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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #79      A Publication of The Nature Institute      October 27, 1998
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Editor's Note
    Quotes and Provocations
       On Selling Educational Software
       Do They Have Television on Mars?
       Finding Wholeness in a Pile of Manure
    Letter from Des Moines (Lowell Monke)
       Why Information is Not Enough: Tales from a high school computer lab
       College as a Cover for Grade School Failure (Dan Lyke)
       What the Objectors to Distance Education Ignore (Peter Denning)
       On Activism and the Credential Wars (Bruce A. Metcalf)
    Words Past and Present
       Conquering time, space, and labor
    About this newsletter
                        ** From the NETFUTURE Archives **
       "Nobody sees the stars now .... Though observatories are multiplied,
            the heavens receive very little attention.  The naked eye
                may easily see farther than the armed.  It depends
           on who looks through it.  No superior telescope to this has
           been invented.  In those big ones the recoil is equal to the
                 force of the discharge."  (Henry David Thoreau)
                             (For an updated context,
                        see "Words Past and Present" below.)
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    I have again managed to coax Lowell Monke away from his high school
    advanced technology classroom, and away from the finishing touches he's
    putting on his Ph.D., long enough to give us another "Letter from Des
    Moines".  Fortunately, we'll be favored with a series of trenchant
    commentaries from Lowell in coming issues, all seasoned with his immensely
    sane wisdom and tales from his daily experiences with kids and machines.
    After many years in high school education, Lowell hopes to make a
    transition next fall to a college setting, where he can use his rich
    experience and his "Foundations of Education" doctoral work to help other
    teachers find their way amid the tremendous political, social, and
    commercial pressures brought to bear on the school classroom today.
    If I had the resources, I'd hire Lowell to work for NETFUTURE.  As it is,
    some college is going to be very fortunate.
    Goto table of contents
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    On Selling Educational Software
    Dr. Jane Healy, in her new book, Failure to Connect: How Computers
    Affect Our Children's Minds -- for Better and Worse, tells of
    attending a "technology in education" conference in the midwest.  She
    stopped at a prominent display for a multimedia package designed to teach
    reading and writing "all in one iridescent package with countless
    components and a huge price tag".  The salesman started up the demo, which
    resembled nothing more than "a loud, gaudy Saturday morning cartoon".  As
    she tells the story:
           "You interested in our great new system here?" he booms heartily.
           "I'm not sure.  Can you give me a couple of reasons why I should
       use this instead of regular materials -- you know, books, pencils,
           His eyes widen, and he stares at me as if I had just landed from
       outer space or, more likely, should be sporting a hoop skirt, bonnet,
       and bustle.
           "Well, I don't really have an answer for that", he fumbles through
       the promotional flyers.  "No one ever asked me that before."
           "How long have you been selling this product?" I inquire.
           "About two years."
           "So how many educators have you shown it to?"
           "Oh, I don't know ... probably several thousand."
           "And I'm the first one who ever asked you why it is better than
       traditional methods?"
           "Yup.  What do you do, anyway?"
    (I'll be reviewing Healy's book a way down the line.  I can tell you right
    now, though, that it's an excellent antidote to software salesmen, whether
    they're on commission from Microsoft or the White House.)
    Do They Have Television on Mars?
    "You'd have to be made out of wood to not want to go to Mars", claims
    Robert Zubrin.  The 46-year-old aerospace engineer wrote The Case for
    Mars and recently founded the Mars Society to work toward early
    exploration of the red planet.
       We are a nation of pioneers! [Zubrin says] .... We need a central
       overriding purpose for our lives.  At this point in history, that focus
       can only be the human exploration and settlement of Mars.
    Zubrin has managed to generate a lot of passion on the subject.  One
    leader of the Mars Society, a NASA researcher, talks about members
    chaining themselves to the White House to promote their goals.
    Oddly, though, members also fret over what they see as a major obstacle to
    their hope:  space travel is mind-numbingly boring.  As one reporter
    summarized their concern:  space travel "has to be turned into
    entertainment or the American public will never care".
    So it is that there is talk of privatization, television rights, an
    Olympic-style logo, advertisements on the astronauts' spacecraft and
    clothing, lunch boxes and action figures for kids, and so on.
