I ran across this Guardian article (Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots) yesterday morning and posted it to my Facebook timeline immediately. I wrote, “The manufacturing jobs that once brought prosperity to many of our towns and cities will not be coming back, if this article represents a trend – and there’s no reason to think it does not.”
There is a caption on the Guardian page that reads,
If robots are the future of work, where do humans fit in?”1
I think this is an interesting question – and it should not necessarily make us afraid. Why not consider it an opportunity. If we no longer need the economic contribution of every adult to make our national economies work, then a lot of us, a whole lot of us, will be freed. I do not make this statement lightly. Having mostly retired from kmy work life, I have experienced some of the inevitable depression that comes from reflecting on how much my work has dominated more than half of my 60+ years – and I’ve had the most interesting career that I can imagine. It seems to me that working for a living, as a necessity, is a bit unfair – not that I would give up any of my time in the field of education.
Perhaps the more interesting question should be, “What would you like to be doing?”
If the answer is, “Getting stoned and watching TV.” Then we have a problem, and I have no doubt that this would be a common answer. Assuming that I am right, I would suggest that one of most important goals of our public schools in the near future might be, assuring that for our students, the answer to that question is something a lot more productive and interesting.
I ran across this article, just minutes after posting this entry: iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is replacing 60,000 workers with robots
Two 2×4 Lego bricks, of the same color, can be put together in 24 different ways. Three can be connected 1,060 different ways. Six can be combined in 915,103,765 different ways. ..and, of course, children (and adults) have enthusiastically assembled them in nearly as many. It’s when useful and reliable resources can be used in so many ways that creativity is invited.1
The best use of Legos, in my humble opinion, never involved lessons or even instructions. You do not sit down and teach children how to creatively make stuff by clicking Lego bricks together. You simply given them the bricks and let them play.
Might we achieve more inventive-minded students, if we could redesign curriculum to simply give our children the prescribed resources of mind, and then encourage and free them to play, construct and learn. One example occurs to me, something that I witnessed in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada many years ago.
In early 2007, I participated in a provincial conference there and in addition had an opportunity to visit some of the area schools with my friend and NB educator, Jeff Whipple. At the time, the entire province was engaged in some pretty innovative initiatives. I wrote about that visit here and here.
I was overwhelmingly impressed with everything that I saw in the schools around Fredericton, but the visit that came to mind as I started thinking about Legos was Chad Ball’s civics class. He had decided to approach it in an entirely different way that year, based on a summer morning brainstorm. Rather than present the content to his students in teacher mode, he simply made it available to them, the vocabulary and concepts of Canadian government, mostly through a wiki.
Students were then assigned to work in groups, to create a new political party. They were to develop a platform, write speeches and even establish a mascot and logo – and required to appropriately and effectively utilize every vocabulary word and every concept of Canadian government in the process. Chad taught in consultant mode, though he reported that he api;d often refer students to classmates who seemed to have a handle on the concept or practice.
On the day of our visit, Mr. Ball had asked, on the class wiki, if there might be ways to extend the project. Even though the posting initially evoked complaints from some of the students, within a half hour there were 102 comments on his posting, mostly suggesting ways that they might take their political parties to the next level.2
This style of teaching and learning is about empowerment, not compliance,
because learners are given access to building blocks,
..and invited to build something.
There was an interesting article in the July 19 New York Times, Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global. The gadget Lover’s dream, their mobile phones are Internet ready, they feature e-mail, double as credit cards and boarding passes, and even body-fat calculators. And the pocket devices have become an integral part of Japanese culture. According to this December 2007 Sydney Morning Herald article, half of Japan’s top ten selling novels (at that time) were written on cell phones. (( Norrie. Justin. “In Japan, Cellular Storytelling is all the Rage,” The Sydney Morning Herald 3 Dec 2007. Web.22 Jul 2009. <http://www.smh.com.au/news/mobiles–handhelds/in-japan-cellular-storytelling-is-all-the-rage/2007/12/03/1196530522543.html>. )) Yet, you wont find one here in the U.S., in Canada, Europe, South America, or …
“Japan is years ahead in any innovation. But it hasn’t been able to get business out of it,” said Gerhard Fasol, president of the Tokyo-based IT consulting firm, Eurotechnology Japan. ((Tabuchi. Heroko. “Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global,” The New York Times 19 Jul 2009. Web.22 Jul 2009. .))
They have a name for the problem: Galápagos syndrome. Darwin found fantastically evolved plants and animals, dramatically different from their mainland cousins, and completely unsuited to prosper or survive anyplace else.
One reason for the hyper-evolution of Japanese cell phone technology is the preference they have for the pocket devices over full PCs. Although far below the population densities of small states like Macau (11.3 Mi2) and Monaco (.75 Mi2), Japan’s 870 people per square mile live mostly in the coastal cities. ((“List of countries and dependencies by population density.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Jul 2009, 15:20 UTC. 21 Jul 2009 .)) Most of the country’s almost entirely mountainous terrain can’t be built upon in any large population-supporting way. Tokyo’s pop density is over 15,000 per Mi2, approaching five-and-a-half people per square foot. I took a quick scan for apartments in Chuo-Ku (Central Ward) Tokyo and found units from 250 to 312 square feet running from ¥102,000 ($1,091) to ¥109,000 ($1,166) a month.
So where are you going to put your laptop and that 19 inch external display?
Another reason is the Japanese telco’s rush to build functionality into their cell phones and fashion network protocols to support them, vastly out-pacing the networks in other nations.
These cell phone companies need to reach a larger market. Kanshi Tazaki, with the consulting firm Gartner Japan, said that, “Japanese cellphone makers need to either look overseas, or exit the business.”
OK, lets leave the article now and ask two questions.
- If Japan could alter their phones so that they would work and be desired by an international community, would the CEOs of Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, and Fujitzu be happy?
- Would their products be better phones?
I would have to answer those questions with a “yes” and a “no.” Even though Japanese electronics company may have no choice, Standardization is not always a good think, especially of your aim is to provide the best product or services to your individual customers.
Lurching over to my usual topic, education, it seems to me that emphasizing standards over softer issues may actually be a hindrance to the vastly different needs of communities across the U.S. and the world. The basics of literacy and a working knowledge of our geographic, cultural, environmental, and historic similarities and differences should be standardized, in order to build a common ground for working together. But the rigor of deep learning — knowing, comprehending, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating what we know about our world might better be managed locally and personally.
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