Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
I, Cringely - The Survival of the Nerdiest with Robert X. Cringely
Search I,Cringely:

The Pulpit
Pulpit Comments
March 28, 2008 -- Amish Paradise
Status: [CLOSED]

You don't suppose the strong Amish family (or Indian family, for that matter) has anything to do with putting out a better 'product', do you?

Kurt | Mar 28, 2008 | 9:45PM

Cringely, I disagree vehemently with one thing you said. Maybe after the age of six you would've got through school with or without your parents. But (and you may not remember this; I almost don't and I remember bits back to when I was two) your parents got you *interested in learning*.

There's a rather famous Oberlin-run study of an Oakland school that said that parental involvement is the most important factor in student performance. (Much to the chagrin of the would-be absentee parents who commissioned the study.)

The Amish parents are obviously doing the same thing, staying involved. And those old-fashioned ways of doing things aren't going anywhere either. As we go harder and harder high-tech, there will be more places for high-touch.

Technoshaman | Mar 28, 2008 | 9:55PM

Cringely, I disagree vehemently with one thing you said. Maybe after the age of six you would've got through school with or without your parents. But (and you may not remember this; I almost don't and I remember bits back to when I was two) your parents got you *interested in learning*.

There's a rather famous Oberlin-run study of an Oakland school that said that parental involvement is the most important factor in student performance. (Much to the chagrin of the would-be absentee parents who commissioned the study.)

The Amish parents are obviously doing the same thing, staying involved. And those old-fashioned ways of doing things aren't going anywhere either. As we go harder and harder high-tech, there will be more places for high-touch.

Technoshaman | Mar 28, 2008 | 9:56PM

Nice to see the feedback from last week coming through this week. Interesting column, Bob.

Jerry | Mar 28, 2008 | 10:11PM

Of course, the obvious problem is that the people making the decisions and setting policies are two generations removed from the people being affected. How can we possibly expect somebody who was taught under the tutelage of a ruler-brandishing nun to make informed decisions about how to educate a child raised with the internet?

Eric | Mar 28, 2008 | 11:29PM

This was well written and is so true. More technology isn't always better, I know this because one of the potential first small molecule Alzheimer's drugs wasn't found in an expensive HTS compaign, but instead by a great chemist with a college type lab.

Alex Birch | Mar 28, 2008 | 11:33PM

Bob,

The only thing wrong with this column is that Smucker's is headquartered in Orrville, Ohio, which is also in Wayne County, not Holmes. I grew up in Wooster and then Shreve, about 20 years after you did.

Ethan Stock | Mar 28, 2008 | 11:38PM

You owe your mom an apology! Getting through school without support of any kind is very nearly impossible. Just figuring out how to apply for colleges is a puzzle of its own, that, without support from someone, is very hard to get done at all.

Getting through grade school without some kind of help is a ridiculous idea.

Tony Patti | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:05AM

We are a people "Addicted to Mediocrity". You ask; "How many Picassos do you need in a society? How many Frank Lloyd Wrights? How many Einsteins? How many Bechtolscheims, Knuths, and Brins?" Genius comes in many forms yet we only accept it in a narrow scope of normal and expected. This has progressed to the point that what was once counted as normal inteligence is considered overachieving. Simply no respect for the individual so there is no accountability either.

Smart people are independent thinkers. So are those taught to be independent thinkers. Neither are overly susceptible to the latest marketing fad or bow to manipulative teaching "techniques". They act rather than react only. They lead rather than follow. They are suppressed by market pressure, greed, social engineering "opiates" and any other means for those in power to remain in power.

Some progress is really regression to further dependency on those in power. Whether it is social, commercial or governmental power it is still at the root of so much change.

Lets find change worth supporting... not just another opportunity to lock us into someone else's utopia.

-Peace

VastMountain | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:06AM

Great perspective. One of the greatest issues I have today can be best described by analogy. I use the current play of modern day NBA as the principle notion. In the old days of basketball (grew up watching tons of great teams in the late 60s and early 70s), you'd witness team play. Guys would pass the ball around and work to find an open shot or opportunity (still witnessed today in college play too, for the most part). Now, however, everyone is a star, everyone travels, but isn't called because the game is so much faster (therefore supposedly more exciting) and rarely is the ball worked around the basket as it once was for an open shot. It's really like watching a track meet were everyone is vying for style points on the dunk. Everyone is a star, nobody is a loser or even "average". At least that's what you're "sold" to believe.

I see this today in all facets of our society. Everyone wants to be the star, nobody is "just a player". Each person is attempting to "oversell" their best asset and to look to ally with another for a common goal. But rarely do I see team making or groups of anything involving people were the notion that the sum of the parts will be greater than the whole exist anymore. It used to be called bipartisanship in Washington D.C., Teams in any major league sport, and "groups" in the music industry.

So, the takeaway I see in education if very similar to those video games we all see our kids playing and that is that if nothing else, you go to college to learn how to sell yourself (equip yourself with the right components), pick up as many awards or honors (bags of gold, kills, or life units), and then set about going to work (advancing through the levels) until you finally retire (slay the dragon).

Dave | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:29AM

Props from an Ashland County/Amish Country native and neighbor. Small world and getting smaller, but I believe you are right in these last two columns. Once your culture signs on for change and advancement, hold on tight because it will be hard to get off. The Amish, having never signed on for that trip have a much more stable, if not exactly comfortable life. I'm going to go read Daniel Quinn's Ishmael again with these columns in mind.

Doug | Mar 29, 2008 | 2:07AM

That's how I built my son and daughter: construct the best idea of the future I could think of, and then laminate to fit.

Good metaphor.

Ormond Otvos | Mar 29, 2008 | 2:57AM

That's how I built my son and daughter: construct the best idea of the future I could think of, and then laminate to fit.

Good metaphor.

Ormond Otvos | Mar 29, 2008 | 2:58AM

Good article. Spot on analysis.

Mark McCormick | Mar 29, 2008 | 3:10AM

As a 17-year old who had passed the Eddy test and was hot to become a Navy radio technician, I dropped out of high schhol after finishing my Junior year and went on active duty in the US Navy Reserve. I had 11 month of special training and, by choice, became an Aviation Radio Technician (2nd Class).

The reason that I tell this tale is because I occasionally receive phone calls from men I had known in the Navy. They tended to be men who surnames were alphabetically near my own.

Several months ago, I received a call from a chap who informed me that he was visiting a son who was head of a company and had a home in Paradise Valley, an expensive section of Phoenix. I think that I forgot to congratulate him, which I regret.

Having settled for seeing that my children got as much aducation as they wanted and helping them financially to buying there first homes, I recognized that I am strictly proletarian.

I find that I don't mind.

I enjoyed your current column and thought it quite good.

It will be interesting to see how that education system in our country evolves or devolves.

Stan Skirvin | Mar 29, 2008 | 3:20AM

Wow. Sixteen hundred words and you said almost nothing. Quite an achievement. You're not a libertarian? OK, no one's perfect. But education is one of those issues in our country that is positively crying out for a libertarian solution. If you want to know why the schools are terrible, take a good hard look at the teachers' unions. They protect mediocrity and fight tooth and nail against any kind of reform. The result is that the curriculum is dumbed down beyond recognition and it's virtually impossible to fire a teacher once they have tenure (which only takes a few years in most places) no matter how useless they are. Do you know many teachers get fired in New York City every year? About three or four. That's out of more than a hundred thousand.

I'm about as right-wing as you can get, and it infuriates me that unions and left-wing activists are screwing over generations of poor and minority students, keeping them from reaching their full potential by getting a good education. It's not just about the income that these kids will miss out on earning once they're adults, although that's not unimportant. It's just as much about how depriving them of a good education prevents them from living up to their potential to understand and appreciate the world around them and to participate in society as informed citizens.

Michael Ellis | Mar 29, 2008 | 3:55AM

The US educational system seems geared to create perfect little unquestioning consumers.

In other countries (say in western Europe), teaching about impractical things like what the philosophers of ancient Greece or the Enlightenment had to say, creates citizens who find it natural to question the status quo.

I wager that even if they are not all Einsteins or Picassos, the number of people who are willing to think out of the box is greater, and that can only be beneficial to art, science, innovation, etc.

As always when comparing the US and Europe, it boils down to the same thing. The US are a practical bunch, while the Europeans can never act in a vacuum. Actions have to be grounded in principles, history, etc.

geek | Mar 29, 2008 | 4:16AM

The US educational system seems geared to create perfect little unquestioning consumers.