    But one wonders:  if it is really all that urgent to escape ourselves and
    our planet, and if mindless distraction is the way to do it, then why go
    to Mars?  We've already got television and the Web here.
    (News from New York Times, Aug. 18, 1998.)
    Finding Wholeness in a Pile of Manure
    Will Brinton, who runs a prestigious agricultural laboratory, began his
    talk by saying, "I do reductionism by day and wholism by night".  A
    specialist in soil quality and composting, he keeps his ripening manure
    piles artfully camouflaged, lest the conventional, daytime customers of
    his laboratory get alarmed.
    Not that he has any problems with credibility.  As founder of the Woods
    End Research Laboratory in Maine, he is beset not only by curious
    scientists, but also by television crews, Pentagon officials, and the
    agricultural ministers of foreign states.  One reason for their interest:
    he solves their problems, such as what do do with toxic wastes.  Folklore
    credits him with being able to compost "anything", from oil spills to
    radioactive sludge -- and many of these things he has composted -- but he is
    perhaps most notorious for having found a way to convert the explosive
    TNT into fertilizer.  As Mother Jones whimsically summarized the recipe:
       Blend a ton of waste from any mint (the plant) processing factory with
       TNT sludge.  Mix well.  Sprinkle in one ton of carbon-rich sawdust from
       a local lumber mill.  Let stand.  Spoon in a ton of buffalo manure.
       Bake for 30-90 days.  Feed your flowers.  (Warning: "Composting can
       produce an intense heat," says Brinton, "which is the last thing you
       want with explosives.")
    Brinton explains that the incomprehensibly complex life processes in
    compost take up toxic substance and transform it into the terms of their
    own healthy existence.  While the details of the transformation may be
    hopelessly beyond analysis, the overall achievement is by no means hidden
    from us.  We can gain an ever deeper understanding of the process as a
    whole, and we can observe the effects of compost when applied to cropland.
    Brinton's own considerable accomplishments have resulted from his ability
    to look at crops and soil and compost, and "read them whole".  And that is
    what he tried to get across to his audience of about thirty people, who
    met last October 10 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts:  the difference
    between a wholistic and a reductionist stance.
    One way he illustrated the difference was by describing soilless farming.
    He showed a picture of "factory-produced" lettuce:  the crop was grown on
    huge, thin slabs of nutrient-impregnated styrofoam, standing on edge
    (nearly perpendicular to the floor) and facing a bank of lights.  The
    system is based on the most exhaustive analysis of plant requirements the
    researchers can manage.  Each individual nutrient is calculated, the
    nutrients are drawn from separate tanks, mixed, and then applied
    continuously to the top edge of the styrofoam.  As the solution drains
    downward, the plants absorb what they need.
    Of course, analyzing what the plants need is equivalent to analyzing all
    the transactions going on in a compost pile:  it can't be done.  But the
    compost pile, under the supervision of one who has learned to understand
    something of its dynamic as a whole, will go ahead and do its work
    regardless of the incompleteness of our analysis.  That piece of styrofoam
    "soil", on the other hand, will not; it provides only the elements
    packaged in the nutrient solution, and these elements are guaranteed to be
    incomplete.  This is not just an incompleteness of knowledge; it is an
    incompleteness of the critical life processes producing the lettuce that
    you and I have very likely been eating.
    Grow lettuce in compost-enriched soil, and, in an immediate, practical
    sense, you have wholeness.  Grow lettuce in styrofoam, and you have
    Not surprisingly, there is a more or less continuous series of problems to
    be overcome in the lettuce factory.  To begin with -- although it is not
    seen as a problem by those who run the factory -- some $40,000 in plant
    nutrients are collected at the bottom edge of the styrofoam and flushed
    into the environment every year.
    "Why can't it be re-used?" Brinton was asked.  Because the collected soup
    of nutrients is too untrustworthy.  The lettuce plants continually vary in
    what they take up, depending, for example, on the time of day and their
    degree of maturity.  In other words, once those well-analyzed nutrients
    get caught up in actual life processes, you can never know what will
    happen in any precise, analytical sense, and therefore you don't know what
    you'll get in the left-over solution.
    Then there are pest problems in the factory.  The industrial-strength
    remedy is obvious enough:  fumigate the place with poisons regularly.
