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Seymour: … association is where it can get out of control and get into just a mess. I think that in our schools, especially, and in the value systems that our culture imposes on what’s good knowledge, and good understanding, and good learning, that kind of thing isn’t given enough face. We over valuate the sides of the abstract and the narrow, and we devalue the connectedness and associations and so on.
What I want to talk about is, first of all, the role of connectedness in learning, and the role of learning in Logo. Then I’ll make a big circle in the role of Logo in connectedness, and Logo back to learning. I’ll talk about those themes.
I would repeat again, these themes have a certain deliberate militancy, and I think we need to be militant about epistemology, about ideas of learning, because it really is a reigning epistemological repression, or oppression, of all the ways of thinking the don’t match the epiphany super value of abstract formal thinking, being the best, in fact, the only real kind of thinking: everything else is just some kind of prelude to it.
Last week, in fact, I was having an interesting session with graduate students at MIT. As case study to the way science works, we took a number of proposals that I had submitted various times to the National Science Foundation. As a case study, they read a proposal that had been rejected. It was called “Love is a better master than duty” … that’s a quote from Einstein. The proposal was to exemplify that within the paper with some new approaches to science learning.
That proposal was rejected. We rewrote the proposal with a different name, “Constructionism: a new opportunity in elementary education.” It really was the same proposal, but this time it had a different kind of name, and it was full of charts and diagrams, and management diagrams and all the rest. This time it was funded.
I don’t complain about that. I might have once upon a time in my life. Since thinking a lot and reading sociologists of science like Bruno Latour, for example. A very interesting book called Science and Action … which everybody should read … which tries to correct an impression of the way science works as a straight line posted of truth … Not that it’s posted with lies, but there’s much more than going from truth to truth to truth.
The first group of science involves connections with people, and saying things in a way that connects and resonate with what other people are thinking: the other people are interested in an idea. Sometimes one thinks you have this idea, and it’s such a great idea, and nobody wants to listen to it. Then 10 years later, somebody else gets the idea and everybody listens, and you say, “That’s not fair, because I had that idea.” But you didn’t have the idea: what you had was something that sounded like it. Part of having the idea is connecting with people, and having it in a way that gets that resonance. This is the way that science, or education, or the person with the knowledge works: it’s making all sorts of connections.
In analyzing the reviewers comments on those proposals, we noticed also a whole range of different kinds of comments. Some of them really did a very fine analysis of the content of the proposal. Some of them just talked about the people. Is that bad? No.
It’s interesting, also, how a range of … Somebody said, “This is a proposal from Seymour Papert that should be funded.” It’s a must, you know. Somebody else said, “I heard Seymour Papert give a lecture, and he rambled all over the place. I wouldn’t give him money for anything.”
This is an issue. I’m not just rambling all over the place: I’m rambling all over the place about rambling all over the place. That’s different. That’s purposeful rambling. The art of getting the right control between ramble and focus, that what it’s about.
A big part of what learning is about … now that we jump up and put that in a more focused setting. In the last little while, I’ve been focusing on a particular question, that arises from a particular observation about the English language … it’s captured in that particular observation. The observation is that in English, there are lot of words for the art of teaching: pedagogy, that’s art of teaching; or the theory of instruction.
If you go into libraries, you’ll find many books on the art of teaching. If you go into schools of education and other places, there are many courses you can take on the art of teaching: how to be a good teacher.
What’s the word for the art of learning? There isn’t one. There isn’t any books on how to be a good learner. There aren’t any courses you can take in how to learn. Why is there is this asymmetry? There’s something strange.
I think it is not just strange, I think that if we dig down to our culture, the way that our culture thinks about knowledge, we see that it fits into a whole pen. It fits into a pen in which education is something you do to those kids: you education them.
They teach us in grammar there’s the verb, and there’s the active subject, the agent, and there’s the passive patient. The child is the patient of this, the object. The teacher is the subject. The teacher teaches the child. What does the child do to the teacher? Well, we all know there’s no word like that for it.
Because the teacher’s the active agent, the teacher needs to have the skill and to know how to teach. Because the child is only the object on which the teacher acts, you don’t need any word for the skill of child: the child doesn’t need any particular skill, the child only has to do what the teacher says, and follow along, and this thing called learning will take place there.
I don’t think that’s the best kind of learning. To make the point about why it’s not the best kind of learning, I want to turn around some ways in which one might explore, and the ways I’ve been trying to explore, getting to know how would we get to develop a more sophisticated … What do we do it to get a better idea of learning? How do you go about become a better learner, and more sophisticated and more knowledgeable about learning?
There are quite a lot of things one does, but I’d like to mention a few of them, and then focus on one in particular.
First of all, where you would look for good models depends on the thing you think learning is. If you think learning’s a very technical thing, you might go look at physics for a model. The physicist did experiments on atoms and molecules. Let’s do experiments like that on learning.
A lot of people did them. If you go into libraries of psychology, or if you open the catalogs of psychology departments, you might think that you could prove me wrong when I said there are no courses about learning. I didn’t quite say that, I said there were no courses about the art of learning, about how to be a good learner.
There are many books and articles written about the theory of learning. You open them up and see rats running in mazes. My complaint isn’t that it’s about rats. My complaint is that it’s not about learning, it’s about teaching, or about training. It’s about how to teach the rat to get to the end of the maze. You do not find in these books any advice for the rat. That’s the key thing.
More fashionable is not to talk about rats, but to talk about computers and make computer models of learning. Again, the question is: is there any advice in them for the computer? No, there isn’t, there’s only advice for the programmer or for the scientists who made that simulation of the brain, or whatever it was.
Whatever you want to call that, it’s a different area of interest from the one I’m trying to focus on.
I say the same about children: that when theory of learning about children, it doesn’t have some good advice for the child … and if not, it’s about a different subject, not what I’m talking about.
Learning then, I think, is not like atoms and molecules, it’s like something else. What kind of thing is it like? I think it’s more like love. Things about human relationship.
How do we get to know about love and human relationship? One way is by literature. We read, and some people write, and we discuss a lot, love stories, like Romeo and Juliet or all sorts of … There’s this pattern, this genre, of love stories. Stories about all sorts of human relationships.
Are there learning stories in the same that Romeo and Juliet is a love story? Actually there are. Maybe all stories are learning stories if you look at them in the right way.