In other countries (say in western Europe), teaching about impractical things like what the philosophers of ancient Greece or the Enlightenment had to say, creates citizens who find it natural to question the status quo.

I wager that even if they are not all Einsteins or Picassos, the number of people who are willing to think out of the box is greater, and that can only be beneficial to art, science, innovation, etc.

As always when comparing the US and Europe, it boils down to the same thing. The US are a practical bunch, while the Europeans can never act in a vacuum. Actions have to be grounded in principles, history, etc.

geek | Mar 29, 2008 | 4:17AM

The US educational system seems geared to create perfect little unquestioning consumers.

In other countries (say in western Europe), teaching about impractical things like what the philosophers of ancient Greece or the Enlightenment had to say, creates citizens who find it natural to question the status quo.

I wager that even if they are not all Einsteins or Picassos, the number of people who are willing to think out of the box is greater, and that can only be beneficial to art, science, innovation, etc.

As always when comparing the US and Europe, it boils down to the same thing. The US are a practical bunch, while the Europeans can never act in a vacuum. Actions have to be grounded in principles, history, etc.

Your position seems utterly anachronistic from a European point of view.

geek | Mar 29, 2008 | 4:19AM

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder I can think at all
I know my lack of education hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall.

Bob | Mar 29, 2008 | 7:06AM

Your last sentence is wrong. Yes they had an algorithm - just a low tech one. Isn't a cookbook just a book of algorithms? Perhaps it should read "Of course it fit, and with out an algorithm out of place."

Keep up the good work.

John Seiffer | Mar 29, 2008 | 7:35AM

Bob--the lesson is that changes in technology allow more choice in determining solutions, but most interpret it differently, as if any high-tech solution is automatically better.

Nope.

It is, though, another choice. Broadening the available options is always good, at least up to the point that people are able to grasp the analysis of all available options.

Your Amish furniture makers had a viable technique for solving the curved banister problem. But their technique would not work for every problem, any more than a best-technology-mankind-can-produce solution would work for every problem.

So, the successful folks are the ones able to find the best solution, regardless of the root of that solution.

Who is teaching the idea of solving problems by beginning with an open mind to the path that solution might follow? Nobody I know.

Rick | Mar 29, 2008 | 8:06AM

I see the problem with education being the incumbents. Change is tough and, unfortunately, the current crop of people, not at the schools, but the next level up are going to be too change resistent to get anything done in a timely manner. Only when the 15-25 year olds start filling those positions will we see the needed change.

Rod | Mar 29, 2008 | 8:36AM

About 40% of the US population has an IQ below 100.

About 5% has an IQ below 70, or they are otherwise cognitively disabled by schizophrenia and other disorders of the brain.

My expectation is that, overall, 20% of the US population now aged 20 and under will have no real work available in a post-industrial economy.

Any software clever enough to bring this group up to its maximal potential will be more than good enough to replace you and I.

How does this population figure into your vision? Please note that in an agricultural environment, such as that of the Amish, they can work. Are you imagining we'd create an artificial and protected agricultural world employing tens of millions?

John Faughnan | Mar 29, 2008 | 8:38AM

I visited an Amish one room school house in Holmes county two years ago. While the Amish education is still impressively cheap, it is no longer fifty bucks per student per year. Cost is now $400 per student per year with a maximum of $1000 per family. The cost/benefit ratio got my attention.

Also interesting was the how the community "...picks and chooses how it will participate in modern life". The school had no electricity. But it runs a modern copy machine off solar charged battery power.

And contrary to many people's opinion, kids are taught in English.

tom | Mar 29, 2008 | 8:44AM

Hear! Hear!

Bruce Gregory | Mar 29, 2008 | 8:44AM

> [amish] ability to produce nearly 100 percent productive citizens

and isn't that why we invented religion, to socialize each new batch of barbarians? religion seems to be the most effective method of social organization, natural selection in action, exploiting humans' innate spiritual brain responses (for good or evil.)

perhaps the only way to end our "addiction" to oil will be to canonize al gore (thereby perpetuating the tradition of falling asleep during the sermon;-)

tom wible | Mar 29, 2008 | 8:52AM

I visited an Amish one room school house in Holmes county two years ago. While the Amish education is still impressively cheap, it is no longer fifty bucks per student per year. Cost is now $400 per student per year with a maximum of $1000 per family. The cost/benefit ratio got my attention.

Also interesting was the how the community "...picks and chooses how it will participate in modern life". The school had no electricity. But it runs a modern copy machine off solar charged battery power.

And contrary to many people's opinion, kids are taught in English.

tom | Mar 29, 2008 | 8:52AM

Good morning:

It is all electricity fault. We have come to educte our children in a factory like process. Then when the producer, (student) is on down time we babysit them with electrical devices, (TV's, iPods, etc.).

The Amish model does not use the 20th Century Industrial process, but the family business model of the 21st Century. We are all becoming a business of one because of Moores Law.

When we the last time you worked with your family on a project other than Home Depot? The Amish raise their children as apart of the family business, you can change businesses but the fundemental rules of hard work, thrift, respect, are not lost because that is the way you have worked all of your childhood.

The missing link going forward is bringing the family back into the business to surive in the 21st Century. Have the kids mucked any cow pens in the last few days?

Oh, by the way the talk on the new cisco switch is to include blade servers, who says you can't program a cisco box!

George Morton | Mar 29, 2008 | 9:12AM

> [amish] ability to produce nearly 100 percent productive citizens


and isn't that why we invented religion, to socialize each new batch of barbarians? religion seems to be the most effective method of social organization, natural selection in action, exploiting humans' innate spiritual brain responses (for good or evil.)


perhaps the only way to end our "addiction" to oil will be to canonize al gore (thereby perpetuating the tradition of falling asleep during the sermon;-)

tom wible | Mar 29, 2008 | 9:30AM

Bob, I'm really unconvinced that you have any kind of point here, whatsoever. More like a semi-interesting rag-bag of anecdotes, factoids and free-floating ruminations.

The fact that your previous column drew 200+ replies does not mean that you were actually on to anything, either; you wrote about a hot-button topic, which does in fact deserve and is in fact the subject of many books, every year. If you had written a column about dogs, you probably would have gotten a similar volume of replies.

With all due respect, it appears that you don't know bupkis about education, Bob. And that, wrongheadedly, you're convinced that this is more of a virtue than a limitation.

"Donny, you're out of your element."

Matt K | Mar 29, 2008 | 9:36AM

I think you may notbe upon the Amish as much as you think. They love Fastfood (McDonalds, BurgerKing, ect), they love large shopping centers like Wal-Mart.

They now use electrical equipment when they do work for contractors. They are driven around in Vans to the shopping centers, to and from jobs, but what they di is they go home to the Amish lifestyle. A high percentage still get around on Horse and buggy.

I think you missed the part about Wooster/Wayne County being named Top Micropolitan in the Ohio and top 3 in the US.

Downtown is about dead, but trying to make a comeback. The very few things that are the same is the courthouse, Freedlanders and fairgrounds, that is about it.

So things are not nears like the town you grew up in.

WooSterOh | Mar 29, 2008 | 10:09AM

"As our wealth becomes less physical and more virtual, so will its disposition. Twenty years from now, when my more successful peers are getting old and starting to die, will they be putting their names on university libraries?" Bob U missed a critical priority, which is that physicality is whence springs all else! Me? I too was distracted, but since Joining the Life Extension Foundation of Ft. Lauderdale Fl. (1977), my health is where resides my greatest wealth. All reading this should call 1-800-544-4440, or Google LEf, and reorder the true priorities! Health, wealth, happiness, love, joy, and peace. I am constantly amazed that bright persons, miss the point of taking care of their brain and all their parts first!

j bailey | Mar 29, 2008 | 10:36AM

What's missing from most (not all) speculative ruminations of the future of technology is the salient point: virtually everything we understand to be 'progress' is merely the consumption are more kilocalories per capita. Without the kilocalories, 99.44% of the goods and services we classify as 'progress' cease to exist. When the kilocalories run out (as they clearly are already), we return to a pre-industrial society. There can be no 'technology future' without the kilocalories. There can be no 'technology future'. Get ready for it. The Amish ARE the future.

robert | Mar 29, 2008 | 11:01AM

One wonders.. Given sufficient advancements in technology such that a quality education can be accomplished with minimal supervision at the learner's own pace.. would today's teacher's welcome this advancement, or fight it tooth and nail?