    Unfortunately, this seems to be causing health problems for the workers,
    so the managers acknowledge that they may be "forced" to adopt integrated
    pest management.  They lament, though, that the more they experiment with
    that alternative, the dirtier their factory tends to get.  And god forbid
    that their lettuce should come in contact with dirt!
    A few comments of my own.  Reductionism is necessary as one direction of
    thought.  We really do need to consider the reduced, skeletal pictures we
    can produce by analyzing particular elements out of a phenomenon.  Brinton
    himself has done much analytic work to elucidate various aspects of the
    composting process.  But he does not imagine that his analyses add up to
    anything like the whole.  Moreover, his analyses will remain on-track only
    as long as he continues to grasp and respect the whole -- only as long as
    he insists on reconnecting every analytic product back to its never fully
    analyzable context.
    The problems arise, then, when reductionism is our only method.  This
    drives us to pursue our analyses with a kind of fanatical absoluteness; we
    must isolate all the parts, since we have no other way to get at the
    whole.  But in a world that really does come whole, this simply isn't
    possible -- not just because things are too complex, but because it can't be
    done even in principle.  True wholes do not yield a definitive list of
    parts.  Everything depends on how you look at them; each such view is
    limited, and there are always new, revelatory vantage points.  (For
    examples of this wholeness, consider any meaningful text, or the human
    body with its various organs, or for that matter an atom, which turns out
    not to be absolutely separable from all other atoms.)
    How, then, do we see wholes?  The answer, of course, is that we don't, or
    scarcely so.  We have for too long strained toward the opposite, analytic
    pole.  That's why so many of the efforts to develop wholistic disciplines
    have proved disappointing.  We have a long learning curve ahead of us.
    But we can glimpse enough of the path to take the next few steps.  Brinton
    -- or any farmer who is still intimately connected to his land -- can tell
    a great deal about the health and the needs of plants by simple
    inspection.  How?  The overriding fact, I think, is that he must attend to
    the sensible qualities of things -- the very same qualities that
    scientists consciously chose early on to ignore, and that every analytic
    thrust tries to eliminate from consideration.
    Qualities are expressive; they must be read in the way we read meanings.
    They have none of the yes-or-no character so desirable in all quantitative
    and analytic inquiries.  It is this absence of hard, sharp edges that
    makes it possible for quality-laden images to interpenetrate, to shade
    into each other.  And this in turn is why profoundly reading any part of a
    qualitative image is at the same time to read the whole.  A trained eye
    attending to qualities can read the whole of a plant in a leaf, and the
    whole of the soil in the plant.  This is the contrary, balancing gesture
    required in order to keep reductionism from becoming a one-way dead end.
    In sum:  either we will have a science of wholeness that is also a science
    of qualities, or else we will have no science of wholeness.
    There is hope.  Some of the images of health and abuse that Brinton
    presents are so powerful that many of those committed to a purely
    reductionist science are sitting up and taking notice.  And Brinton points
    out that more and more research shows, for example, how crops benefit from
    compost in a manner far exceeding what would be expected from an analysis
    of its recognized nutrients.  That styrofoam-entrapped lettuce,
    apparently, is missing out on something good, and we don't know what it
    Take off the reductionist blinders, though, and we know very well what it
    is.  It stares us in the face and sticks under our fingernails:  good,
    quality dirt.
    Goto table of contents
                          WHY INFORMATION IS NOT ENOUGH
                                   Lowell Monke
                                                        Letter from Des Moines
                                                              October 27, 1998
    Recently, one of my students designed and managed a Web page for a
    project involving the comparison of cultures from various parts of the
    world.  This student gathered and categorized hundreds of messages so
    that others could reference all contributions easily.  For several
    months he did just what proponents of "Information Age Education" say we
    need to teach our students to do:  he organized, selected, processed and
    even electronically published information that was sent to him every
    day.  He did such a good job and was so proud of his work that we decided
    he should enter the Web page in a contest.
    But the entry form completely baffled him.  He spent an hour pondering and
    asking me for help with the question, "What is the value of your project?"
