Category Archives: local

The post linked here talks about the types of fear we have in discussing change in schooling:

http://www.unschoolingnyc.com/2013/06/26/the-fear-factor/

The problem I have with this is that it I think we can do quite well by simply living by example. Yes, there is even fear in this. But it doesn’t need to go the next level and be a movement like “Occupy”. We can just choose alternative options for our kids — homeschooling, Sudbury or other democratic schools, Montessori, Waldorf, etc. Others will see this and it will gradually build.

The problem with this is… parents need real choice for school for their kids without the burden of worrying about $$/tuition. I don’t think vouchers will work, because there will always be strings attached for assessment/testing and many parents don’t want that. Better to head in the direction of more local control.

Maybe ideally it would be more like college in the US. Where most people pay mostly out of pocket, but there is need-based aid available.

That way, property taxes could go way down (since in many areas, half goes to the public schools), and people would be free to use that extra money saved on school. So it would be close to “tax neutral”. And people without kids would not be penalized.

I am sure I am over-simplifying because there are lots and lots of people who work in education–teachers, administrators, textbook writers, and on and on–and many will resist because it will impact their livelihood directly. That’s understandable.

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Filed under alternative education, homeschooling, local, school, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

The Hole-in-the-Wall Project: A Critique

There has been much interest in Sugata Mitra’s TED talks about The Hole-in-the-Wall Project where kids in remote areas learn a bunch of stuff when computers are dropped on them with no instruction but some video or CAI (“Computer Aided Instruction”) multimedia lessons and tools are provided.

But read below and click thru to this researchers (Payal Arora) publications page and you can read her peer-reviewed criticisms from 2012. LINK

My comments:
The results of these experiments are not terribly surprising. In addition to the objections raised by Payal Arora (that the experiment actually failed completely in many locations; that there is only anecdotal evidence of it working, not real empirical statistics; that it ultimately is still tutoring, mentoring, etc.) I would add the following:

1 – Using/learning computers is easy. Toddlers use tablets with ease. My kids figure out complex video games without even reading the instructions. A well-known Computer Science professor (Joseph Weizenbaum) questions the use of an undergraduate degree in CS in a well regarded book. LINK This idea of “Digital Natives” I don’t buy. I’ve seen too many people of all ages adapt easily. A great blog post (among many) from James Hague LINK in which he argues eloquently (as elsewhere) that for most creative uses of computers, the issues are not technical. We effectively have “infinite computing power” (and bandwidth).

2 – Novelty Effect in action. It’s not the whole answer, but probably some.

3 – Also in play is what I would also call “screen seduction”. People are generally more enamored of doing things that are multimedia — moving images and sound — rather than not. This is not news.

And just general curiosity. If some strange installment appeared in my town/village, I would be curious too!

4 – In various TED talks I actually found Sugata Mitra to be vastly *underestimating* the abilities of kids — being amazed at what “10 year olds” could do on the computer with using google, wikipedia, etc, etc. Come on! (See point 1)

5 – I am sure any gains in learning (if any) are very short-term. Not a meaningful result.

6 – Reliance on volunteer tutors (“SOLEs” acronym in Hole-in-the-wall) via internet/Skype? This is not practical nor sustainable. And it seems to devalue direct experience (vs the “expert” exposure via global telecommunications) though I can’t say whether this perception has empirical backing.

7 – I can’t find the quote now, but somewhere I read an interesting quote from a partner at an architecture firm who was looking for excellent new hires and had no interest in the computer experience they had because he recognized (correctly I would imagine) that teaching someone to use complex CAD and 3D modeling software was not difficult in comparison to the artistic and creative and technical knowledge and experience needed in an architect. Draftsperson, maybe.

The same goes with companies looking for long-term hires in software. Yes, in the short term it is very useful to have someone who is up-to-speed on your programming language of choice, but longer-term there are more important issues.

I guess much of this boils down to the “tyranny of technique” (Jaques Ellul) as well as the concern that the computer is now “deskilling” us mentally now in the Information Age, just as the physical was deskilled in the Industrial Revolution. More on this in the book “Abstracting Craft” LINK.

8 – Has Sugata Mitra heard of Sudbury Valley School? It invariably comes up in the comments section in related videos. He probably wouldn’t like it because there aren’t teachers and curriculum — structures he clearly supports.

9 – The takeaway/the things this project makes me think about are:
- Globalization vs local (internet vs place) and effect on work, school, family, friends, happiness, the environment
- “Limitations of the personal view” (Jerry Mander) — the idea that even if a technology might be personally beneficially, it might be having larger negative impacts on your life via it’s influence in the business, political, military, media worlds.

As usual, education is a window into issues affecting all aspects of society.

