quinta-feira, 9 de setembro de 2010

Thoughts on Deschooling Society

This is a small review about Ivan Illich's book, Deschooling Society. One of the best books I've ever heard about the negative effects of the current educational system.

The author explains exactly what the book is about:

School groups people according to age. This grouping rests on three
unquestioned premises. Children belong in school. Children learn in
school. Children can be taught only in school.

I think these unexamined premises deserve serious

Most of the text is dedicated to question, very skillfully in my
opinion those premises. The author anarchist/libertarian tendencies
show in the book, in the sense that most emphasis is directed to the
free choice of the individual in detriment of institutions. But I
think one would be wrong to say that Illich has an agenda other than
point out the evils of a systematic enforcement of teaching:

To understand what it means to deschool society, and not just to
reform the educational establishment, we must now focus on the
hidden curriculum of schooling. We are not concerned here, directly,
with the hidden curriculum of the ghetto streets which brands the
poor or with the hidden curriculum of the drawing room which
benefits the rich. We are rather concerned to call attention to the
fact that the ceremonial or ritual of schooling itself constitutes
such a hidden curriculum.

We cannot begin a reform of education unless we first
understand that neither individual learning nor social equality can
be enhanced by the ritual of schooling. We cannot go beyond the
consumer society unless we first understand that obligatory public
schools inevitably reproduce such a society, no matter what is
taught in them.

Illich goes very keenly to the core of the damages that the
paternalistic system of education do to a person.

The man addicted to being taught seeks his security in compulsive
teaching. The woman who experiences her knowledge as the result of a
process wants to reproduce it in others.

In fact, healthy students often redouble their resistance
to teaching as they find themselves more comprehensively
manipulated. This resistance is due not to the authoritarian style
of a public school or the seductive style of some free schools, but
to the fundamental approach common to all schools-the idea that one
person's judgment should determine what and when another person must

From every single source about pedagogy I have ever heard, this book
the one to learn about why the current
situation is fundamentally broken, why it is harmful to society and to
the individual.

But school enslaves more profoundly and more systematically, since
only school is credited with the principal function of forming
critical judgment, and, paradoxically, tries to do so by making
learning about oneself, about others, and about nature depend on a
prepackaged process.

It is a very profound responsibility of the individual, to take charge
of his own education, and you could say the same about freedom. It is
hard work to be a free person, and you cannot be a free person if
others control what, how and when you should learn something.

Only liberating oneself from school will dispel such illusions. The
discovery that most learning requires no teaching can be neither
manipulated nor planned. Each of us is personally responsible for
his or her own deschooling, and only we have the power to do it. No
one can be excused if he fails to liberate himself from
schooling. People could not free themselves from the Crown until at
least some of them had freed themselves from the established
Church. They cannot free themselves from progressive consumption
until they free themselves from obligatory school.

This is a life changing book, and I guess Illich's works will only
increase in importance the deeper we go into the knowledge age.

quarta-feira, 1 de setembro de 2010

Programmer's standards?

An email message by Matthias Falleisen on Racket's email list got me thinking about what kind of standards should programmers hold themselves to.

For those that do not desire to follow the link above, here what was

Yes, this should be considered malpractice. Sadly, what happens in
reality is that (1) programmers and managers will ignore error
reports; (2) they will blame users for not using the product
properly; (3) they will blame users for ignoring the instructions on
not using the back button; (4) they will not understand that users
may have cloned windows and other stuff happens; and (5) eventually
the programmer will be promoted and his replacement will say we need
to port this program to JavaScript 17.2 and we need to hope that the
bugs just go away.

Programmers should be held to the standards of the medical
profession, but they are in practice held to almost no standards.

I agree and disagree with Matthias on this at the same time. You see,
it really depends on what you are programming that influences what
your standards should be. Computers are a media to represent and
manipulate media, and that is the reason they are incorporated into
every corner of our modern society.

What I believe is that the programmer should use the standards of the
profession that will use their software. So a banking application
programmer's should be held responsible to the same bar as the banking
managers. Same for doctors, musicians, architects, etc.

But what about programmers that build software for programmers? Well,
that is the realm of Gödel's Law, and that realm always make my head spin a bit.

Good writing is equal to good programming

I just read Zinsser (2010), and I though that his approach has a lot in
common with good programming, and indeed with some good universal design

Zinsser basically resumes his thoughts with these sentences:

  • Short is better than long.
  • Simple is good. (Louder)
  • Long Latin nouns are the enemy.
  • Anglo-Saxon active verbs are your best friend.
  • One thought per sentence.

I think all of that are equivalent to a combination of these universal
principles of design: William Lidwell (2003):

  1. Accessibility - the principle that asserts that the design should be
    usable by people of diverse backgrounds.

  2. Chunking - accommodates short term memory limits by formatting
    information into small number of units.

  3. Interference effects - when outputs of different mental system
    are incongruent, interference occurs and additional processing is

  4. Ockham's razor - Oldie but goodie. As Einstein puts it
    Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

To close, this little exercise was a great evidence on how writing is simply
to program in a different media for a different audience (or vice versa) but
the same principles apply to both of them.


Jill Butler William Lidwell, Kritina Holden.

Universal Principles of Design.

october 2003.

William Zinsser.

Writing english as a second language.