[Edu-sig] Shuttleworth Summit

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sun Apr 23 05:42:37 CEST 2006

kirby urner wrote:
> I've read some Gatto and know about unschooling.  But how does that
> tie in to your advocacy for Jython, for example?  

No direct link.

I just think Jython is great technology considering Java's (technically) 
undeserved success in the market. :-) Also, if you want browser plugin 
support for Python, Jython already has it running as a Java applet, and 
that will cover more versions of more browsers than anything we can 
realistically hope to support with another flavor of Python. If plugin 
support is not important, then CPython seems a better choice to me
for an educational Python with the least licensing and deployment and 
dependency issues and with the greatest current support.

 > And what does this
> sentence even mean:  "Mark sets out to do good; my worry is how many
> Bucky Fullers the curriculum he plans is about to grind to ruin."

In the context of the previous statement there, and if you consider 
Gatto's points about just about every inner-city kid he taught being a 
potential great success at contributing something to society,
as well as the actual success of a place like the Albany Free School with 
kids who have problems at other conventional schools:
it means that schooling centered around the current needs of the 
curriculum instead of the current needs of the student actively harms the 
potential of most kids. And, as Gatto suggests, modern schools were 
designed to do just that -- to be levelers, not amplifiers. In order to 
level someone, you need to grind them down one way or another to fit some 
standard. :-( Today Bucky Fuller might have been placed in a special ed 
class and then likely put on Ritalin for obsessing about those dried peas 
and not paying enough attention to the teacher in class. Drugged up and 
labeled a failure from kindergarten, he might never have developed enough 
self-esteem to think great thoughts (or make them known to the world). 
Granted, schools do try to raise others up to the standard (but usually 
fail miserably at that anyway, which is OK, because it failures 
paradoxically justifies the need for schooling, because the kid is usually 

As Gatto points out, the ironic thing when we say schools are "failing", 
is that the reality is that schools are actually "succeeding" at what they 
were designed to do. They were designed mainly by industrialists
to make most people into compliant factory workers and consumers. Ideal 
consumers and factory workers from an industrialist point of view are not 
skeptical people -- thus the focus on science as a collection of facts, 
not a way of skeptical thought. The problem is just that the purpose to 
which they were designed in a very public way two to three generations ago 
(with ultimately the buy-in of most people at the time) is no longer the 
purpose which we now desperately need them to fulfill (which is now to 
create citizens for a dynamic and technology oriented 21st century) We are 
facing a variety of specific issues resulting in part from the very 
success of consumerism and industrialism, and it is often that the success 
of one generation turns out to be the problem of the next as conditions 
change in part from that success. For example, the US had a lot of 
productive factories for two generations, so now the problem is more what 
to do with all the stuff we have (including how to power it and recycle it 

> I can't understand your logic yet.  The commitment is to bottom-up
> curriculum development, not one guy (not me, not anyone) imposing some
> top-down compulsory "must learn" thing, except insofar as we tie to
> the pre-existing national curriculum for South Africa.

Hundreds of years ago, most kids learned what they needed to know from 
family and community, though some wealthy people had one-on-one tutors for 
their kids. The notion of sticking a bunch of kids the same age together 
in a room and expecting them to all learn the same thing at the same time 
is only in the last century or so, and it is clearly not how children 
learn best, since kids are ready to grasp ideas at very unpredictable 
times. It is a waste of a child's and a teacher's time to try before they 
are ready -- whether reading, writing, arithmetic, or other things, but 
that waste is exactly what an age based curriculum demands. So no 
curriculum, even a "bottom-up" one that expects kids to learn something in 
a specific year (let alone in a specific month or day) is going to be good 
for kids overall. Enough such interactions grinds down kids into tiny 
fractions of what they could of been (and it is not too good for the 
teachers psyche either); it makes many kids actively hate education, or at 
least hate and fear specific subjects (often math, but also often 
reading). Boredom by itself isn't torture and is an important part of 
life, but forcing kids to be in boring situations they can't evade 
physically or mentally for years at a time is torture IMHO.

The bottom line is trust. A mandatory "curriculum" is an act of mistrust.
A kid who senses mistrust is goign to be an unhappy one.
I have fewer problems with advisory curricula, as suggestions or hints.

> The lesson plans will specify what software is needed.  If that
> software actually exists, so much the better.  And the students
> themselves are authors of some of these lesson plans.  

Well, that's a start, assuming the same kids who are the authors are the 
ones doing the learning, otherwise, it might just be bullying. Still, I 
won't question that getting kids to design lesson plans is probably a very 
educational experience for many of them..

But on lesson plans, consider this Quaker joke (respectful enough, I think):
"One World War II Quaker conscientious objector had been a professional 
wrestler. Once when he and some other inmates of the Coshocton CPS camp in 
Ohio made a trip into town, they were hassled about their pacifism by some 
local youths, who insisted that only force could change the German's views.

In response, the ex-wrestler took off his coat, challenged one of the 
local boys to a match, and promptly threw the townie across the room. He 
then asked the youth, "Now do you believe that force won't change people's 

"Heck no!" the local boy hollered back.

"That's exactly my point," said the Quaker, who put on his coat and left."

So, where are the lesson plans someone used to teach you be a curriculum 
writer and Python evangelist? :-) Or did you learn that by trial and error 
and life experience? That's exactly my point. :-)

 > It's a
> community effort.  A lot of these TuxLabs double as businesses after
> hours, with some of the same talent overlapping i.e. the dual-use
> nature of the lab makes for a convenient apprenticeship and transition
> to paying work for older, more skilled kids.

That all sounds good as far as it goes. And definitely in line with 

Anyway, time to wind this theme down and move onto other things.

--Paul Fernhout

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