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Filed under community, computers, contrarian, globalization, local, screen-time, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Destroying the earth by buying organic locally produced food?

Philip Greenspun has a great point here.
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I think he’s right. I also have probably written on the blog before that CSAs that mean an extra drive each week needs to be considered (since the farm is probably not right on your commute to work or on the way to the grocery store you’d be driving to anyway). If you drive a 20MPG car, are those nice local bio-dynamic vegetables really worth the 1/2 gallon of gas you just burned driving 5 milesx2 to the farm? Visualize 1/2 gallon of gas for a second. It’s not!

See also:
- Visualize Energy
- Hans Rosling: The magic washing machine

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Filed under contrarian, erik-green, food and farming, green, local

Drive to the library? Yeah right.

Careful towns of the world out there… before you spend lots of money on new or revamped libraries. Unless you are in a city, or near a walkable and vibrant town center, they are a tough sell, even with cheap $3.50/gasoline. And how long will that last?

Here’s the math for me in suburban MA:
- Distance to library: 5.2 miles. 10.4 miles round trip
- Our minivan — let’s say I get 20.8 MPG to make the math simple.

So that’s:

10.4 miles * 1/20.8 MPG * $3.50 $/gallon = $1.75 per trip assuming there is no overlap with other errands, which is likely given the route.

And that’s just the cost of the gas of course. If you use the ~$0.50/mi that the US government uses for taxes for business mileage (accounting for the full cost of ownership) then that’s 10.4 miles * $0.50/mi = $5.20 per trip.

And then add in the cost of the time. Let’s say 20 minutes of driving.

It’s a tough sell. Not just the library. All of suburbia. It’s ultimately kinda in serious doo-doo, ain’t it? James Howard Kunstler is probably on to something.

Counter-points and followups:

1) I say all the above as someone who has LOVED libraries in the past. But I guess the difference was: 1) that was pre-interweb and 2) that was libraries I walked to or rode my bike to (the Amherst Jones Library, and the UMass/Amherst Dubois library)

2) I am fond of the idea of the library being a “town center” that is more about ideas and people than being about media (paper or digital). Related concepts are Sudbury Schools, the Transition Town movement (tool sharing, etc), Cohousing.

3) The article linked below talks about “Library as Platform” which to me is basically acknowledging that there are increasing numbers of private services we use which “out do” libraries in terms of connecting us with media. Amazon. Google Books. Goodreads. “The Library” *could* do all of that. But how?
LINK

4) PS. And what about all those duplicate public school libraries! What a shame! What if all the schools in town were clustered around the town’s libraries and they all shared! I know, I know… one can’t turn back the clock on sprawling suburban development. It’s just sorta a shame.

5) Speaking of poorly designed public resources… I’ll talk about the placement and design of playgrounds sometime soon. Ugh. Almost always another huge missed opportunity. But there are some good ones!

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Filed under car, cities, Cohousing, community, erik-green, green, libraries, local, money, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

More Woodworking with Kids links

Since we (as in… the world) is going to be in an ongoing struggle between globalization and re-localization for the foreseeable future, along with it’s impact on the education of our kids and ourselves, here are a few more links on the topic of woodworking with kids that I started back here. Nothing compares to the thrill my kids get of doing real things with their bodies — skiing, cooking, gardening, sawing logs, etc. (Except Minecraft. And Wild Kratts. And… well, you see the issue.)

So here we go.

- Kindergrarten Shop Class – NYTimes.com

Mar 30, 2011 – Teaching children construction is gaining momentum across the country as a way to develop imagination and confidence

- If you’re in the Boston area, Wood is Good occasionally offers classes for kids.

- And The Eliot School, Boston MA offers endless courses for kids including “Very Beginning Woodworking – age 4-6″

- In NC, go to “summer camp” with a 5-day workshop from Roy Underhill. Here’s an example

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Filed under alternative education, education, globalization, green, health, homeschooling, homesteading, kids -- freedom and responsibility, local, minecraft, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, unschooling, video games

Credit unions and depositor-owned local community banks

Reading about this as we plan to move our money into a local credit union…

“Many banks and insurance companies in the U.S. are organized as “mutual companies.” A mutual company is one that is owned — and sometimes governed — by its members instead of being owned by public or private shareholders”

“After more than a century of quietly collecting deposits and making loans without the bother of shareholders clamoring for dividends and higher profits, the two savings institutions separately announced plans last month to convert from mutual, or depositor-owned, organizations to shareholder ownership.”

There are a few mutual savings banks in our area in Massachusetts… but as the quote above explains, it seems like the main problem with choosing this over a credit union is that it might go public sooner than later. EXAMPLES

See also:
Mutual savings bank – wikipedia
Credit unions in the United States – wikipedia

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Filed under banking, local