[p2p-research] Thanks for: Suggestions wanted for education to p2p practices and attitude

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Thu Nov 26 17:51:41 CET 2009

M. Fioretti wrote:
> In any case, here is a page where you can read why I was looking for
> such information, where I went and what came out of it:
> http://mfioretti.com/kathmandu-quality-education-digital-world
> My own talk is downloadable from that page, but the linked articles
> could be interesting too, since "new ways to quality education" is a
> recurring theme of this list.

I see you talk positively about "TeacherMate".
"The great educational minicomputer that didn't want to exist"

Here are some comments by me on that from a different perspective (more 
self-directed learning oriented):
"Re: [Open Manufacturing] Re: Fab Fund, Fab Academy"

I wrote there:

Returning to the general Fablab theme, as a parallel, it was exciting to
think about computers in the classroom supplying arbitrary learning on
demand; but the overall system seems to be counter-subverting that:
    "TeacherMate:This classroom tool only looks like a toy"
"One, two, three, all eyes on me," commands the young teacher, prompting the
room of children – mostly the sons and daughters of Asian immigrants – to
pay attention to Ms. Sonny, as they call her, at least for a moment. "What
kind of voices should we have when we're on our TeacherMates?" she asks,
after passing out what look like toy gadgets, à la Nintendo's Game Boy.
"Soft," they respond in unison, as they fidget with the plastic
minicomputers, switching them on and plugging in headsets. ... Perfecting a
computer for young students is not necessarily a technological feat, says
Ms. Adams. The technology exists, but finding the right formula of hardware
and software has been elusive. She says TeacherMate may have hit that right
mix by giving teachers control over the technology and allowing them to
customize it to fit different curricula. ... "We call it TeacherMate for a
reason. The concept is that this is supporting you, the teacher," he says.
It was important that the tool supported what was already going on in the
classroom and followed the school curriculum. ... Ms. Sonny returns to the
center of the room. She claps twice, snaps her fingers twice. The students
reluctantly look up from their TeacherMates. "Unplug your headsets, put your
handsets in the bag, and power down."

Anyway, the OLPC as a system seems designed for open-ended constructivist 
exploration, even if it has many failings (Sugar unfortunately closed down a 
lot of exploration by making the OLPC unable to easily run regular GNU/Linux 
software; it would have made more sense as a window manager or set of Gnome 

But the TeacherMate seems designed for hierarchical control of the learning 
process, at the other extreme.

 From the article:
"A handheld device also feels more personal, so children pay more attention 
to it, and is much more compatible with an age (5-7 years) when sitting 
still for long stretches feels like torture."

Someday, like with what the USA does in Guantanamo bay, people may start to 
say that what "feels like torture" actually is torture. :-(

"Prisoner torture 'not sanctioned'"
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's November 2002 memo approved several 
methods which apparently would violate Geneva Convention rules, including:
     * putting detainees in "stress positions" for up to four hours; ...

Like with Guantanamo bay, all the same excuses are used for interrogating 
and torturing children psychologically -- it's for national security, it's 
for the good of everyone else, it's to protect us all from chaos, or it's 
actually good so the child can see the error of his or her ways sooner and 
come over to the elite side, etc..

Psychological science says that how kids learn best is not how schools 
teach. Sociological science and a study of history explains why there is 
*intentionally* that gap between how schools teach and how kids learn.

   "Why Schools Don't Educate" by John Taylor Gatto
I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching - 
that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great 
enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are 
trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in 
English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything 
except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands 
of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and 
administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their 
individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, 
the institution is psychopathic - it has no conscience. It rings a bell and 
the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and 
move to different cell where he must memorize that man and monkeys derive 
from a common ancestor.
   Our form of compulsory schooling is an invention of the state of 
Massachusetts around 1850. It was resisted - sometimes with guns - by an 
estimated eighty per cent of the Massachusetts population, the last outpost 
in Barnstable on Cape Cod not surrendering its children until the 1880's 
when the area was seized by militia and children marched to school under guard.
   Now here is a curious idea to ponder. Senator Ted Kennedy's office 
released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory 
education the state literacy rate was 98% and after it the figure never 
again reached above 91% where it stands in 1990. I hope that interests you.
   Here is another curiosity to think about. The homeschooling movement has 
quietly grown to a size where one and a half million young people are being 
educated entirely by their own parents. Last month the education press 
reported the amazing news that children schooled at home seem to be five or 
even ten years ahead of their formally trained peers in their ability to think.
   I don't think we'll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my 
lifetime, but if we're going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster 
of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution "schools" very 
well, but it does not "educate" - that's inherent in the design of the 
thing. It's not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent, it's 
just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.
   Schools were designed by Horace Mann and Barnard Sears and Harper of the 
University of Chicago and Thorndyke of Columbia Teachers College and some 
other men to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass 
population. Schools are intended to produce through the application of 
formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.
   To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is 
disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are 
self-reliant, confident, and individualistic - because the community life 
which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling 
are, as I've said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can 
sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit 
mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they 
are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.
   The daily misery around us is, I think, in large measure caused by the 
fact that - as Paul Goodman put it thirty years ago - we force children to 
grow up absurd. Any reform in schooling has to deal with its absurdities. It 
is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in 
confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That 
system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the 
synergy of variety, indeed it cuts you off from your own part and future, 
scaling you to a continuous present much the same way television does.
   It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to 
listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct 
buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of 
buildings when you want to read poetry.
   It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a 
gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you 
no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding 
that you do its "homework".
   "How will they learn to read?" you say and my answer is "Remember the 
lessons of Massachusetts." When children are given whole lives instead of 
age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic 
with ease if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around 
them. ...

Just because school teachers learn to be cute and use rhymes like "One, two, 
three, all eyes on me" to control children does not mean they are not doing 
children great harm, and producing psychological traumas that may last a 

Anyway, we can build our political assumptions into our infrastructure. 
TeacherMate builds in a very different (and anti-P2P) set of assumptions 
into our infrastructure than the more pro-P2P OLPC project.

Which, of course, is why so many teachers love it, as you correctly pointed out.

--Paul Fernhout

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