For Instance & The Role of the Teacher

A discussion of computers and the transformation of education and what happens in and beyond the classroom touches upon the role of the teacher.

Mon, October 21, 1996
Humanist: 10.0351 forwards Meme 2.13 (Seymour Papert interviewed by David S. Bennahum)


MEME 2.13

In this issue:

o School’s Out? A conversation with Seymour Papert.


DB: But isn’t there a role for teachers in telling truth, especially in history. History can be seen as a mass of interpretation, and the teacher is essential, more than in math or science, in pointing in the right direction. For instance the moral consequences of a war, or of genocide. If you go on the Net searching for answers you could stumble across information whose purpose was not truth but a political agenda. How then could you filter? Who would be the trusted authority? For instance if you had to research the Nazi Holocaust and you came across a White Supremacist site that denied the existence of the Holocaust, how could a kid know this was an outright lie?

SP: I am not advocating spontaneous uncontrolled learning. I think as a society we have an obligation to pass on values. I think this is an important function. I am sure there will be professionals dealing with kids who will do this. But that is a very different function from the traditional teaching function. This future teacher is acting like an advisor, maybe more like a faculty advisor in a university.

DB: So these people are still with us. We might call them advisors or coaches, but not teachers.

SP: Teacher has this other function. When you think of a religious teacher — Buddha was a teacher. He was not a teacher in terms of giving assignments or grading papers. He was a teacher in the sense that defended ideas and cultivated them, and set an example for people. That is more like the role model of teacher I am thinking of for kids today.

No pressure.

And so for day 2654

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Being About To …

Kathleen Fitzpatrick has enlarged the circle of dialogue stemming from a session at the meeting of the Modern Language Association. She has opened up to comments her presentation on the “Being Human, Seeming Human” panel.

At the end she asks some questions about the direction of design and nature of humanity:

For what definitions of “human” are we building human-seeming agents, and why? If our models for the human mistakenly substitute intelligence for humanity, what becomes of emotion, of kindness, of generosity, of empathy? How do those absences in models for the human pave the way for similar absences in actual human interactions? And how does the consequence-free inhumane treatment of conversational agents encourage the continued disintegration of the possibilities for real sociality online?

I was reminded of Willard McCarty’s frequent invitations on Humanist to consider thinking about the relations to computing machines in terms other than that of servant and master.

Juxtaposing these strands in my mind, I was led to speculate:

But doesn’t our future humanness depend upon being about to “animate” the world of artefacts in a fashion similar to how we are learning to view natural habitats as offering ecological services? By “animate” I do not mean to ensoul. I mean to treat the object or subject before us as a carrier of history and worthy of some attention. Ironically to improve human-computer interaction, we on the human side may have to be kinder to things.
The machine is a playmate in this ongoing game of micro-theatre. How? By offering moments of serendipity enabling us to live our lives with sprezzatura — grace in all the details and kindness to all.

Words here launched into further chance encounters…

And so for day 2653

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Reaching from a hand covered with digits of a very high prime number to a donkey ride on the moon

Virtual Reality Experience, To The Moon

Hsin-Chien Huang

Laurie Anderson

What one carries away from the coda is the voice of the artist:

You know the reason I really love the stars?
It’s that we cannot hurt them.

Even if the attention flows to the other VR elements such as the stars turning to fireworks, one is hooked by that line of not hurting them. And the voice/text continues:

We can’t burn them.
We can’t melt them or make them overflow.
Or blow them up or turn them out.
But we are reaching for them.
We are reaching for them.

Words nicely available to prompt memory via a little flyer that one can bring away as a souvenir of fifteen extraordinary minutes.

And so for day 2652

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mushrooming Net

Kumar Kesh
“”Mullet Chase”
the face that smiles

Rooted in memory of the Guyanese Corentyne coastline

He stands entranced by the sparkling sea
Frolicking, dancing and waving to music,
Rhythmically playa by rushing breeze.
He peers intently at the silver surf
Then gallops into the bustling brine,
Flattening waves in the path of his flight
And castes his net which mushrooms in the air,
And lands with a crash in the splashing sea
Entrappng the entire school of fish,

The casting of the nets in this particular fashion reminded me of seeing documentaries on television that capture such elegant gestures over the water. It is almost a set piece.

Curiosity piqued, I set off to search and found many illustrations to accompany the New Testament fisher-of-men trope. And this

Frederick Charles Shrady - Peter Casting Net

Frederick Charles Shrady
Peter, Fisher of Men Depicting Peter Casting Out his Net, 1962
Bronze Sculpture
Height: 22 in.

