I’ve just started Being Fluent with Information Technology, a study produced by the National Research Council, and in Chapter One, “Why Know about Information Technology?”, the authors cite Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms, in which he asserts that “a deep understanding of programming, in particular the notions of successive decomposition as a mode of analysis and debugging of trial solutions, results in significant educational benefits in many domains of technology per se” (quoting the NRC book there, not Papert directly).
All this reminds me of something Ken Robinson says towards the middle of his presentation at TED:
Intelligence is dynamic: if you look at the interactions of a human brain… intelligence is wonderfully interactive: the brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.
Both of these thoughts come together: it is increasingly important that we learn to think in multiple ways. I suspect the value that Papert found in students gaining a deep understanding of programming is the ability to combine that understanding with the deep learning they’ve gained in a different discipline. By having more than one way of approaching an issue we are able to understand it in a way that a singular background doesn’t allow.
All of this reinforces for me the value of the liberal arts education. In addition to the major, students are exposed to many different disciplinary ways of seeing things. We may question whether we are providing a deep enough exposure to these other ways of understanding through our general education requirements. Would it be more beneficial to require students to study more deeply in a specific, different discipline than it is to provide brief introductions to so many?
I’m not sure I have the answer to that, at least not yet. And I know I’m not addressing Robinson’s larger issue that creativity must be given (at least) equal emphasis as literacy in education if we are to give children the tools they will need for the future. But it’s nice to make these connections as I continue to read.