you are here > articles/lxeditorials/perspectivesonpapert.html

Logo Exchange Editorial
Perspectives on Papert issue of Logo Exchange - Winter 1999
Gary S. Stager — Editor-in-Chief

Never satisfied, only gratified…

Those were the frequently uttered words of my old trumpet teacher, William Fielder. You may enjoy the momentary pleasure of success, but persistence and hard work is required if you wish to achieve greatness. This simple poetic phrase reminds me of Dr. Seymour Papert.

Papert’s life, work and ideas have inspired countless people around the world and acquainted millions of children with the joy of learning. While reasonable people may differ about whether Papert is the Father of Logo, he can surely be considered its loving mentor. In fact, Papert was one of the first people to suggest (more than 35 years ago) that computers could play an important role in learning. Thirty years ago, Papert, Alan Kay and Cynthia Solomon were predicting that every child would own a portable computer. Papert’s previous accomplishments in mathematics, cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence led credibility to such predictions.

In Papert you find the rare futurist. He not only launched the idea of learner-centered computing, but then spent several decades expanding his theories while actually building things (both software and ideas) used by others. His work shares more with Thomas Edison than most "ivory tower academics."

Logo offers learners a powerful intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression while providing teachers with a catalyst for rethinking the nature of teaching and learning. Logo is an object to think with, both for the learner and for the people who are thinking about the thinking of the learner. Seymour Papert has provided countless educators with the thrill associated with students performing intellectual feats they never before believed to be possible. He invited educators into a community of powerful ideas by giving voice to their experiences and encouraging the sharing of learning stories. We have been given a way in which to discuss profound ideas without being overburdened by ostentatious vocabulary or overly technical theories. Best of all, we are encouraged to interpret these ideas in personally resonant ways.

Papert's books about education - Mindstorms, The Children's Machine and The Connected Family take the reader through the development of his thinking about learning with computers. We are channged to question our own assumptions in order to take steps towards enriching the learning experience for children. (Carolyn Dowling explores these books later in this issue).

It has always pleased me that Papert’s books have enjoyed no serious criticism in academic circles. People may disagree with a point or two in the books, but there has been no serious piece of scholarship arguing against the ideas found in Mindstorms. This does not of course mean that Logo, or even Papert personally, has been free of criticism.

The attacks on Logo, with few exceptions, have not been fought on the battlefield of ideas, but rather in the marketplace. Logo is bad for business. If kids construct their knowledge and express themselves in an environment designed to have "no threshold and no ceiling," then you are not likely to buy lots of other software products. Schools not disposing of old computers because they are just perfect LEGO TC logo workstations don’t run out and buy as many new computers each year. While the Software Publisher’s Association may honor Papert with a lifetime achievement award, its member companies conspire to keep Logo-related presentations off far too many educational technology conference programs.

The most sinister attacks on Logo are acts of omission. As a university teacher educator I receive countless textbooks on the theory, history and practice of educational computing for my consideration. The majority of these texts don’t disagree with Logo research or the theories of Seymour Papert. They don’t mention them at all. Most of these books purporting to provide an intellectual and/or historical understanding of educational computing ignore four decades worth of research and classroom practice. This is unacceptable and intellectually dishonest. One rare exception is Designing Multimedia Environments for Children by Allison Druin and Cynthia Solomon.

Ask a room full of educators who know something about Logo to brainstorm a list of the most frequently heard criticisms. The list always includes things like: it requires teachers to learn new things; it requires too much class time to do something worthwhile; it’s hard to assign a letter grade; it doesn’t fit neatly into a curriculum areas. These are not criticisms of Logo as much as they are criticisms of school. Logo is an embodiment of that criticism.

Seymour Papert possesses qualities that set him apart from many other great thinkers. He not only loves to learn, but he relishes other people’s learning and helps us see the magic in our own learning. One of Seymour’s prize pupils, Idit Harel, speaks in a glorious interview for next issue about Papert’s playfulness. He loves toys, games and puzzles. His sense of humor is infectious and he is fueled by the hard-fun of children. Papert’s humor and playfulness often lead to very important research.

Papert also cares a great deal about educational equity and believes that learning provides a vehicle for overcoming social injustices. His work has always been concerned with disadvantaged communities, whether they be in New York, the Roxbury section of Boston or developing countries. Seymour’s current projects include working in Thailand (see his Teacher Feature in this issue), with the Job Corps as well as a juvenile girl’s prison in Maine.

His willingness and ability to work with the corporate world has led to criticism from within the Logo community, but has also produced actual products that benefit children. Papert does not view popular culture with disdain, but as a variable necessary in any formula for understanding the way children learn now and in the future.

I have come to understand Seymour Papert’s enormous contributions to the world of ideas in three ways.

  1. His ability to generate brilliant theories
  2. His willingness to risk criticism for generalizing how those theories would look in practice
  3. His ability to predict how those ideas would be assimilated and misinterpreted by the institutions they challenge

In many ways, Papert reconceptualizes Dewey, Montessori, Vygotsky, Piaget, A.S. Neil and other progressive educators in a contemporary computer-rich world. His ideas are built on the shoulders of the great educators who came before. Moreover, Papert helps us see the tactical errors of our predecessors and the new opportunities that emerge with the widespread availability of personal computing devices. We are encouraged to use our imagination, to dream, to play.

My answer is that if you have a vision of Someday you can use this to guide what you do Monday. But if your vision of where it is going is doing the same old stuff a bit (or a lot) better your efforts will be bypassed by history. (Seymour Papert, 1998)

This issue contains a collection of perspectives on Papert from an international cast of contributors. Many of these contributors know Seymour Papert through only his work. I am grateful for their contributions and as always thank Peter Reynolds for his wonderful illustrations. Point to for an extensive collection of articles, papers and speeches by and about Seymour Papert.

Gary Stager

Home | Search |Articles | iMovie | Bookstore | Bio | Booking Gary
Locations of visitors to this page
Copyright © 2003-2007 Gary S. Stager - All Rights Reserved.