OLPC Memo 5: Education and Psychology

Marvin Minsky:

What goals do we want our schools to achieve? Most parents agree that their children should learn about History, Language, Science and Math, and get some instruction in Health, Sports, and Art. Most parents also want their children taught to behave in what they regard to be civilized ways. And surely, most parents would also agree that schools should help children learn good ways to think. However, while schools have good ways to teach facts about subjects, many pupils still fail to build adequate skills for applying that knowledge. [[1]]

But if “good thinking” is one of our principal goals, then why don’t schools try to explicitly teach about how human Learning and Reasoning work? Instead we tacitly assume that if we simply provide enough knowledge, then each child’s brain will ‘self-organize’ appropriate ways to apply those facts. Then would it make sense for us to include a subject called “Human Psychology” as part of the grade-school curriculum? I don’t think that we can do this yet, because, few present-day teachers would agree about which “Theories of Thinking” to teach.

So instead, we’ll propose a different approach: to provide our children with ideas they could use to invent their own theories about themselves! The rest of this essay will suggest some benefits that could come from this, and some practical ways to accomplish it—by engaging children in various kinds of constructive, computer-related projects.