    With all of his hard work he didn't seem to have any idea how to express
    why he had spent so much time developing this extensive body of
    information.  Finally, I gave in and told him what I thought the value of
    his project was but it did little good.  He soon came back, unable to
    remember the exact words I had used.
    This nice, hard-working young man, who can gather and process information
    off the 'Net so well, has nevertheless been failed by all of us in the
    educational system.  His problem had nothing to do with technology or
    information and couldn't be fixed by them. His problem was lack of
    insight, the inability to discover meaning by finding relations between
    experiences and ideas.  In a truly educational environment experiences and
    ideas interact to create knowledge and the insights that feed the seed of
    This recalls T. S. Eliot's famous lament, "Where is the wisdom lost in
    knowledge?  Where is the knowledge lost in information?" (1963, 147).
    Still, our infatuation with technology has blinded us to this
    discrimination and resulted in data and information being lifted to
    exalted status.  The promoters of information have inflated its definition
    to absurd dimensions (Machlup 1983).  John Perry Barlow (1996), for
    example, claims that "Information is an activity.  Information is a life
    form.  Information is a relationship".
    As information becomes a "living" entity inhabiting the electronic grid,
    once-prized attributes of human life like wisdom and truth -- which
    technology cannot traffic -- have become empty terms almost embarrassing
    to utter.  "Living in the bureaucracies of information, we don't venture a
    claim to that kind of understanding" (Birkerts 1995, 74).  Even in
    education we no longer speak in those terms, and end up with students who
    have no idea how to find meaning in the information they process.  As
    Theodore Roszak has pointed out, "An excess of information may actually
    crowd out ideas, leaving the mind (young minds especially) distracted by
    sterile, disconnected facts, lost among the shapeless heaps of data"
    (1986, 88).  The Internet provides us with nothing so much as an excess of
    Trees and Spiders
    How does a child understand trees?  At various times I have watched my son
    Benjamin climb our trees, sit under their shade, pluck their leaves, break
    off branches, listen to cardinals singing in them, peel their bark, watch
    them sway in the wind.  Without conscious attention to learning, he has
    come to know our trees and, by extension, the idea of trees.  This is a
    depth of understanding that comes only from experience that employs all
    the senses within the context of a physically rich environment.
    The 'Net (or a CD ROM or an encyclopedia for that matter) can only teach
    Benjamin about trees.  There is a huge qualitative difference here.  The
    information obtained is fragmented, desensualized, decontextualized.
    Taken alone, its meaning to him will be obscure and lifeless.  It will
    never be linked to refuge from a blistering sun, or the strength of an
    immovable living object. It will never carry the emotional force of
    first-hand experience.
    I recently participated in an Iowa Public Television panel discussion
    which focused on technology uses in the classroom.  As part of the
    introduction a videotape was shown of a second-grade class that used the
    computer to produce an electronic book report on Charlotte's Web, the
    charming children's classic that teaches about living and dying,
    friendship and community.  The teacher explained that her students were so
    enthusiastic about the computer project that they stopped going outside
    for recess, preferring to stay in their seats working on the report.
    (This echoes a recent advertisement by IBM (1997) which tries to impress
    the reader with the same message.)
    The teacher's enthusiasm was contagious, but I found it troubling that the
    scene of three students sitting completely still, narrowing their
    attention to a colorful but flat 10" by 12" screen, struck my colleagues
    on the panel as preferable to exercising (and most certainly educating)
    growing legs and arms, not to mention lungs, hearts, vocal chords, and,
    yes, fists and tear ducts.
    I also found it sad that the teacher chose to encourage her students to
    take pride in the jerky animated movements of a coarsely drawn oval with
    eight lines sticking out of it rather than help them develop a sense of
    wonder through observing real spiders spinning fluidly in a terrarium;
    that in studying a story that conveys dignity and meaning to the life
    cycle the children spent their time working with machines rather than
    visiting elders and infants in the community; that in a story that focuses
    on farm life they preferred to stay in their classroom rather than visit
    local farms.  (This is Iowa, after all, where farms are not hard to find).
