For anyone with a marketing or PR background who is quite aware it is all about the sales pitch, it still may come as a surprise that the much vaunted, recent, $4 billion computer science for all initiative, could be tied to the phrase–’Next-Generation Shop Class’. The nice thing about accurately recognizing in the last post that this initiative, also hyped as Coding for All, was actually about Visual Programming Languages is that we can now track admissions like it’s to be a “shift from learning code as an individualistic endeavor to learning it as a social enterprise.” Another useful quote for gaining an insight into why this educational shift is such a high priority now is that “learning to code” is actually to be a means of “computational participation” and thus a “model for students who wish to create a more collaborative and open society.”
Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming was published in 2014 with Mitchel Resnick from the last post writing the Foreword. It is such a blueprint document for the whys of this expensive initiative that it is also part of the MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Officially sanctioned by the Powers-that-Be in other words although I do not think there will be any lucrative Genius Award for recognizing the meaning of Coding for All even though I am showing Grit and Perseverence in my research. That’s a sarcastic allusion to Angela Duckworth’s Vygotskyian inspired research that won their Genius Grant last year and is now being built into a National Growth Mindset study the White House and her Character Lab are involved with. Coding for All is also directly tied into the Maker Movement (mold the digital with the tangible), the White House Behavioral Sciences Team, and these new models for high school reform like High Tech High or what Laurene Powell Jobs is pushing as Project XQ.
Not trotting down any of those other pathways today, but once again we have multiple gears pulling in a common direction and it is always a mistake not to point out those adjacent interlocking and necessary gears. I have also talked in recent posts about why an Ideas first curriculum can be problemmatic, especially at a foundational level. Try to control your shock that ultimately Coding for All also has aspirations to institute a ‘communal practice’ in the classroom where students Learn by Doing (literally in the John Dewey sense we met before, especially in Chapter 2 of my book) “about the cultural and social nature of human behavior through the concepts, practices, and perspectives of computer science.” That’s my bolding. Alert readers with science or AI backgrounds will easily grasp that those ‘concepts, practices, and perspectives’ may not actually be pertinent to accurately understanding human behavior.
That’s the beauty though of training students to ‘act like a expert’ by providing the desired Guiding Ideas, Concepts, Principles, Techniques, and then asking students to apply them in a provided task. They won’t know it’s an Inapt Metaphor for a given situation. They will not get the danger of analogizing via regular practice physical bodily systems like hearts and lungs or designed systems like computer code and software with people and human systems generally like an economy or a city. That’s a real danger in training students to be comfortable again with “the concrete as a mode of thinking and a form of digital production.” They will have zero ability to realize that it is now they who are being neurologically programmed to meet the demands of Big Business and Want-to-Be Social and Political Planners. In one of those quotes that can only happen if you read the entire book and the authors have gotten comfortable in the non-repulsiveness of what they are pushing we find the Maker Movement and Coding for All:
“supporting a culture where members ask for permission before they move forward with new ideas.”
No wonder Big Business is enthused. I really did write ‘No, Thanks’ in the margin, but parents who still assume Coding for All is about algorithmic-based individualist mental acts will get no such chance. Nor will they be told that Coding for All “acts as a community of practice, bringing in new members who grow to understand the prevailing rules of the group.” Comrade Practice to go Along with the Herd Effect seems so much more accurate now than Computing for All. How about “facilitates a better baseline understanding of the nature of systems”? See above critique, but again No. No. No. Connected Code wants to get beyond “code being understood as a proprietary commodity” so that “remix” of existing code and images can become “the essential lens by which individuals participate socially and economically within an increasingly global society.”
Well if it’s not proprietary and we now are to ask permission before we move forward with new ideas, all those existing computer patents owned by the same megacompanies pushing much of this in education just got lots more valuable and secure. Not as cynical as me? It should bother us a great deal that on the same page where John Dewey is quoted at length celebrating the widespread return of his desired Learning by Doing and his desire to make school a “more practical experience for children.” Why is that so important beyond the tendency to never notice the Total Immersion in Inapt Analogy Training? Here’s Dewey:
“the social and educational theories and conceptions must be developed with definite reference to the needs and issues which mark and divide our domestic, economic, and political life in the generation of which we are a part.”