Dave | Mar 29, 2008 | 11:06AM

it'll never change - you misunderstand it's purpose: it's about 12 years of free child care not education.

hjmler | Mar 29, 2008 | 11:19AM

Now that you're at the age to discuss education (with child of a certain age) you should read any books you can find by James Herndon (a teacher in real schools and a writer) or Tolstoy On Education (he had schools twice in his life and criticized public schools before they existed).
As a father of four interesting children (that is the proper goal...interesting) I learned a lot along the way and so can you.

Keep up the good work.

Jerry Glynn | Mar 29, 2008 | 11:21AM

Bob,

An interesting piece but unfortunately spoilt by the Pulpit Poll's questions. If educationalists keep their eye on the ball the number of teachers will should stay the same or rise, but not for the reason you used.

The teacher:pupil ratio is all-important. The ideal is about 1:20. It it rises above 1:40 classes don't work because the teacher won't have to time during a lesson to interact with every student. Without such direct contact how can teachers know how effective they are or assess each student's progress?

Martin Gregorie | Mar 29, 2008 | 11:46AM

It is amazing to me how the Amish continue to produce talented people with little use of technology. To some degree I think it is good that government funds are used to produce 'slackers', because then there would not be a workforce to do the jobs that no one wants to. I know that thought is cruel and insincere... but its very very true.

I came from a public education, one of the better schools in my region, but my motivations to excel and compete and create something of myself did not come from anything that I learned at my public schools. It is from within me, it is part of who I am. I found the tools necessary to perform.

It is my goal to create a barrier free environment for my kids, as my parents were not able to provide that environment for me.

Chris
http://www.stampedeblog.com

Christopher Mancini | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:05PM

Public Schools have two mandates:
1. educate our children, and
2. keep them safe while we go to work

Nobody, given the communication infrastructure available in 2008, would recommend that the best way to educate 7th graders is to group them in to hormone-laced groups of 28 and shuffle them from classroom to classroom.m Educationally it just makes too much sense to create small computer-centric learning groups. Put a teacher/coach and several non-certified role-model adults in the mix for vital human contact, but have the education come from and be assessed by the Internet.
As to the second mandate--I am currently a middle school teacher and I will continue to keep your kids safe while you work. I'd like it if you read with your kids sometimes, thanks.

Tim Chase | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:12PM

Perfect phrasing on the related pulpit poll.

(boy..a lot of "P's" there huh?"..haha..)

Things sure aren't going to change for the majority of kids for at least 20-30 years in the US.
Schools, budgets, and power are based on headcount..true!
Primary education is really just baby sitting...true!
Society, schools, businesses are just power structures..true!


Crusty Tights | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:29PM

In other words if you can read this, thank yourself.

Scott | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:48PM

In other words if you can read this, thank yourself.

Scott | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:49PM

I got into science-related work by being inspired by Apollo missions to the Moon. Today's kids need a similar kind of inspiration (and I don't mean Britney Spears.)

Amish as a model of how to live?! LOL! What a bunch of regressive lamers! They are just modern-day cave dwellers. So they can make a nice bannister, but could you count on them to deflect an incoming asteroid...

Al Wilson | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:49PM

In other words if you can read this, thank yourself.

Scott | Mar 29, 2008 | 12:49PM


> I am certainly not a Libertarian

I'm curious why not?
Libertarianism is fiscally conservative,
socially liberal. Many of your writings
express Libertarian views.
If there were a political party that matched
my own personal views exactly, it would be
called the "Neal Party". Since there is no
Neal Party, I have to find the one that most
closely matches it and, for me, that is Libertarian.

nn
mountain view, ca

nn | Mar 29, 2008 | 1:12PM

The Amish analogy doesn't go very far, it seems to me. Leave it up to them, and we'd have no electricity, no computers, no spaceflight (how's that Team Cringely project going, by the way?)... and a great deal more infectious disease. (I remember back when I was reading the Centers for Disease Control's weekly report, it was notable that almost the only cases of polio in the US occurred in Amish communities. They were the primary reservoir for the disease, which has been wiped out in the rest of the US population.)

In short, unless we want society to regress 300 years in every respect including medicine, the Amish aren't a very good model for where we should be going. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here--I do agree with much of what you say--but I think you could have chosen a better analogy. The bannister story is cute, but you can't build rockets to the moon that way... or do medical research... or manage large networks.

Andy Baird | Mar 29, 2008 | 1:27PM

"Will there even BE university libraries then, I mean new ones? Google or Microsoft or Yahoo will have put all the books on disk and all the disks will be networked together and accessible from my house or yours. Then the library becomes, at best, a study hall."

Bob, the problem with this thought is that you are assuming competency in semi-automated searching. Right now, the majority of the students who come into our medical university (keep in mind, they have already graduated from a regular university somewhere), think Google is the be-all and the end-all of accessing all knowledge in the universe. These kids often have poor skills in choosing search tools, poor skills in constructing a search, and poor skills in weeding out bad results from good ones. Do you want to be treated docs who Googled a treatment for your ailment?

I am not a librarian, but I have worked in Library IT for 19 out of my 32 years in computing.

Librarians, especially Reference Librarians, are professional searchers. The change that is taking place in Libraries is that our professionals are now beginning to get out from behind their desks and join the other medical professionals to teach the students and residents. Yes, they go on "rounds" with attending physicians, and are involved in the discussions of how best to use Internet-based resources (usually not Google or even Google Scholar) to help diagnose and treat patients. Some Librarians are now getting faculty appointments in medical departments and being paid partially by those departments. The attending physicians love them.

Skip | Mar 29, 2008 | 1:44PM

"Will there even BE university libraries then, I mean new ones? Google or Microsoft or Yahoo will have put all the books on disk and all the disks will be networked together and accessible from my house or yours. Then the library becomes, at best, a study hall."

Bob, the problem with this thought is that you are assuming competency in semi-automated searching. Right now, the majority of the students who come into our medical university (keep in mind, they have already graduated from a regular university somewhere), think Google is the be-all and the end-all of accessing all knowledge in the universe. These kids often have poor skills in choosing search tools, poor skills in constructing a search, and poor skills in weeding out bad results from good ones. Do you want to be treated docs who Googled a treatment for your ailment?

I am not a librarian, but I have worked in Library IT for 19 out of my 32 years in computing.

Librarians, especially Reference Librarians, are professional searchers. The change that is taking place in Libraries is that our professionals are now beginning to get out from behind their desks and join the other medical professionals to teach the students and residents. Yes, they go on "rounds" with attending physicians, and are involved in the discussions of how best to use Internet-based resources (usually not Google or even Google Scholar) to help diagnose and treat patients. Some Librarians are now getting faculty appointments in medical departments and being paid partially by those departments. The attending physicians love them.

Skip | Mar 29, 2008 | 1:47PM

Good article; after reading the comments (most of which are well said as well), I would only point out that there are *many* different segments of society at play here. My stepson never met a book he liked (except Harry Potter, LOTR, ...) plays video games and is susceptable to all the marketing blandishments of his generation.
On the other hand, he's loyal, considerate and kind... and picking up the other adult skills as he goes. My friend(s) sons and daughters seem to behave similarly. I'm not sure that any of us really knows how it's going to play out; but I suspect that we'll end up with even more disparity than we have now. The Eloi and the Morlocks notwithstanding.
I still have great hopes...

AEdmunde | Mar 29, 2008 | 3:02PM

Hi Bob, when you talk about "studying from home", you assume that most people live in a nice suburb with many creature comforts that allow a nice work atmosphere. But if you count the kids in cramped apartments and those that live with their unquiet siblings for example, then it's quite straightforward to have a place in which they go exclusively to study.

As for the Amish carpenters for hire, they are working for somebody more affluent than them.

If we imagine everybody working in a pyramid, then the ones on top give jobs to the ones below. In practically every organization, for every senior manager, there are a few junior managers and for every junior manager, there are several entry-level workers. Your position in any of these pyramids (an entrepreneur creates his own) depends not only of the education you received, but of your connections and of your "natural" drive. The State can only work with the education variable and should be benchmarking its cost and results as frequently as possible.

Tomas Sancio | Mar 29, 2008 | 3:11PM

All completely wrong. Bob. Would you like to have your airplane flown or repaired by someone who was schooled on the internet? Someone who has not worked through the first principles of math and physics in a properly structured course? I'm as liberal as they come in most respects, but kids need structure and "incentives" (read "grades") in order to learn correctly and deeply. Even the motivated ones.

