May 25, 2024

Bode Miller & Seymour Papert: Separated at Birth?

bodemillerseymourpapertThree-time Olympic skier, Bode Miller of the USA won three medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics – a Gold, Silver and Bronze. When added to the two silver medals he earned in the 2002 Winter Olympics, Miller is the most decorated Olympic Alpine skier in United States history. He is also controversial based on legendary media interviews (apology here) and a failure to win any medals during the 2006 Winter Olympics when some predicted he would win five events.

There are countless things I learned over twenty years of working with my friend and mentor Professor Seymour Papert. This week, I remembered that I first learned about Bode Miller from Dr. Papert way back in 2002. Papert had published a newspaper column Bode Miller: World’s Most Creative Skier, for the Bangor Daily News.

This isn’t the first time Papert wrote about skiing in the context of learning. His seminal book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas (1980), features a discussion of how technology has changed skiing.

In the 2002 column, Papert shared his enthusiasm for Bode’s fearless style, unconventional education and sense of independence. Bode Miller’s skiing is offered as a metaphor for the tough choices parents and teachers must make in educating children in the 21st Century. (This column was written near the end of a several year period during which Dr. Papert worked tirelessly to convince the citizens of Maine to provide a laptop computer for every 7th and 8th grader in the state.)

Many aspects of Bode would serve well for practicing the art of seeing the world through a lens focused on learning…

…We want our children to have Bode’s kind of independence. But we don’t want them to fall for lack of mastery of well-tried ways of doing things.

Re-reading this article by my old friend Seymour reminded me of the many characteristics that make him special. First of all, your average MIT professor doesn’t write local newspaper columns in praise of a renegade skier – many may not have heard of Bode Miller, fewer still eight years ago. What struck me is how much Dr. Papert and Bode Miller have in common. They are both driven by a desire to revolutionize their domain through a fearless combination of high-risk and high-reward.

Bode Miller crashing at 2010 Olympics

That’s right, MIT Professor Seymour Papert is a bad-ass!

Over the course of his life he has been a South African dissident forced to flee his country due to his anti-Apartheid activities, earned two mathematics Ph.Ds, worked with Jean Piaget, was a co-founder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, inspired Alan Kay to invent what became known as the personal computer, created Logo (with Cynthia Solomon and Wally Feurzig) was a co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, led the effort to help Maine be the first state in the world with a laptop computer for every student, has been a leading voice in school reform and was a driving force behind the creation of One Laptop Per Child and their effort to create the “$100 laptop.” Papert began talking about the potential high reward reward for learners if every one of them were to be provided a personal computer with constructive open-ended software more than forty years ago and worked tirelessly to realize that dream across the globe.

I was inspired to write this article when an old friend sent me an email saying that “Bode Miller is the Lee Morgan of slalom skiing.” If you don’t get the reference, you’ve got some shedding to do!

4 thoughts on “Bode Miller & Seymour Papert: Separated at Birth?

  1. Carolyn and Cheryl,

    Thanks for reading and for your kind words.

    I’m working towards making more of Papert’s work accessible and will do so as time permits.


  2. Gary,

    Keep the Papert work coming. I’m teaching at a 1 to 1 school in Maine now and think about him often. We’re very fortunate to be the beneficiaries of all the work he did for us in this state.

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