[Edu-sig] Politics and Python in Education (meta on list charter)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Thu Jul 19 22:26:50 CEST 2007


The change to edusig's charter by you as BDFL seems to be a "fait
accompli", so the redirect to meta-sig seems to be a waste of time, so
I'm going to drop this topic after this last post (I need to get back to
writing software in Python. :-)

As closure, someone with more perspective on this discussion than I told
me offlist they think it is *hilarious* that this sudden ban on
political discussion on edusig has come about in proximal response to
Kirby originally posting (in part):
"In the USA, most schools erect an artificial wall between mathematics
and any discipline involving computer programming.  To question this
wall is considered heresy.  One is branded a radical for even calling
attention to its existence. Instead of using the Python or any other
kid-friendly language to develop ideas about rational and complex
numbers, vectors, sets, primes versus composites, important algorithms
of mathematics, our children are enslaved to a dark ages regime that
permits only calculators, probably by Texas Instruments. Programming is
considered irrelevant to mathematics learning. Open source software is
scarcely whispered about. The use of Python or other programming
languages is either strictly forbidden or strongly discouraged within
primary and secondary school mathematics classes."

We'll see how well censorship works here too.

All the best.

--Paul Fernhout
"I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, 'There's been a military
coup'. And then it all makes sense." -- a US State Department official

Guido van Rossum wrote:
> I'm just speaking for the majority of list members who are tired of
> your and Kirby's (and it the past Arthur's) rants. I really don't care
> about arguments "proving" that the list charter is what you want it to
> be. Most people want it to be something else. Check the recent
> discussions. Almost nobody has spoken in defense of you or Kirby, many
> responded with an enthusiastic "+1" to my original proposal to ban
> politics.
> --Guido
> On 7/18/07, Paul D. Fernhout <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> Guido-
>> I've been on this list continuously since about the second day
>> (2/3/2000) -- a little over seven years. I'll admit I was so turned off
>> by Kirby's comments after my initial posts (on bringing good ideas from
>> Squeak into Python, the technical topic I still like the most, and
>> continue to work towards). I went into lurk mode for about five years,
>> mostly until the issue of Python drawing from Squeak resurfaced from
>> others. I've since come to appreciate Kirby's unique charm. :-)
>> Remember when you sent out this in your email of 2/2/2000 entitled:
>> "Special Interest Group: Python in Education"? It read in part: "I don't
>> have a fixed idea about what the charter of the SIG should be; I'd like
>> to see discussion of CP4E, but also of other issues related to Python
>> and education, and I'd like to include all levels of education (from
>> grade school to college level as well as adult education), as long as
>> people are interested in learning or teaching Python."
>> That can be read a lot of ways. If you intended something more specific
>> you should have said so then.
>> Remember the start of very *first* reply by someone else (to the CCs,
>> not to the list) and the related thread? The very first reply by someone
>> else (not me) started with: "the only way you can succeed is to have
>> choice in education and without competition, the current public
>> education monopoly will crush you. they are just to paranoid about
>> virtual classrooms and the nea and aft are like stalin in their efforts
>> to block every and any attempt to do this in k to 18, ..." And went on
>> from there.
>> And then the start of the *second* reply by someone else (also to the
>> CCs and not to the list): "While I may not be quite as cynical as Mr.
>> [Name omitted] I must admit that I have seen some of the attitudes that
>> he describes. While one would think that you would find progressive "out
>> front" thinkers in the field of education, unfortunately they seem to be
>> the exception to the rule. Instead they are offen territorial,
>> "politically" motivated and especially uncomfortable with change of any
>> kind. They give lip service to "out of the box thinking" but rarely
>> reward it."
>> Didn't those two initial replies to the CC list give you some inkling of
>> what you were getting yourself into with CP4E? Or the whole reason why
>> DARPA would think it was so essential as to be worth funding your
>> proposal to solve a serious problem in the USA affecting the entire
>> nation's security and prosperity? Or perhaps the world's security and
>> prosperity, for that matter, in the face of a likely technological
>> singularity?