I’ve been hunting around, looking around for good examples in the culture where there’s a representation of learning like there’s a representation of love in our culture. That’s where I want to tap into.
The one that really got me onto this … it was from a few years ago … my starting off point was running into that movie called Dirty Dancing. Anyone remember Dirty Dancing and what it’s about? It’s about learning. It’s about the character, called Baby in the movie, who wants to be a dancer. She’s a klutz, she’s anything but a dancer, and she want to perform. It’s about how she learns.
If you look at the movie carefully … Go and get it out of the video store, rent it and watch it, because it’s really quite interesting. If you listen carefully, you’ll see that there’s a lot of commentary in it about learning. I’m sure that whoever wrote it … I really ought to track the person down, but I haven’t … I’m that whoever wrote it actually had in mind to ridicule school.
You’re finding there’s a contrast between the kind of dirty dancing as opposed to the clean dancing. Clean dancing is sort of shuffling fox trot, isn’t it, early ’60s. The ballroom was the result of cat skills. There are also lessons: you can have lessons in dancing. The dancing lessons they’re like quick-quick, quick-quick-slow, or forward-forward-side-together. They’re reduced to a formula, just like mathematics classes are reduced to a formula.
Dancing isn’t that in this movie. Baby finds herself away from these, she wanders into where the people who work are dancing, and they do an altogether different kind of dancing. Something that I missed completely when I first saw it was that her first question when she sees this with her eyes open, she really wants to do that: “Where do they learn it?” she said. You can hear, “Where can you take a lesson in that?”
They didn’t learn it anywhere: it’s just there, it’s part of the culture. They don’t explain, they said they didn’t learn it anywhere. You can hear the resonance running right through this.
What I’m saying about this, I’m going to talk more about that movie, but it started me off on looking all over the place in literature, and movies, and art, and the culture generally for representations of learning. It’s all over the place, because learning really is an important part of life. Just as important as loving, maybe, but in the same sort of category. We can get that knowledge that’s out there. There’s an enormous amount of shared knowledge in all of us.
But then when we come to talk about school, that’s a whole different story. Nobody refers to that kind of knowledge about learning. It’s like the brain is divided into two sides: they say left side and right side. In the same sort of way, we can say there’s the school side and there’s the life side.
When you’re thinking with the school side of the brain, you think in one way about learning, and about mathematics, and about grammar and all these things. The thing with the life side of the brain, you think about the same things in a totally different way, and there’s no connection. This is the problem.
This is the problem about how to make connections, and stop the thinking about learning being so Balkanized: in different pieces that are separated. That’s why we’re looking for learning stories.
Another way is looking at the personal experiences and talking about it. That’s how you developed sense of relationship and understanding people, and relationships, and what it’s like to love and be in love, or out of love. You do it because you have endless conversations on this on the telephone, and chattering, it might be gossip. You talk about it a lot. It’s by talking about those things a lot, about your experiences in relationship, that you develop your sensitivity in your inside.
It’s not just in you, it’s in the whole culture. Words get developed in the language, you have references, cultural references to movies, and books, and stories, and all sorts of stuff. It’s being going on for a long time. The bible is full of that sort of stuff, all over the place. Personal stories, personal experience.
I want to talk to you about a personal experience. Again, I’m talking about it because I think I’m going to spell out some specific morals from this personal experience, but also because I’m trying to encourage people. That’s the theme of this book that Gary mentioned, the sequel to Mindstorms. A lot of it’s about life. About encouraging people to stop being so shy and inhibited about talking about learning. We are shy and inhibited about talking about learning.
I’ll tell you a story. This is a learning story which points to the good reason why we strive for it. This happens in the resource room of a school in Boston. I’m sitting in this resource room, and there’s this little third grader kid who was considered to be a pretty bad problem all around. There’s a teacher aid who’s giving him a piece of paper on which there’s some numbers, and he’s got to add them up.
Now, I know this kid, and I know the one thing this kid hates, you can’t believe how much, is adding up numbers on pieces of paper. Why he hates it is another matter, and I suppose he’s entitled to, but what’s really bad is it’s very hard to find out. He hated the stuff. It doesn’t mean he can’t do it, because I’ve seen him … that’s how I got to know, I first saw him and I saw his Lego environment, in the very early days that led to Lego Logo.
This kid would, if you wanted to make something, in an amazing amount of short time, would quickly know how many pieces he wanted, how to fix them together. He clearly was turning it on numbers and doing things with them. But when he had to do it with a piece of paper, for whatever other reasons he had, he hated that.
He had … I saw all sorts of ways, like using his fingers, but he wasn’t allowed to do it, there was a rule that you’re not allowed to use your fingers, and he knew that. I could see him sitting and looking: he would sit with his fingers. He couldn’t see anything. I walked past him, and I said, “Do you ever think about your teeth?” That was interesting to see the responses all round, because you could see instantly from his face that he got the point, and you could see instantly, the teacher did get the point. It was the greatest event to date.
Learning disability indeed! He learned really fast when he needed to and wanted to. You could see him …
It’s an interesting experience you might try to do, to use your teeth and your tongue as an abacus, because it’s possible, but it’s not obvious. You had to figure out some algorithms and strategies. The fact that this kid could do it … not just I told him how to do it … he did some real developmental work himself for what’s essentially a good mathematical idea. He could have been proud of this.
This kid, who never gets any praise in class, certainly not for any mathematical work he might have done, you think, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to tell the teacher, tell the class, how he had figured out how to use his teeth to do sums?” You bet your bottom dollar he wouldn’t do that. Obviously, he wouldn’t do that because he knows what would happen to him.
This wasn’t a bad teacher in any way. She wasn’t a bad person, not at all. It’s just not the way to do it an a school. That’s what we’re doing [inaudible 00:20:37], “Kindly, that’s not the way we do it.” This is a great school put down. He thinks of a really … He really puts work into a way of doing arithmetic that he can relate to and like, “But that’s not the way we do it in school. Sorry, you’ll do it our way.”
He keeps it for himself. This is why we keep everything in our heads to ourselves: we don’t want people to see how we think, and don’t want people to see how we learn, we don’t want to be seen as being stupid, we don’t want all these people telling us, “No, that’s not the way to do it.” They do that enough anyway, without opening up what goes on inside the head, which is the only place we can have any real privacy.
