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Re: [seul-edu] Language to teach 10 year olds

On Sun, 15 Jul 2001, Pierre J Gregoire wrote:

> Greetings,
> I am most grateful for these discussions. The open source model as
>applied to educational theory is a natural fit. 


> The question of teaching programming or theory to 10 year olds does not
>strike me as a dichotomy. Everything we try to teach is (or should
>be) fundamentally metacognition. What allows better thinking about
>thinking than programming, regardless of the example/language?
> Although, developmentally, the child learns to walk by practicing
>walking, it is a significant that the child who practices crawling first
>becomes a more successful reader.

Crawling and walking have nothing to do. They're sucesive tasks
in the time line, but just occasional neighbours. To walk is 
a very complex task, while crawling is relatively simple and 
hardwired in our souls (we're advanced reptiles after all).

I'll give some more of my personal opinions about education, so 
that you understand my full point of view, I'll be radical and 
polemic, but close to the truth, I think. 

First of all, I think education is oriented for the teachers not
for the students. That is, primary objective of education is to
feed teachers, if the students learn or not is secondary and 
depends on them or their environment. This strong assert would 
explain quite well:
- Why there're so many lots useless, ununderstable subjects 
both in school and university. 
- Why the teachers of History teach history, the mathematicians
and engineers teach math, and so on. 
- Why the ever existing high level of school unsuccesful students
never decay. 
- Why nation-wide plans of studies fail in special groups of 
people, or even in general.
- Why the balance of kinds of subjects reflects internal fights among
groups, this specially true in University.

I don't know if it's matter of this list to reveal each subject,
each subject and to reason it. But, I'll be valiant and I'll attack
maths in general, so you can understand what I'm telling.

Math teachers say that math are not good  only per se, but that
give a lot of "secondary side" effects. Sometimes it's not 
clear which those secondary side effects are or even if there're
alternative to teach those effects. So, thinking about it:
- what's the beneficial theoretical side effect of learning:
set theory, polynomials, differential equations, series,
trigonometry ?

Well, a 14 year old should be happy if he knows multiply, divide,
add and perhaps a square root. And multiply,divide and adding can
be better trained playing at Monopoly.

Math teachers  say that they teach abstract reasoning, or logic, or 
______ (put here your favourite side effect ).

Well, needless to say, that most of us haven't solved a differential
equation in the last week, not solved a trigonometry problem in 
the last two days.

It happens that most secundary good effects of math teaching can
be achieved by  teaching programming, but only if we don't fail
in the same trap of being nice with the food of the teacher and 
bad guys with the poor students. Let's not teach something because
it's secondarily good for them (and primarily good for us). 

Regretfully, there's no direct way of teaching abstract reasoning
(that is: to abstract something real, attribute it, follow a 
chain of implications based on properties of the abstract object),
so we have to be "secondary", all right, but let's see if when teaching
trigometry and polynomals were doing the same "secondary" tasks,
teaching them the same lesson: teaching abstract reasoning. 

IMO, maths teach that lesson so many times but so hiddenly, so
indirectly, that the student doesn't even know that he's learnt

Well, programming has the advantage that _explicitly_ shows
that an abstract process has happened:

class  car:
    def speed_up(self):
       if 'petrol' in tank and
		self.brakes_are_off() and self.engine_is_on():

Moreover is funny, because it can be even visual ( a game),
is there a need to teach them computer science instead of 
maths ? Object orientation instead of polynomials and 
database instead of trigonometry ? 
No, we'd fall in the same error. The key is what and how
is the thing to be taught. 

Of course, all these ramblings are useless, the hugely 
math community will not  let be replaced by anything,
at least peacefully. 

If you have ever attended to a martial arts course,
you'll know that they don't teach all the keys in
the first week. No, they teach secondary things first:
- physical shape ( running, exercises)
- to hit or move automatically, almost a robot

Well, lots of repetition of simple things, this is another
side of education, brute force, like lots of reading
of History for getting memory, lots of repetition to
learn the multiplication table or lots of repetition 
of the english sounds to get it (in the case of Spaniards),
or playing at Monopoly for getting a fast lightning simple
ops mind. 

This is unavoidable, sometimes you have to do boring
tasks, repetitive ones to get "animal-fast" responses,
you can't reason how much is 1234 * 8, or you can't reason
a memorization of 10 pages of whatever. Schools is full
of such tasks, for training memory and "animal-speed intellectual"

Again, one could ask if there's a list of such skills and 
if there're more straight forward methods of training them,
but I guess that would be against the status quo of teachers. 
How many pieces of the new pie would be assigned to the old
groups? Because memory is equally trained by learning lots
of History, or by learning lots of latin verbs and lots
of biology. 
Ok, each one is different and it has secondary effect and intend
to give a wide culture to the new citizen. Again, one should
ask if there's a more straight forward way of getting culture
instead of a method that is both improving memory, endurance
in repetitive task and teaching culture itself. 

To end this never ending sequence of nonsenses, I'd say that
the most bright skill remains hidden behind so many interests,
secondary intentions and deviations. The most bright skill is:

It involves abstract reasoning + planning + endurance +

Few things can teach "structuration" better than programming,
programming, specially the good one, is pure structuration. 

A structured child is no longer a child but an adult, and 
an adult that can't structure is not really an adult but a child. 

It's a matter of energy-saving to try to perform an activity 
that renders benefits in more than one  field, regretfully
it's messy and uncontrollable to have dozens of activities performing
hundreds of secondary effects whose outcome is
just unpredictable: that's the way  schools are. 

Fortunately, children are very strong and they can survive it.