    On the one hand, the world can be represented as the same old
    decontextualized, abstract information, but with the added intriguing
    feature that the child can now manipulate the representations using the
    computer.  On the other hand, we can encourage the child to relate
    directly to the people and things of the world.  These are fundamentally
    different ways to approach learning.  One stresses control and
    manipulation of objects, reduced to abstract images -- the world as
    information.  The other forges connections between the child and his or
    her immediate, personal, concrete world, and invites the child to become
    involved with the tangible things and people that exist in it.  Both
    approaches promise to spark interest in a child.  But the former does so
    through mechanical maneuvering, while the other reaches the mind through
    the heart.  The former can be fun, the latter can be deeply fulfilling.
    The former is ultimately dehumanizing, the latter helps the child to
    discover himself or herself in the world.
    This does not mean that information is not important in its own right.
    Gradually the time will come when abstract information about trees, elders
    and the world in general, will be valuable to learn.  But that value will
    be in proportion to the amount of opportunity and time the child has been
    given to repeatedly engage the real thing.  Information eventually becomes
    important in confirming and analyzing experience and providing a test for
    ideas, but to place it at the center of education is to build the search
    for meaning around a meaningless core.
    Give Kids a World First
    The issue here extends beyond just small children or learning about
    nature.  In my field of teaching I constantly encounter students who
    possess a technological sophistication that astounds adults, but rarely do
    they display a strong social, political or even ethical maturity to guide
    it.  Name your destination on the information superhighway and they will
    take you there; but ask them to tell you what it means when you arrive
    and, like the student mentioned earlier, they tend to be at a loss.
    Design a web page? No problem. But ask them, as I sometimes do, what
    "freedom of speech", "citizenship", "justice", "ethics", or "community"
    mean and their responses rarely rise above the level of the undigested
    sound bites they have consumed through other electronic media.
    My students, having been raised on TV, and later video games and
    computers, bring ever fewer first-hand experiences and ideas to my
    classroom, and find little to do with computers except what the computer
    itself offers.  Joseph Weizenbaum warned twenty years ago that the
    computer "enslaves the mind that has no other metaphors and few other
    resources to call on" (1976, 277).  Left without those other resources,
    many of my students default to the computer and make it their primary
    metaphor of thought and life.
    Ironically, these students generally have trouble thinking of projects to
    undertake even with the vast technical resources they have available in my
    lab.  Their minds are full of skills, but empty of impassioned ideas.
    They have plenty of ability, but too little real-world experience on which
    to draw to inspire and guide its use.
    Certainly, not all of my students exhibit these qualities.  But it is a
    growing problem.  I find myself wondering how much these students'
    extensive computer education has prepared them for contributing to
    community life?  How much has it distracted them from preparing to
    contribute to it?  Given that prophets of technology like Barlow and
    Rheingold (1993) are heralding a new form of community engendered by the
    'Net, it seems to me that we have a greater responsibility than ever to
    teach children what community can mean before dumping them into this
    disembodied form.
    How do we do that?  By having them do on-line research on community,
    justice, equality, and so on?  By participating in listserve discussions,
    where flaming is endemic?  Or by first concentrating on helping them
    experience and eventually reflect upon the physical community in which
    they reside?  Does this require high technology?  No.  It requires the
    physical and active presence of those most important to their lives.
    How the Quest for Power Displaces Learning
    So why have so many embraced information as the cornucopia of education?
    It is my contention that it is, in part, because they have confused and
    substituted for the greater purpose of education -- the development of a
    responsible, thoughtful individual able to live a fulfilling life -- its
    occasional consequence, power.  The real significance of the Internet for
    students lies not in its educative capacities but in the power it confers.
    Look carefully at the hype swirling around the 'Net as a means of
    education and you will find that it is all about power, or what Perelman
    (1992) calls "intellectual capital":  power to access information any time
    from any place; the power to "go" and communicate with anyone anywhere in
    the world; the power not only to access but to publish mountains of
    information.  In short, the power to overcome time, distance and the
    limitations of our own physical bodies.  Learning in the era of the 'Net
    tends to get degraded from comprehending ideas through experience and
    thought into enhancing personal power through the possession of
    All of the attributes of power cited above may be valuable in the world of
    business or politics, but in the realm of education they are deadening.