I think that’s the sort of situation. It’s built into our whole culture and the way we instruct in school and so on. Without any maliciousness, it hasn’t built up like that, but it encourages to boos on the talking about what goes on in our heads. Especially about learning, because that’s where you’re most vulnerable: when you talk about something that you can’t do, you don’t talk about it.
My little story about my own personal learning was about flowers. For a long time, I had a learning disability. I really think this is a learning disability, although I was never classified as that, thank goodness. It was about something that school doesn’t care about, so they didn’t put me in the special ed. class.
I really couldn’t remember the names of flowers. It’s hard for me to tell without isolated incidents just how far this went: like roses. I knew that you’d go to the florist and you could ask for roses, and you’d get a certain kind of flower, and I knew that’s a rose. I knew there were certain occasions it was appropriate to buy roses and so on.
Often, I’d get in situations like I’d say, “Well, it’s a beautiful rose.” I get this reasonable answer, “I’m glad you like my gardenias.” I really didn’t know what I rose and what wasn’t. I knew those things were roses, but as soon as you got away from the standard one, it was a haze.
From time to time, I decided it was just too embarrassing. I’m going to do something about it. I find it interesting, looking back, that when I went to do something about it, what I did was the same schoolie stuff that I’m always criticizing. I’d get a book, and I’d say, “I’m going to learn the names of 10 flowers today.”
I’d learn the names of 10 flowers from the book, and for a few days I’d know them … it’s just like learning for any other test. Next month, I’m back where I was, I’d forgotten them all, and so on.
One day, serendipity happens. I was … I couldn’t name a [inaudible 00:23:55], but I spent a lot of time … and I’ll mention something else about it in a while. People were saying, “Wow, aren’t the lupins lovely this year?” I’m then ashamed of myself, I don’t know which the lupines are. I’m feeling very bad about it then try to find what lupine is.
How could I find out? It just so happens … I’m talking to you about this, but all the same, we can try and free ourselves of these taboos and inhibitions, but with those people I didn’t feel like saying, “I don’t know what a lupine is.” That’s an important part of the experience of anybody who gets into these so-called learning disabilities, where you’re sort of out of line somewhere with what you think other people know.
Afterwards, I discovered that other people don’t know so much about flowers as I thought, but that’s also part of the same sort of track that we get into.
Anyway, I didn’t want to say it. Here I am sitting there, I’m thinking, “How can I find out with admitting?” Then I remembered a little incident from Huckleberry Finn, where Huckleberry Finn has wandered off, people have picked him up, and he’s pretending to be somebody else, he knows the name, and then they invited him in to stay. The next morning, he work up and realized he’d forgotten what name he said was his. Huckleberry says, “I thought and I thought, and lay there for an hour thinking,” and then he got an idea.
I we’ll also note that when people talk about teaching children to think, Huckleberry Finn’s exactly the sort of child they think out to be taught how to think. But Huckleberry Finn could probably turn circles around a lot of the people who wanted to teach him how to think.
His example was great. He said to the young boy in this family, “Can you spell?”
The boys said, “Of course I can spell.” He said, “Bet you can’t.” The boy said, “Of course I can.” “Well how do spell my name?” “The boy said, ‘J-a-x-o-n.’” And Huckleberry blurts in, “Jaxon, that’s it.” He said, “I remembered how he spelled it in case I have ever had to say how to spell Jaxon myself”
I tried to do the same too [inaudible 00:26:35]. I didn’t think I’d be able to say how to spell it, and I didn’t … It gave me a thought, and I said, “That’s a funny word, lupine.” In my head it was L-o-o-p-i-n of course, somehow Chinese. “It’s a funny word, I wonder where it comes from?” That was quite interesting, because it started the conversation. They were the sort of intellectual folk who might get into such a conversation, and they did.
This is the kind of thing that many people with learning disabilities get very expert at doing: it’s finding a way to get the information by some other route.
Eventually, somebody said, “It must have something to do with the Latin lupus, the wolf. I said, “Yeah, maybe, but what’s a wolf got to do with a lupine?” There was more conversation, and somebody said, “It’s like the wolf’s tail. It looks like a wolfs tail.” I went, “Yeah.”
I looked around. How could the flower look like a wolf’s tail? Well, if you’re looking for kind of knowledge, shoot this down. Wolf: no, it doesn’t look like a wolf’s tail. But that’s the wrong way to think about knowledge, isn’t it? In a real sense, that gave me the clue. I looked around, there was a lot of flowers, but there was only one that had a spike. If anyone doesn’t know, a lupine is a sort of long spike, it’s beautifully covered with dense amounts of fluff, and it does look the sort of tail, bushy.
There was only one flower around that you could possibly think of as being related to a wolf’s tale. That was sufficient for me to get that information, and now I knew, and I also said, “Yeah, they are, and look, there’s some mauve ones over there.”
When I got back to studying, I’d been sufficiently stimulated and related ones, little child, that I remembered it. I got back and I looked up the origin of lupine. I pursued it for a while. Now I should say, the real connection that had been made wasn’t between the flower and this name, a domain of knowledge cloud was there, I felt alienated, icy cold, I couldn’t get in there. Another domain of knowledge which I loved, and which was very exciting for me, I had warm feelings about, which is certain aspects of etymology: origins of words. This connection had been made between an icy cold and a hot area of knowledge.
This is part of this theory of knowledge, of learning. I ‘m trying to elaborate that the cold areas get heated up by coming into contact with the hot areas.
It turns out that the history of lupine, the word lupine, is very fascinating. This is the official theory, I created it, pieced together all sorts of parts. It does seem that it comes from lupus, the wolf, but not because of the tail, not in the official story anyway. The official story was that people thought lupines wolfed all the nutrients from the soil. It was called the wolf flower, because it wolfed the nutrients. A very bad thing to have.
What’s really interesting about that, is it’s not true. Lupines actually quite good for the soil. They’ve very good nitrogen fixers. What’s really interesting, is that if you dig down into it, you’ll find that this theory is just like many of the theories that here they apply with children, it’s weird, but when you look into it, it’s got substance.
The point is why did they think that lupines wolfed the soil? Because they saw them growing in poor soil. You might think that they grew in poor soil because they impoverished the soil. The other reason that they can grow in soil that’s too poor for other plants, and that’s the real reason, and in fact it’s pretty good for your soil to grow lupines, although they make a mess.
