point remains, that, acknowledging he had the Summit to 
look for new ideas, that a "mass schooling == education" equality was, and 
is still, the source of light illuminating how he is looking at things. 
And it was the "elephant in the living room" no one talked about (though 
see below). At best there seems to have been some discussion of how in one 
broad area of schooling (math & science) there might be a little 
constructivist approach used here and there in a few grades part of the 
time. But in reality, any conventional *compulsary* school
based approach built on a *compulsary* curriculum will undermine the very 
notion of what he hopes for in wanting to help preparing kids for the 
future -- a one likely involving a lot of freewheeling free and open 
source volunteer community participation. Even forcing kids to help each 
other learn fixed materials undermines part of that message. Those sorts 
of truly collaborative skills stem out of self-motivation, not compulsion, 
and they will only grow ever more important as our society adopts more and 
more productive technologies worldwide, moving to a world transcending 
even the notion of "work" itself.

There was one section where the elephant was apparently mentioned, when 
the notion of radical changes was brought up and then dismissed on the 
secodn day:  "HK2: Extreme crisis- complete overhaul would mean a higher 
impact ... VR: Although complete overhaul would be ideal- it would be 
counterproductive given the realities of South Africa."

Time and time again that same conversation comes up the same way, with the 
same result. So we are left with a focus on: Curriculum, Curriculum, 
Curriculum -- that is a recurrent them in Mark's phrasing.

Some comments by an unschooling advocate on the notion of a curriculum:
"Allowing curriculums, textbooks, and tests to be the defining, driving 
force behind the education of a child is a hindrance in the home as much 
as in the school - not only because it interferes with learning, but 
because it interferes with trust. As I have mentioned, even educators are 
beginning to question the pre-planned, year-long curriculum as an 
out-dated, 19th century educational system. There is no reason that 
families should be less flexible and innovative than schools."
Or see links at:
   "Unschooling -- Delight-driven learning"

As New York State "Teacher of the Year" John Taylor Gatto puts it here in 
his essay, on what the real curriculum is in almost any schooling context:
   "The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher"
"It is time that we faced the fact squarely that institutional
schoolteaching is destructive to children.  ...
After an adult lifetime spent teaching school I believe the method
of mass-schooling is the only real content it has, don't be fooled into
thinking that good curriculum or good equipment or good teachers are the
critical determinants of your son and daughter's schooltime.  All the
pathologies we've considered come about in large measure because the
lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments
with themselves and with their families, to learn lessons in self-
motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love and
lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home
life. Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time
left after school.  But television has eaten up most of that time, and a
combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or
single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family
time.  Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-
soil wastelands to do it in.  A future is rushing down upon our culture
which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material
experience; a future which will demand as the price of survival that we
follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost.  These
lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are.  School is like
starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the
only curriculum truly learned.  I teach school and win awards doing it. I 
should know."

For one alternative:
"I know a school for kids ages three to eighteen that doesn’t teach 
anybody to read, yet everyone who goes there learns to do it, most very 
well. It’s the beautiful Sudbury Valley School, twenty miles west of 
Boston in the old Nathaniel Bowditch "cottage" (which looks suspiciously 
like a mansion), a place ringed by handsome outbuildings, a private lake, 
woods, and acres of magnificent grounds. Sudbury is a private school, but 
with a tuition under $4,000 a year it’s considerably cheaper than a seat 
in a New York City public school. At Sudbury kids teach themselves to 
read; they learn at many different ages, even into the teen years (though 
that’s rare). When each kid is ready he or she self-instructs, if such a 
formal label isn’t inappropriate for such a natural undertaking. During 
this time they are free to request as much adult assistance as needed. 
That usually isn’t much. In thirty years of operation, Sudbury has never 
had a single kid who didn’t learn to read. All this is aided by a 
magnificent school library on open shelves where books are borrowed and 
returned on the honor system. About 65 percent of Sudbury kids go on to 
good colleges. The place has never seen a case of dyslexia. (That’s not to 
say some kids don’t reverse letters and such from time to time, but such 
conditions are temporary and self-correcting unless institutionalized into 
a disease.) So Sudbury doesn’t even teach reading yet all its kids learn 
to read and even like reading. What could be going on there that we don’t 