The internet is a wonderful resource, but you need to be trained properly to use all that information in a useful and interesting way. I'd like my children to be "interesting", but they'll be useless unless they dig deeply into the fundamentals of a discipline and learn to solve problems.

Neko | Mar 29, 2008 | 5:05PM

@Neko: Would you want your airplane flown by someone who had only learned theory in school, and had never practiced? This seems more about replacing structured classes with a license exam that tests for the skills those classes would teach anyways. You can still get a tutor and classes to drive, though. Heck, even now you can CLEP your way through a diploma from most brick and mortar institutions.

I must be so jaded from all those 'Technological Singularity' tracks on the internet that Cringely's proposed paradigm shift seems down to earth and reasonable.

spriteless | Mar 29, 2008 | 6:16PM

By CLEP I was referring to College Level Examination Program, you take an exam and get credit for a course without spending time at the school, or taking time from the teachers. In case that wasn't clear. :o

spriteless | Mar 29, 2008 | 6:22PM

@spiritless: Of course it was clear. I simply opened a new tab on my browser and entered CLEP in the search box. Every citation on the results explained the meaning. I didn't even have to open any of those links.

MichaelA | Mar 29, 2008 | 6:53PM

Well, you never know, old people might read this column. :P

spriteless | Mar 29, 2008 | 7:14PM

Apologies in advance for my vagueness on this, but I remember there was a broad study done on people who excel in their fields, business, sports, entertainment, science etc. The aim was to find if they held anything in common - an attitude, a moral code and so on. The result that was found was that each person cited a particularly inspiring teacher, usually in the field of choice. Please discuss...

Samuel Johnson, our first lexicographer, said; "There are two ways of knowing. One is to actually know a thing, the other is knowing where to find out." It seems to me your focus is a little too much on the latter.

Rob Irvine | Mar 29, 2008 | 7:17PM

I left school at 15. I couldn't go to college as planned as my mother and father split up leaving me with the only option which was to get a job and help my father pay the bills of which I did. My father was an engineer and a grafter. He worked damn hard and was a big influence on me, but he wasn't a career man.I didn't want to get to 40 years old and be in his situation. I wanted better.
The strategy I followed was a simple one. Find talented people in the company I worked in and learn from them. Now this wasn't a schoolroom lesson. This was social, business and technical skills learnt by a fastidious observation method. Then assessing the outcome and learning what works and what doesn't.
I then applied what I had learnt from these people with the aim of achieving their skill level. and when I got there, I then looked for the next person to take me to the next.. and so on.

My current situation is this.Through this process above, I have learnt a broad rage of skills which gave me the confidence to start my own company. I started a company with one of these people I referred to above 5 years ago. It is now the biggest company in its market sector in Europe. I will retire quite comfortable before I am 50.

So my point is, a school education is just a grounding and nothing more. It's what happens after school that maketh a man. A simple set of learning skills at school would suffice with most people, but they need that 'influence' from somewhere to provide the initiative to progress through life constantly improving. For me it was my father, but quite honestly, it could have been anyone.

Ian | Mar 29, 2008 | 10:03PM

Viz the poll and some of the comments, I think the focus on the inertia of the schools themselves misses a bigger picture. Completion levels, school rankings, and so on are highly integrated into decisions about hiring, promotion, and social access. Outside of tech and the military, I think it's most of our experience that it's rare for a more capable candidate to beat out a lesser one who happens to outrank the first in schooling. Our kids may evolve from the old traditions, and the schools may too, but how then can employers properly discriminate (in both senses of the word)? If high school diplomas lose all meaning, can we still require them for most jobs?


Maybe the demise of the traditional school is inevitable. But I fear that the privilege now conferred would reassert itself by simply replacing traditional school with a new regime of awarding credit. In fact, I suspect we could see a rush to that sort of system; a way of insuring that if Jane isn't going through a traditional regimented coursework, she's at least getting credit from a professional class of reward givers, one that will keep doors open to her that others find closed.


My main point isn't that there aren't ways forward, but that schools are tied up in a nexus of privilege maintenance. It's not just the schools themselves that have a lot invested in the way we do things. And if we don't think about this, a technological end-run around schools has the potential to not really change anything at all.

Jeffrey Davis | Mar 29, 2008 | 10:42PM

Excellent article. A pity some can't see the cohesiveness of its parts.

The last installment really got the wheels turning, and I think the education, networking, and leaving-the-nest aspects are separable, but shared resources are going to still be a problem. Whether it's learning to be a nuclear engineer, biologist, chemist, or theater major, there are some things you just can't do on the Internet.

However, this can be separated the way medical school is with two years of classroom, two years of clinical.

Take a chemist. He can certainly learn all sorts of things by running simulations, doing classwork, etc., but I really want to hire a chemist who has actually spent some time in a lab mixing wetwares. So, if College is still four years, perhaps he does three years online and one at a lab. This lab year _only_ costs $100,000 for my kids 15 years hence. Or, let the private market compete to get that price down, it's not really the booksmart part of the work, so perhaps it can be done for $75K privately (my recaptcha is 'nonprofit that', so let's throw them into the mix too). What will be interesting is that nuclear engineering will probably cost more than theatre - the theatre major may even be able to co-op for most of his coursework and get paid.

As for your Libertarian problem, denial is the first step. :) Seriously, though, either you're for barriers or you're against them. On this one you happen to disagree with the establishment - perhaps others disagree similarly with other aspects of government impingement. The question is whether you or they should be forced into any given mold against your will if your alternative isn't hurting others. If the answer is 'no', it's turtles all the way down. Oh, and you don't have to wear the hats and jump up and down with the crazies - they're not going to be prominent for too much longer, I don't think. (Again, thank the Internet for allowing a third way.)

Bill McGonigle | Mar 30, 2008 | 1:45AM

I am sure I am not pointing out anything new here, but public schools teach to the lowest common denominator. Now in Arizona, that is often the children of immigrants knowing little English. In the past it was disruptive or other 'problem' children. If the schools only handled cooperative children, from the center of the bell curve, annual costs could be much cheaper.

Now when it comes to my own children, critical thinking is encouraged, as well as some discussion as to what parts of American history are totally the fictions of the winners, or spun tales of patriotism. Search results need to be reviewed critically too. To do that you still need a world view framework that provides a base for such thinking.

I for one, am dubious that technology will improve schooling too much for the better. Folks still need to learn to think for themselves and our current national situation shows no sign of this happening (I am assuming the benefits of our current additional technologies such as television, which provides a wide array of propaganda alongside useful information).

Jeff | Mar 30, 2008 | 3:26AM

I am sure I am not pointing out anything new here, but public schools teach to the lowest common denominator. Now in Arizona, that is often the children of immigrants knowing little English. In the past it was disruptive or other 'problem' children. If the schools only handled cooperative children, from the center of the bell curve, annual costs could be much cheaper.

Now when it comes to my own children, critical thinking is encouraged, as well as some discussion as to what parts of American history are totally the fictions of the winners, or spun tales of patriotism. Search results need to be reviewed critically too. To do that you still need a world view framework that provides a base for such thinking.

I for one, am dubious that technology will improve schooling too much for the better. Folks still need to learn to think for themselves and our current national situation shows no sign of this happening (I am assuming the benefits of our current additional technologies such as television, which provides a wide array of propaganda alongside useful information).

Jeff | Mar 30, 2008 | 3:29AM


Cringely writes an article on education and a bunch of posters start their public-school-is-awful (apparently due to immigrants) rants.

I received a very good public education in a school comprised almost entirely of immigrants. We won city and national science fairs. many of us received scholarships (incl this author), and most of us have become exceptionally productive.

In fact, about 90% of everyone who works in engineering, software, high-tech, government, entertainment, tv/radio, all came from public schools.

Do you think that reading Hemingway and Melville is the lowest common denominator? Maybe you've never read Hemingway.

I disagree with Cringely. I do not believe that Google search can replace problem solving. When you take a subject like Algebra, or Science, you are learning to distinguish fact from conjecture. When you read a book, you are learning about other the inner thoughts and feeling of other people.

Find me the Google query that does that !?

Mike | Mar 30, 2008 | 12:52PM

Quote When you take a subject like Algebra, or Science, you are learning to distinguish fact from conjecture. When you read a book, you are learning about other the inner thoughts and feeling of other people.

Find me the Google query that does that !?

A google query could find the same information as you can in a library.I don't understand your argument.? The other thing is, where is your imagination? of course this is possible!

