[Squeakland] Squeakland Digest, Vol 52, Issue 10

John Maxwell jmax at sfu.ca
Wed Aug 15 12:55:26 PDT 2007

Bill Kerr wrote:

>> In his dissertation on the history of the Dynabook John Maxwell asks
>> "what is a powerful idea, anyway?" and also argues that there has
>> been a  decline of powerful idea discourse

I don't know that I argued that there is an overall decline (though  
there may be)... my point was that the powerful idea discourse -- the  
"non-universals" -- is just pathologically divorced from discussions  
of IT in education. So Web2.0 gets talked about for its own sake, as  
do office productivity and web research. But the core orientation  
that people like Kay and Papert advocated has been lost in the  
ensuing din.

> However, I'm
> also left feeling a bit unsure of the status of the "non  
> universals" list,
> eg. how complete is it? have people argued about it and disputed it?

I think the non-universals are by their very nature disputed and  
disputable, and incomplete. They originate with people, and are  
thereby politically situated and charged. They require an active  
cultural committment. The dispute over evolution is such an  
interesting case: here is an extremely powerful idea, the  
implications of which are still being worked out, and this is  
fundamentally threatening to all sorts of people, on levels which are  
deeply and historically embedded and which take centuries to sort  
themselves out.

Where I end up is that all the stuff about "how people learn" is kind  
of beside the point compared with the curricular importance of  
powerful ideas. This is the real value of education. But it's  
politically safer to do work on learning styles and assessment  
methodologies than to focus on the importance of something like  
evolution in the curriculum.

  - John Maxwell
    Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing
    Simon Fraser University
    jmax at sfu.ca

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