I like the twist: this theory that’s right and wrong. I think our language, our culture, are full of these connections: these half remembered theories. That’s what forms the basis of knowledge. That’s what started me on lupines. Then on other flowers, I’m connecting flower names with etymology, and then I got more fascinated and went from thing to another, then connected flower names.
When did they call a lupine? Right back in with Aeneas himself. Who was this Aeneas guy anyway? I started getting into all the great history, and the importance of the discovery of the new world, and the explorers, and the botany, and bringing back strange flowers, and how it influenced art, and Vermeer was about the first person to paint realistically recognizable flowers. That’s a strange thing, isn’t it? Because previously, if you look in paintings, they aren’t actual flowers, they’re schematic flowers, and isn’t that like the growth of perspective, and naturalism, and humanism?
I could write a whole book about these connections, they’re all over the place.
It then got into a critical mass, and then started exploding. It started exploding and teaching me. I started learning all sorts of stuff, starting from this focal point of flowers, or from the encounter of flowers and the etymology, and it goes out.
I think a lot of learning is that. Maybe we’re all learning things like that. You see, it’s the opposite of curriculum. The curriculum is, “You decide what I’ve got to know today, and then maybe I’ll remember it.”
The other approach, this associations thing, serendipity happens. Is it that I’ll only know a few and just leave it to chance what people will know? We’re not pointing the other, because the other way also leaves to chance what you forget. But I think not, I think this isn’t leaving it chance either, because I think this leads right into a new approach issues about epistemology.
I think there are certain sort of nodes, like flowers. They’re just one, there are others, lots of things, yet they connect to a lot of other stuff. I think that if you could make a big map of all the pieces of knowledge, you’d find it isn’t just random: that there are nodes that make connections.
That’s why culture works, and that’s why learning works, because there are these connected things, and that’s the way all learning happens. If you start from a few, you’ll get a billion, and that’s the way you can get everywhere.
You can get into all sorts of things about the flowers. Even my etymology, I got around to knowing much more, and all sorts of old Latin stuff that half forgotten got stirred up.
I’ll just mention one that to do with the Logo, because I’ll talk about that next. Logo, a lot of people called it Logo [new way 00:34:30], because once upon a time, when we first thought of making a computing language that would be good for learning and children … Computation, as English word for computing, what does that mean? It means three and three is seven, it’s adding numbers and multiplying. Computers are things that do that, and all the approaches to computing had to do with numerical things.
We wanted to just focus on Logo, logic. Logo, in the beginning, was the word logos is the Greek words that’s used in that the bit of text, and so we wanted to emphasize that it isn’t about numbers … of course it’s about numbers also, but it’s not primarily about numbers … and so got onto logos, Logo.
In the course of this flower business, I ran into a funny little plant that really stirred me up for a day or two. That’s the kind of thing, a little thing … I don’t expect it would stir you up, it stirred me up because of my particular personal history. This is another thing about what’s wrong with school. It’s your personal history that gets stirred up and makes for real learning.
I pulled out, for some reason, a book that was an anthology. My head was full of flowers. Anthos: that means flower. Anther, that little thing, the sex organ of the flower. Anther is flower. I knew all sorts of words had anthos.
What’s flower got to do with anthology? Anthology then should be the study of flowers? Wow, wouldn’t that be exciting, if anthology turns out to be the study of flowers!
I went diving for my etymology books and dictionaries, and I found out something better. Anthology doesn’t mean the study of flowers, anthology means a bunch of flowers. Logos also has another and more primitive meaning. In biology, it sounds like the study of bio and life, or astrology … You think of words like triology: triology doesn’t mean the study of three, it means a collection of three things. The sense of study, that’s the original meaning of the word: collecting, a collection.
An anthology is a collection of flowers, a bunch of flowers. An anthology of poetry is like a bunch of flowers, there’s it’s origin: it is poems that I’ve put together, just like my bunch of flowers that go together and I love.
That’s logos. This sense the study of comes from that, because we study by collecting things together. Therefore, it can be said this kind of little incident … I don’t mean that we can now go into schools and teach everybody that. Absolutely the opposite. The point is that it’s out of that kind of experience. We need to encourage that kind of experience, and talking about, and connecting with it.
As I was coming with Gary in the car, with Michael Temple, Laura Adam, Tom Troppo, we were having a conversation. Laura told a story about how she’s been working with children and Logo, and how she’d made a recent breakthrough in thinking. We start off thinking forward, right, forward, and right, and repeat forward 50, right 90, and that makes a square. Later on somewhere, we’ll get into repeat one, repeat 360, four, one, right, one and we make a circle.
Laura had noticed children seemed to find it much more natural … her children anyway … to think of repeat, in the case of a circle, you can think of the circle as keeping going, whereas as the repeat of four things in a square is less natural. No time to dig into that, though, but just make a connection for you, thinking about angles, forward, right.
In Logo, we picked on a few mathematical concepts, and one of them is angle. In this conversation, I started talking about what the word angle meatn for me, see where I’m at? The etymology part. I can’t think about angles without having a cloud of things in my head.
Angle: which part of your body does angle come from? The word angle.
Speaker 2: Joints.
Speaker 3: Ankle.
Speaker 2: Ankle?
Seymour: Did you realize ankle was angle? Probably 10% of you did know. It’s this too, because the Greek work a angulus meant this one, not that one, but it’s the same idea. There’s angle in our body.
All this we’re talking about English instead of … English, what’s that? How come English is called English? In French it’s called Anglais. If you think about where English might come from, you might think of those funny people called Anglo Saxons. English comes from that: Anglo – that’s not sounding angular, because there’s angle on that you might get. But it is actually. There was Angles, who came to new England to end up with Saxons to become Anglo Saxons. Maybe that’s not quite …
Anyway they came from a part of Europe called the hook of Denmark, which is an angular, that was called the Angle country. They called to people the Angles, because they lived in this angle. That’s why we speak English, because we are angular people, and so it goes on.
What about an angler? That’s a fisherman. There are lots of angles there. But that’s not the angle that counts. It’s called the angler because of the hook. If you think about how a fish hook works, it’s because it’s on an angle, and it catches in the fish, and the more the fish pulls away, the more it gets hooked.
