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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #98      A Publication of The Nature Institute     November 23, 1999
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    NETFUTURE is a reader-supported publication.
    Editor's Note
    Quotes and Provocations
       Life-saving Technologies That Kill
       Alien Technologies That Operate on Us
       Who Gave Away Control of the World's Germ Plasm?
       Re: The Most Slothful of Sloth Moths (Steve Baumgarten)
       Genetic Engineers Following in Auto Industry's Tracks? (Andrew Hallam)
       Cheap Shots at Ubiquitous Computing (Alan Wexelblat)
       When Technology Is Too Helpful (Bob Froelich)
       We'll Get What We Choose (and I'll Choose Convenience) (Thomas Leavitt)
       Constructivism and the Arrogance of Humanism (Lance Strate)
       There Is a Place for Subject Matter (Peter Brouwer)
       A Healthy and Balanced Constructivism (Paul Edwards)
       The Irrelevance of School (Rich Baldwin)
       Is It the Waldorf Method, or the Teachers? (Adam Smith)
    About this newsletter
                                  EDITOR'S NOTE
    If you've got access to the New York Times, you might take a look at next
    Thursday's "Circuits" section (November 25).  A feature story on
    NETFUTURE is scheduled to appear there.  Of course, you never know
    whether a story will appear on schedule -- or at all.  But, in any case, I
    had a delightful, day-long visit and interview with NETFUTURE reader and
    Times staffer, Lisa Guernsey, and subsequently with veteran photographer,
    Al Solomon, who had to draw on all his sports-photography skills to
    try to capture some birds landing on me at the "holistic bird feeding
    station" at my home.  I don't know how well he succeeded -- although
    I believe he did succeed in preventing any feathered customer
    from putting a deposit down on a new camera.  (After two years of
    this feeding and thousands of "landings", I've suffered exactly one
    scatological assault -- and that an extremely demure and harmless one.
    I've never figured it out.  Informal statistical observations suggest
    there ought to be a different outcome.  Must be the birds' high respect
    for me.)
    Mostly reader correspondence in this issue -- and I still had to leave out
    some interesting letters due to space limitations.
    Goto table of contents
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    Life-saving Technologies That Kill
    Following up on "The Distorting Potentials of Technical Capability" (NF
    #95), reader Neil Sandow brings to my attention a speech by physician
    David Lawrence, who is chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
    and Hospitals.  Lawrence, along with others at the Institute of Medicine
    at the National Academy of Sciences, conducted "an intensive, multi-year
    study of health care quality in the United States".  Among their
       The third leading cause of death in the United States are [sic] fatal
       mistakes that occur as a result of the misuse of the extraordinary
       medical technologies that we now have available.  These accidents are
       responsible for over 400,000 deaths yearly -- more than tobacco,
       stroke, diet, alcohol, drugs, firearms, or automobiles, and behind only
       heart disease and cancer.  Two thirds of health care accidents are
       preventable; the other third occur as a result of incomplete science --
       unexpected complications of medications or surgeries that can be as
       dangerous as the benefits we would like them to confer.  These numbers
       do not include the impact of failing to treat what we know how to
       treat.  Nor do they include the impact of overzealous use of the care.
       Rather they point to problems of misuse.  Were fatalities from these
       additional sources added to those from accidents, the number of deaths
       would climb significantly.
    For now, at least, you can read the complete speech at:
    Alien Technologies That Operate on Us
    Well, in ninety-seven issues of NETFUTURE I've managed to avoid mentioning
    alien abductions.  For any who are disappointed by this, I offer the
    following reflection (perhaps written too late at night):
    A reported one million Americans think they have been abducted by aliens,
    and millions more find such reports credible.  Many of the abductees claim
    to have been put into a kind of sleep or paralysis while in alien custody,
    during which they were subjected to some sort of operation.  The intent of
    the operation, according to some of those who have studied the accounts,
    is apparently to meet some need of the aliens, who on their part seem
    peculiarly soulless and incapable of feeling -- all head and no chest.  As
    evidence of abduction, the victims point to blocks of time that somehow
    disappeared from their lives, times when they were absent from themselves.
