Critical Reflection #2
Papert, S. (1993). Yearners and Schoolers (Chapter 1, pp.1-21), and Computerists (Chapter 8, pp.157-158). The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. New York: Basic Books.

September 25, 1997

Two main themes emerge from Papert’s (1993) discussion of Yearners and Schoolers: that children gain knowledge through exploration and personal relevance, and that children need guidance during their inquiries that will provide them with a means to validate or challenge the assumptions and interpretations of their findings. This reflection will consider some issues surrounding these two themes.

Exploration takes on many forms, and means different things to different people. Some explore in an ordered, logical way. Others choose haphazard, random methods. Music excites some, while history engages others. There is no “right” way to explore. It is a personal activity. Papert explains (and I agree) that children learn differently. This is not surprising, given the body of research that supports this view. What I find surprising, however, is the lack of individuality tolerated in many classrooms today even though teachers are well aware of the research.  Good pedagogy means providing each student with a programme that will push and encourage them to new highs in their learning experiences. Yet too many classes in the seven schools that I have taught in appear to be assembly lines with little room for straying from the teacher’s way of doing things, and I get angry when I see this. While it is true that some students will develop into their fullest potential through this type of learning environment, it is also true that many will not. Children must be given the chance to be independent learners. School has to be relevant, or its impact will be lost. We have access to Papert’s “Knowledge Machine” right now - it is called the World Wide Web. This means of exploration and discovery lights up almost every child’s eyes. It provides access to experts and information that only 5 years ago would have been unobtainable in a classroom. It has the ability to keep the spark of inquiry burning, and now teachers must learn how to guide these new explorers in their learning.
Computers have eliminated the age barrier which used to determine who had access to information and who did not. Presently, those with the greater access to information are those individuals, institutions, and organizations that have greater technological resources. Many children already come to school armed with the skills for learning that the teacher does not possess. Papert made it clear that by espousing creativity, self-discovery, and exploration, that does not mean to suggest that children do not need guidance throughout these activities. Teachers are still needed to help children decipher the massive amounts of information that is now at their fingertips. Good teachers will provide opportunity for discovery, then challenge the child to make sense of what they find. It is the teacher’s new role as “information mediator” that many are uncomfortable with because it is so different than the historical definition of a teacher. Yearners accept the challenge and modify their views. Schoolers resist change, even in the face of overwhelming evidence contrary to their views. And that is a shame, becuase when coupled with a teacher that encourages hands-on exploration and gives students the chance to share and explain their discoveries, the Internet provides a new opportunity for all teachers to become “information mediators”, rather than “information dictators.”