One thing I find with google queries, is the speed you can get at information. When we had encyclopaedias, it was too much effort to get the books out every time we wanted to know a snippet of info. With google, we have a computer on in the dining room 24/7 of which one of the family is looking up some piece of data on a daily basis.
We learn Relevant information daily. We didn't do this before google!

I for one share Bob's vision. This is possible and moreso, it is relevant for today's society.

Ian Roberts | Mar 30, 2008 | 1:31PM

The essential question is, what is essential for educating human children? Answering it is a specialized field because (as Technoshaman pointed out at the get-go) once one's mental infrastructure is in place, we get on with our lives, searching for answers to different questions (most of us).

I'm no expert in the field, but I'm pretty sure there's more to it than keyboarding and mousing and exploring user interfaces for fun and profit.

Technology changes the game, to be sure, and in unanticipated ways. We will not all be geniuses, regardless of what goals we set, but let's aim higher than functional automata, lest we find the reason for our species to exist being outsourced.

Thanks for the thought-provoking column.

(You're not counting all these duplicate entries when you rate you column by the number of comments, are you? And Speaking of user interfaces, the instruction about br and p tags might not be needed if the live "comment preview" didn't ignore linebreaks eh.)

Tom von Alten | Mar 30, 2008 | 3:46PM

I certainly hope libraries are still around, 'cause they serve an important purpose. Circulating books is merely an excuse for the library's existence: The important reason for their existence is the archiving of the books.

As you may be aware, the only proven archival format for data is ink on (acid free) paper. Now, the oldest documents I have personally laid hands upon were are only about 400 years old, but some of my friends have studied original papyri nearly 5,000 years old.

Some of my friends have CAD drawings on floppy disk from the late 1980s which no contemporary program can read. Paper is reliable.

Years ago, I wrote a pair of related papers, on the famous "What's the matter with Kansas" editorial by William Allen White and the speech which inspired it: The "Cross of gold" speech by William Jennings Bryan. The university library provided me with contemporary sources from 1896 from the old Dewy stacks, most of which were not in the digital catalogue. In several cases I was the first person to check those books out in about 50 years.

Today, none of those books can be readily accessed: They have been moved to storage, where they can eventually be retrieved upon request, but how will anyone ever know to request the ones which aren't in the catalogue?

True, the place for the library with limited storage and regularly discards little used books may disappear, but the library which maintains an archival collection will still be an important social institution: The long term memory of society.

John L. | Mar 30, 2008 | 4:51PM

Perhaps the comment about google searches, "We learn Relevant information daily. We didn't do this before google!"

well, perhaps relevant to a dinner conversation but perhaps not to solving world peace?

the last thing i just had to look up on my always-on internet connection was what were the most used languages in the world ordered by number of native speakers. relevant at the time but really just trivia.


DJoz | Mar 30, 2008 | 5:23PM

Hi Bob:

Loved this column, it really made me think about:
How my wife and I will educate my 20 Month old son Xavier
How Real Estate and urban sprawl could change (I am a Realtor with REMAX) and how new homes should really have study rooms with whiteboards, telepresence screens etc.
and what I REALLY liked was how you used the idea of a creative minority and how there are pools of wisdom and creativity that are apart from our systems of mass information and commodity. Accidental Empires is my fav book & this was equal to it.

All my best,
Brian Koester
Edmonton Alberta Canada

Brian Koester | Mar 30, 2008 | 6:06PM

You chose to look up trivial information. your choice. What is relevant to me is gathering useful market information about the products I will be designing in the future. I look at what people are thinking/saying/writing about current products in my industry, and use my judgement to find products that will fill their requirements. If I can do this fast and efficiently, I have an advantage over my competitors. Google opens the door to this information. I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.

Ultimately, I am learning from this process so therefore I see no reason why kids couldn't use this in the same way. One of the obvious things is the quality of teaching by this method. When you find a good restaurant, you go there often to eat.
Now think about taking that chef and letting him/her cook for millions of people at once to the very same quality.
Remove mediocrity from the teaching system and replace by the finest quality available, at a much reduced cost. Now that has some serious appeal :)
IMHO


Ian Roberts | Mar 30, 2008 | 6:10PM

Ever since he was a very young boy, my grandson has had a knack for asking for the newest "thing" months before the mass market recognizes its appeal. He was on to Power Rangers early on, then Pokemon cards, then Yugiyo, etc. He was playing Guitar Hero as soon as it was out and was proficient at it by the time his friends asked for it for Christmas. So I was concerned and worried when he insisted on attending a charter high school instead of the regular neighborhood high school nearby. This charter school is held 4 days a week with the 5th day for making up work you may have missed; no homework - ever; only 3 classes at a time (right now he's taking English, Math and PE). But - and this is important - he WANTS to go to school. He wants to go to activities that are held outside regular school hours. I guess he's still ahead of the curve. Your article has cheered me a great deal and made me think he's on to something again.
Dottie Day

dottieday | Mar 30, 2008 | 7:38PM

Bob
The library analogy is about a century out of date. Carnegie etc built libraries over 100 years ago.

Paul | Mar 30, 2008 | 7:38PM

As more technology is used in schools, will the number of students per teacher change?
YES, but that's a really crappy question, and the progrmmed answers really, really suck. In order for evolving technology to be fully integrated into the educational process, the definitions of "student" and "teacher" will have to undergo radical revison. All men are not created equal nor identical, and the people needed for a better future aren't just men. Logical flaws in the constitution are reflected in the past and present machineries of education, so the survival and prosperity of both depend upon the removal of the barriers to survival and prosperity of powerless, pre-educated individuals; kids. We can't know how many more Picassos, Wrights, Einsteins, Bechtolscheims, Knuths, and Brins need in our society, but then, we aren't showing much interest in discovering and cultivating talent for which areas of exploration and investigation haven't yet been invented. Maybe the shockingly successful Amish solution of the bannister problem reflects our cultural rootedness that only poses problems that even technological Luddites can still solve for a technologically forward-looking culture that is far more dedicated to restrictions, impediments and prohibitions than it realizes.

Scott Ellington | Mar 30, 2008 | 8:39PM

Channing Cringely (who just graduated from nowhere with the proven ability to design time machines) would likely have been discredited and ignored in 1908, institutionalized in 1808 or stoned in 1708...So isn't it about time her potentialities and prosterity were recognized as an as-yet-unrealized cultural asset? Isn't it about time for a cabinet Secretary of Optimal Futures?

Scott Ellington | Mar 30, 2008 | 8:56PM

Channing Cringely (who just graduated from nowhere with the proven ability to design time machines) would likely have been discredited and ignored in 1908, institutionalized in 1808 or stoned in 1708...So isn't it about time her potentialities and prosterity were recognized as a trove of as-yet-unrealized cultural assets? Isn't it about time for a cabinet-level Secretary of Optimal Futures?

Scott Ellington | Mar 30, 2008 | 9:01PM

"
In other countries (say in western Europe), teaching about impractical things like what the philosophers of ancient Greece or the Enlightenment had to say, creates citizens who find it natural to question the status quo.
"

Boilerplate. I have to wonder if the author of this has ever met any Europeans. I've yet to met one who questioned the status quo.

tehag | Mar 30, 2008 | 10:47PM

Quote Find me the Google query that does that !? /Quote

Ian, you asked what my argument was. Cringely's point is that you can now find information faster than you can learn it.

My argument is that education exposes you to a broader set of ideas. By the fifth grade, the ideas that you are exposed to are amazingly broad and deep. I bet that I could list over a thousand clear and distinct ideas that meet my criteria of broad and deep that you learn in school by that age that sets you on a path to success.

In your formative years you developed a mental process for attacking any problem. You use this model to solve other problems using Google queries. I don't buy that you can replace broad and deep education with queries.


Mike | Mar 30, 2008 | 11:35PM

tehag,

Your comment "I have to wonder if the author of this has ever met any Europeans. I've yet to met one who questioned the status quo."

Seems incredibly naive to me. Take France: they recently had an election which pit a Socialist against a new Right. France chose the candidate that promised to rollback the social net in order to create a more competitive society. All of these voters (a majority) challenged the status quo.

Your post is the poster child for either bad education, or bad Google queries (or both). All of this information - your prejudice filter aside - can be clearly found to anyone who cares to look.