    I am no keen student of alien abductions and I have no inclination to buy
    these reports at face value.  What interests me is that the abduction
    experience stands as a useful metaphor throwing light on our relationship
    to technology.  The intelligent machinery surrounding us today is a kind
    of alien presence, and it does tend to induce a loss of consciousness or
    paralysis.  This makes it possible for technology to operate on us
    unawares in the interest of some ruling, impersonal necessity.  Essential
    aspects of our lives -- the highest aspects -- often disappear as we
    sleepwalk through a daily existence structured and orchestrated by ever
    more intricate webs of automated logic.  In its own way, of course,
    the computer is all head and no chest.
    Those who suffer the ministrations of aliens apparently feel helpless at
    the aliens' approach.  There is nothing they can do, and the thought of
    resisting the abduction, if it occurs at all, is not acted upon.  The
    general public's feeling in the face of technology's onslaught is much
    the same.  The quixotic individual who refuses the latest gadgets seems
    merely whimsical, and calls down upon himself the epithet, "Luddite!"
    Everyone just knows that it is useless to struggle against technological
    advance.  "It's all going to happen anyway."
    Where metaphors prove genuinely illuminating, they lead us to previously
    unsuspected truths.  I will wager you that, one way or another, our waking
    up to the role of technology in our lives will prove decisive to our
    eventual understanding of the abduction experience.
    Who Gave Away Control of the World's Germ Plasm?
    In an apt image, entrepreneur and activist Paul Hawken compares the
    process of firing alien genes randomly into germ plasm to "dropping alien
    organisms from a plane over an ecosystem".
    Writing in Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly #676, Hawken also has
    this to say:
       Even if GMOs [genetically modified organisms] were benign and safe,
       which I do not believe, whose idea was it to have three companies,
       Monsanto, DuPont, and Novartis, whose origins go back to cancer-causing
       saccharine, gunpowder, and toxic aniline dyes respectively, strive to
       control 90 percent of the germ plasm that provides the world with 90
       percent of its caloric intake?  I don't remember anyone proposing such
       a stupefying idea.  There was no commission, referendum, or plebiscite.
       It is the very opposite of biological redundancy that is at the heart
       of ecosystem resilience and sustainability...."
    Of course -- and I don't think Hawken would disagree with this -- as the
    facts and issues become more widely known, there is a referendum of
    sorts going on, and we are all participating in it with our food dollars.
    It's a referendum those companies and the U.S. government, by seeking to
    prevent labeling, have done everything in their power to prevent from
    (See http://www.rachel.org/bulletin/index.cfm?St=3 and click on #676 for
    the full text of Hawken's article.)
    Goto table of contents
    Re: The Most Slothful of Sloth Moths
    From:  Steve Baumgarten (sbb@panix.com)
    Hi Steve.  I just finished NETFUTURE 97; it was thought-provoking as
    One sentence though, got me thinking.  My daughters are getting to enjoy
    Dr. Seuss ("Sam I Am" being one of their first 3-word sentences); given
    writing like this, I think you may have missed your true calling as the
    good "doctor"'s heir:
       In this way the slowness of the sloth serves these most "slothful" of
       sloth moths!
    No child on earth could possibly resist the temptation to speak this
    sentence aloud over and over again until she gets it just right...
    And I have no doubt that Seuss is smiling down from heaven at the thought
    -- the sound -- of the "sloth moth"...
    Steve B. --
    I myself took great delight in that sentence -- something I can say with
    genuine modesty, since I am not its author.  That article was written by
    my colleague at The Nature Institute, Craig Holdrege!  (Yes, he was listed
    as the author.)  SLT
    Genetic Engineers Following in Auto Industry's Tracks?
