Judging by the twitter traffic and the expression of fan-boy glee on Dr. C’s face during the interview with Dr. Alan Kay last night, a great many sparks of thought were flying during the three hour google hangout last night. Technical issues with the stream and the advancing late hour in the evening forced me to check out the 90 minute mark. When I awoke this morning, my head was spinning in trying to recall and reflect upon a great many possible stories suggested in the conversation. Putting pen to paper – after a breakfast of ex-champions consisting of a bear claw and a cup of coffee – I wound up with six bullet points on a piece of foolscap which will be transcribed below.
But first, I’d like to try to sketch out a connection that emerged for me while considering a troublesome point Kay raised about the nature of K-12 education in the USA. I say troublesome because if as Kay suggests ‘education in America is stuck in the seventeenth century,’ there exists a huge problem to be solved. In a very real sense it implies that just about everything is wrong.
Before attempting to fix what is wrong or to solve the huge problem, two question come to mind. First, is Kay’s analysis accurate. And second, what does being stuck in the seventeenth century mean. Seems to me that the first question can’t be approached until one feels oneself on firm ground in answering the second. At this moment, that second question both excites me and it frightens. It frightens me because I feel incapable of getting a purchase on solid ground on my own.
The question excites me because as I heard Dr. Kay refer to the dilemma of being stuck in the seventeenth century it brought to mind a line of thought I’d encountered just the day before while loitering in the Old Texts section of the Internet Archive. In 1929, a Jesuit palaeontologist from France named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin raised a remarkably similar critique of the Catholic church in an essay entitled “The Sense of Man” from a collection with a title that is apropos for our course: Toward the Future. For Teilhard, the formulation of the geologic time scale marked the point that humanity’s relationship with time, the universe and existence shifted irrevocably. An entirely new conception of progress becomes possible when the timeline to the present is stretched from 10,000 years to several thousand millions ago.
I think Teilhard de Chardin and Kay are both referring to Age of Enlightenment in their critiques. My understanding and awareness of this topic limited. I don’t have many facts or figures to bring to bear yet. One of the few factoids I retain from my studies long ago is that Isaac Newton is considered by some to be poster boy for the Enlightenment. That’s why I made the animated GIF above of Blake’s illuminated engraving and Paolozzi’s sculpture based on Blake’s Newton. And I guess I’ve got one more recently discovered nugget that might be worth throwing into the mix. It’s a quote from the de Chardin essay:
We are beginning to understand, and we shall never forget, that in the future the only religion possible for man is the religion which will teach him, in the first place, to recognize, love, and serve with passion the universe of which he forms a part.
Below are a few points from the Kay interview that might also merit further investigation.
- Cargo cults in Melanesia: an idea from anthropology about the changes among some island communities after contact with colonizing groups in which the islanders come to worship the colonizers and the commodities of civilazation they’d brought after they have departed. Kay suggested that ‘an iPad for every student in schools today is a version of the Cargo Cult concept.
- Reading and writing are culturally innate skills (I think he said genetic). As such, they must be taught to level of mastery before math and science (human inventions) can be taught or understood successfully.
- The System has no interest in having a citizenry capable of reasoned thought.
- Sixties idealism led many tech thinkers and engineers to envision a liberating potential for society through computers
- The USA has failed in creating a republican that matches the idealized vision of of the founding fathers and codified in the constitution
A bit of housekeeping
Summer vacation begins soon for me. I’ll be travelling back to the states later this week so my online access will be hit or miss for a while. If any of the above strikes a cord with someone interested in collaborative research please get in touch through comments or on the twitter.