C's bookshelf: read

The Peculiar
Maggot Moon
The City and the City
The Road
A Certain Slant of Light
The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's Craft
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Brown Girl in the Ring
Well Wished
The Innkeeper's Song
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
American Indian Myths and Legends
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Return of the King
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers

C S Peterson's favorite books »

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Buzz and My Dad

I’ve been watching and listening, online, to people speaking about education.  I’m hearing this buzz:

The public education system we have, essentially worldwide thanks to 19th century colonialism, was designed to educate children to be adults who could function productively in a world that was in the midst of rapid change from agrarian to industrialized.  The world is again changing rapidly because of the current Cambrian explosion of technology, but the school system is still educating for the 19th century.  This inability of the current educational system to evolve is structural and entrenched, the buzz says, and those that don’t get this, and respond by finding ways to evolve intelligently into a system that does educate for the now that actually is, will watch their economies and their power dwindle.

I wonder if others are hearing the same buzz?  What do you think?

            My father, who passed away recently, was an educational visionary.  In 1965 he was working at Stanford on “computer assisted instruction.”  I used to visit him at work. I enjoyed tagging along with the man who constantly moved about the computer rooms with his shopping cart full of cathode ray tubes.  It was very loud.  But the best thing was when my dad sat me down at the computer.  He put earphones on my head.  They were so large that they covered the entire side of my face.  Then a lady’s voice:
            “Draw a line from the boy to the bicycle,” she instructed.
            I took the white stylus, with a cord attached to its end, and placed it on the flickering green cartoon of a boy.  I drew an imaginary line from him to the flickering green cartoon of the bicycle. Oh!  The boy walked to the bicycle, got on, and rode it off the screen!  I did the same with the girl and the ice cream cone. I could have sat there for hours.  My dad thought that computers might be a powerful way to enhance education, but he met with a lot of resistance in 1965.
            In the last months of his life my dad became confused about time.  One day he woke up from his nap, ready to work again on the problem of making computers effective learning tools.  It was just he and I in the house for the afternoon.  We talked for quite a while, and I tried to keep up with when we were, as he discussed the problems he and his team were having with getting enough computing memory and the challenges of designing a program that could be instantaneously individualized for millions.  Eventually we made our way into his study and got on the Internet on my parent’s computer.  I showed him the interactive games I use with my math students. We played a few and he was delighted.  We poked around on wikipedia and I tried to explain how people all over the world could write articles.  I even showed him how to translate an article on Bach, written in German, instantly into English.  He was amazed.  Finally I showed him his book on Amazon, and the reviews people had written.  He was very surprised.
            “But that book was written for another world,” he exclaimed, “It’s so out of date!”
            We surfed some more, but I could tell he was getting tired.
            “Those mathematics games we were working with, did you write those?”
            “No dad, I just use them in class.”
            “Are they expensive?”
            “No dad, they’re free.  They are on the Internet and anyone with a computer can use them.”
            He leaned back comfortably in his chair with a contented sigh.
            “Well that is good,” he said, as he began to drift off. “Now teachers can be freed from all the paperwork of drilling and testing and available to nurture their student’s souls.” 


  1. Your dad was a visionary and it sounds like you gave him peace by showing what is available now. I've heard the buzz and I think we must be ready and willing to make the change or we will be "left behind" so to speak! It is amazing how fast technology is moving. Moodle, Quomo pads, Ipads, Smartboards, Documents cameras, podcasts, etc. If we don't educate students to be able to use them and to be a part of guiding their own education, I'm not sure where we will be. It is a good question. Well put and thanks for sharing your story about your dad. He sounds like a very intelligent and caring person!

  2. What a wonderful memory about your dad. I love your last sentence! How true and insightful of your dad to realize this.

  3. Well, Katie, here I am working with you & didn't know these things about your dad! What a marvelous piece you wrote about him, & how sad that it connects up with our problems of education today. He was a visionary, & through the years must have wondered again & again why people were so resistant. Your writing weaves a sound argument for our needs today, but is so subtle, including the understory of your love for your dad. I enjoyed every word!

  4. You father sounded like an amazing man. I was fascinated by your account of using educational technology in its infancy. Your father's hope to provide time to nourish the souls of students is beautiful.

  5. Very touching article about the history of education, your dad's contribution to our everyday lives and his reflections on it. I find it worrisome to think that education of old was based on schooling the masses, many of whom were the children of immigrants, and the needs of our society have changed in so many ways. Yet the system continues to grind in its old tracks. Thanks for sharing your thoughts; the article made me very grateful for the progressive educational philosophies I've come to find in the past few years.