“We noticed that it required a separate intention of the eye, a more free and abstracted vision, to see the reflected trees and the sky, then to see the river bottom merely” – Thoreau

Throughout software and school, we go through our day formatting paragraphs and taking spelling tests. We follow the familiar processes. We step-by-step our way along with comfortable goals and imagined praise for each small accomplishment. We stay focused on the river bottom.

But, a central question looms unseen by most.  Behind each pair of eyes that watches you teach, within each mind that uses your software, there sits an unspoken query, a plea:  do you know who I am?   Every child, every user comes to the lesson wondering how it applies to them.  And rather than answer this, we spout repeatable process with no regard to personal context.  As Seymour Papert puts it, we effectively “program the child” (or user).  We teach at them, not with them.

Yet with a separate intention of the eye, we can see a whole new world.  By shifting our focus from the lesson-at-hand to the child receiving it, by making a personal connection before imposing our knowledge on another, we become collaborators on a shared journey of guided discovery.  We become mentors, not teachers.

You ask, “How is this practical?  How can you do this in a class of twenty students?”   The answer is, “You can’t.”  Through our Waveplace work, we experimented with student-teacher ratios and found that mentoring requires a ratio of at most seven students to one mentor, which confirms the findings of Alan Kay and others.  In some settings, such as Haitian schools, a ratio of four to one is needed because the students need more.

Most dismiss such an approach as an extravagance.  They see merely the logistics, the costs, the river bottom.  Such ratios may be effective for teaching music and art, they’ll say, but for general studies, hiring three people to do the job of one is deemed unnecessary.  We’ll pay the money to learn cello, but not to learn to think.

And so we must rely on software, the ever-patient, affordable, one-to-one surrogate of our dreams, though current software is even worse than the most overburdened human teacher.  Do you know who I am?   Better to watch a video of a teacher talking (Khan), than try to make a connection with the software of today.

Time for some smarter software.  Time for cognitive agents.

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