    From:  Andrew Hallam (ahallam@ozemail.com.au)
    Hi Steve,
    I recently watched a documentary on the US motor industry's history in the
    public transport business (being in Australia this was new to me).  It was
    argued that companies like General Motors systematically acquired healthy
    rail based public transport systems all across the US and then shut them
    down. The result was the replacement of the public rail systems with
    private motor vehicle companies. The parallels with the direction of the
    genetically modified seed industry were striking.
    Kind regards
    Andrew Hallam
    Technical Manager
    Digital Earth Pty Ltd
    web: http://www.digitalearth.com.au
    Cheap Shots at Ubiquitous Computing
    From:  Alan Wexelblat (wex@media.mit.edu)
    > I've been unsuccessful in provoking further response from the
    > enthusiasts for ubiquitous computing
    The reason for that is that I felt you were ignoring my points in favor of
    cheap shots and focus on surface issues.
    A response of the form "well XXX does nothing to address deep world
    problems such as hunger, overpopulation, etc." is unanswerable.  It's
    true, but completely irrelevant to the discussion.  It's a form of "have
    you stopped beating your wife?"
    I would venture to guess that well over 90% of what goes on in the world
    at large fails to focus on deep significant problems.  If that's what's on
    your mind, then you and I are having such vastly different conversations
    that it's not worth continuing.  You could point to nearly anything and
    make that claim, and it would be equally true.
    I find that kind of declaration ingenuous, since it invites people to put
    themselves in the position of claiming they don't care about such
    problems.  Rather like folk in Congress making speeches against child
    pornography -- no one is going to stand up and defend the exploitation of
    children, but it misses the point that free speech rights are at issue.
    Furthermore, the continuing focus on an early expression of an idea fails
    to grapple with the underlying value (or lack thereof) of the basic idea.
    You seem, to me, to be rather in the same position as those learned souls
    who jeered at Land for hauling a wheelbarrow full of equipment around
    every time he wanted to take a photograph.  By focusing on the visible
    expression of the technology you miss its transformative potential.
    Finally, I expect that true enthusiasts for ubiquitous computing don't
    read NETFUTURE.  If you wish to engage them in debate you need to do so in
    a mutual forum, not an exclusive one.
    --Alan Wexelblat
    MIT Media Lab - Intelligent Agents Group
    When Technology Is Too Helpful
    From:  Bob Froelich (bob.froelich@CellNet.com)
    Hi Steve,
    Recommended reading for the staff of the MIT Media Lab:
    There's a dark science fiction short story, named, I think, "To Protect
    and Serve," written at least 25 years ago, probably more like 40.  It's
    set in a future where the human race has colonized many planets across the
    galaxy.  One by one, the planets are visited by a race of robots who offer
    themselves as free household servants.  The robots become indispensable,
    and then they begin to eliminate every hazard from human life -- not just
    cars but golf clubs, hard floors, sad novels , etc. Their purpose, after
    all, is to protect and serve.  The trouble is, life with total service and
    no risk turns out to be no life at all; people become sedentary, bored and
    unhappy.  That's when the robots begin to dispense their ultimate service:
    a brain operation that makes one forget to be unhappy.
    Bob F
    We'll Get What We Choose (and I'll Choose Convenience)
    From:  Thomas Leavitt (thomas.leavitt@clickrebates.com)
    > I've been unsuccessful in provoking further response from the enthusiasts
    > for ubiquitous computing (or "voluntary complexity", as Langdon Winner
    > calls it).
