FableVision threw a nice party at their Boston offices for the CMKers this evening. They put out a moderate spread of food and beverage, but most importantly they brought out their staff — young people who were playful, courageous, clever, curious, and gentle. Peter and Paul Reynolds spoke, explaining FableVision’s 200-year plan to encourage creativity and artistic ideas in children. I was impressed, and I’m usually pretty cynical about such things. Peter said at one point that he usually does his best work with a napkin sketch, but I saw later at dinner that we should take that with a grain of salt (He drew a little image of a waving heart-shaped balloon on a long string on our table later at dinner, in salt grains).
I think this is one of the things that I found most valuable about CMK’09 — the chance to connect with real, live human beings who are interested in educating children. I love my colleagues, and I think they do wonderful things for children. Yet at some level, we need more adults, and more kinds of adults, to be interested in what happens in school; it’s the only way to make change occur there.
Afterwards the founder of the MIT artificial intelligence lab, Marvin Minsky, held forth in their conference room for a good hour or hour and a half beyond that. He’s clearly a smart guy, and full of a lot of important ideas. At the very least, he’ll challenge what you believe about education and schooling and how people (particularly children) learn.
I think the most important take-away from that for me was that Minsky pointed out that evolution saves the genetic information that makes certain proteins or components that are useful for survival. But that this doesn’t include the code of why individual entities fail. For that doesn’t get passed on, because when organisms fail badly enough, they die. Hence stories or memes are used to explain how to survive very complicated, diffiult situations. Evolution won’t tell you how to survive, but stories will. The corrolary, of course, is that to really boost performance, you have to provide an environment much more challenging than something just outside “the zone of comfort.” You need something seriously outside the realm of comfort, so that sudents will be challenged seriously to acheive much better than their usual performance.