Ackwardly worded, but we can see how much easier that will be if school has taught students that all those areas of human coordination are actually ‘systems’ that were ‘designed’ and can now be reengineered. Usefully that same quote is on a page talking about Seymour Papert and his dream of the reconstruction tool the computer might come to be–”For Papert, the computer provided the materials, situations, and experiences that allow learners to connect to the real world.” Maybe we should rephrase that as “the real world it would be useful to have students imagine” so that they will be keen to act to change it. Just like they practiced successfully in virtual reality. What could go wrong?
The hyped idea in this Next Generation Shop Class that really is a phrase touted in the book is to shift computers from ‘Objects-to-Think-With’ to ‘Objects-to-Share-With that Connect to Others’. This is of course a different way of organizing planning and problem-solving than the previous text-driven individualist acts of logic. Only quoting will pull together the flavor of what will in fact be hidden behind initiatives like Coding for All or integrating CTE into academics for all students. There is a footnote in the middle of what is being quoted. I looked for the cited book and discovered it was $250 used now so then I located the cited supporting article here. https://ccl.northwestern.edu/papers/concrete/
Remember how nerdy that theory we kept encountering of Ascending from the Abstract to the Concrete sounded and how we traced it back to the USSR and a philosophy called the New Dialectics (Evald Ilyenkov tag)? Think of this quote as concretizing that theory at last.
“Learning by connecting knowledge [Core Ideas, UbD, Cross-Cutting Concepts and Themes, etc.] and relationships [new 3 Rs tag] also highlights other distinctions that society has drawn between critical thinking (traditionally understood as conceptually and linguistic based) and physical making (goal-based material work). In providing opportunities to concretize knowledge by creating material objects that embody ideas, we highlight ways that two modes of engagement with the world (that are usually held separate) can be reconnected. By encouraging the externalization of knowledge [journals, show your work, count wrong if solved correctly without explanation], we promote seeing the knowledge object as a distinct ‘other’ with which we can enter a relationship that consists of questions that makers ask themselves about how the external object connects to other bodies of knowledge.
Understanding the boundaries and values that have been associated with such forms of engagement is critical to understanding who and how learners can connect with them.”
No incentive there to manipulate virtual reality or which ideas are deemed to be Core or Essential in having that as the priority for the 21st Century Classroom. I am going to switch myself to something far more tangible and financial to help us grasp precisely how these educational shifts matter. People monitoring the federal Department of Education or even local school boards would simply never think to monitor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for research into the neuroscience implications of these initiatives. Yet that is precisely where this White House has tucked “several applied research programs that use multidisciplinary approaches to advance our understanding of cognition and computation in the brain.”
I am not sure we are supposed to be participants in that ‘our,’ but I have gotten rather good at accurately tracking into places where known outsiders are unlikely to be welcome. Since we are already interlopers into this initiative, we might as well appreciate precisely how it relates to Coding for All, Big Ideas, and the Maker Movement generally.
“programs to be executed in FY15 include: the Knowledge Representation in Neural Systems (KRNS) program, which seeks insights into the brain’s representation of conceptual knowledge; the Strengthening Human Adaptive Reasoning and Problem-solving (SHARP) program, which will develop non-invasive neural interventions for optimizing reasoning and problem-solving; and the Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks (MICrONS) program, which will reverse-engineer the algorithms of the brain to revolutionize machine learning.”
No wonder we keep having Continuing Resolution Budget Deals no one gets a chance to read. So what seems like Robin’s nerdiness and petulance in worrying about any Ideas First education no matter how glorious the descriptive title, actually turns out to be the current subject of federally-funded research to see what effect such social reengineering can have on the student’s physical brain.
Just be glad this blog has no visual images and still relies on text-based explanations and Apt Metaphors. I am never going to be able to extinguish the images of the scalp-attached electrodes being used in that research.
What happens when innocuous seeming phrases like the Common Core, Coding for All, and Competency obscure a real agenda where governments seek “to map the circuits of the brain, measure the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity flowing within these circuits, and understand how their interplay creates our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities”?
Could we get even a pinky promise from politicians that none of that research will be used to diminish those very capabilities?
After all, as my book Credentialed to Destroy explained in detail, that was the real reason for the federal initiatives to change reading, math, and science instruction.
Did I mention that Connected Code concludes by saying that “K-12 educational computing can take the road that K-12 language arts, mathematics, and science education took long ago.”
It’s not about how to teach reading, math, science, or coding. It’s about the threat of the logical, fact-filled individual mind.
What a superb reason to be seen as threatening. Let’s keep it up for us and our children.