Mike | Mar 30, 2008 | 11:44PM

I am a European living in California and I am appalled and disgusted at the standard of elimentary and middle school education (I have not had the opportunity to be appalled by the High School standard yet). My kids have spend two years at school in Ireland and they loved it. I have considered home schooling, but the state has now made it illegal unless I have a teaching credit. My children are bored and miserable in school here. My 7 year old daughter has to repeatedly trace and color simple words for no good reason. Some of my sons middle school teachers are borderline insane (what does it take for a teacher to get fired on the job?). It seems that the standards here are designed for the slower students. This is also evident by the repeated news reports that college applicants are not meeting the minimum standards. The bottom line is - I would gladly opt for online education especially if there were opportunities for teh students to get together and socialize on occasion.

duhmitdown | Mar 31, 2008 | 12:11AM

WE NEED A NEW MINDSET - Bob there is a correct response to the massive change, it's within our mind. We need to develop a different 'Mindset', the old method of assessing information by looking backward doesn't work. It’s a left over of the ‘Newtonian Era’. And in case we have all missed it, we are in the ‘Quantum Era’. Anyone who understands the rudiments of physics will get what I mean. For those that don’t, your PC is evidence that this Quantum Era, developed last century! So today, we have to work on our personal thinking process. When I say 'we', I mean the humans in general. Our children are being taught this thinking in the first world, but it needs active development in the home. That means on a personal level, one to one, something ‘we’ as parents are directly responsible for. It's time to get back to basics and take responsibility for the next generations ‘mindset’ and our own. We are currently outsourcing all the education, ‘we’ call ourselves time poor, and this mindset process is too specific, too important to brush off like this. The right ‘mindset’ as in the past, is crucial RIGHT now. A ‘hunter gatherers mindset’ has been left behind [generally], we need to inhabit a ‘New Mindset’. Three questions to illustrate how well a ‘hunter gather mindset’, serves indigenous people in this Quantum Era. 1.) Do they thrive in the ‘modern day’? 2.) Did they thrive in the past? 3.) Should they have adapted a New Mindset after encountering ‘ours’ in order to thrive and grow?
Bob, your example of the Amish is brilliant, we take a little of the ‘best practice’ thinking process and develop this New Era ‘Mindset’. Proving my next point. How important you are as a communicator, by telling the wider public what to include and develop in a New Mindset within your field of expertise. So far, you are doing fairly well. : )) ‘We’ however need to watch out for others like Bob in other fields. While doing that, a good starting point would be getting a layman's grasp of ‘the holographic universe’ and specifically interconnectivity at a quantum level..............Wishing you all well...

Paul Richards | Mar 31, 2008 | 1:09AM

Thoughtful piece. But who has time for thought? Isn't one of the most precious things on earth a rich imagination? Our concept of education is all about production: thought without reflection. It's Nuts. Some English classes show movies instead of have kids read books. Where does the imagination develop? Yet as crows will be fascinated with tin foil, we bipeds will be allured by our gadgets. Thus the Amish have it about right.
Enjoy the nature of nature, it is the book of life. We swim in the water of modernity and have no Idea what those crazy fundamentalists are reacting against. Unimaginative logo branded impolite commercial crude baggy bums... but I stereo-typify. Yet I am concerned that the coming generation does not read. And the fogies like myself do not tell enough stories.

Anyhow the Amish have it mostly right. Jefferson's vision: a land of yeoman farmers.... with the library of Congress on their desk. Ah, the internet. What a contradiction - this life.

UnLud | Mar 31, 2008 | 1:55AM

re: duhmitdown said "I have considered home schooling, but the state has now made it illegal unless I have a teaching credit."

Home school. The state will not prosecute you if the kids test above their supposed school level. But you need the correct curriculum to do this. Visit this URL: or (www.robinsoncurriculum.com)

Dan

Dan Kurt | Mar 31, 2008 | 3:09AM

re: duhmitdown said "I have considered home schooling, but the state has now made it illegal unless I have a teaching credit."

Home school. The state will not prosecute you if the kids test above their supposed school level. But you need the correct curriculum to do this. Visit this URL: (www.robinsoncurriculum.com)

Dan

Dan Kurt | Mar 31, 2008 | 3:17AM

"The next generations will use technology even more than we do and they'll use it differently."



It's a very rare occasion that I think you're off-base in your predictions, but I can't imagine how this could be true. Technology has already expanded to fill all available space. (Emphasis on "available.") For people like myself who already spend 80% of their waking hours in front of a screen (and another 10% connected to an iPod) I don't think it's possible to increase the amount of technology in my life. Even if it could, I don't think it would be healthy.



The mistake most frequently made by futurists when making predictions is that they ignore the inevitability of backlashes. They take whatever the current trend is, extrapolate it out to infinity, and then try to imagine and describe what that future would look like. History is not always linear though. That is to say it's linear for a while until whatever trend it is has reached its apogee, and then the line changes direction.



With technology I feel like we've reached the limit of saturation or are about to soon. We already have a lot of people who spend most of their lives online, playing WoW or EverQuest or what have you, and internet addiction (substitute the word "technology" if you like) is starting to be recognized as a problem.

Now, you could take the position that this saturation will never stop, never slow down, and will continue until our consciousnesses become merged with AI and we become techno-immortals. I know a lot of otherwise intelligent people who believe that.



I don't think so though. David Bowie once said in an interview that in the future people will become so consumed by technology that at the end of the day all they will want is to come home and touch something made of wood. Just touch it.


I'm no Luddite; I've been in front of the computer since I was nine. Speaking only for myself though what I want is not more technology in my life, it's less. I think other people my age (I'm 35) and also upcoming generations will feel the same way, if they don't already.


If you follow the discussions on Digg or somethingawful or Slashdot where the really hardcore nerds hang out you might have noticed a subtle cultural shift taking place. These people are becoming very interested in straight razors, classical literature, Austrian economics, etiquette and more formal dress--just as interested as they are in technology.


That shouldn't be surprising if you think about it. These things are "made of wood" and they are exactly what a nerd life lacks the most. Just holding and looking at a pearl-handled straight razor or a nice leather-bound book gives me a kind of buzz that I can't quite describe. It's the same kind of buzz I used to get from seeing a new electronic doohickey but don't anymore.



That is the future I predict for the next generation. Not one where technology use has increased yet again, but one where the importance of technology is more in balance with other things.

Clancy | Mar 31, 2008 | 4:21AM

MINDSET UPDATE - I agree with UNLUD the Amish have a lot to teach, one of the crucial things they do is take responsibility. Importantly take responsibility for their own mindset and learning. Even if it is ‘bible based’, 'agricultural' mindset that is inappropriate for the wider community. And like those who benefit from the community immunization, are insulated by the rest of society, are always benefiting from being isolated from the full force of the 'worlds systems'. We the wider community, need to emulate the good parts of each 'older mindsets' and learn to adapt. Updating frequently, something the Amish are adverse too. The key to our era is MOORE'S LAW and remembering the pace that the Mindset needs refreshing. Like no time in human history, those that ignore this phenomena, will be relegated too loser status. Global warming is still a close call, proof we haven’t adapted quickly enough. A further example is e.g. The indigenous of Australia, left on there own would have arrived technologically where Europeans were when they stole the country, after another 40,000 years! Can we afford to stay where we are, Bob says no. We have to adapt, and fast.

Paul Richards | Mar 31, 2008 | 4:26AM

One thing that leaps out at this proposed future is that the presupposition is that everybody will be able to attend college, or attend a virtual classroom, or other items. Has anybody ever figured out the cost of such items, and whether a lower middle class (or lower class) family can afford this concept? Requiring people to be home schooled requires someone to be at home to be the teacher, and most families simply can't afford a single parent income. Or at least, can't afford one and at the same time afford all these new techno gadgets that will change the world and allow virtual teachers with hundreds of students scattered across the country.

The same thing applies to college as it does home schooling. The cost of college is high enough that the only way people can afford to attend is by taking out massive loans (of the sort that used to be used for a home mortgage) which depress earnings in the future. Is the solution virtual schooling at that point? Well, the teachers at the other end still need to eat, so their costs won't be so cheap. However, a virtual class is not the same as a physical one, and if your classmates are scattered about the country, you never physically meet them in real life. Study sessions at home? You'll be home alone, save for IM or Skype. And that's not the same if you try to use a virtual blackboard to write something so that others can see it.

And all of that still costs money, something that a large percentage of people in the U.S. can't afford.

I remember some years ago when Bill Gates started writing his newspaper column, and someone asked him how often should a person replace their computer. He figured once every 2-3 years. I was shocked, since while the pace of new tech pretty much dictates that, most people don't have $1000 lying around to simply throw at a new PC on a regular basis.