What else works like that? An anchor. That’s the same word. An anchor works because it’s got an angle that digs into the ground. The more boat pulls, the more it digs itself in and so the more it holds itself.
There’s that whole cloud of phenomena of connection with angle. But not in school. Not in school. In school, angle is what you measure with a protractor.
I think this a good point though. The point is that what’s wrong with school learning is there’s no other path: there’s only one way to do it, and it’s not connected with anything else. It’s been built like that for all sorts of historical reasons, and it wasn’t malicious … well at least I don’t think so.
It’s not impossible that there was some maliciousness: that people making the education system didn’t want too many people to do too well at it. If it really worked perfect for everybody, we’d turn into a kind of dumb sheep that would follow, but then that won’t work, so they set it up … but then nothing works perfectly. The reason why some people never get to this viewing of good thinking is that systems don’t work. Anyway, that’s for my little theories. It doesn’t matter about that, that’s a whole other story.
What does matter is recognizing the epistemological stages, and the nature of this kind of knowledge, which is a separated catwalk kind of like, but lacks these connections, associations, richness of life.
We thought, “Let’s invent this turtle.” What this turtle does, is it makes these connections. It’s connected on the one hand to your body and everything that goes with, and other hand to this map, and then it will know from angle and forward and these [geom…00:43:41].
There’s this thing there that makes a connection between this abstract thing called mathematics and this real live thing called life. That’s what concrete aspects means: abstract means disconnect, and concrete means connected to all sorts of stuff.
That’s what we’re doing with Logo. Children could explore.
Again, I’m not saying to make a curriculum where they have to learn all these associations and angle, I’m saying you create a situation in which there are many possible ones, and one child will pick up this one, and one child will pick up that one. We might set up a situation where it’s not imposed, where they’re made more visible. The children can grope them and make connections: what was disconnected becomes connected to life, living, the body.
It’s exactly the opposite of the unusual conceptualization of what it is get into mathematics, where you go from the concrete to the abstract, and where you’ve got it and you get away from concrete, it’s not connected to anything, and you’ve got it, and can deal with it abstractly in isolation. Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Because that’s not the way that mathematicians work in their own thinking. It’s only the way that kids are supposed to work in order to get high scores in school tests.
We wanted to Computize. We wanted to Computize not to give a concrete example as [inaudible 00:45:16] point to explain the abstract, don’t confuse what I’m saying with that. We wanted to computized because we wanted to keep it concrete: we wanted to keep it connected. The further we go, the more connected we wanted to make it.
To bring that out, I’d like to give one more example of mathematics and learning at school. [Dieter Rail 00:45:44] was going to be standing here giving a talk about it, spending five minutes talking about what she might have talked about … What is in this book called Children As Designers that I mentioned at the beginning … for which she AERA award.
The essence of that project was giving children an assignment, all sorts of students. The assignment was to make a piece of educational software. Each kid was to make a piece educational … What’s a piece of educational software? It’s one of those things you can buy for $29.95. It’s in a box, it’s got a name, it’s a got a flashy publicity that goes with, it’s got a splash screen, you can use it. It’s supposedly in some connection with some sort of subject matter.
These children were to make something like that. This was the neat with this project. Children weren’t just going to program, they were going to make it into software, and hat had all these other sides of it.
The restriction that was imposed on them was it should have something to do with fractions. The software has to display anything you like about fractions. Some of them stayed pretty close to softwares they’d seen, and they wrote little programs that asked you to add a third and quarter, and maybe it would give you some advice of how to do it properly.
I’d like to talk about one child who is the key … there’s was a detailed case study, and we talked about cloud compute course. Debbie, who was very poor mathematical child, very isolated too. The child already was very ill at ease at school and did relate well with other children …certainly in mathematics.
We pick out Debbie first with three interviews that was done in this project. All the children were first interviewed: what did they think about fractions? “What’s a fraction? Give me an example.” They said all sorts of things.
One child said, “We haven’t done that yet.” It’s interesting. What hadn’t they done yet? Not fractions, they did fractions all the time. In fact, in their math class they were doing fractions right there. What they hadn’t got to yet was being told what a fraction was. “How can I tell what a fraction is?”
Most of them said one kind of thing about what a fraction is: it’s a part of something.
Debbie did it too, and a very fascinating video … all this was video taped … this fascinating tape of Debbie with her hesitancy. “What’s a fraction? Show me.” Debbie, after some time, where she doesn’t get, she drew breaths, and she draws a circle, cuts it, draws a line in the middle, shades in one layer. You make a circle, shaded in, one shape. Debbie says, “That’s a fraction, that’s a half,” pointing to the shaded in part.
The experimenter points to the other side and said, “Is that a fraction?” “No,” said Debbie, “That’s not a fraction, that’s nothing.”
“Okay, let’s make a circle like this, and draw a line like that, and shade in this part. Is that a fraction?” “Well,” says Debbie, “sort of, because you can turn it.”
So what did he say about this? Debbie was quite typical. This was right across the fifth grade, real kids. They’re not special need chosen to be some weird bunch of children, they’re just ordinary children.
What was really striking was that they all had very narrow models. When you asked what a
fraction is, they’d give you this kind of pie model. I would say it’s real abstract. Why is it real abstract? I know the person who wrote the textbook that it was based on, or maybe their teacher beginning thinks, “Let’s be concrete. We draw a pie diagram, or pizza pie, and that makes the fraction.” It doesn’t. It makes it extremely abstract, because you’re focused on one way of looking at fractions.
For the next three months, they spent four days a week, one period a day, working on their software, talking about it, and keeping notes, and keeping a journal it, and so on. At the end of that time, when they were asked, “What’s a fraction? Give me examples,” with came up with all sorts of stuff. Not a pie, they came up with half past seven, half past ten.
One child actually wrote in their notebook, they had a great discovery, had many explanation points: half an hour is half of one hour. A connnection. Half an hour is real life, life side of the brain; a half is school side of the brain, separate. When the two came together, it was like a revelation, kind of like me and lupines and the anthology: little things, but there was a connection between areas of that knowledge.
