[Edu-sig] Shuttleworth Summit

Guido van Rossum guido at python.org
Sat Apr 22 10:48:43 CEST 2006

Let me just add that *this* is an example of why I am going to quickly
extract myself from this discussion. There are radically opposing
views of education, and it very quickly gets political. I can't read
up on all the stuff and I can't trust one side to be "right" just
because they make the last post. I'm interested in Python software.
I'm not interested in taking sides in a political discussion.


On 4/22/06, Paul D. Fernhout <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
> 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?  :-)
> Consider:
>    http://www.tsf.org.za/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=107&Itemid=2
> "Shuttleworth project for *schools*"
> Some of Mark's own phrases from:
>    http://wiki.tsf.org.za/shuttleworthfoundationwiki/Day_20one
> 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:
>    http://wiki.tsf.org.za/shuttleworthfoundationwiki/Day_20two
>    "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
>    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/5i.htm
> 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.
>     http://www.whywork.org/
> 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:
>    http://www.naturalchild.com/guest/earl_stevens.html
> "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"
>    http://home-educate.com/unschooling/
> 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"
>    http://www.newciv.org/whole/schoolteacher.txt
> "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:
>    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/3d.htm
> "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
> understand?"
> 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:
>    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc5.htm
> "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:
>      http://www.madrone.com/Home-ed/hs35.htm
> "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:
>    http://www.house.gov/science/goodstein_04-01.htm
> "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!"
>    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/prologue.htm
> 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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--Guido van Rossum (home page: http://www.python.org/~guido/)

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