[Edu-sig] Excited about Crunchy Frog

John Zelle john.zelle at wartburg.edu
Wed Aug 2 05:18:57 CEST 2006

On Tuesday 01 August 2006 7:31 pm, kirby urner wrote:
> I'm excited about Crunchy Frog (or whatever Andre chooses to call it),
> because it signals a growing trend to switch away from dead tree text
> books, and move to dynamic content, i.e. the web.

I'm excited about Crunchy Frog too, but I reject the premise that textbooks 
(and books in general) are an inherently inferior medium to the web. They are 
a different medium with different strengths and weaknesses. For example, the 
convenience, resolution, and tactile properties of books are nowhere near 
equaled by current electronic technologies. Do you actually know anyone who 
prefers to use a computer rather than a book to get the kind of information 
that books are good at providing? I don't. Can Crunchy Frog do things that 
books can't? Absolutely. Let's use it for that. But education from books can 
still be fantastic.

> Kay's big objection, that children have unequal rights as publishers,
> is still a concern.

At the risk of sounding like Arthur, quotes (actually indirect references) 
like this make me question the wisdom of Kay as an education guru. I have no 
idea what the context for this statement is, but it sounds patently 
ridiculous. The "right to publish" is hardly a fundamental human right. 
Children also don't have the right to drink, or smoke, or get married, or run 
away from home, own a gun, or (fill in your own here). They're children. 
Maybe there's a reason not to have them publish. While I'm all for listening 
to children's voices, it's unlikely that they are the purveyors of great 
wisdom or genius. Granting children a "right to publish" sounds downright 
irresponisble. Do they have the judgement to know what it means to make 
information public? One need only glance at the sort of "youthful 
indescretions" on sites like facebook to realize that adults, especially 
parents and teachers, have a duty to act as guardians and gatekeepers when it 
comes to "publishing" for children. Children publish everyday on 
refrigerators across America---that seems appropriate to me.

> But more and more, young adults are coming to feel their own power, to
> make their documents world-readable (some squander this freedom, but
> that's their privilege).

Fair enough, but I for one favor forums with higher signal-to-noise ratio 
than "Joe Shmoe's Blog"

> In contrast, the way the public schools were historically imprisoned
> is becoming more and more evident:  a few big states, like California,
> would use their standards-making powers to serve the interests of big
> publishing, and steamroll the rest of us into docile compliance.

I'm not a fan of this winner take all system either, but it's market forces at 
work, not big states "colluding" with publishers. I doubt that textbook 
decisions are based on the interests of "big publishing." Rather big 
publishing's decisions are based on the interests of the standards 

> I used to work for McGraw-Hill, which does many good works, but it was
> just too easy to fall into this "winner take all" mentality.  Having
> California (or Texas) choose your textbook was like winning the
> lottery.  All the smaller states would have to go along, as custom
> editions would be too unaffordable.

I think technology is addressing this problem, but not in the way you envision 
it. Short run and custom printing is economically feasible now, and there is 
no reason that smaller states, even individual districts, could not (if they 
so chose) have different textbooks.

> A lot of us geeks don't think twice about firing up a projector,
> downloading Google Earth, or jumping through websites.  But your
> average dark ages poor slob has to slave through chapter after chapter
> of antediluvean poopka, all in the name of serving some miserable
> state standards committee.

Right. I'm sure those state standards committees are filled with similar dark 
ages slobs who hate children and know nothing at all about education or what 
educated people should know. After all, it's in the best interests of every 
state to have the most ignorant and poorest educated children. Just because 
the state provides the funding for education is no reason to think they 
should be able to form committees of so-called experts in academic 
disciplines to decide how that money can best be spent.

> Since when did politicians know better?  This business of promulgating
> standards should be left to the *schools*.  As it is, a few quisling
> academics see fit to collude with the big publishers, because it feeds
> their egos to dictate a "one size fits all" solution.

Smart and effective politicians do not try to micromanage schools (although I 
have to admit that political bodies often make bizarre decisions w.r.t 
education).  I live in the only state which does not yet have a statewide 
curriculum, and that has both benefits and drawbacks. However, the _public_ 
in public education is all about fostering a common understanding of what it 
means to be educated. Education is all about myths in the sense of the 
stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. Public education is about 
achieving a common understanding of our society and our place in history and 
the world. It's about finding a common body of knowledge that is both useful 
and humanizing. You yourself suggest that a mathematics education without 
certain Fulleresqe geometric concepts is useless and should be tossed out. I 
happen to respect your opinion, but I'm no expert. Statements of that sort 
need to be tested in the marketplace of ideas. That's what standards boards 
should be, the qualified judges that need to be convinced.

You seem to think that every school should just do its own thing and let the 
best schools somehow "win." The problem is that there is _no_ way to evaluate 
the fitness of a curriculum outside of expert judgements. There is no 
objective "market." Sure, we could just go with the schools whose graduates 
are most "successful." Send your child to Slick Slim's school because its 
graduates make lots of money and control the levers of society. But important 
products like character, citizenship, industriouness, creativity, values, 
etc. are devilishly hard to measure. In fact some probably lead to less 
economic success for graduates (it's easier to get rich without scruples). 
Even the societal utlility of specific concrete "knowledge" is almost 
impossible to measure in any direct sense.

> But as soon as we're done winning the Math Wars (I'd say we've won
> already, but I'm probably in the minority), we'll be able to bring
> teachers new freedom:  to roll their own, to make a name for
> themselves, to serve as creative people again, not just as brain-dead
> apparatchiks in some "hive mind" nomenclatura.

I'm all for teacher empowerment, but let's face facts:  there just aren't 
enough really smart people for every teacher to be enlightened and brilliant. 
Teachers come on a bell-shaped curve, and probably only the very tail are 
capable of the sort of independent curriculum you crave. Who will educate the 
rest of our children? Your last sentence makes it sound like there is some 
vast conspiracy to make sure that our education system sucks. I find that 
hypothesis hard to swallow.

I see lots of problems in education, but I see very little evidence that these 
problems are the result of any "hive mind" nomenclatura, whatever that is. Of 
course, I don't have your philosophical background. I'm just a small cog in 
the repressive system trying my best to teach the students I see with the 
meager skills I can muster. I happen to think well-written textbooks are one 
of the very best tools at my disposal. I suppose in your world that makes me 
hopelessly old-fashioned, hive-minded, and ineffective. I suppose some of my 
students would agree...

Just my 2 cents. My apologies to Guido and the rest of you for the lack of 
Python content in this post.

John M. Zelle, Ph.D.             Wartburg College
Professor of Computer Science    Waverly, IA     
john.zelle at wartburg.edu          (319) 352-8360  

More information about the Edu-sig mailing list