February 2, 2012

“If I think in terms of my three books on this subject, when Mindstorms was written there were barely any computers in schools. Throughout the 1980s many schools got in the act, acquiring computers. The most important phenomenon I understood at that time was the power of school, as an institution, to assimilate anything new that came along. School is like a living organism. A foreign body comes along — the computer — and the organism’s immune system and defense mechanism takes over. So we saw a shift in the 1980s. Before then computers were being used in exciting ways. They were in the hands of visionary teachers who were trying to use computers because they were dissatisfied with how schools did things. By the end of 1980s the larger number of computers were under the control of the school bureaucracy and the school as an institution. There were still visionary teachers, but they were being neutralized.

Previously teachers with a few computers in the classroom were using them to move away from the separation of subject matters, and the breakup of the day. When the administration takes over they make a special room, and they put the computers in that room and they have a computer period with a computer teacher. Instead of becoming something that undermines all these antiquated teachings of school, computers became assimilated. It is inherent in school, not because teachers are bad or schools are bad, but in all organisms that have come to a stable equilibrium state in the world, that they have a tendency to preserve the inertia they have. So school turned what could be a revolutionary instrument into essentially a conservative one. School does not want to radically change itself. The power of computers is not to improve school but to replace it with a different kind of structure.”

Bennahum, David. S. (1996). “Schools Out? Interview of Seymour Papert.” The interview can be found on the MEME website at http://memex.org/meme2-13.html.

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