    I want:
    to never be lost in San Francisco again...
    to be able to check out where the hell that party I forgot to write down
    the exact addresss of is actually located... instead of having to call a
    friend and have them look it up on the web for me... or guessing that the
    noisiest party on the block is the one I'm looking for...
    to be able to check my email from whereever I am... and call my mom and my
    cousins and clients without having to remember phone numbers or worry
    about dead batteries or risk my life (and others) as I drive down the
    to be warned ahead of time that traffic into SF on 101 is hell and advised
    of an alternative route that won't sit me in 5 mph traffic for 45
    to be able to look at a car and know: make, model, year, the going price,
    an estimate of it's condition, likely mechanical problems/maintenance
    to walk into a store and have absolute confidence that the price I'm
    looking at is reasonable and competitive, and have an authoritative
    analysis of the quality of the item I'm looking at, how it compares to
    other items like it, etc. so I can be sure I'm buying the appropriate
    item... instead of making do with what is available to me, because the
    "transaction costs" of spending two hours educating myself about a $40
    item that I might save $10 on or that might be 20% better quality make the
    effort not worthwhile...
    to be reminded automatically that my car needs maintenance, and to receive
    a list of local auto shops that have good prices and good reputations,
    instead of digging through the phone book and relying on (at most) a
    couple of recommendations from my friends...
    to have an expert construct a healthy diet for me that fits the way I
    live, and then to be able to arrange for the groceries and other
    components of that diet to be delivered to my house or work as
    appropriate... instead of eating fast food or dining out all the time
    because I don't know how to cook, and am not interested in learning...
    ... to order a piece of equipment when I think of it, get a price/quote,
    and arrange delivery, instead of having to write it down, search on the
    Internet or go to a store, comparison shop, and then pay and haul it
    ... instead of spending an hour trying to track down the source of a
    quote, having it available on request (with the evidence to substantiate
    the claim)...
    ... to be able to meet in "virtual" space to discuss that pair of custom
    leather pants, Jim Morrison style, that I would like to have made...
    instead of picking up a business card for someone whose shop is 2 hours
    away, every three or four months and going "maybe later"...
    to do all this effortlessly, with just a thought...
    ... the ultimate future does not involve "Internet appliances" or
    artificial intelligence... it is supplemented human intelligence... I
    posit that anything a "intelligent machine" can do, a human being given
    the same capabilities, transparently integrated into their consciousness,
    can do better...
    ... does anyone doubt that Kasparov, given access to Deep Blue's
    capabilities, in a form designed to support nad supplement his skills,
    would have made mincemeat of his opponent?
    ... I would love to have nice furniture in my house... but not enough to
    spend a couple of weeks shopping around, going from store to store looking
    at various items, etc. and trying to construct something that matches both
    my aesthetics, my budget, and is appropriate to the Spanish Mission style
    design of my historic 1925 home... it would be great if I could converse
    with a computer program (since an expert human would costs hundreds of
    dollars) that would take all my input, and come up with some suggestions
    and then take feedback from me, and tailor a result that is affordable and
    looks nice...
    I already buy most of my computer and other equipment off the Internet,
    because all of the appropriate functionality is there: price comparison
    engines... deep information... reviews by professionals and amatuers, the
    ability to order and forget about it until the thing shows up on my
    doorstep... the integration of all this functionality could be improved,
    but it functions well enough...
    ... I order flowers for my cousin over the Internet when she tells me via
    email that she is feeling down... she sends me a digital photo of her with
    a big smile on her face, and includes a photo of her kid...
    ... email and the Internet kept me in contact with a friend who is now my
    business partner, and got me to his wedding where I saw him for the first
    time in years... it allows me to reconnect with people I had lost touch
    ... re: caller ID
    look, everyone participating in that string of events is doing so
    Bob wanted to know who was calling...
    Anne didn't want everyone to automatically know she was calling...
    Bob wanted to know who was calling, and didn't want unscrupulous
    individuals taking advantage of Caller ID [which I find convenient, but if
    I could figure out how to block it, I would on general principle...
    although that doesn't help with 800#s or several other types of calls
    So Anne now gets the message she has to deactivate caller ID block when
    calling Bob...
