[plt-scheme] you have a tough road ahead of you ; ; ; was Re: from hell to paradise

From: Geoffrey S. Knauth (geoff at knauth.org)
Date: Thu Feb 19 09:52:15 EST 2009

First of all, Grant, I really admire you for trying to get your  
colleagues to work through HtDP.  OK, so your first attempt didn't  
work out as you hoped.  But what first attempt ever does?  I wonder  
what check-expect would do for the steps of your experiment, and what  
subsequent refinements of your educational enterprise would look  
like.  I believe if you keep trying this, eventually you'll hit on a  
formula for success.

As I thought about your experience, I wondered what had worked for me  
in the past.  Usually, getting a small group of people together who  
really care about something yields the best results.  DrScheme itself  
is a classic example of just such a small group of passionate  
developers coming up with something amazing and extensible that draws  
a devoted following.

If you're trying to motivate a group of people who don't have that  
passion, but you hope they will, you kind of have to blow them away  
with something they could never do in their world.  I liked Prabhakar  
Ragde's example of the 5 line program to read the NYTimes RSS feed and  
deliver an S-expression ready to manipulate.  Do that a few times a  
few different ways, and you might win a few converts.

Reading Marco Morazan's recollection that Dijkstra considered people  
who do not want to learn and who refuse to think "brain damaged," I  
partly agree, but I think maybe they are only brain damaged as far as  
computer science is concerned if the amount of time we have is  
limited.  I'm not sure if our culture has poisoned people to avoid  
mathematics, or if there really are different kinds of brains.  It  
seems to me some people are attracted to mathematical concepts, and  
some people lack mathematical curiosity.  I'm not talking about the  
American tendency in recent decades to believe mathematical thinking  
requires talent, discouraging everyone else from even trying.   
Mathematics is work, sometimes very hard work.  Answers don't  
magically pop into the heads of geniuses very often.  But even though  
I believe most people can do math and learn to enjoy it if they only  
give it a fair shot, I have run into a few people who either fight  
against mathematics or try really hard but show no sign of getting  
it.  In those cases, I say to myself, "Well maybe God has another plan  
for them in life," while I still look for the right insight to tip the  
balance in the hardest cases.

Sometimes people fight us because they don't want "receive" knowledge,  
they want to come up with it on their own.  When I was a consultant 15  
years ago, a wise person told me the secret was to get executives with  
more ego than knowledge to see what we hoped they'd see while thinking  
it was their idea.

There was the case of a doctor making a phone call who was struck by  
lightning, survived, and then developed amazing musical talent.   
Before that happened, perhaps music teachers would have looked at him  
in despair, but afterward they were surely amazed.  We are only  
beginning to understand how the brain works.


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