M | Mar 31, 2008 | 9:30AM

Couple of quibbles.

1) Anybody who wants to leave the Amish community is shunned, and at an enormous disadvantage due to the enforced lack of education. While the majority of the Amish community appear to be happy with that arrangement, participation is not really 100% by choice.

2) Barriers to entry are there to weed out the folks with insufficient talent and/or motivation.

CHL-TX.com | Mar 31, 2008 | 9:41AM

2 things are true about technology that seem overlooked here:

1. It doesn't give us more time; it gives us different things to do with our time.
2. It doesn't do stuff for us; it allows us to do things differently.

The key to an education, whether Amish or Ohio-egian, is to teach us to use our time and tools to be successful.

mikem | Mar 31, 2008 | 9:54AM

I completely agree with Mr. Cringley here. I work with graphics on a daily basis and have been doing so since I was 13 years old. There is not a day that goes by in my now digital; world that I don't reach back and lean on my analog upbringing. My sitiation in fact is an analog of what I see on a daily basis: people using the current tech as a crutch for a lack of basic know-how and the ability to produce good art or design without a computer. We are shoving young people into a world where they are told to sprint when many of them intellectually, have trouble crawling. It's worse for the Luddites who have not embraced new tech until they are forced to. The bottom line reminds of of a movie line that was telling in it's late 80s way: Computers are not intelligent. They just run programs. But people who think they are smart because they can run a machine without any real-world background are even more stupid. (By the way--can anyone name the movie I robbed this line from?)

Mark Ryan | Mar 31, 2008 | 9:56AM

I've not read thru all the commentary (working but I'll read it later) on the Amish in relation to the English (the rest of us folks).

First, keep in mind that being Amish is a way of life, not a religion. It does have a definite religious foundation and does try to adhere to the principles outlined in the Bible.

Second, it is unfortunately true that anyone that wants to leave is shunned but this only happens after Rumschpringe and the person is baptized into the Amish community. If the person decides not to be baptized, they are then still part of the family and not shunned.

The education issue there should be one of concern but it appears that the Amish believe that medical skills, and such can be had from the English.

It seems a bit interesting when in that community (Holmes County, Ohio) to see the Amish with powered string trimmers, carrying 2 way radios, using battery operated and air tools, and working in buildings powered by generators, wind power, or such. I think that if something makes sense and makes it more efficent, then it may be adopted but they do not become dependent on that technology.

All in all, nice folks, quiet environment, responsible use of resources, and they look out for each other. Maybe we all could learn a lesson and pick up some ideas. Every culture and society has some good points, every culture and society has problems. The trick is to pull the good stuff and leave the other.

YMMV.

Al | Mar 31, 2008 | 10:15AM

re: duhmitdown said "I have considered home schooling, but the state has now made it illegal unless I have a teaching credit."

Home school. The state will not prosecute you if the kids test above their supposed school level. But you need the correct curriculum to do this. Visit this URL: (www.robinsoncurriculum.com)

Dan

Dan Kurt | Mar 31, 2008 | 10:28AM

I had a similar background, growing up in Lancaster County PA. My favorite example growing up was along Connesoga creek, where there was an old Amish covered bridge over the creek, and about 1/4 mile downstream, a concrete and steel highway bridge. Well one year the river flooded, and both bridges washed out. To fix the Amish covered bridge, they towed it back up the river (with some horses) from where it had floated down and hung up on some trees, and set it back on it's footings, which took maybe a day. The other bridge took over a week of concrete trucks, cranes, and other such excitement.
Of course, the concrete bridge did handle two lanes at highway speed, while the covered bridge was a single lane at under 10 miles/hour. But when you're travelling by horse and buggy anyway, who cares?

Marc Mengel | Mar 31, 2008 | 11:58AM

I have an 11 year old daughter who has just started to send me eMail. My 78 year old mother doesn't have a computer, and probably never will.

It's not only the point that it takes 30 years for technology to be broadly accepted, but with Moore's law, we haven't reached the limits of technology either. This is a multi-generation paradigm change. There is a good chance that the technology my granddaughter takes for granted will make eMail look antiquated.

Education has to hit a fast moving target. if it can. To some extent, people need to take responsibility for their own education, including the kids. Parents need to teach to the kids the value of education, and the worth of personal effort to be better. That's probably something that your mother did teach you, Robert.

Dave Doucette | Mar 31, 2008 | 12:45PM

"My Mom (Mrs. Cringely to you)".

More likely, Mrs. Stephens. Still hiding from your "you don't say you have the Ph.D unless you REALLY have the Ph.D." days?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_X._Cringely

V-O-R | Mar 31, 2008 | 1:49PM

These institutions are no longer schools. They are government indoctrination centers, owned and operated by government and staffed by government employees who have every reason to teach dependency on government and no reason to produce a generation of children who have learned how to depend on themselves.

We worry incessantly about the separation of church and state. We would do well to devote half as much attention to the separation of government and education.

Don W | Mar 31, 2008 | 3:57PM

The trend you talk about picking and choosing is about to go exponential. Example: I have outsourced myself to Brazil and make my money in the states via internet. Living is healthy here and the women are incredible. To choose your own way leads to great happiness. Thus I question why you are NOT a libertarian?

PhxFreddy | Mar 31, 2008 | 4:07PM

The future is here already in terms of university libraries. Book storage is expensive and inefficient. Today's university libraries are known as "learning commons" and are technology driven. Students flock to them and love to study in them. They offer amenities such as coffee bars, comfortable chairs, and with elevated floors, unlimited configuration for the workstations and study carrels. The architecture firm of Shepley Bullfinch, the oldest in America, is on the cutting edge of such designs proving that even old dogs can learn new tricks.

Michael | Mar 31, 2008 | 5:04PM

The Amish avoid generation change by valuing conformity. Their society will never produce a Picasso, Einstein or Frank Lloyd Wright, much less a Galileo space probe or Hubble Telescope. Modern society embraces change, for better and worse.

davidLBC | Mar 31, 2008 | 6:53PM

Change is coming to a society near you and Cringely's Amish anecdote has me thinking of a furniture analogy for society in general. The thin veneer of technology we admire and depend on is fragile, and many of us may live to see the day it stripped off. Then what the "furniture" is really made of will be revealed. The educated and adaptive types will have oak frames and doweled joints. Public school drones from the '70s on up can show their chip-board skeletons held together with staples and duct tape.

For an interesting perspective on life without wifi, xbox, and Google, read the novel World Made by Hand, by James Howard Kunstler.

John J | Apr 01, 2008 | 1:22AM

do you know Isaac Asimov´s "The fun they had"?

you can buy it here, http://www.amazon.com/Isaac-Asimov-Complete-Stories-Vol/dp/038541627X/
I couldn´t find the text in a downloadable form.

Cool story, written from the point of view of an 11yo girl in 2157, finding a book (!) and speaking with a friend about school back in the day and at present, where all kids get schooled at home on their own by a robot.

This story was written in 1957.

Brave new world indeed, I sure hope it doesn´t happen too fast. - The thing many people seem to like to forget (Brian Koester), is that school is a lot about socialising (not in the meaning of hanging out, but to actually interact with other kids). - That´s quite an important feat, these kids wont learn when all the time at home with only their siblings.

Matt

matt | Apr 01, 2008 | 4:55AM
Idler | Apr 01, 2008 | 9:32AM

I'm confused. It seems the "other Cringely" is leaving InfoWorld ( http://weblog.infoworld.com/robertxcringely/archives/2008/03/so_long_and_tha.html ) for Microsoft. Yet, in his (her?) goodbye note, s/he references THIS Cringely's "I, Cringely" note about "Plane Crazy".

Does s/he have permission (or the right) to continue the ruse of his/her false identity in such a fashion? Or did I miss some sort of editorial/corporeal recombination sometime back?

Paul Brogger | Apr 01, 2008 | 10:34AM

Oh. April 1st. (Wake up, B!)

Paul Brogger | Apr 01, 2008 | 10:41AM

The "other" Cringely is having a good April Fool's prank.

TX CHL Instructor | Apr 01, 2008 | 11:21AM

re: duhmitdown said "I have considered home schooling, but the state has now made it illegal unless I have a teaching credit."

Home school. The state will not prosecute you if the kids test above their supposed school level. But you need the correct curriculum to do this. Visit this URL: (www.robinsoncurriculum.com)

Dan

Dan Kurt | Apr 01, 2008 | 4:09PM

re: duhmitdown said "I have considered home schooling, but the state has now made it illegal unless I have a teaching credit."