So why build software tools oriented towards schools and a compulsory 
"curriculum" if the real goal is helping kids educate themselves and 
become productive citizens of the 21st century?  Yes, schools could be 
made a bit less terrible, but why spend rare philanthropic dollars for 
such a meager outcome? Someone like Mark Shuttleworth has so much 
potential as an agent of positive change, but it seems like, despite the 
fact that his effort will do some small good for some school kids, it is 
mostly a non-starter as far as significant change. Of course, this is to 
be expected. As Gatto points out in his book:
"Chapter Seventeen -- The Politics Of Schooling -- At the heart of the 
durability of mass schooling is a brilliantly designed power fragmentation 
system which distributes decision-making so widely among so many warring 
interests that large-scale change is impossible without a guidebook. Few 
insiders understand how to steer this ship and the few who do may have 
lost the will to control it."
That is the elephant in the educational living room in all its glory.

To be clear, this note isn't meant personally, even though it obviously 
hacks at the roots of the notion of a fixed curriculum for kids, and you 
personally make such curricula. I have no problems with people writing 
good tutorials, or people figuring out useful educational widgets to make, 
or people helping other people who spend time around kids learn how to 
interact productively with them, or people thinking about what types of 
things are useful to learn and laying out interesting paths for kids to 
follow at their own choosing. The best part of our garden simulator is 
perhaps the help system my wife spent six months writing, which is a 
resource for many thousands of people on the web now. If one looks at 
writing curricula in that sense, then such aids can be useful. But add 
compulsion to any of those notions (even our garden simulator!), and you 
get back to the problem we have today with mass compulsory schooling. It 
undermines your very own work, by turning your labors of love on curricula 
into instruments of torture (boredom is in a sense a form of torture) 
wielded by "teachers" who (often unknowingly) teach mainly the seven real 
lessons of schooling Gatto outlines instead.

And you don't get someone like Bucky Fuller through conventional 
compulsory  schooling, and we certainly need more people like him in the 
21st century. From:
"Almost no one who has changed our world, has reached his or her new 
knowledge through [learning that results because you are forced]. ... To 
me, one of the most striking examples of this is Buckminster Fuller. Until 
he got glasses in elementary school, he was essentially blind. He 
developed his ideas about shape and structure playing with dried peas in 
kindergarten." So in that sense, Bucky's poor physical vision protected 
him from the compulsory school curriculum that might have ruined his true 
inner vision.

Science education in compulsory schools is essentially a machine grinding 
out diamonds (PhDs). It is also a failing pyramid scheme, since it 
produces more specialists then the world needs, each of which wants to 
turn out many more of the same specialist. In the words of the Vice 
Provost of Caltech, Dr. David L. Goodstein:
"Science education in America is a mining and sorting operation in which 
we seek out diamonds in the rough that can be cut and polished into gems 
just like us, the existing scientists, and we discard all the rest. This 
system has produced the best scientists in the world, but it is also 
responsible for the woeful technical illiteracy of the American workforce. 
Furthermore, now that the period of exponential growth is over we find 
ourselves with a surplus of gems that we can’t afford. That is why the 
Internet crackles with the complaints of young Ph.D.’s who can’t get jobs 
doing the research they were trained for."

Mark sets out to do good; my worry is how many Bucky Fullers the 
curriculum he plans is about to grind to ruin. Still, his may ruin less of 
them then some other worse curricula, but is that the best we can hope 
for, to save just a few children from the griding gears of a compulsory 
schooling machine? Even in the face of impossible odds against worldwide 
compulsory school machinery costing trillions of dollars a year to operate 
to keep grinding down most children into dirt (cue Pink Floyd :-),
   http://www.lyricsfreak.com/p/pink-floyd/108776.html [*]
or as Gatto puts it: "Bianca, You Animal, Shut Up!"
even then, shouldn't we desperately hope for something more? And shouldn't 
that desperate hope inform our vision of what truly educational software 
and "computer programming for everyone" should be all about?

--Paul Fernhout
[*] Too bad Pink Floyd didn't use the word "schooling" instead of 
"education" in "Another Brick in The Wall". In that sense, even they 
succumbed unwittingly to the evil they try to fight.

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