The moment arrested in flow. Continuing in the mind’s reach.

And so for day 2651

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tango Tangle

Thanks to the great restorer at ToTango who explains that we do when we dance.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: Community, Audience, Public
From:    "Keith Elshaw"
Date:    Mon, April 2, 2001 5:40 pm
To:      "mcluhan-l"


I'm a lurker ... been watching the list for a few months, but have never
felt prompted to join in.

I'm writing to say that your email is the most interesting one to me that I
have seen. The answer to your questions in the first paragraph is, as I
assume you believe, "all of the above."

I have a passion for Argentine Tango. When we dance, it is at one and the
same time a solitary interior experience - that is only possible because you
are +sharing+ the movement and the music's evocations with another person in
your embrace; you're lost in your own world. But, you need/want to please
your partner and stimulate them to stimulate you; and you can't help but be
aware of the watchers. So, perhaps you add a little something to show what
you've got.

I always thought Marshall did this. It was for himself, in conversation with
a partner, knowing the world was forming an opinion. With a sense of humour,
he liked to throw in a little something to show what he could do.

Self plus tout le monde. More fun than isolation. Even though we feel it's
only for ourselves in the end.

We all know he wouldn't have sat there every day watching this list. He knew
it would happen - made him chuckle at the thought. He probably hopes people
have the good grace to throw in something extra for show every once in a

I hear his gales of laughter over the seriousness of the server thread.

"And that's the he and the she of it."


Keith Elshaw

From: Francois Lachance
Reply-To: “mcluhan-l”
Date: Sun, 01 Apr 2001 13:20:29
To: “mcluhan-l”
Subject: Community, Audience, Public

I wonder what Marshall McLuhan would say about how participants in online
activities construe their involvement. Do they think of acting as members
of a community? Do they describe the experience in terms of being part of
an audience or performing before an audience (what I like to call the
fishbowl dimension of the epistolary which is not limited to letter
exchange in electronic form)? Do they take up the vocabulary of civil
society and construe themselves as a public?

Community, audience, public, theses are terms that of course crop up in
McLuhan’s pronouncements. To what degree would McLuhan entertain the
hybridity of these mental spaces. We know that he was a keen observer of
what happens when people coming from different mental universes collide.

A community of scholars needs an audience. I leave you to work through the
square of oppositions in a six term relation. Can the tetrads handle

Community Community
Audience Audience
Public Public

Community:Audience:Public :: Community:Audience:Public


I wonder how such a line of thinking might nuance the historiography of
scholarly enterprises. A while ago back in 1997 (in that other century), I
wrote published this:

Every institution pays the cost of not accounting for actual
access. There is a simple question here. Of whom to whom by
whom? Academia is, in a strong sense, the site of exchanges.

There was a time when auditing courses was free. There is
nary an institution that set its counters to keep track of such a
service. The audience was not seen as a contributor to the
college life. The community was intramuros including the
invisible college of researchers and professors tied together
inter-institutionally by disciplinary lines. The dominant
mindset was that of community of scholars on the one hand
and general public on the other. CMC has allowed more
people to understand that this was never the case. That along
with public and community there was audience.

I’m not quite so sure that Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has
allowed more people (absolutely, yes but in relative per capita terms, not
so sure) to gain an even greater appreciation for “audience” and its hybridity.
The factors may have something to do with attitudes towards technology as
much as values that shape technology’s role in society. It seems that the
meanings people bring to the situations they live in and through affect
the media they choose to adopt and the messages they wish to convey. The
meaning is not the message. The meaning is not the media. The meanings
mediate what relations are formed in people’s minds between media and
messages. I fear I’m drifting away from matters McLuhan here and hope
someone in the audience can find an apt quotation from the guru.


Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
some threads tangle in tassels, others form the weft

List Owner: George Sanderson   Moderator: Peter Montgomery

And so for day 2650

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

To Be There

Chris Banks
The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory

To match in words
the impression
to be that permanent,
and still not there.

A sort of aspiration. To be like “the impression / some extinct creature / left in mud long ago –“.

chris Banks - fossil - the cloud versus grand unification theory

One single infinitive traces that sentence. The duration endures. Into some future.

And so for day 2649

Posted in Poetry, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Call to Risk

We beg to differ with Cecil Beaton

Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.

Likely from his diaries and quoted at the end of the film Love, Cecil.