Home school. The state will not prosecute you if the kids test above their supposed school level. But you need the correct curriculum to do this. Visit this URL: (www.robinsoncurriculum.com)

Dan

Dan Kurt | Apr 01, 2008 | 4:13PM

Sorry for the multiple posts.

Using SAFARI on a Mac I kept getting error messages and was told to try again.

Fire Fox worked just fine.

Dan Kurt

dan kurt | Apr 01, 2008 | 4:19PM

re: "The teacher:pupil ratio is all-important. The ideal is about 1:20. It it rises above 1:40 classes don't work because the teacher won't have to time during a lesson to interact with every student. Without such direct contact how can teachers know how effective they are or assess each student's progress?"

Nonsense. I was schooled from 1st through 12 grade by Nuns for the 1st 8 and Brothers from 9 through 12.

All classes held 60 to 70 kids in grade school and at least 50 in High School. A high percentage of my co-students excelled at the University, many more than the Public School students I grew up with. The reason I believe was the IRON DISCIPLINE of the Catholic Schools of that era which alas has gone with the changed Catholic Church. I entered College in 1959 and my last post doc was in 1974 [ two years were lost serving in the Military during Viet Nam ].

Dan Kurt

Dan Kurt | Apr 01, 2008 | 8:22PM

Are you sure they aren't Mennonites? After all, you got the Smuckers county wrong.

Aswan H. Dam | Apr 01, 2008 | 10:18PM

The last book by Vernor Vinge (Rainbow's end, 2007 Hugo award) goes on about the future of education, books and libraries (the latter two more or less dissapearing).
Interestingly Vinge himself was a (recently retired) university professor (computer science, san diego state university), and he seems to embrace the search society, adhoc education.
There is a lot of convergence with this note.

Jim Neuhaus | Apr 02, 2008 | 1:56AM

Regarding the new Luddism, McLuhan once asked 'What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?' -- ie, car drivers will eventually hanker for a nice long walk, iPod listeners will want to experience live music played on analogue speakers etc. That makes sense to me.

On a more general point, I think what Bob is trying to say is that the network model permeates most spheres of our lives in the modern age -- it's the institutions that pre-date the network era that have to be reformed.

Russell Banned | Apr 02, 2008 | 8:06AM

Gar Renyolds of Presentation Zen linked to this teleprompter online app. http://cueprompter.com/

Thought it may be useful for you.

Love the articles.

Scott Smith | Apr 02, 2008 | 12:13PM

as a former teacher, i couldn't agreed with you more. look back 20 years, could anyone have imagined we would be "myspacing" it, or "youtubing" it? look ahead 2o years. i can't even conceive of the what we will be doing then. thanks for some great insights.

joe mcaleer | Apr 03, 2008 | 8:46AM

as a former teacher, i couldn't agreed with you more. look back 20 years, could anyone have imagined we would be "myspacing" it, or "youtubing" it? look ahead 2o years. i can't even conceive of the what we will be doing then. thanks for some great insights.

joe mcaleer | Apr 03, 2008 | 8:47AM

I grew up and graduate from HS in Oelwein Iowa, 4 miles north of a large Amish community. What they can do, what they want to do, and how they come to shop for food, is a total blow away!! I would always know that they were looking for food when there was a horse buggy parked at the Fareway grocery store. They made an incredible quilt that was given to us for our wedding. It is perfect and so beautiful. The Amish are in many parts of America. They are part of a large yearly quilt auction in SW Virgina. We went there one year, and no quilt was going for less than we paid for our Peuguot. It is wonderful to see how their wonderful talents can be found everywhere and that it takes a special kind of education focus for them to be so perfectly creative. I miss my Amish!!

Marilou | Apr 03, 2008 | 1:56PM

Smuckers is in Orrville, which was in Wayne County when I lived there.

Rubbermaid HQ is closed.
Frito-Lay is still there.
So is the College of Wooster.

Our street in Wooster was a dirt road until about 1970. The school system was terrible, I slept through most of it, all rote learning.

SabreGuy | Apr 04, 2008 | 4:24PM

I can has cheezeburger??

Anonymous Coward | Apr 05, 2008 | 4:27PM

I've worked with people (senior education administrators) who exhibit some of the less admirable qualities of the Amish. No blog, no wiki, no webmail. Outlook and MS Word. Print out the email, read it on paper, write notes (fiats) on the printed email and reply by putting it in a pigeon-hole mail box. Quaint;>)

glen | Apr 05, 2008 | 7:34PM

My Father-in-law had the Amish put a new roof on his house. Not only did they know how to use the nail-gun Swede purchased, they taught him how to use his recently-purchased cell-phone. (They used up the minutes, too.)

Swede's garage wall was bowed from inside pressure underground. We were going to tear it down & rebuild it. Eli & his son came over, Eli had Swede drive him to the local store, when they returned the son had dug out dirt around the wall and straightened the wall, by himself using lumber and jacks.

I'm getting a real education on the ways of the Amish.

Moon | Apr 06, 2008 | 10:23AM

The Amish tend to enjoy the journey of doing their tasks more than puffing themselves up over the final product. It is hard for us on the outside to assume anyone could live such a life and be happy. Yet, if we all did less in a day, and did it better, we might find ourselves feeling more fulfilled.

In education, one of the biggest pitfalls holding back our children is treating education as a right instead of a privilege. By law, students are forced into antiquated teaching processes that often slow down the learning progress, and cause behavioral issues in the classrooms.

For a second, just imagine a school scenario where students move along at their own pace and are not held back by grade level. Once they master a particular subject, they have the freedom to move on to the next level in that subject area. For students who are hands on learners, they choose this style of learning. For those that learn better in the traditional educational style, they can be in that learning setting.

Our education systems are set up to fit the work day hours of our society, so that all of our children are in a safe place while the adults are working. Teaching models within these hours have changed about every ten years or so, only to swing back to traditional constricted styles once things go awry. Yet, no one seems to put credence in the fact that we do not all learn the same way. Nor do our children.

Anyone who has taught knows this. Stand in front of a classroom and give an assignment. Some kids jump right in, learn by making errors, then make adjustments to finally reach the criteria. Other students have a gazillion questions before they are comfortable beginning at all. This has nothing to do with intelligence, but are just differences in learning styles. To try to force everyone to learn the same way and at the same grade level is never successful, and some wonderful students are lost in the shuffle.

Take care,
gardeningartist


gardeningartist | Apr 06, 2008 | 9:41PM

I have a 5 year old daughter. We are going the home school route with help from the local school district (!), libraries, other parents, lots of books, websites, etc.

Maybe she'll go to public school next year: the
local district is showing signs of not actively
discouraging learning (e.g. calculators by 2nd grade may be phased out and actual math is
increasingly tolerated [and yes, that is the exact
right word]).


We all know there is a better way. I just
wish I knew what it was. Maybe there will be a
new stable education system by the time our
daughter is thinking about children but that
isn't too useful right now.


Also I fear the loss of yet another glue
institution. Public schools may be far from
perfect but at least there is a certain
common ground...within generations at least.


In the meantime: reading, writing, arithmetic,
and a 2nd language seem like a decent start.

David F | Apr 07, 2008 | 2:25AM

Gardeningartist described a Montessori school to a T. The students set goals for themselves, and set about meeting those goals. It is actually a very accelerated form of education. Fo9r example, most of the kids who do Montessori K-8 are doing calculus by the end of 8th grade! The biggest problem they face is boredom when they hit a traditional high school.

Michael | Apr 07, 2008 | 3:04PM

As usual, you've got me thinking. This time my thoughts are along the line of: Given the increasing likelihood that our relationship to energy and other resources will not remain what it's been, the possibility that access to digital technology may take the place of education is hardly a neutral fact of social evolution. It's one thing to acknowledge that we may have to learn survival techniques that technology has enabled us to forget, another to find ourselves as a society fundamentally dependent on networks, search engines, digital archives, etc. when the lights go out. Ray Kurzweil notwithstanding, technology serves us best as a tool, not an identity.
DC

DC | Apr 08, 2008 | 2:05PM

Bob, Check out the Wikipedia entry for "Book of Predictions" by that Wallace-Wallechinski bunch. Written in 1981, it was filled with predictions of the famous and powerful, but went awry SO FAST that it stands as a remarkable study of how predictions and reality don't travel well together. You address by email will get you my copy if interested.
Eric

Eric M. Jones | Apr 08, 2008 | 9:51PM