    The resolution of this will be:
    a) Bob stops getting calls from several friends, and realizes that the
    Caller ID block blocking is getting in the way and values his friends more
    than the convenience of knowing who is calling
    b) the phone system gets intelligent, and allows people to easily set up
    lists of who they want their Caller ID blocking to unblock for, and the
    hassle factor is 95% mitigated
    c) the phone system gets intelligent and routes all blocked calls to
    Honestly, if I'm busy, and I get a call on my cell with caller ID that
    doesn't show who it is, the call often gets routed to voicemail when I hit
    the "end" button as it rings...
    The technology was not invented for it's own sake. It was invented because
    people wanted it. The fact that it is in use, and that numerous "friends"
    of this person take advantage of it, of their own free will (horrors) to
    engage in behavior he disagrees with (horrors) and feels is impolite, is
    substantial evidence for that conviction.
    Some people may regard it as incredibly annoying that WebVan is going to
    enable me to shop for groceries from work or home without going to the
    They may find it even more annoying when 50% of the supermarkets,
    including the one down the street, disappear.
    but that is life... it is cumulative effect of large numbers of people
    making choices...
    now, whether WebVan will offer an array of organic foods, locally grown,
    etc. etc. is another thing...
    technology can be implemented in stupid and destructive ways (much as
    humans have done since the dawn of time, when they realized that they
    could drive animals off a cliff that they couldn't otherwise kill, and
    utilized various other technologies to kill off large portions of the food
    chain)... but it is our fault collectively, not that of the engineers or
    some machine...
    Thomas Leavitt
    Co-Founder, ClickRebates.Com -- http://www.ClickRebates.Com
    Constructivism and the Arrogance of Humanism
    Response to:  "On Constructivism in Education" (NF-96)
    From:  Lance Strate (strate@fordham.edu)
    I just wanted to say bravo on the piece on constuctivism in education.
    You're right on target that the valid portion of their arguments gets lost
    in an extreme of group solipsism.  The constructivists all too often
    reduce everything down to political decision-making, which itself they
    reduce down to a function of power.  They are guilty of what David
    Ehrenfeld calls "the arrogance of humanism" and forget that even social
    construction must begin with some raw materials, and some tools, both of
    which must have objective existence.  This is the position I would claim
    for media ecology.
    (Lance Strate is President of the Media Ecology Association, and Chair of
    the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.)
    There Is a Place for Subject Matter
    Response to:  "On Constructivism in Education" (NF-96)
    From:  Peter S. Brouwer (brouweps@potsdam.edu)
    Dear Steve:
    As usual, I found NF #96 thought provoking and engaging.  Each issue comes
    with unexpected surprises.
    I found your musings on "constructivism in education" particularly
    interesting as this is an area I've been thinking a lot about recently.  I
    agree that the role of the teacher should not be discounted with respect
    to that of the learner, and that the teacher-student relationship is a
    critical component of the learning context.
    However, I'd urge you not to devalue the role of the subject matter in
    discussions about the "heart of the matter" in learning.  I see the
    triumvirate relationship of teacher-student-subject to be the real nexus
    around which learning takes place.  A consideration of the teacher without
    subject lacks appropriate focus or context, just as a consideration of the
    subject without teacher is disembodied or de-situated in the human
    In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer argues that the
    best classrooms are neither teacher-centered nor student-centered, but
    subject-centered.  Palmer argues that what holds learning communities
    together is the "grace of great things" (after Rilke).  By great things,
    he means the "subjects around which the circle of seekers have always
    I would certainly not argue against the proposition that each of us have
    been influenced in powerful ways by exceptional teachers, although I would
    speculate that one of the reasons that these teachers were exceptional was
    that they brought a powerful and compelling subject to life.  In my own
    experience, and in that of many others I know, there is a deep affinity,
    or "calling," toward a particular subject matter, whether it be
    mathematics, or astronomy, or subatomic physics, or the history of
    science.  I'd hate to lose this sense of the powerful interaction between
    teacher and subject, as well as between student and subject, in addition
    to the teacher and student relationship.
