Dewey on social learning

John Dewey, **in 1916**1 [wrote about the social nature of learning](, and how learning is about more than having access to content:

>The importance of language in gaining knowledge is doubtless the chief cause of the common notion that knowledge may be passed directly from one to another. It almost seems as if all we have to do to convey an idea into the mind of another is to convey a sound into his ear. Thus imparting knowledge gets assimilated to a purely physical process. But learning from language will be found, when analyzed, to confirm the principle just laid down. It would probably be admitted with little hesitation that a child gets the idea of, say, a hat by using it as other persons do; by covering the head with it, giving it to others to wear, having it put on by others when going out, etc. But it may be asked how this principle of shared activity applies to getting through speech or reading the idea of, say, a Greek helmet, where no direct use of any kind enters in. What shared activity is there in learning from books about the discovery of America?

Full text of Democracy and Education is [available on Wikisource](, or at a library near you. The more you know…

  1. Dewey, John. (1922). Democracy and Education: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. The MacMillan Company. New York. (it appears as though the book was written in 1916, but not published until 1922. Still, a long, long time ago… []

Anthony Bourdain on the modern panopticon

In [Medium Raw](, Bourdain describes the thoughts he had, transitioning from a coke-head heroin addict to a doting father, and how the panopticon (he didn’t call it that, though) played a role in the process:

>NewImage.jpgThe iniquitousness of Twitter and food- and chef-related Web sites and blogs has totally changed the game for anyone with a television show – even me. You don’t have to be very famous at all these days to end up with a blurry photograph on You don’t want your daughter’s little schoolmates reading about her daddy, stuttering drunk, two o’clock in the morning, at a chef-friendly bar, doing belly shots from a chunky and underdressed cocktail waitress – something that could well have happened a few years ago. In a day when a passing cell-phone user can easily get a surreptitious photo of you, slinking out of the porn shop with copies of *Anal Rampage 2* and *MILFBusters* under your arm, and post it in real time, maybe that’s a particularly good time to trade in the leather jacket for some cotton Dockers.

I didn’t read Infinite Jest this summer, either.

Being a writer in a world that features Wallace would be like playing basketball in a world that has Michael Jordan, only none of us even know how to play basketball and we’re all injured toddlers with broken lacrosse equipment.


I know that if we as a society approached depression and mental health with the same dedication and persistence with which we approached drunk driving or smoking or, hell, littering in the past, we’d bury a lot fewer of our brothers and daughters and heroes.

genius. fucking genius.

Neil Postman on Technology and Society

PostmanAtCarverFrom a presentation on 1998/02/07 at Calvin College, via YouTube (thanks to George Siemens for pointing this video out!)

when looking at any technology, (at least) 6 questions are important:

  1. “What is the problem to which this is the solution?”
  2. “Whose problem is it?”
  3. “Suppose we solve this problem, and solve it decisively. What new problems might be created because we have solved the problem?”
  4. “Which people, and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?”
  5. “What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies, and what is being gained and lost by such changes?”
    • (eg. “community” and “conversation” have changed meaning wrt internet)
    • “conversation” – “email isn’t a conversation, it’s just 2 guys typing messages to each other.”
    • “community” – on internet, people of similar interests. traditionally, people who do not necessarily have similar interests, but who must negotiate and accommodate their differences for the sake of social harmony.
  6. “What sort of people and institutions acquire special economic and political power because of technological change?”
    • the transformation of a technology into a medium – the exploitation of a technology – always results in a realignment of power.
    • eg. television gives power to some, while depriving others.
    • media entrepreneurs are the most radical force in culture.

“The answers one gives may have an ideological cast, but the questions [are universal].”

overspecialization and extinction

There are a number of studies on species that went extinct and most of them seem to refer to the fact that those who had become too specialized disappeared. A small change in the environment killed them.

– Carlo Ratti, Seed Magazine, December 2008. Page 42

Interesting observation to keep in mind when thinking about education…

on just getting by

Michael Wesch just posted an amazing reflection on his experience in the classroom. He’s frustrated by the lack of engagement, the scattered engagement. The education through “soul murder.”

My teaching assistants consoled me by noting that students have learned that they can “get by” without paying attention in their classes. Perhaps feeling a bit encouraged by my look of incredulity, my TA’s continued with a long list of other activities students have learned that they can “get by” without doing. Studying, taking notes, reading the textbook, and coming to class topped the list. It wasn’t the list that impressed me. It was the unquestioned assumption that “getting by” is the name of the game. Our students are so alienated by education that they are trying to sneak right past it.

and, BINGO!

They tell us, first of all, that despite appearances, our classrooms have been fundamentally changed. There is literally something in the air, and it is nothing less than the digital artifacts of over one billion people and computers networked together collectively producing over 2,000 gigabytes of new information per second. While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. Classrooms built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher are now enveloped by a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation. In short, they tell us that our walls no longer mark the boundaries of our classrooms.


New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop.

Neil Postman, Technopoly, 1992

hammers and nails

To a man with a pencil, everything looks like a list. To a man with a camera, everything looks like an image. To a man with a computer, everything looks like data. And to a man with a grade sheet, everything looks like a number.

Neil Postman, Technopoly, 1992.