Debbie, herself, was chosen as the chief case study for this because of something small, [inaudible 00:52:09]. She made the great discovery. Her discovery was fractions are everywhere, you can put them on top of anything. I think put them on top of anything is a beautiful piece of epistemology, because suddenly she goes, “Take anything in the world and you can put a fraction on it. A fraction is a way of looking at it. It not a thing that exists with a …”
Anyway, Debbie made this discovery about a month into her project, had been very bored until then, but very excited afterwards and got very involved. Spent the whole three months inventing screen after screen of the program designed to convince people that there are fractions everywhere. She had all sorts of ways of cutting things up, dividing them.
The magic of that, that interesting thing, is that she jumped a huge jump … much more than a year’s worth of school … in scores on school fractions, like how to add and subtract and multiply. She hadn’t done a single piece of exercising or anything to do with that. She’d been thinking about fractions are everywhere, and through that, suddenly, with this whole experience, suddenly she could do this stuff that they think you have to teach to the test to get those test score exams: drilled to practice the particular knowledge. Not at all. She developed a relationship with fractions. She had the relationship that came through all sorts of sources that she’d thought about a lot. She maybe woke up in the morning and had a new idea about fractions, [inaudible 00:53:58].
Maybe it had to do with the fact that there was a woman who there as this person running the group, or a woman who was an expert both on computers and on mathematics apparently. I think maybe a sense that this was not necessarily a boy’s thing. This whole gender issue, and all sorts of things and that stuff.
All sorts of stuff played a role. The point is that the experience through [inaudible 00:54:27] to a situation where she made connections all around, all sorts of connections, her own connections. This achieved the result.
I stop on that, just with one little paradoxical observation about what you see with this. [Edette 00:54:48] studied how much Logo these children learned, how much of fraction they learned. A conclusion that you can draw can be formulated like this: you say, “How could they have time to learn these extra things?”
One of the problems about school is that children are already programmed to the microsecond, how can you introduce anything new? I think what was really interesting here was that they were doing many things at the same time, and what we see is that they learned more about fractions, and about programming, and about designing, and about advertising, because they were doing all these things, than if they had spent the same amount of time on any one of them individually. That’s one paradox, I wanted to end on that: learning more can be much easier than learning less.
If you learn more, it’s connected and it makes sense, and if you can find your place in it. If it’s less, it’s narrow, and confining, and you’re claustrophobic, and you can’t find the hairs on your head.
This is so upside down about school. They’re so obsessed with how to find time to learn more less, and it’s just sitting there. They’re making the shortage of time all themselves, because they’ve separated everything out as if we need a separate amount of time for each of these subjects. They don’t realize that instead of making it easier to learn, they’re making harder. It’s not just a small change, it’s a whole upside down mentality.
I’ll stop there.
Speaker 4: Thank you, Seymour. Dr. Papert will be glad to stick around for a couple of minutes and answer to questions that you might have. Before I go to do that, I was handed lots of pages of notes that I need to tell you about very quickly.
The New Jersey wing ETN session has been moved from S126 to room S129. I’ll say it again, the New Jersey wing ETN session has, club communications, S126 to S129. I don’t know why, they just handed me the notes.
The electronic library session number four, and the hyper-studio session number five today are both going to be in a larger classroom N122A. The registration table have this information.
Also, this afternoon, before [Dave Blotter’s 00:57:44] address, there will be a small reception, so we urge you to stick around.
Back over to you now.
Speaker 5: Okay, yeah.
Speaker 6: I just have a question about the rooms. If you’re moving hyper-studio to N122A, where are [inaudible 00:58:03].
Speaker 5: I’ll get back to you.
Speaker 7: If you were to write Mindstorms today, would change you change anything, what you said. If so, why?
Seymour: Well yes, I would. The question is if I wrote Mindstorms today would I change anything. I would expand a lot. I’d go into directions that I didn’t go in before. I think that at the time I wrote Mindstorms, I had a restricted view of styles of thinking, so I think I pushed harder than I would now on the value of the kind of thinking that goes with structured programming and subdividing problems.
I think it’s a very valuable way of thinking and learning, everybody should have that experience, but I’ve come to see that breaking out of that can be just as important as learning to do it.
I think the biggest change that’s happened since writing Mindstorms is that that happened just before computers got out into schools, or just as they were beginning to. I think it resonated with the vision of a lot of people who were … particularly with teachers who were trying to do things, and saw the computer as a way of doing some very new things in school.
That brought me in touch with communities of teachers. That’s something that I understand, some people understand, that’s been a great revelation. I’ve come to understand through that not only to think about the role of teachers, but this reference I made earlier to the school side of the brain and life side of the brain.
I think the wonderful thing about teachers is the school system tries to turn them into technicians that will implement a curriculum that’s been made out. Teachers resist that, because they’re full of knowledge about real life: about how they learned, and the people they’ve known, their mothers, their own children, and they’ve observed a lot of children.
I think this connectivity with life and learning is at the essence of where I’m thinking now. I think the situation of the teacher who has this wide of range of connections as a person, but is a situation in a school that, by it’s definition, tries to focus in one area, one specialty field [inaudible 01:01:11]. Try to focus the teacher into a narrow role, where you teach fractions in a way that’s been decided because the school has adopted such and such a math course. That’s reducing the role of a teacher to a technician. I think that’s a breakdown of that.
That’s not just valorizing the teacher, it’s doing that as well. I think that I’m trying to say that through thinking about the teacher’s situation there, I’ve come to think of a lot of stuff that permeates with everything I’ve said today about narrowness and then breaking out and connectedness.
Speaker 8: Dr. Papert, I’m lucky to work with [inaudible 00:01:59] Paul Taylor is a wonderful choreographer, he’s one of my art teachers. A lot of it is … I can’t think of the title, but Paul Taylor, his autobiography is a wonderful autobiography. He tells about how he started out, and how he became a wonderful choreographer of dance, and working [inaudible 01:02:19].
But it talks talks about circles of learning. [Inaudible 01:02:27] changed his whole way of thinking.
Seymour: Yeah, well thank you for that example. Other people are looking at it too. I think I’d like to just reemphasize with that that with our culture as an incredible amount of knowledge about how to learn and how to think. It’s in autobiographies of people who do good things and have the openness and frankness to write about it. They are choreographers, they are musicians, they are physicists.
Kleinmann comes to mind as the obvious example as a space that is full of it all. The work is full of very good thinking about learning, except in the places where it’s called period learning. Again, it comes back and back to the same point I’m trying to make, that we have the school side of the brain that looks narrower, and the life side of the brain, people in real life. Obviously they could learn from people who have done all sorts of wonderful things since the beginning of time.