>>   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity
>> Look, if you suddenly pop up after five months of silence on this list
>> to present an admitted "strawman" proposal (like you did)
>>  http://mail.python.org/pipermail/edu-sig/2007-July/008073.html
>> which is to actually *change* the evolved character of the list
>> (otherwise why the complaints from some who object to it as it is?) --
>> a strawman which anyone who had taken a course in society and technology
>> would know takes an either naive or disingenuous position on politics
>> and educational technology (like the two could ever be separated) --
>> then don't be surprised when you get replies like mine below which are
>> responsive to that strawman. As I wrote below: "I think your analogy
>> (and by extension Guido's strawman proposal) is flawed, because a key
>> aspect of *design* is to see how values and priorities (which is the
>> core of "politics") lead to new and interesting structures for software
>> and content and hardware."
>> I'll readily agree that part of the tension, as between me and Kirby, is
>> that I like to talk about (and develop towards) the part of the original
>> CP4E goals
>>   http://www.python.org/doc/essays/cp4e.html
>> related to a better system for programming in Python for novices (and
>> experts), while a lot of other people here (if not most, including
>> Kirby) like to talk about another part of those goals of a new
>> curriculum, in the sense of how to use python-as-is in school-as-is. But
>> I don't think that divide can be resolved by censorship. If it bothers
>> people a lot, then there should be two lists (I'm not pushing that
>> though as I think they cross-pollinate each other). Note that on CP4E
>> the proposal reads: "These components come together in the scientific
>> exploration of the role of programming in next generation computing
>> environments." How can one discuss the role of programming in the future
>> without talking either about the future or the political and
>> technological context for such systems?
>> You've barely posted to this list in the last couple of years -- how
>> much in touch with the list are you anymore? Is anybody flaming anyone
>> here? Anyone threatening anyone here? With occasionally fallow periods,
>> this list seems to keep moving right along -- sometimes great
>> conversations, sometimes not. Kirby is like its heart beat, and I don't
>> like seeing him censored. I for one also miss Art's insights; I didn't
>> always agree with him, but he had many interesting things to say.
>> I'd like to draw everyone's attention back to the spinoff list which
>> others started to have a narrower focus:
>>   http://groups.google.com/group/edupython
>> Description: "Supporting the development of online resources and
>> interactive tools to serve high school students, undergraduates, and
>> hobbyists learning Python, and to assist teachers and instructors in
>> reaching those audiences."
>> One comment by Michael T. on that list:
>>   http://mail.python.org/pipermail/edu-sig/2006-April/006278.html
>> "There was general agreement among the attendees at the education BOF
>> meeting at PyCon that a new list was necessary, so although my own
>> presence is recent, my assertion was not unsupported. There has also
>> been some discussion of dissatisfaction with the breadth of discussion
>> here expressed since I have been following the list, notably including
>> some strongly worded advice from Guido van Rossum recently."
>> Note the words "new list".
>> It seems to me you are trying to beat edusig into that new list (which
>> is a bit ironic, as the new narrower list itself seems to be not very
>> active in the past few months, especially compared to edusig). What's
>> next, restricting discussion on educational "philosophy" as opposed to
>> "politics"? That's another thing some people have complained about. And
>> then after that? References to Squeak or DrScheme? Maybe comments on
>> constructivism?
>> If you want a new list with a highly focused charter (can such a thing
>> even be defined in this context?), with an explicit policy anyone
>> posting something beyond that narrow charter will be booted from the
>> list, then by all means, go for it, and give it your blessing. Changing
>> edusig's policies and culture midstream through censorship threats or
>> related intimidation seems ultimately counterproductive to me. As you
>> suggest, your main concern is just on the hypothetical chance a strict
>> rule might prevent possible future problems like some *unspecified*
>> lists had in the past and which this one has not had (at least not to
>> that degree, even if watching Art and Kirby wrestling with each other
>> could get tiring sometimes. :-)
>> Having said that, I had pretty much moved back to lurk mode on the list
>> (my previous last post was in April) before your strawman proposal
>> anyway; I only started responding on this topic to defend Kirby. If you
>> want to ban me for responding to a meta-discussion *you* started, then
>> go ahead. :-) I'm certain we *both* have better things to do.
