Educon Reflection: Gary Stager, a Very Funny Man

“Children have a remarkable capacity for intensity.” Stager said, quoting Leon Botstein, in his 2011 TEDx talk – and the phrase aptly describes Gary's notions about teaching and learning today. He asked, “How do we maximize intensity — and minimize chaos?”

I tweeted a few minutes into his session that Gary Stager is a very funny man. I forget about his amazing sense of humor and I wish that I could share it here. But his sense of timing, which is a huge part of his delivery, simply couldn't be conveyed in text.

Of course, the best part of Gary's presentation was the “Ah ha!” moments, one after another.

I'll list a few of them here.

  • Stagger showed a picture of children in a robot petting zoo, a slightly disturbing image, on several levels. Shouldn't they be petting small farm animals. Well, sure. But from a contemporary learning stand point, a robot petting zoo gives children an opportunity to interact with emerging technologies in a playful way. ..and play, I suspect, is a huge part of learning to apply emerging tech.
  • He made a statement early in the session that, to me, is so obvious that it need not be made. Yet, it does need to be made. He said that,

“School should work with the tech of the day.”

Why is it that we think it's alright for schools to use down-scaled and out-dated computers that would have been replaced years ago in most businesses, especially when most business uses of technology require less processing power than many classroom applications. If we are preparing them for their future (and ours) and helping them to become “lifelong learners,” then shouldn't they be using the most up-to-date learning tools?

Why do we think that education should be cheap?

  • This one reminded me of some of my own thinking, ideas that I've not been able to put into words. Stager said,

“The power of programming is working with a device whose capabilities you do not know.”

What I remember my first experience with a personal computer (a TRS-80 Model I – from Radio Shack), I thought, “This is a machine that we operate by communicating with it.” This was brand new, and as a history teacher, this is what convinced me to learn as much about computers as I could. This technology, which you operate by learning its language, was going to change everything.

In a sense, a personal computer is like a friend, in that the best way to learn about it is to communicate with it.

  • This was the real shakabuku! Gary said that,

“We use to teach teachers how to program. Now, we teach them how to use a white board.”

He continued that this is an indication of “diminishing expectations.” Wow! In workshops, I use to teach BASIC programming and HTML. Shouldn't teachers be learning about computers by communicating with them? I've long thought that the reason I am able to intuitively figure out new software is that I've written software. I've had the same internal conversations that other software developers have had.

  • In his much expected attack on “standards” and standardized testing, Stager reminded us that the only place in the world where we consistently see standardization is in our cars. it's the cigarette lighter.

Is this true?

  • Finally, and this is one I've attributed to Gary during a number of my own recent talks and conversations. He tells the story of a science teacher, who, in the teachers lounge, complained that she tried a science experiment in her classroom, and “It didn't work.” This story says so much about what is wrong with our approach to education today. The experiment didn't work for the teacher, because it didn't teach what she wanted taught. Science is about answering inquery. It's about exploration and discovery, and it happens as a result of experimentation. All experiments work. They just tell us different things. What an amazing learning opportunity that surprise avails any teacher – wasted in this case, because she thought her classroom was about teaching, not about learning.

Thanks Gary!


Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.