[Edu-sig] An OLPC comment ("Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools")

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Thu Jan 18 01:33:13 CET 2007


It is funny to see the "learning just in case" educators crying out for 
more testing "just in case". Like the Albany Free School, or John Holt, or 
"The Hole in the Wall" project or various other success stories relating 
to "learning on demand" which the OLPC project supports did not exist. No 
amount of testing will ever be enough for those who use testing as a way 
to hold people back and keep them in a lower class. :-(
"The second lesson I teach is your class position.  I teach that
you must stay in class where you belong.  I don't know who decides that
my kids belong there but that's not my business.  The children are
numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right
class.  Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has
increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being plainly
under the burden of numbers he carries.  Numbering children is a big and
very profitable business, though what the strategy is designed to
accomplish is elusive.  I don't even know why parents would allow it to
be done to their kid without a fight.
   In any case, again, that's not my business.  My job is to make
them like it, being locked in together with children who bear numbers
like their own.  Or at the least endure it like good sports.  If I do my
job well, the kids can't even imagine themselves somewhere else because
I've shown how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have
contempt for the dumb classes.  Under this efficient discipline the
class mostly polices itself into good marching order.  That's the real
lesson of any rigged competition like school.  You come to know your

I don't in general disagree with the notion that empiricism and testing as 
part of either engineering or science can be useful. But there are still 
aspects of "garbage in / garbage out" when doing testing in relation to 
the testers' assumptions, methods, and biases. And testing can also be 
just a big waste of time if you test for the wrong things -- for example, 
what do higher test scores really prove about whether people will be 
happier or whether some part of society will be better off (economically 
or spiritually)? Consider, how do you test for character or imagination or 
virtue? And how do you test for people who won't put up with BS of taking 
too many tests or being asked to jump through too many hoops? :-) 
Historically, if you measure programmers on, say, lines of code, you may 
get a lot of lines of code but poorly running and hard to maintain 
programs. Same too for testing kids for grades -- maybe you get high 
graders but little else. Consider the goal of Computer Programming For 
Everybody -- to make people more comfortable and in control of their 
increasingly computerized environment -- it's hard to put a number on 
someone's sense the importance of that or when it has been reached.

There is some fancy sounding statistical term for numbers not being 
connected with the reality you are interested in but I forget it off-hand. :-)

On the larger issues, see this essay I recently wrote which supports 
Negroponte's position indirectly:
   "Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools"

That essay could be considered supporting Alan Kay's suggestion that
   "the computer revolution hasn't happened yet".
Essentially I explore whether computer technology which enables "learning 
on demand" has made "learning just in case" compulsory education obsolete.

--Paul Fernhout

Arthur wrote:
> Hate being the grunch.  I hope the OLPC accomplishes everything it sets 
> out to and more.
> What I suspect is that - having learnt something about complexity and 
> dynamic systems from computers - that the most profound effects of the 
> initiative will be unintended ones. Let's hope they are mostly good.
> Particularly given this, I don't understand the embedded need, as part 
> of the process, to the compromise on some basic ideas - normally called 
> science.
> We - on edu-sig - were trying to form some consensus on the need for 
> empiricism around these issues.
> And in his own way, by my reading of events, my erstwhile friend Kirby 
> was trying to suggest something along these lines during his 
> participation at the Shuttleworth summit.  Or - maybe more what he was 
> suggesting - is that until there is empricial evidence that leads us in 
> a certain and clear direction, best encourage the diversity of ideas.
> OLPC seem to represent very much a counter vision.
> Seems to me the OLPC has counter ideas on both empiricism *and* the 
> diversity of ideas.
> Here is Nicholas Negroponte's reaction to the idea of bringing empricism 
> to the party.
> http://www.olpcnews.com/implementation/plan/implementation_miracle.html
> So there will not be consensus, apparently,
> Art

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