>> --Paul Fernhout
>> Guido van Rossum wrote:
>>> Please stop arguing politics on the list NOW.
>>> I don't want to start actually kicking people or posts off the list,
>>> but I will if it doesn't stop. This is simply not the platform for it.
>>> Find a different platform where this topic are welcome.
>>> --Guido
>>> On 7/18/07, Paul D. Fernhout <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>>>> Anna Ravenscroft wrote:
>>>>>> Still, I could essentially see Guido's point, because some conventional
>>>>>> school staff who otherwise like Python may face issues posting to a list
>>>>>> talking about the future of education (which may appear to threaten
>>>>>> their job), so perhaps ultimately a solution would be to have one list
>>>>>> for "python in mainstream education" and another list for "python for
>>>>>> alternative or future education".
>>>>> Or how about one list on "educational politics" and one on python in
>>>>> education. Oh wait - there ARE already lists on educational
>>>>> politics... how about those who want to discuss that, go to those
>>>>> lists and discuss it there?! And use this list to specifically discuss
>>>>> python in education?
>>>> I think your analogy (and by extension Guido's strawman proposal) is
>>>> flawed, because a key aspect of *design* is to see how values and
>>>> priorities (which is the core of "politics") lead to new and interesting
>>>> structures for software and content and hardware. In a Python CP4E
>>>> context I see this as including any or all of:
>>>> * changes to Python itself (e.g. "edit and continue" support in the core
>>>> and in IDLE), or
>>>> * new libraries for Python (e.g. PataPata), or
>>>> * new application based on Python (e.g. constructivist educational
>>>> simulations, including perhaps, though he might have disagreed, the late
>>>> Arthur Siegel's PyGeo :-), or
>>>>   http://pygeo.sourceforge.net/index.html
>>>> * new curricula or other smaller educational materials (e.g. the
>>>> Shuttleworth Foundation's steps in that direction), or
>>>> * even new hardware which is Python-powered (e.g. OLPC, or even Lego
>>>> Mindstorms NXT robotics, which I just got two of and was yesterday
>>>> looking up references to using Python to program).
>>>> To talk about creating such software or hardware or content without a
>>>> sense of priorities and values would be analogous to going to an
>>>> architect, asking them to design you a custom house and, and then
>>>> saying, "well, you're an architect, just design us something, we are
>>>> busy people and have no time to talk about values or priorities".
>>>> Although I guess even there a clever architect would learn one thing
>>>> about such people's values and priorities. :-)
>>>> For a personal example, to show these issues are not just talk, consider
>>>> the literally person-months I spent building the PataPata experiment
>>>>   http://patapata.sourceforge.net/
>>>> to bring some Squeak-like constructivist ideas more directly into a
>>>> Python-powered IDE, and which I discussed on this list. Maybe not a huge
>>>> success, but a big investment of my limited time in the free Python
>>>> realm and I learned a few things from it (including the importance of
>>>> naming objects if you wished to share them, a departure from the "Self"
>>>> prototype programming ideal using unnamed pointers to parent objects).
>>>>   http://patapata.sourceforge.net/critique.html
>>>> Ultimately, PataPata was of very marginal interest here. Other people
>>>> can talk about how Squeak has ideas that might work in Python, but when
>>>> things got going, the talk was just talk. Ideally, from my point of
>>>> view, people here would have discussed how these priorities and values
>>>> of learned-centered technologies such as PataPata was a step towards
>>>> could be translated into even more Python-related software, stuff beyond
>>>> PataPata and even better. People could go beyond what I reference, and
>>>> go beyond my own self critique, and as experienced educators suggest
>>>> even better ideas for new technology related to Python (e.g. "the
>>>> students are always saying if only we had X Y or Z for Python they'd be
>>>> using it so much more for the things they want to do" -- like the
>>>> reasons a homeschooled kid chose "DarkBasic" instead of Python, as
>>>> mentioned on the Math Forum Kirby posts to).