This is so enticing. But impracticable. The integrity of purpose and imaginative vision belong to the ordinary and the commonplace. Put more cayenne in the chilli? It might become inedible. Serve crackers and sardines as Gabrielle Hamilton does at Prune? If you plan on doing that don’t forget the cornichons and the Dijon mustard. They are integral to the dish. And top it off with a branch of parsley.

Be attentive to detail and soar.

It is tiresome to always be against.

It disturbs digestion unduly.

Cecil on food

“I get fancies about food from literature, not from cookbooks,” Cecil Beaton told Vogue’s “Second Fame” columnist Ninette Lyon in 1966. When he wasn’t walking on the wild side, the photographer, costume designer, bon vivant, and (sometimes acid-penned) diarist was enjoying the finer things in life. Ever class-conscious and not above salting his conversation with name drops, Beaton contrasted his culinary endeavors with those of his titled friends, telling Lyon, “I am not aristocratic enough to do simple food with inexpensive ingredients.”

Enjoy life. Cook. Dig in.

Be peasant enough.

And so for day 2648

Posted in Food Writing | Leave a comment

Affective Economics — But Not That Kind

Is there a social economy of affect?

Is the best analogy to understand it an ecosystem or a well-oiled machine?

I think the one (machine analogy) is well suited for weighing the drift and strength of flows; the other (ecosystem analogy) is good for deterring the who and the when of distributions. The one trades in reactions and provocations; the other, in dampening and amplyfing. It seems that the whole distinction collapses on close examination.

I come to this by juxtaposing two quotations.

Reframing the economy through the iceberg [analogy] is a[t] first, somewhat chaotic step toward sorting out in a more systematic way the diverse economic practices we have to work with. If we are going to take back the economy “any time, any place,” we need to know what we are starting with. The diverse economy offers a template for a more comprehensive inventory.

J.K. Gibson-Graham, Jenny Cameron, Stephen Healy Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities

Emotion doesn’t produce clarity but destabilizes you, messes you up, and makes you epistemologically incoherent—you don’t know what you think, you think a lot of different kinds of things, you feel a lot of different kinds of things, and you make the sense of it all that you can.

Lauren Berlant interviewed by Sina Najafi, David Serlin in Cabinet Issue 31 / Shame

Now I need to go and read more Deleuze in search of ecosystem-as-machine … A Thousand Plateaus beckons.

And so for day 2647

Posted in Dichotomies | Tagged | Leave a comment

Licking the Good Finger

This was making the rounds in 2000… it’s timeless in its wisdom.

Des étudiants en médecine reçoivent leur premier cours d’anatomie avec un vrai corps humain.

Ils sont tous réunis autour d’une table d’opération avec le corps recouvert d’un drap blanc.

Le professeur leur dit :

En médecine, il faut avoir 2 qualités importantes. La première, il ne faut pas être dégoûté.

Là-dessus le prof retire le drap, enfonce un doigt dans l’anus du mort et quand il l’a retiré, il suce son doigt.

Allez, faite la même chose que moi !

Les étudiants après quelques minutes d’hésitation passent chacun leur tour.

Ils enfoncent leur doigt dans l’anus du mort et sucent leur doigt après l’avoir retiré.

Quand tout le monde a fini le prof les regarde et leur dit :

La deuxième qualité c’est l’observation. J’ai enfoncé mon majeur et j’ai sucé mon index.

I don’t really know why I am resisting translation except to think how wrong it seems to translate “majeur” as “middle”.

And so for day 2646

Posted in Storytelling, Translations | Leave a comment

The Learners Actually Teach

The polite question:

It is possible that a typing error also occurs
in the statement?

“The possibility of dialogue is inscribed in the
very gesture of theorizing is a gesture of demarcations.”

(Humanist 17.341 theory)

I asked a friend living in the US for the
“is … is”-construction, he said: the first
“is” stands probably for “as”.

The delighted reply:

Very much possible.

It is the second “is” that I would revise as an “as”.

The possibility of dialogue is inscribed in the
very gesture of theorizing as a gesture of demarcations.

However, I would probably, given the chance, rewrite as two sentences:

The possibility of dialogue is inscribed in the
very gesture of theorizing. Theorizing is a gesture of demarcations.

Ironic that a paragraph dealing with the question of demarcations and
hinting at the operations of the unconscious has a sentence that is not
parsable according to correct grammar. : )

You are not only learning you are teaching!

One letter and a verb is turned into a conjunction.

And so for day 2645

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment