‘How many words does it take to make a mistake?’

Article in the London Review of Books, on EdTech, learning during lockdown and the mechanisation of ‘literacy’.

One thought on “‘How many words does it take to make a mistake?’

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  1. Interesting article, though I think its concerns pre-date the digital age. Two thoughts. First in the1980s I taught a university course for undergraduates in philosophy on critical & logical thinking. I devoted a large portion to having them write in-class essays. It helped me to understand their ability to express themselves, but also to understand their distinctive “voices” when they wrote. It devolved from out-of-class essays where students would plagiarize David Hume, oblivious to the differences between 18th c. English and 20th c. American English. I wanted them to realize that each person’s style of writing is individual, like a fingerprint. And of course, to write better. My second thought goes to your plea for “educational humanism” along with your fear the humanities might be like university buggy whips in modern times. I’ll quote words of wisdom once spoken by the late Thomas Hearn, Jr, then President of Wake Forest University and himself a philosopher:

    “ MY GREATEST CONCERN FOR THE BEST of this generation, the best of your graduates and mine, is that these students are so sophisticated, accomplished, worldly, traveled—
    perhaps I should say “programmed”— that they have education mastered. They have school figured out. They know where they are going and what it takes to get there. School is a game, and they are the winners. Their parents’ dreams are coming true.
    What is missing in this outlook is any sense of discovery, adven- ture, wonder, possibility, or any thought that they might find around some corner of their minds an unknown passion leading in some new direction. Aristotle said that all knowing begins in wonder, and these most successful of our students lack wonder. They are on the fast track—destinations chosen.
    Each year at our convocation for entering students, I recite Shel Silverstein’s marvelous little homily, “Magic Carpet.” I hope you know it. I trust you will join me in spreading its enduring lesson.
    You have a magic carpet
    That will whiz you through the air, To Spain or Maine or Africa
    If you just tell it where.
    So will you let it take you
    Where you’ve never been before,
    Or will you buy some drapes to match And use it
    On your
    Too many of our best and brightest students are buying drapes. They have fixed their destination. No matter how much they accom- plish or how much they achieve, they may miss the joy and wonder of education and discovery. That experience is “the ride of their lives.”
    We must see that the joy and discovery of some domain yet to be explored continues to surprise and delight young minds, for upon such uncharted explorations our future, their future—indeed the future of the world—depends.”


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