    Thanks for listening,
    Peter Brouwer
    SUNY Potsdam
    Peter --
    I'm very much with you in this, and wouldn't want to be understood as
    saying subjects aren't important.  When I did in fact say, "The reason we
    need to approach ever new subjects is that we need to learn what it means
    to be a human being facing ever new aspects of the world", I was not
    suggesting that subjects don't count, but that they only count (and
    actually only exist) within, or in relation to, the teacher and
    student confronting them.  (Physics is not a subject to a stone.)  What a
    subject is or can be reflects the depth and capacity of a thinking
    consciousness, and changes with the development of that consciousness,
    which development is the primary educational task.
    So my point was very much the same as yours:  the inner relationships
    among teacher, student, and subject are the decisive things -- although I
    was specifically aiming to counter the devaluation of the teacher's role
    in certain technology-entranced circles.
    What worries me is how deeply the prevailing conviction runs that subjects
    are things that can be defined apart from us, consisting of transferable
    bodies of information.  As I argued in "Who's Killing Higher Education?"
    (NF #78), this renders superfluous not only the teacher, but the student
    as well.  Machines can handle information transfer much more effectively
    than people can.
    (None of this, incidentally, is to say "there's no such thing as objective
    knowledge".  Those who make such statements contradict themselves by
    making an absolute, objective truth out of the following proposition:
    "the human mind as knower is incidental to the cosmic show, and therefore
    stands in no essential or revelatory relation to it".)
    Anyway, thanks for the well-stated clarification.
    A Healthy and Balanced Constructivism
    Response to:  "On Constructivism in Education" (NF-96)
    From:  Paul Edwards (p.edwards@its.unimelb.edu.au)
    As an avowed constructivist, I felt compelled to respond to your article.
    The constructivism that you describe is quite foreign to the
    constructivism that I was taught about and practise. I believe that
    constructivism is a terrific method of education for a number of reasons:
    student empowerment; self-cofidence for people; practice at solving
    problems by oneself; allowing a less rigid way of learning, to name but a
    few.  And I find that this all comes at a price which does not disengage
    the teacher from the student; if anything, it allows for the development
    of a deeper relationship as the boundaries of the old didactic model
    crumble.  Unfortunately, it appears as though your experiences differ from
    A key element of constructivism is reflection.  In this context,
    reflection means a meta-cognitive process where the learner considers what
    they have learnt, and fits that into their knowledge base.  Reflection may
    be a conscious or sub-conscious event; to promote this reflection, the
    teacher is involved in coaching the learner -- they are the guide on the
    side rather than the sage on the stage.
    In my work with primary and secondary school teachers, many of whom are
    keen constructivists, I've not seen such a freeform situation as you
    describe.  I've even managed to set up constructivist learning situations
    in the adult education/professional development field, an area which is
    traditionally conservative when it comes to new approaches to teaching and
    The Irrelevance of School
    Response to:  "On Constructivism in Education" (NF-96)
    From:  Rich Baldwin (rich@skeezix.Stanford.EDU)
    > There is probably no tool that offers a wider variety of ways to distort
    > and "force" the normal processes of growing up than the computer.
    Steve, your point is well taken, and the computer (particularly the
    communication-enhanced computer we all use "on the net") may well
    "distort" more than other forces. But its only an extension of the
    distortion that happens every day as part of the traditional classroom
    educational experience.
    We've built an educational system that has kids sitting in chairs for
    hours on end, and only occasionally doing things.  This, despite ample
    evidence that kids (and adults) learn best by doing things.  The result is
    twelve years of formal education, maybe followed by four more, and we then
    have a citizen who is ready to learn how to do a job.  Then they learn
    their job, most of the time, by doing it.
    Does all this have something to do with the recent discussions about
    "disconnected youth"?  I think it does.  But the disconnection goes deeper
    than just the computer.  Kids know that what they do in school isn't
    terribly relevant to their world, and they don't treat it as terribly
    important as a result.  Those kids who think about this very much can
    easily become pretty disillusioned with the whole educational process.