    They focus attention not on developing thoughtfulness and insights but on
    improving performance.  In part because of the mindset encouraged by the
    computer, the words of Kenneth Keniston are, if anything, even more on
    target today than they were when he spoke them over a decade ago:  we
    measure the success of schools not by the kinds of human beings they
    promote but by whatever increases in reading scores they chalk up.  We
    have allowed quantitative standards, so central to the adult economic
    system, to become the principle yardstick for our definition of our
    children's worth (Keniston, quoted in Elkind 1984, 53).
    It is the pursuit of ever higher levels of performance that guides
    educational policy today, not a concern for developing strong, deep
    comprehension of the world.  Students have to produce measurable skills at
    every rung of the educational ladder.  With the emphasis on performance
    and the measurability of that performance, there is neither the time nor
    the payoff for letting children sink those deeper, less measurable roots
    of understanding from which meaningful knowledge can eventually emerge.
    Rather, we search for the vendor who can sell us the machinery with the
    necessary skill built into it to help the children meet decontextualized
    standards of performance.
    And already a disturbing trend can be observed:  the more we rely on the
    ever increasing capabilities of the machinery, the more time and effort we
    invest in learning the technical skills necessary to get performance out
    of the machine.  From the moment our children enter the school system we
    systematically sacrifice reflection upon ideas and experiences for the
    development of skills that will "empower" them.  And more and more this
    empowerment is seen as coming through the computer-based accumulation and
    manipulation of information.
    Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies -- The Fate of Reading in the
    Electronic Age.  Faber and Faber, Boston 1994.
    Barlow, John.  The Economy of Ideas, part 2.
    www.nirvanet.fr/bienvenue/cybergate-fr/cibrary-fr/economy2-xfr.html. 1996.
    Eliot, T.S.  "Choruses from The Rock".  Collected Poems 1909-1962.
    New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1963.
    Elkind, David.  The Hurried Child -- Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon.
    Addison Wesley, Reading, MA 1981.
    IBM.  "IBM's Reinventing Education Partnerships," advertisement in The
    New Yorker, p. 125, October 20 & 27, 1997.
    Machlup, Fritz. "Semantic Quirks in Studies of Information" in The
    Study of Information, eds. Fritz Machlup and Una Mansfield.  Wiley, NY
    Perelman, Lewis.  School's Out. Avon Books, NY 1992.
    Rheingold, Howard.  The Virtual Community.  Addison-Wesley,
    Reading, MA 1993.
    Roszak, Theodore.  The Making of a Counter Culture -- Reflections on
    the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. Doubleday & Co.,
    Garden City, NY 1969.
    Weizenbaum, Joseph.  Computer Power and Human Reason -- From Judgment
    to Calculation.  W. H. Freeman and Company, New York 1976.
    Goto table of contents
    College as a Cover for Grade School Failure
    Response to:  "Who's Killing Higher Education?" (NF-78)
    From:  Dan Lyke (danlyke@flutterby.com)
    Once again, thank you for a great NETFUTURE!  (And: "Damn. Once again he
    said it better.")
    I saw through the fallacies of department heads who insisted I take
    classes on subjects I already knew so that their enrollment figures could
    be higher, and the expectations that for most people effective learning
    takes place in a lecture environment, and all of those other lies, and
    dropped out of college so I could further my education.
    I look back at my sisters who've graduated liberal arts programs with
    crippling debts, exhorted at their graduation speeches to "go out and
    change the world" while saddled with debt which made it necessary to
    immediately join the wage-slave consumerism grind and after enduring four
    years of indoctrination into the worst aspects of that philosophy, and
    wonder how long we'll continue to put up with this hypocrisy.
    For the most part, the college system that exists today is an excuse for
    the failure of grade schools to teach and to instill a desire for
    learning, and a breakdown in the mechanisms of trust. Those who rely on
    degrees as confirmation of ability are assuming that the skills necessary
    to follow rules, sit, listen, and parrot back what they heard at test time
    are transferable to real world tasks.
    Perhaps they are, but I'm glad to have avoided those particular tasks so
    What the Objectors to Distance Education Ignore
    Response to:  "Who's Killing Higher Education?" (NF-78)
    From:  Peter Denning (pjd@cne.gmu.edu)
    I enjoyed your article in NETFUTURE about higher education.  I resonate
    with much of what you say: I've been sounding the same warnings myself for
    nearly 10 years.  I've also worked with Perelman over the past two years
    and don't find his claims about hyperlearning to be as one-sided as you
    might have concluded from School's Out.
