Category Archives: community

Ergo, Sudbury Valley School

“Children learn to read the way they learn to talk. Reading, like speaking, is a social activity best taught by communities and through relationships. Children learn by watching older people, especially older children, read. They learn to read by discovering that important things they want to know are in the symbols. They learn to read because of the pleasure of discovery and praise from parents, teachers, siblings, and friends for their achievements. They learn to read because it both makes them part of a broader community and because they become independent of others, more grown up. Children learn to read because it gives them a private place to visit, and because in the end, they learn to love to read because it opens their imaginations to unseen worlds.”

Ergo, Sudbury Valley School

Leave a comment

Filed under collaboration, communication, community, motivation, private, reading, 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.

Leave a comment

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

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?

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!

Leave a comment

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

Jane McGonigal TED talk: Gaming can make a better world

Watch this TED talk on using gaming to “save the world”. I think it’s quite compelling. Maybe the logic falls apart if one thinks about it more than 18 minutes, but I think there is A LOT of truth to this based on what I see with my own kids and their gaming.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under alternative education, collaboration, community, contrarian, energy, evidence-based, experiments, gamification, green, health, motivation, screen-time, social media, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, technology influences, video games

And let them amaze you…

What is this letting them go stuff? It is one thing to say let them play and converse. It is another to say let them make all their own decisions. But that is pretty much what I am saying. I am saying let Sara choose not to learn about the stars if she is not interested. Don’t make John eat asparagus. Let Brett choose not to ever listen to Bach if he doesn’t want to. Let Amy go to school without her sweater. Let Tom never learn algebra. And let them amaze you by what they do think about when their thinking is not circumscribed by a curriculum. Let them wow you with the things they get into, from developmental psychology to pottery. Let them flower into even more interesting members of the family than they were before; your reward for letting go: they will be closer to you than you ever imagined. They will thank you for the gift of freedom. They will be better parents than you were. They will be stronger about asserting their rights in this world, and more cognizant that their privileges are privileges to be guarded, than you could have hoped.

Mimsy Sadofsky, The Sudbury Valley School, “Why Does a Sudbury School Work?”

Mimsy Sadofsky, The Sudbury Valley School, “Why Does a Sudbury School Work?”)

1 Comment

Filed under alternative education, attachment parenting, community, contrarian, kids -- freedom and responsibility, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Power tools for kids

A few thoughts on the subject…

Minecraft and the Tinkering School (it’s a camp) have me inspired to use power tools and knives more with the kids.

Dad gave us kids toolboxes and tools and wood and glue as kids and that was cool. We all had swiss-army knives when we were little too.

Here is an example of tools and a workbench on offer at day care. Cool. I mean, as a SVS-aficionado and all, I think it should be up to kids whether they want to do anything with any of it, but having it available is nice too.

Ah well, anyway, I just wanted to collect a few links and articles and ideas floating around in my brain. Kiddos (all of us!) just love doing stuff that is REAL so much, that’s basically all I wanted to acknowledge. This is (one of the many) beauties of things like SVS, and cohousing. Can’t get more real than that! People living and doing stuff. Awesome!

Life Size “Lincoln Logs” – still contrived. fancy “forts”? life-sized Magnatiles?
The Agenda Restated by James Kunstler
– MAKE and Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World
Story of building a harpischord at SVS (The Kingdom of Childhood: Growing Up at Sudbury Valley School By Daniel Greenberg, p136)
11 tools to get for your kids — a good list! – has some nice beginner plans for woodworking
simple solar projects are good places to start for DIY solar (see for more…)


Filed under community, contrarian, erik-green, freedom, homesteading, kids -- freedom and responsibility, minecraft, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, woodworking / shop class

Conversation and the Sudbury Valley School

“When I drop my boy off at school, I still get my good-bye kiss and
smile, old as the hills that thrill, and I watch him go down the path
towards his school, and begin to run, so eager is he to continue the art
of conversation and observation in his new day time home.”


The Magic of Conversation
Free and Clear Communication
Why Does a Sudbury Valley School Work?
Curiosity, Self-Respect and Learning
– Organic Intelligence, Toy Story and “What Did You Do In School Today?”, Sudbury Valley School Journal, Fall 2010 (Vol 40, Num 1)

Leave a comment

Filed under alternative education, communication, community, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Backyard Sustainability

Kinda interesting interview with this guy (Scott McGuire) who wanted to see how much food he could grow in his 1/3 acre yard.

