First, my good friend Chris Lehmann wrote about in “Why I Am Against For Profit Schools,” how the school privatization movement (and I would add the Obama administration) have embraced the rhetoric of personalization and individualization to replace teachers with less expensive drill and practice systems. These integrated “learning” systems reduce education to an endless  series of multiple-choice quizzes. (read what I wrote about this idea in 1992, Integrated Learning Systems, The New Slavery) They never have worked and never will.

Since the evidence supporting computerized teaching systems has been weak since WWII, the dystopians and their bankers pushing this idea feel compelled to dress it up in fancy names like “Carpe Diem,” “Flipped Classroom,” “School of One,” “Blast,” “Khan Academy,” etc…. Each of these old wines in new marketing slogans have at their core a desire to reduce the cost of education as low as possible and attempt to do so by replacing qualified educators with 200 terminals, Math Blaster and an armed security guard.

Soon after Chris published his article, our mutual friend Will Richardson wrote “The Thin Value Proposition,” in which he too agrees with Chris and argues that the the value in schooling is the establishment of relationships among teachers and students. I often end my speeches by saying that teachers make memories and when students come back to reminisce, they never speak about the time they raised PISA scores or used all of their spelling words in a sentence, they remember meaningful projects teachers created the context for.

I agree with the arguments made by Chris and Will. They perfectly frame the terms of the conundrum many of us who advocate the use of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression face when more powerful forces wish to use computers as tools of oppression, cost-cutting or antidotes for progressive education. How is it possible to love computers in education and hate the popular implementations of computers in education?

It is questions like this that led me to create The Daily Papert two years ago.

Papert articulated Will’s argument twenty-two years ago.

“It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”– it only hobbles the good ones.”

Papert. S. (1990, July). Perestroika and Epistemological Politics. Speech presented at the World Conference on Computers in Education. Sydney, Australia.

Seymour Papert began giving voice to Chris Lehmann’s concerns as far back as 1968!

“The phrase, “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dumbest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a skinner box.”

Papert S. (1980). Teaching Children Thinking in Taylor, R., Ed., The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee. New York: Teachers College Press. pp. 161 -176.

Note: This paper was originally presented in 1970 at the IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education in Amsterdam. The paper was published as an MIT Logo Memo No. 2. Nicholas Negroponte reports that Papert first presented this work in 1968.

A few weeks ago, I quietly launched a new site, The Daily Papert to bring Seymour Papert’s powerful ideas to our short attention-span culture. I am gratified by the response The Daily Papert has received and hope you will take a few minutes to read the posts already on the site AND subscribe to its RSS feed.

Three provocations inspired the creation of this site honoring the work and powerful ideas of Dr. Seymour Papert.

First provocation
In August, 2010, I attended the Constructionism 2010 conference in Paris. The conference gathered hundreds of educators, researchers and scholars in a celebration of the theory of constructionism originated by Seymour Papert. Old friends, colleagues and disciples who never met Dr. Papert spent several days sharing their knowledge and 40+ years of recollections, but one person was missing – Seymour.

Seymour Papert was in Maine where he continues recuperating from a terrible accident he experienced in 2006. However, his presence at the conference was unavoidable. As each of the esteemed conference attendees presented their work formally during sessions or informally over meals, the enormity of Papert’s influence overwhelmed me. Each of us and our work represents but a tiny fraction of Papert’s legacy. It might take thousands of us to assemble the quilt that is the life and legacy of Seymour Papert.

Second Provocation
On more than one occasion I have been accused of making an argument based on Papert’s work. Colleagues have exclaimed, “The answer to every question in education isn’t Seymour Papert.” However, Papert was so ahead of his time, so thoughtful, prescient, bold, creative and often times right, that I do find that he either predicted current problems confronted by educators or offered solutions. In many cases, he did so decades ago.

Third Provocation
While Papert’s innovation, scholarship and wisdom is widely recognized across the globe and among scientists, his half century of contributions to his major field of choice, education, is largely invisible. It is not that educators disagree with Papert’s theories or recommendations, they just ignore him entirely. This “idea aversion” (a term of Papert’s) is manifest by Papert’s absence from teacher education texts, educational technology publications and school reform literature.

I hope that this site offering bite-size nuggets of Papert wisdom will inspire educators, parents, scholars and citizens to investigate more of Papert’s work in years to come.

It is the least I can do for a friend, mentor and colleague who has transformed my thinking and given purpose to my life for three decades.


Many thanks to Chris Craft who generously spent hours debugging the site (there are still a few left) after I lost my sanity and patience.

A friend of mine just asked Facebook friends what they’re reading. Here is my current list if you don’t included the other thousand or so books awaiting my attention…

  1. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Experience (a biography of one of the great educators of the 20th Century)
  2. The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing (a gorgeous book and DVD about the remarkable life and musical wisdom of Quincy Jones)
  3. Raising a School: Foundations for School Architecture (a spectacular book about all aspects of creating productive contexts for learning by a colleague of Seymour Papert, Dr. Rena Upitis)
  4. David Susskind: A Televised Life (a fine autobiography of one of my boyhood heroes)
  5. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (perhaps the most comprehensive jazz autobiography ever about one of the most complex musicians who ever lived)
  6. I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath (I have been fortunate to spend some time with this amazing musician over the years.)
  7. Satiristas: Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians (there is much to learn about learning and performance from comedians)
  8. The Improvising Mind: Cognition and Creativity in the Musical Moment (as soon as I can afford it – highly recommended by my friend, the great Brian Lynch)

I’m also revisiting more than a dozen books by the amazing Seymour Sarason and Seymour Papert‘s three books on learning and computing.