May 30, 2012

“During the week of the conference you have been immersed in exciting and focused discussions about actual uses of computers in real educational settings. So it should be. But it is equally appropriate at the beginning and at the end of the week to look at larger issues that are further removed from the reality of everyday work. I am delighted to be joined with Alan Kay for this aspect of the conference. His opening and my closing remarks will come together to define one side of the front in a battle for the future of education, a battle that goes far beyond the use of computers and indeed far beyond what is usually called “education.”

My choice of political and militaristic metaphors was not made casually. I like to think of myself as a peaceful person, and come close to being a pacifist in international politics. I believe in consensus. But I have been driven to look at educational decisions with a confrontational eye. This does not mean giving up the ideal of consensual thinking, rather it means changing the community within which to seek the consensus. There is no chance that all educators will come together on the same side of the intellectual front I am trying to demarcate here. Many people in the education establishment are sincerely committed to positions with a firmness that is all the greater, because what is at stake is not simply a theory of education, but deeply rooted ways of thinking that touch on the relationship between individuals and society, cultures and subcultures, relativity and objectivity. What gives me confidence in the likelihood of significant educational change is the possibility of broad and unlikely seeming alliances between movements as diverse as progressive education, feminist, “Africanis” and other radical challenges to traditional epistemologies, and trends towards putting more emphasis on distributed, decentralized forms of computation. I believe that on a global scale, political winds of change are synergic with such alliances: Among these the political events from which I took my title.”

Curator’s note: This week, I’m keynoting a conference on the site where Papert delivered this amazing speech almost twenty-two years ago. I cannot walk into what was then a brand new convention center without thinking of Papert’s words or the fact that it was within that building where I gave my first of countless talks in Australia since 1990. Since that World Conference in 1990, I have returned to Australia 50 times or so and earned a Ph.D. in my “second country.”

Papert. S. (1990, July). Perestroika and Epistemological Politics. Speech presented at the World Conference on Computers in Education. Sydney, Australia.

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