>>>>   http://mathforum.org/kb/message.jspa?messageID=5812048&tstart=0
>>>> But that doesn't happen here much, in large part I'd speculate since
>>>> most educators here are teachers, and the authoritarian context most
>>>> teachers work in is unfortunately very limiting both as to free time and
>>>> as to possible horizons, at least in the USA. Again, for example,
>>>> consider my relative who could be fired if she installed Python on her
>>>> classroom computer, and who would not have enough free time to go
>>>> through the bureaucratic hoops to get Python installed district wide,
>>>> let alone then have time to learn how to use it).
>>>> That all to me is tremendously disappointing, especially as:
>>>>   CP4E != CP4MainstreamSchools
>>>> in my thinking (even if mainstream schools are part of "Everyone").
>>>> It's no big surprise the US military (of all US institutions including
>>>> the Department of Education) initially funded CP4E, because, in the USA,
>>>> historically the military has had the most difficulties dealing with
>>>> lack of education among recruits, see for example:
>>>>   http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/3b.htm
>>>> """Back in 1952 the Army quietly began hiring hundreds of psychologists
>>>> to find out how 600,000 high school graduates had successfully faked
>>>> illiteracy. Regna Wood sums up the episode this way: "After the
>>>> psychologists told the officers that the graduates weren't faking,
>>>> Defense Department administrators knew that something terrible had
>>>> happened in grade school reading instruction. And they knew it had
>>>> started in the thirties. Why they remained silent, no one knows. The
>>>> switch back to reading instruction that worked for everyone should have
>>>> been made then. But it wasn't.""""
>>>> Doesn't that sound a bit like future echoes of "Why Johnny Can't Code"?
>>>>   http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=Why+Johnny+Can%27t+Code
>>>>   http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2006/09/14/basic/index_np.html
>>>>   http://news.com.com/Why+Johnny+cant+code/2010-1071_3-5596882.html
>>>>   http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/09/14/0320238
>>>> It is another example of how, ironically, the US military is perhaps the
>>>> only well supported large institution in the USA who, as with
>>>> illiteracy, needs to wrestle with the consequences of US educational
>>>> problems on a large scale. Gatto suggests, unlike the military, most of
>>>> the other US institutions actually grow in power the more dysfunctional
>>>> citizens are, so educational failure isn't a problem for them;
>>>> illiterate graduates are paradoxically a great thing for, say, a
>>>> department of education's budget -- justifying, in an unexamined way,
>>>> more money to do more of the same.
>>>> People on this list (including Guido) sound disappointed in me for
>>>> talking educational politics, but as I reflect on it, I am disappointed
>>>> with people on this list for not helping more directly translate the
>>>> values and priorities I reference into even more Python-related options
>>>> for the future of most education. That future will IMHO emphasize
>>>> learner-centered and learner-customized on-demand activities which
>>>> empower the user to do amazing things either alone or as part of amazing
>>>> ad hoc groups like a typical open source or free software projects,
>>>> including Python. And that disappointment is even keener because I have
>>>> little doubt the educators on the edusig list are generally some of the
>>>> most progressive ones around (otherwise, people her would be on a Java
>>>> list or teaching about using Visual Basic to script Office).
>>>> I can acknowledge that to the extent edusig is about being a teachers'
>>>> lounge where teachers compare notes about teaching Python to meet
>>>> state-defined objectives to pass standardized tests, such discussions
>>>> seem off-topic. But as I said before, if that is the concern, Java is
>>>> really the answer (in the USA, based on AP credit as someone else
>>>> mentioned; granted other countries will differ). Once we wander off that
>>>> path of standardization, then lots of issues relating to values and
>>>> priorities show up -- especially if, like me, you are interested in
>>>> making new things related to Python and education.
>>>> --Paul Fernhout
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