[Olpc-open] Sorry, what are we teaching? How?
dave at lab6.com
Thu May 15 08:08:27 EDT 2008
2008/5/14 Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com>:
> Constructionism means at least two different things.
> * One is how the learner constructs knowledge and understanding. This
> is universal, and doesn't depend on a teaching technique. But
> understanding how people learn suggests how to teach more effectively.
> * The second is that people learn better by doing and making,
> particularly collaborative public creation, rather than by theory,
> lectures, and book learning. But not any of these to the exclusion of
> the others.
I don't mean to be rude, but I think you are confusing Constructivism,
which was proposed by Piaget -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(learning_theory) - with
Constructionism, which was proposed by Papert -
Here's that confusion of Constructivist and Constructionist made very clear:
> my mother studied Piaget in
> her college days, majoring in Child Development, and often talked
> about him and other Constructivist pioneers.
> The Constructionist point of view says
> The biggest question is how to deal with the culture clash that
> Constructionism inherently creates. Conventional education treats a
> great deal of the dominant culture simply as given, and not to be
> questioned. Constructionism requires behaviors that are not valued in
> many cultures, such as speaking up with new ideas, or criticizing
> received wisdom.
> What do you think, Sirs?
You are correct to point out the clash between school and education.
OLPC has failed to challenge Prussian schooling directly, so it should
fall back to providing laptops and unrestricted internet access and
let the medium be the message.
I think its important to distinguish between education and schooling :-)
Constructionism is synonymous with education, and conventional
_schooling_ - Prussian schooling, accurately named - inhibits
education. I'd define education as "teaching the way children learn."
Prussian schools do not teach the way children learn, and nor are they
Probably few are familiar with this reference to Prussia, but Prussian
schooling is central to the history of the thing. John Taylor Gatto
wrote a brief introduction for Harpers in 2003, online at
http://www.spinninglobe.net/againstschool.htm and summarised the 6
functions of Prussian schooling as explained by Alexander Inglis in
his 1918 book, "Principles of Secondary Education":
-- 8< --
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish
fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes
critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea
that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you
can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make
kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the
conformity function," because its intention is to make children as
alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of
great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to
determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging
evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in
"your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been
"diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far
as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step
further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all
but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he
called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along
by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are
meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and
other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them
as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive
sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first
grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these
rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small
fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this
continuing project, how to watch over and control a population
deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might
proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient
-- 8< --
I tracked down this book and have posted scans at
http://dave.lab6.com/acid/dump/2008/innis/ if you want to check the
Gatto has made a full explanation of this in his 300,000 word book,
"Underground History of American Education," online in full at
So, what can be done about the contradiction between schooling and education?
Sell OLPC to the Prussian school systems was either going to be done
overtly, only selling to school systems already wanting to throw out
the Prussian model, or covertly, selling to Prussian schools and
hoping they woudn't realise what was happening until too late. OLPC
until a few months ago was taking the former route, and unsuprisingly
there are only 500,000 kids in such school systems.
Are Negroponte's new plans for OLPC going to uproot Prussian schooling
covertly, or are they going to reinforce Prussian school methods?
IMO Negroponte has never seriously challenged the principles of
secondary education that Innis outlines, and the way that the MIT
Media Lab runs is the same as all other technical universities and the
same as Prussian universities ran: Serving corporations and state
first, learners second. Mario Savio knew the deal.
The reason that http://medialabeurope.org/ failed is that the
corporations that were funding it, and were meant to get early access
to the innovation being incubated there, realised that any kid with a
laptop and internet access was capable of the same innovation, and
there was no point paying Negroponte for doing something that had
become as common as dirt in the developed world.
I think McLuhan's ideas of media determinism are spot on; I think its
most important to get kids laptops and internet access, which in
itself creates a constructionist environment, and worry about the
Details like taking a hammer to Prussian schooling and proprietary
software are not small, but I think if we get 5 million kids laptops
and internet access without overt constructionism and free software,
instead of 0.5 million with those things, in 10 years time we'll have
many more supporters than we do right now to do "right."
I wonder if things would be different if Papert was alive, because he
had succeeded at chipping away at Prussian schooling before, afterall
- I was taught Logo in my math classes as an 8 year old, 12 year old
and 15 year old (I'm now a 25 year old British guy.)
But I was given computers with proprietary software (eg, the Logo I
used was proprietary) and then I was given internet access, and then I
learned about a free society and free software, and defenestrated my
computers and am helping my friends do the same. I speak up with new
ideas and criticize received wisdom.
So I think OLPC has to forget about challenging Prussian schooling and
give up on overt Constructionism, like it has given up on overt free
software, and let the medium be the message :-)
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