Sunday, June 21, 2015
A Well-Kept Secret
Bravo to the Mandel Foundation for recognizing that community colleges aren’t just workforce training centers. Our students deserve exposure to the big questions just as much as anyone else’s. Utopianism shouldn’t just be for tech startups. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Have you read Kentaro Toyama's book Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology? If not, you need to: He's a Computer PhD who spent year studying why and how technology hasn't lived up to its utopian promise in education and other fields.
The book is not easily summarized but it is brilliant. As a grant writer I've worked on numerous technology-will-save-us projects, my favorite being the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program. The premise was that we'd chunk technology at schools and see Einsteins emerge. The result has been... not that. Toyama discusses why. I've been citing the book in recent proposals.
Thanks for the tip, jakeselinger. What I read on Amazon looks really interesting. The most striking thing is the actual admission that technology (read as the "latest and greatest") has not lived up to its promise, although I would argue that one reason is failing to pay attention to cost -vs- benefit and sustainability. I know many kids who became fluent in Spanish because a daily elementary school TV lesson got them to continue it in middle school and high school. But many other things look just like programmed learning or PLATO or similar somewhat-effective methods of the past that were merely abandoned with the next principal or a new crop of teachers.
On Dean Dad's main point, I would argue (as my Dad did about his humanities classes as he prepared for a technical career) that the canon is more important to a first-in-family kid than it is to upper division majors in the humanities. How can you make your point in PoliSci if the kid doesn't know who Plato was (and perhaps why PLATO was chosen for the name of the first true computer-teaching system)? My Dad's point was that STEM people do not deal exclusively with other STEM people. He needed to be conversant with politicians and business people, and they with him, and gen ed classes provide that common reference point.
For me, learning deconstruction in my HS senior comp class has proved invaluable in my scientific career, and the biggest weakness I see in STEM students everywhere (but more often at a CC) is a lack of close-reading skills. You can't solve problems without knowing how to do that. But you also have to know what Everyone knows -- technical and artistic vocabulary -- at the basic level that is well described as the canon. Imagine what would happen to aircraft safety if physics decided we would only teach modern topics like quantum mechanics and relativity and not bother with those out-of-date ideas like forces?
Finally, imagine how much more one gets from viewing "Inside Out" if you know both the skill of deconstruction and the canon that includes cubism and intro psych?