Speaker 9: [Inaudible 01:03:36] put it down so somebody else is [inaudible 01:03:41]
Seymour: As you said, some of them have been able to put it down. That’s a learning story. I would say its probably with having reading it. That category of things is like Shakespeare could put down a love story because he experienced this kind of feeling, and had this gift of being able to put it down, and the courage and willingness to be able to take his own feelings and externalize them.
Speaker 10: I’ve been working with Logo for about 10 years now. I’ve been using a program by [inaudible 01:04:13]. In his program he had an undo, and what that did, when the children wrote a procedure, it took back the last step when they were working on something. I’m just wondering in playing with that program why you don’t have an undo in Logo and in Logo [inaudible 01:04:34].
It’s their thinking, as you were talking about before, why as they’re thinking, they can do something, “Hey, that’s not so great, let me take that back and continue with my …” I’m grateful because of what I was doing. I’m just curious to see if you’re familiar with that program.
Seymour: Well yes, I think there are a lot of complications to that. First of all, yes, that would be nice thing to have in some circumstances. But I think also, on the other side, some reservations. I emphasized … and emphasized a lot of nights, we still do … that looking at how you guys program is important, because that’s how you get it right.
I don’t want to have too much local focus on each stick and whether I’m right or wrong. I’d rather go through with it: I’m committed, and this has happened, and I’m going to see where that goes, and not be so necessarily cautious about making it right and step back.
I’m just trying to say it’s a complex issue, but I do think we’ll think through that. That’s a kind of a question that we ought to have in our heads. (It’s the kind of question that did come up in designs of Logo systems. Why it isn’t implemented is a completed question, not because of any simple resistance or not having thought about it.
Speaker 11: Last time you were here, Dr. Papert, I can remember what you talked about. You talked the decentralization of power. You used parallels with the Soviet Union at the time, and with the breakup of European political structures. You talked about decentralization of power in our school systems: going down to the building level and to the individual teachers.
Do you see that pendulum swinging in the direction from the last two years to the present day towards more decentralization of power, or is New Jersey buffing the trend?
Seymour: Actually, thank you for reminding me. Yes, now suddenly it’s all clear. Every [inaudible 01:06:58] and epistemological policy [inaudible 01:07:06].
I do that that’s an extremely interesting analogy still with the Soviet Union. I made two points about the analogy between our schools and Soviet Union. One was that we are much like them in that they are a command economy, a centralized economy, we have a centralized school system.
Actually, just last week, I was revising a chapter in this new book that I have, talked about that. I was using this funny example: what’s totally wrong about the command economy in the Soviet Union, there’s a real example. A certain factory was ordered, in the plan, it had to make so many tons of … 100 tons of nails. They got a bright idea, they’d make very big nails. They made these nails, and they made 150 tons, and so they got bonuses for having over exceeded the plan, because they’d made the nails. But nobody could use those nails, nobody wanted the larger nails, and so there was a lot of rusty nails. The system that’s permeated with that, producing to the plan is permeated by this kind of …
Teaching to the test is the exact analogy, because you fill children’s heads with a lot of rusty knowledge. You think of making the knowledge in getting there, rather what they do with it, rather than what happens to the nails. I think that’s a very close analogy in command economy.
The other side of what I’ve thought about the Soviet Union and that thought, was that the first reaction of Gorbachev … and I feel quite clear that the prediction is there too … the first reaction of Gorbachev is to try fix the system, the giggle the system to try and fix the bureaucracy: restructure it, not examine what are its fundamental problems.
We’ve seen it in the work. We see school systems, the response of any bureaucracy, or any system, to really recognize their problems is to try to giggle the system: to try and fix it by local fixes, and not asking what’s fundamental about it.
I think decentralizing, in the sense of an initiative economy, an initiative way of thinking, where the individual will take initiatives. After all, in that nail factory, everyone in the factory knew this was crazy. Everybody who knew there was as shortage of nails, they must have sort of knew there as opportunity to start a nail factory and get rich. No, not there. Nobody could take such initiatives.
The same thing’s true in schools: the teachers can take some initiatives, but it’s extremely limited. Are we giving teachers more initiative?
I think that the trend is getting to be very … In the practice of what’s happening, I don’t think we’re getting stronger with that break. But in terms of it being resonant with the way people are thinking, I think that you signs all over the place of people being more and more aware of the need to distribute responsibility, to make decisions at the grass roots level, in industry and in business world, just as much as in the school world.
I’m very encouraged. I think that’s we’re moving, although it’s kind of in a sub-strain, it’s seems to have popped out into a radical change of the whole system. I find that that kind of talk gets more and more attention, and you find more and examples in people thinking in those terms in all sorts of subject matters.
I think our pendulum is still swinging over towards recognizing that we need have more people who have more opportunity for initiative and all that. That the realist.
Speaker 12: Dr. Papert, have you decided on a title for your new book for publication?
Seymour: Please give me title, please! I don’t know what the title is. I think the publisher does. The nearest thing, I was interested for a while in this … maybe you can tell me your reaction to that. This is funny.
When I wrote Mindstorms, there were a couple of words that I was really trying to plant to see of if they would group. One of them was micro-world, which I think really got into the education. It got twisted and used in all sorts of not quite the same ways, but it was right and it was good, and all sorts of people used the word micro-world.
Another that didn’t catch on was a word for learning, and I used the word mathetic. Mathetics, there’s an interesting history about that. The history of the word of mathetic is that we don’t have a word for learning, but the Greeks did. The stem mathema, mathetic, this meant learning in Greek times. We’ve got a side residue of that in English: polymath, as you know, is not somebody who knows lots of math, it’s somebody who has learned a lot of different things.
Between then and now, these mathematicians … I started off as one, once you’re one you always are, so my professional ancestors were so convinced that their kind of learning was the only good kind of learning that captured this term math, so nowadays it doesn’t echo with learning, it echoes with that stuff with numbers and triangles that you do in school.
I think it would be nice to restitute that piece of semantic robbery, so we give back the word, the stem math. Mathematica was to learn in ancient Greek.
