Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, September 20, 2010

technology and homeschooling

I tend to get frustrated by Kevin Kelly’s technophilia, but this account of his experiences teaching his son at home (a) resonates with my own homeschooling adventures and (b) makes a ton of sense. I especially like this set of principles about technology that he and his wife tried to impart to their eighth-grader:

  • Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.
  • Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until the last second. Get comfortable with the fact that anything you buy is already obsolete.
  • Before you can master a device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be a beginner. Get good at it.
  • Be suspicious of any technology that requires walls. If you can fix it, modify it or hack it yourself, that is a good sign.
  • The proper response to a stupid technology is to make a better one, just as the proper response to a stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it with a better idea.
  • Every technology is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume?
  • Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. The crucial question is, what happens when everyone has one?
  • The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful.
  • Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.

The last two are particularly noteworthy, and wise also. And this is best of all: “Technology helped us learn, but it was not the medium of learning. It was summoned when needed. Technology is strange that way. Education, at least in the K-12 range, is more about child rearing than knowledge acquisition. And since child rearing is primarily about forming character, instilling values and cultivating habits, it may be the last area to be directly augmented by technology.”


  • The underlying article is frustratingly misleading, as it purports to be about either homeschooling or tempering technolust but ends with an exhortation that the objective is to learn to manipulate the tools at hand, even though those tools -- especially the technological ones -- are inherently unstable due to the rapid pace of innovation. So despite voicing the adverse arguments (with admirable clarity, I might add), the author ignores his own lesson and goes back to worshiping technodeities. Maybe it's merely a poorly conceived conclusion, but it entirely ruined my takeaway.

  • Homeschooling is one of the most promising potentially transformative applications of technology. We don't talk about it a lot because the pro-tech crowd and the pro-homeschooling crowd don't intersect much (it's basically just Reihan and me?) but it fascinates me.

    Related: http://montessorium.com/

  • The last two are particularly noteworthy, and wise also. And this is best of all: “Technology helped us learn, but it was not the medium of learning. Best free games

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