    Those who become most disillusioned either find something else that
    interests them (these are the lucky ones) or they end up stuck on the
    margins of mainstream society, a problem waiting to happen.  Columbine may
    be a dramatic example, but the kid with a spray-paint can is the result of
    the same process.
    The whole educational process, indeed, is more successful for educators
    than for educat-ees.  If we ever come to grips with this as a society (and
    if we really entering an Information Age, we'd better come to grips with
    it before long), we'll need to reconsider whether all sorts of educational
    techniques, including educational software, really are having the desired
    effect.  Then of course we'll need the courage and stamina to change it.
    It may be worth considering that our educational system was designed a
    century or so ago, when we expected most kids to spend a few years in
    school, then at around age 12 or 13 to enter the work world as some sort
    of apprentice.  Thus the negative effects of the educational system were
    limited to some early years, and about the time that kids began to be old
    enough to think about relevancy, they had a way out.  We haven't really
    done much about relevancy, but we've effectively removed any option.  I'm
    not sure I'd argue much for a return to the industrial model of the late
    19th century.  But what our teenage folks tolerate today has its own
    I'm probably preaching to choir here, but I thought I'd pass along a
    little different angle on your theme.  Thanks for the thoughtful news and
    musings.  I look forward to having to think every week or so.
    Is It the Waldorf Method, or the Teachers?
    Response to:  "Schooling the Imagination" (NF-94)
    From:  Adam Smith (adam@datapanik.com)
    I read your piece on Waldorf schools with great interest.  But I do have
    to wonder how much of the Waldorf success can be attributed to fully
    engaged instructors.  Is it not true that those who would choose to teach
    at a place like that are also likely to be those who care intensely about
    education and young people?  And that, therefore, the proportion of
    engaged, enthusiastic, concerned educators are plentiful there, whereas
    the "normal" education system has more than its fair share of burnt-out,
    disengaged, running-through-the-numbers hacks.  (Slight exaggeration for
    I'm not suggesting for a second that there may not be a significant
    improvement in that form of study.  And I also honestly believe that we do
    need to evolve the current standard methods of schooling (and that
    shipping every school a load of new computers and a box of Microsoft
    software does little to help anyone).
    But there's always the danger that these things become a panacea in some
    people's minds, which can only disappoint when an attempt is made to shift
    the formula over to a more broadly applied model, only to find that those
    aforementioned hacks are sucking all of the "life" out of the concept.
    Just a thought.
    datapanik - toronto, canada
    Adam --
    Exactly!  It is the teachers, but that itself is very much part of the
    Waldorf "idea".  I recently heard from a Waldorf teacher -- one who had
    previously taught in a public school -- how amazing it was to find the
    Waldorf faculty regularly meeting together to talk about the needs of
    particular students.  You can imagine how dramatically such an environment
    differs from less student-focused ones.  She said that this kind of thing
    was unheard of in the public schools she knew, where the conversation
    in the faculty rooms was of nothing but salaries and benefits, gossip,
    and small talk.
    Of course, the fact that the Waldorf school is faculty-run, without a
    strong, central administrative authority, together with the fact that
    these faculty members care so much about what they are doing, means there
    is plenty of room for crisis and paralysis in decision making.  Rare is
    the Waldorf school that hasn't had its share of such crises.  Sometimes
    it's enough to drive teachers out of Waldorf education altogether, tearing
    their hair.
    The question for me is not so much whether a school always works smoothly,
    but whether the challenge the Waldorf educators have taken on is today's
    challenge, the one that needs to be worked on and struggled with, proving
    itself difficult precisely because it is today's challenge.  I tend to
    answer that question positively.
    A colleague recently remarked to me that even when a school splits
    bitterly over some unresolved issue, and even when students are affected
    to one degree or another, what stays with those students as an educational
    consequence is the awareness that they lived in a community where there
    were things that really mattered.  The stunning thing is when you realize
    what an unusual experience this is.
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                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #98 :: November 23, 1999
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