I thought of mathetics, but then people said, “You can’t do that. You’ll making pertinence about math,” or, “It sounds like pathetics.” I’ve been so confused by those reactions that I’ve been disenchanted with the title, but I would love to have a word for learning. I’ve thought of that as a title too. “A Word for Learning.”
I’ve been rethinking education, and the computer parts, we’re rethinking the computer in an aesthetic culture, something like that. I’d like to have some names. Please, please, please, please?
Speaker 13: I don’t have a name, but a different question. Can you say anything about the way your helping change the way Nintendo looks at the world? Or you can’t talk about it?
Seymour: No, of course I can talk about it. Am I changing the way Nintendo looks at the world? As a matter of fact, I do think so. I do think that I’m establishing a relationship with the people in Nintendo and have influenced some of those people, and in a good way.
Having said that about it, I think that there’s an amount of connection more so, getting away from the narrowness. As educators, in the educational world, there’s certain sources of knowledge that are regarded as valuable, and valued by what is said in experiments in educational psychology. But there are people like Nintendo, or like Lego, or like lots of other people, and some of them mostly good people, but they’re people who’ve learned how to talked to children: to get their attention, to do things that children like that can resonate with them.
I think that’s something that we need to learn. Everybody who tells you how to talk to children knows something that a lot of people in education don’t know. I don’t know how to formalize that, but I do think that … Even not just we plug it in and give out the Gameboy, watching children play the games. Talking to game designers about how they think about it.
I’ll just say one point that I think that is the most interesting about looking closely at these games: for me, it’s that I see a lot of children, who mightn’t say it like that, but they’ve become much more interested, they’ve become really interested in how to learn something, especially how to learn something fast. There’s a difference between this realm of video games and the realm that we had in the 1980s and so on with Atari. That’s that there are a large number of games on Nintendo.
On the last realm, a lot of the time people got their credits and their payment as a game player by taking one game, like the whatever, and learning it, becoming very expert at it. Nowadays, sometimes that counts too, but there’s a new thing that who can be the quickest to become as an expert on a new game that’s just come out now?
We’ve been trying find a way to focus in on to what extent … there’s no question that to some extent children being challenged by this to think more and become more expert in learning something. That’s the aspect that I’m finding most interesting, that’s new, that’s coming out of poking around with Nintendo.
Getting from the Nintendo people feedback, questions they relate and so on is informative about learning. That’s the background.
The aspect that’s disquieting … maybe the content, maybe it’s some violence, maybe it’s some macho aspect … I don’t like that, but I don’t think that not liking that will bring people that are relating to the phenomena in a wider sense seeing it’s other components, the aspects.
I would also say that I think that something I’ve tried to pursue with Nintendo in conversations with them, a lot of my interest is in what’s next. Nintendo managed to get something like 40 or 50 million computers, Apple II’s. I don’t know if anybody knows, the NES is an Apple II, it’s the same show. They’ve managed to get 40 million of these computers out the world. That’s interesting too, because people often say, “We can’t afford to have a lot of computers.” Who’s we? It’s not just the rich. As a society, we could afford to buy 40 million computers for the children. Why can’t we in school? It’s pointing to a point about how we count our money.
More interesting is a model of computation is going to get into the lives of children. Think of whether there’s coming down from the top: IBM’s one of the mainframes, and and they make PCs and they’re coming into the world. Apple’s connection aside, and then this Nintendo thing is coming, basically it’s from the bottom.
The machines at the bottom level are becoming more and more sophisticated. Somewhere is going to be a meeting point. There’s an interesting question. Which direction is going to be the main route of getting computation into ordinary life. I would bet on the game route part of that.
There also is a part of wanting to be in touch with that world. Being able to participate in what’s the workstation [inaudible 01:20:13]? What’s the workstation a child will use in 1999? 1998? Maybe they haven’t thought about it. After the NES and the Super NES, and then what’s next? Where’s it going to go? Being able to influence that, I think we’d like having a very positive role.
Speaker 13: Yep. Have you seen the movie Lawnmower Man?
Seymour: No, I haven’t.
Speaker 13: It’s not a great movie, but deals with virtual reality hardware and software, and it’s one version, a dark version, of events.
Seymour: Maybe that’s something that one should end up on. I guess I’ve been talking about themes right through this. I usually theme in at least recognition that there’s the other side. I don’t think it’s inherent in these new technologies that they’re going to have good effects. I think they are instruments which we can use to have good effects.
I think even though we looked at what happened in the schools, thinking of the computer as an instrument of change in school. When I saw computers in 1980, ’81, ’82, ’83, first computers coming into the schools, they were instruments of change. You hardly ever saw a computer in a school except if it was brought there by a teacher, or commandeered by a teacher, who saw it as a way of making change in the school.
As the decade went on, it didn’t take long before the school took over. I see it like any any organism. School as an institution. It’s got an immune system. It’s immune reaction to that. It takes the foreign body, and the foreign body gets turned into a reinforcer of the old order.
I’ve seen the most wonderful things happens in schools with computer labs, but on the whole, the shift from that computer being three computers at the back of the classroom to creating the computer lab, especially with all of the things that give with the computer. It’s now, instead of pegging across the curriculum subjects, instead of a kid now using this computer to do mathematics, and choreography, and art, and history, and all these things all at once and coming across that, all of a sudden now it’s its own subject. It’s a new subject, it’s got a specialist teacher, it’s got its own curriculum, it’s got its own period of time.
All the bad fragmentary things that make school are now being supported and exemplified, and we’ve got one more example, and we’ve just made everything worse.
I think even on that level, the computer inside the school, you can see movement from a beginning, when it was visionary, to be captured by the school system … Not that are think there are fewer visionary teachers, I think there are more than there ever were, but I think it’s just relative to the total amount that the numbers decrease.
On that also, I think [inaudible 01:23:59]. I think we are at a point where the computers are flowing of these computer labs. I think they keep on flowing into the schools for all sorts of reasons that have got nothing to do with education. It’s probably the computer society, and they’ll come in with the … The question is what happens to them there.
They can be instruments of change, or they can be reinforces of the old system. Both are possible. It’s matter up to us with where it goes. I think it’s good for us to remind ourselves of how bad it can be as well of how good it can be. The world maybe is always unified with a group of people and going forward with that. There’s never going to be a solution, and right into the future we’re always going to be continuing the struggle for good truth and get get rid of the bad. There’ll always be the other side.