“It’s a group thing… You can’t have a local food supply by yourself. It has to be done with other people.”

Article: Self-Sufficiency Versus a Backyard CSA


This is not news to anyone, but clearly being green in a holistic sense has to involve getting more local and more solar (ala Michael Pollan) in many ways, and food is one of those ways.

It’s also exploring community/CSAs vs rugged individualism/homesteading.

– Great website: One Straw – “Growing Real Food in Real Spaces” / Yardening / Suburban Agriculture
Shelburne Falls Food Security Plan

Leave a comment

Filed under community, erik-green, homesteading, permaculture

Out of sight out of mind

Ya know how if you have junk food in the house… you eat it? So best to not buy it in the first place? Well, we’re going to try the same thing with our house in two aspects — no exterior venting of our (electric) stove. And no clothes dryer (we’ll see how that works out! We’ll probably have our old one, just not plugged in, and we’ll sell it if all works out…). Health first obviously. Saving energy is a distant second…. so first and foremost this has to make sense from a health stand point. No internal combustion in the kitchen (electric range), so no need to vent out carbon monoxide (CO) from combustion. And clothes drying… no health issues there, except that we obviously need to keep humidity levels in check.

Well so the problem with both of these types of holes/vents in a house in the first place is that there would need to be an equal amount of make-up air coming IN to the house from another source, and since our house is quite tight, that might be kinda tough to get it via leakage as in most houses. (Our house tested at just above Passivhaus tightness levels, and this was the first blower door test before drywall… so we will be even a little tighter probably.) And the basic point that you are venting out conditioned air, and bringing in cold (or hot in summer) air in exchange. So that’s a waste.

On the other hand… it’s also a bit of a waste to be cooking with electricity (vs propane or natural gas) as it takes 3 times the amount of fossil fuels at the power plant. But I believe I’ve done the calculations, and given the fairly low efficiency of gas ranges, the numbers don’t work out to be quite so bad. And some money savings, since no need for “dual fuel” to get an electric oven out of the deal.

Anyway, back to clothes drying. Our clothes already come out of our washer almost dry actually (front loader) so hanging them on a drying rack, even right in the house, should dry them out rather quickly. If need be, a space dehumidifier can help with moisture levels. Or we will stop being lazy and hang clothes outside. Imagine that! See this building science article on latent vs sensible loads. Basically the issue of “how do you dehumidify when you don’t need cooling?” BSI-028: Energy Flow Across Enclosures especially “Photograph 6: Hotel Room Fix—The through-wall unit controls the temperature (the “sensible” system). The dehumidifier controls the humidity (the “latent” system).”

Others will say that this (0.6 ACH) is excessive tightness, and something more like (2.0 ACH) is still plenty tight but would alleviate issues with make-up air. And maybe at that level an “exhaust only” ventilation system would work with no need for a HRV or ERV. Maybe. I think there are smart people on both sides of this issue. Let’s check back in 10 years and see what people think? My current thinking is KISS — keep it simple stupid — so if there is a way to do this with less complicated and more local methods (less complicated HVAC equipment, cellulose-only insulation instead of spray foam) etc, then that’s a more sustainable gameplan ultimately. Better for the environment and the local economy. Another way to put it is I’d rather spend money on people doing work than on expensive equipment. That said, I also prefer negawatts to megawatts. So let’s aim for both of these… local and negawatts!

Good night.

[Update: I should have explained one thing better… There IS a range hood with some fancy grease filters, but it does recirculate. And there IS also an exhaust duct for the HRV in the kitchen. And an operable window right behind the range. We are basically following the approach used in Passivhaus construction to use a recirculating hood and a HRV exhaust duct nearby but not directly connected. We’ll see how it goes. We can always add an outside vented range hood but thought it would be good to at least try this since it apparently works fine for 1000s of passivhauses in Europe.]

Leave a comment

Filed under building science, community, contrarian, erik-green, house, passive house, solar, superinsulation

Lotsa Helping Hands

This is an amazingly useful website for helping friends/family/neighborhoods/religious communities/cohousing/etc organize help for a person or family in need. It’s basically a custom calender and bulletin board system for communicating with a group of helpers so you can organize and assign things that need doing. Anyway, enough said… just thought people should know about it. It’s such an obviously useful website, yet it’s amazing that there is nothing else like it. What a great help! (I helped with some coding on this website years ago.)


Leave a comment

Filed under community