Seymour Papert, fully Seymour Aubrey Papert

Papert, fully Seymour Aubrey Papert

South African-born American Mathematician, Computer Scientist, and Educator, Teacher and Researcher at MIT

Author Quotes

You can't think seriously about thinking without thinking about thinking about something.

You have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means we're going to put kids in a position where they're going to use the knowledge that they're getting. So what I try to do is to develop kinds of activities that are rich in scientific, mathematical, and other contents like managerial skills and project skills, and which mesh with interests that particular kids might have.

We often treat children as if they're not very competent to do anything on their own. So we make them stop learning in a natural way - by exploring. Logo [the computer programming language ] allows them to find their way around the computer, as they would find their way around the house, uncontaminated by the bureaucracies of schools.

We should think about what we mean by literacy. If you say, "He's a very literate person," what you really mean is that he knows a lot, thinks a lot, has a certain frame of mind that comes through reading and knowing about various subjects. The major route open to literacy has been through reading and writing text. But we're seeing new media offer richer ways to explore knowledge and communicate, through sound and pictures.

What the gears cannot do the computer might. The computer is the Proteus of machines. Its essence is its universality, its power to simulate.

Working with the computer gives rise to many opportunities to transcend asocial behavior, because it produces exciting and visually interesting things to share, whether it's by creating video games, computer art or sharing exciting Web sites.

You can sit down with your child and prompt him to show you something - perhaps how to play a game [on the computer]. By learning a game, you're getting close to the kid and gaining insight into ways of learning. The kid can see this happening and feels respected, so it fosters the relationship between you and the kid.

You can't teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it.

A more subtle difference is in the fact that some of them leave the Turtle in its original state. Programs written in this clean style are much easier to understand and use in a variety of contexts. And in noticing this difference children learn two kinds of lessons. They learn a general "mathetic principle," making components to favor modularity. And they learn to use the very powerful idea of "state." (emphasis added)

First (at least in the context of LOGO computers), the Total Turtle Theorem is more powerful: The child can actually use it. Second, it is more general: It applies to squares and curves as well as to triangles. Third, it is more intelligible: Its proof is easy to grasp. And it is more personal: You can "walk it through," and it is a model for the general habit of relating mathematics to personal knowledge.

If children really want to learn something, and have the opportunity to learn it in use, they do so even if the teaching is poor. For example many learn difficult video games with no professional teaching at all!

Nothing enrages me more than when people criticize my criticism of school by telling me that schools are not just places to learn math and spelling, they are places where children learn a vaguely defined thing called socialization. I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities.

So, rather than stifling the children's creativity, the solution is to create an intellectual environment less dominated than the schools by the criteria of true and false.

The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a [student] of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.

A programming language is like a natural, human language in that it favors certain metaphors, images, and ways of thinking. The language used strongly colors the computer culture. It would seem to follow that educators interested in using computers and sensitive to cultural influences would pay particular attention to the choice of language. But nothing of the sort has happened. On the contrary, educators... have accepted certain programming languages in much the same way as they accepted the QWERTY keyboard. An informative example is the way in which the programming language BASIC has established itself as the obvious language to use in teaching children how to program computers... Today, and in fact for several years now, the cost of computer memory has fallen to the point where any remaining economic advantages of using BASIC are insignificant. Yet in most high schools, the language remains almost synonymous with programming, despite the existence of other computer languages that are demonstrably easier to learn and are richer in the intellectual benefits that can come from learning them. The situation is paradoxical. The computer revolution has scarcely begun, but is already breeding its own conservatism.

For what is important when we give children a theorem to use is not that they should memorize it. What matters most is that by growing up with a few very powerful theorems one comes to appreciate how certain ideas can be used as tools to think with over a lifetime. One learns to enjoy and to respect the power of powerful ideas. One learns that the most powerful idea of all is the idea of powerful ideas.

Imagine that children were forced to spend an hour a day drawing dance steps on squared paper and had to pass tests in these "dance facts" before they were allowed to dance physically. Would we not expect the world to be full of "dancophones"? Would we say that those who made it to the dance floor and music and the greatest "aptitude for dance"? In my view, it is no more appropriate to draw conclusions about mathematical aptitude from children's unwillingness to spend many hundreds of hours dong sums.

Now more people are doing work that requires individual decision-making and problem-solving, and we need an educational system that will help develop those skills.

Technocentrism refers to the tendency to give a ...centrality to a technical object - for example computers or Logo ... (this) betray(s) a tendency to reduce what are really the most important components of educational situations - people and cultures - to a secondary, facilitating role. The context of human development is always a culture, never an isolated technology.

The success of a mathematical theory served across more than an instrumental role: It served as an affirmation of the power of ideas and the power of the mind.

A second key mathematical concept whose understanding is facilitated by the Turtle is the idea of a variable: the idea of using a symbol to name an unknown entity. [?] In principle you could describe [a spiral] by a very long program that would specify precisely how much the Turtle should turn on each step. This is tedious. A better method uses the concept of a symbolic naming through a variable, one of the most powerful mathematical ideas ever invented.

Generally in life, knowledge is acquired to be used. But school learning more often fits Freire's apt metaphor: knowledge is treated like money, to be put away in a bank for the future.

In a classical joke a child stays behind after school to ask a personal question. Teacher, what did I learn today? The surprised teacher asks, Why do you ask that? and the child replies, Daddy always asks me and I never know what to say.

Now, given that picture of a rapid change of society, one would expect to see a rapid evolution of the institutions charged with preparing the young for it. We do not see this. We see a much slower rate of evolution of the school and that means we're seeing a bigger and bigger gap between school and society. This gap is what I believe is responsible for the deterioration of performance in our schools and our educational systems. Because the children can see this; they can see that school is irrelevant. They feel that the pace of school and the mood of the school culture is out of sync with the society in which they live. And so it becomes harder and harder to get them to buy into the idea that school is satisfying their needs, that school is a bridge to the 21st century, as our political leaders keep on reiterating.

The bicycle without a rider balances perfectly well. With a novice rider it will fall. This is because the novice has the wrong intuitions about balancing and freezes the position of the bicycle so that its own corrective mechanism cannot work freely. Thus learning to ride does not mean learning to balance, it means learning not to unbalance, learning not to interfere.

First Name
Last Name
Papert, fully Seymour Aubrey Papert
Birth Date
Death Date

South African-born American Mathematician, Computer Scientist, and Educator, Teacher and Researcher at MIT