    There's a growing "movement" on campuses, crystallized around David
    Noble's objections to distance education that echos some of the same
    themes you have brought up.  The rhetoric is about quality; but when you
    decode it, it's about the concern that distance education will displace
    teachers and that course materials will be claimed as university (rather
    than faculty) intellectual property.  There's little concern about the
    vast audiences of adults who want more efficient, practice-oriented,
    customized and individualized curricula.  Or about the private for-profit
    corporate universities who are threatening to take the adult education
    market away from universities.
    Take a look at these reprints and see if they resonate with you or not:
    Peter Denning
    On Activism and the Credential Wars
    Response to:  "Who's Killing Higher Education?" (NF-78)
    From:  Bruce A. Metcalf (bmetcalf@magicnet.net)
    > I've often wondered -- especially after interviewing such an effective
    > spokesman as Sclove -- why I myself am so little drawn to traditional
    > forms of activism.  Part of it is probably that I have no skills for it,
    > just as I have no skills as an entrepreneur.  Part of it, too, may be my
    > discomfort with those portions of the political spectrum (on left and
    > right) that seem to spawn most activism.  But much of it, I fear, may
    > just be a personal irresponsibility I've been managing to conceal from
    > myself.
    Buck up, buddy!
    To fail to see activism in your life is to ignore the impact your writing
    and speaking have on others.  True, you may not be manning the barricades
    against the advancing Know-Nothings in the physical sense, but the best of
    your efforts do tell.
    Thomas Paine was a notorious rabble-rouser in person, as well as in print,
    yet I do believe he would be remembered as an "activist" had he remained
    mute.  Do not underestimate the power of the written word -- observe how
    long Russia has suffered as the result of a single book!
    Know that "traditional activism" has many forms, and that you have chosen
    well-worn and carefully sharpened tools from an ancient and honorable
    arsenal.  Know too that you use them well.
    On which point, let me thank you for the main essay in #78.  At four times
    I was driven from my keyboard to wander the house, muttering to myself as
    I considered the implications of your words (this is a good thing, BTW).
    Having taught at five different colleges, public and private; in industry,
    both directly and through a college; and having fought in the credential
    wars throughout my education and employment, I found your commentary most
    Not that your proposals have a snowball's chance in hell, but you knew
    that, right?
    I only regret that I am not presently a member of a faculty on whose
    lounge walls I might post this article.
    Bruce A Metcalf
    Adjunct Instructor
    Valencia Community College
    Bruce --
    Thanks -- I needed that!
    Goto table of contents
                             WORDS PAST AND PRESENT
    (See "From the NETFUTURE Archives" above.)
    Today, even more than when I reproduced it in NF #20, Thoreau's remark
    (taken from his Journal for January 21, 1853) strikes me as a
    wonderful penetration of technology.  Perhaps it is because in the
    meantime I have had occasion to think about the telescope, and how its
    "recoil is equal to the force of the discharge".
    The irony of the telescope, as Thoreau points out so well, is that it
    brings the stars nearer to us, and yet we scarcely see the stars today.
    Many children grow up never having noticed the Milky Way.  And as for the
    rest of us, we may dream of traveling to nearby stars (see "Do They Have
    Television on Mars?" above), but stars we must get into a spaceship in
    order to visit are stars that are no longer with us.
    There's a principle at work here that goes to the heart of the
    technological incursion into modern life.  Many technologies, perhaps
    nearly all, are intended in one way or another to "annihilate" space or
    time or labor.  It's not terribly odd, therefore, that today "we are
    learning what it means to have no time and no place" (Albert Borgmann,
    quoted in "Move Along Now!" in NF #69). Borgmann might have added:  "and
    no meaningful work".
    The general opinion, of course, is that we need to overcome time, space,
    and labor in order to get to that other time, that other place, that other
    work, which is somehow going to be fuller and more deeply meaningful.  Yet
    it doesn't seem to work this way, and I tried to point out some of the
    reasons why in "Speeding toward Meaninglessness" (NF #17).
    Goto table of contents
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #79 :: October 27, 1998 Goto table of contents

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