[Edu-sig] nouns and verbs

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Sun Aug 24 17:48:18 CEST 2008

On Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 1:30 AM, Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com> wrote:

<< SNIP >>

> Actually, to the mathematician, programming is a fairly simple concept
> that can be expressed in several different ways as the working out of
> only two basic concepts, such as the S and K combinators (Unlambda or
> J), or Lambda expressions and application (LISP and many related
> languages). Most programming languages have a good deal of unneeded
> and counterproductive complexity added on, like C++.

Mathematicians may boil it down to a few basic concepts (like a Turing
Machine or whatever), but when push comes to shove they like their
traditional notations and both MathCad and Mathematica have gone to
some length to get those old pre-computer typographies on screen, so
that math looks like it used to.

Lots of mathy types didn't want to touch a mouse and keyboard as long
as programming looked like FORTRAN (not saying I blame them).  We've
come a long way baby.

> To the non-mathematician, these simpler solutions seem harder than
> memorizing the complex syntax of conventional languages, as was often
> borne in upon Computer Scientist Edsger Dijkstra. He spent much of his
> career trying to make programming easier to do well, and was regularly
> told by practitioners that he had made it harder instead.

Distilling to two concepts might be theoretically advantageous in some
context, but trying to code anything sophisticated in such a primitive
manner would be tedious to say the least, although I realize LISP is
all S-expressions (exciting to purists in that way).

> The same principle applies with even greater force in education.
> "Don't do us no favors," teachers seem to say. "if you make it so that
> we can really teach this stuff, then we will all have to go learn it
> ourselves, and we can't." This is a delusion in a way, but not the
> delusion of the teachersthemselves. It is a delusion enforced by the
> social system they work in. Like Ethiopian teachers treating questions
> from students as personal insults, until they get XOs. There
> experience suggests that there is hope for the profession as a whole.

Yes, it's good to have languages so accessible that we don't really
need teachers any more (just self teaching abilities), although if we
have them that's cool (teach your peers!).

The self-marginalizing of professional adults to where they're not
relevant to passing on so many core aspects of the culture, because
not venturing to keep up, even if called "teachers" originally, is
certainly a social problem. akin to juvenile delinquency in some ways
(i.e. whole groups of people feeling they have no accepted role in the
ambient culture anymore).


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