September 6, 2020

I've been diving deeper into education overlapping with art: alternate curricula, new mediums, and old ideas.

1. The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers is a beautiful and incisive essay written in 1948 that asks whether we're teaching the right things in the right way. Could we abandon the form education has taken in recent decades and centuries, restructure the curriculum, and produce a better outcome with less effort?

I'm deeply interested in why it takes 16+ back-to-back years of education to produce citizens who remain unprepared to support themselves and their communities. This essay starts with the same concern, and proposes an alternative that feels radical yet practical. Plus I love her writing style.

Thanks to Nicole Williams for a pointer to this and a few other essays on the past, present, and future of education

2. Another pointer to an old but forgotten idea in education was in this thread by Sam Hall, about a US Government study from 1967-1977 on the effectiveness of various teaching methods.

They discovered that "direct instruction" produced the best results by far on measures of academic skills, problem solving skills, and self-esteem, an idea that runs counter to other modern theories of education like constructivism (e.g. Piaget and Papert/Mindstorms).

I'm excited to dig into this meta-analysis of direct instruction studies and balance that with Mindstorms.

3. Unflattening, a PhD thesis by Nick Sousanis in the form of a comic book, makes the case "that images are not subordinate to words, but equal partners in the articulation of thought, and that sequential art is a vital scholarly alternative to either visual or verbal communication alone."

It's beautiful, it's compelling, it makes it clear that there's so much room for innovation in how we teach and tell stories, and it made me realize that so many people (e.g. my parents) might never have consumed a story through a comic book, or a video game. Excited for that to change.

4. On video games as a unique medium for education, I started reading What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and watched a talk by Jonathan Blow about very related concepts.

Both make the case that "games convey their own flavor of information". They encourage you to inquire about the world and its rules, and to empirically test your theories about the world. Games help you build agency, teach systems thinking, require you to set and reset goals, encourage you to play before you master an idea, and so much more.

Most educational games today aren't great, but the medium holds incredible promise. What principles should we use to make games that are as fun as they are educational and applicable?

5. Finally, I love learning from biographies and journals - they replace advice and systhesized thoughts with raw action and a peek into the messiness and serendipity inherent in the process of making anything.

Steven Soderbergh's journals from the making of sex, lies, and videotape are a great look into the moviemaking process - last minute script changes, trusting artists to collaboratively create, the dissonance between how the process feels to the makers and how the final product is perceived by the world.

I heard about the movie (which I loved), and the journals (surprisingly hard to find), from another set of journals I enjoyed recently: The Making of Prince of Persia

My bedside table*

*I haven't started Mindstorms or 7 Powers yet.