Friday, May 06, 2005

Getting Flat, Part 2, and lots, lots more

Following through on yesterday's post referring the long tail, I have been reading Doc Searls blog and links.
Time and space don't allow me to do more than cut and paste a few choice pieces, but for anyone interested in the growth of the internet, open source, Tom Friedman's flat world, the impact of IT on society...this is great reading. These topics draw my attention like a magnet.
Doc has a lot to say about learning and education, also...

Work matters, but curiosity matters more. Nobody works harder at learning than a curious kid. And nothing works harder to disable a kid's curiosity than the narcotic we call television. LINK

That idea should be drilled into the hearts and minds of all parents and caregivers (isn't that what we call it now when children get farmed out for day care as their parent -- or parents, plural, in the event they are fortunate enough to have both) go about the business of "supporting" (another misused term) the children they had no business trying to rear.
Forgive me if I come across as cynical.
Google this phrase in quotes and see what comes up: "education is too important to be left to"
I rest my case.

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Hoot's Syllabus to study Doc
You might want to print this off if you're really interested
...but I doubt anyone but me is really interested.

First off, You gotta read Doc's comments in Linux Journal, Getting Flat, Part I.
Here he says mostly good things about Friedman's book and insights, but ends with a couple of enjoinders, including...

So it looks as though Microsoft has convinced him, at least for now, that open source is somehow anti-business or anti-capitalism, when it is neither.

The fact is, or will be, far more money will be made because of open source than will be made with open source--or with any of the infrastructural (in Tom's words, vanilla) software it replaces. Think of open-source infrastructure as a huge, flat cake on which you can build a vast new market for any kind of topping you like. A cake which, by the way, only gets bigger.

We have another word for that cake, one I know Tom likes: a marketplace. [&c.]

That's gonna take a long time, especially if you study the comments thread. In most cases comment threads are tedious, but this one should be mined for nuggets.

Next go to Part II.

In Part 2, I want to examine the human origins of the open-source materials we're using to build this new world. And I want to start by distinguishing them from corporate origins. Again, this is not to diminish the importance of big-company contributions to the flat-world revolution but to subordinate them to the profound work being done by individuals and small groups.

Here is a great quote from Friedman's book.

Microsoft sent teams to Chinese universities to administer I.Q. tests in order to recruit the best brains from China's 1.3 billion people. Out of the 2,000 top Chinese engineering and science students tested, Microsoft hired 20. They have a saying at Microsoft about their Asia center, which captures the intensity of competition it takes to win a job there and explains why it is already the most productive research team at Microsoft: "Remember, in China, when you are one in a million, there are 1,300 other people just like you."

Doc replies:

What's wrong here isn't simply the focus on Microsoft in a country where open source is a huge phenomenon. It's that both Tom and Microsoft continue to believe IQ tests are important ways to measure citizens in a flat world. Because if there's one thing the world is flattening fast, it's the old caste system we call The Bell Curve.
I can save Microsoft a pile of time and money by reporting a fact no school wants to admit, one that will flatten the world far more than any other factor: pretty much everybody is smart. What's more, they're all smart in their own ways. Meaning that the sources of innovation in China are a lot higher than 1,300 out of 1.3 billion.

He cites John Taylor Gatto, educator, who said...

After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves. ... In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

I don't know about you, but I find this stuff to be really exciting. Anybody who has reared a family and paid attention to children's learning and development will understand the passion, even if they don't agree with the conclusions.

Doc uses himself as an example of how education does not always serve the best interests of the student:

By the end of junior high, the school system wanted me to join the other academic failures at the local vocational-technical high school, where they taught how to fix cars and work a drill press. Fortunately, my parents believed in me and sent me off to a Lutheran prep school, which I only half-jokingly called an "academic correctional institution". My grades still sucked, but at least I had a good time and learned a lot anyway.

By junior high I was already a ham radio operator and a committed geek. And, like geeks and misfits everywhere, I worked constantly to increase the delta between my soul and the bell curve. In other words, I educated myself, just like Franklin, Edison and the rest of history's productive misfits.

Damn. Just, damn.
That's really good. The rest of the article is just as good.

Finally we get to yesterday's blogpost.
Here Doc begins by replying to someone who doesn't agree with what he said in Part I.
This person is also named Friedman -- Dave Friedman -- so don't confuse this Friedman with the first one.

For starters, the nub of the argument about IQ testing...

IQ distributions are a bell curve: there are very few people at the low (retarded) end of intelligence, and there are very few at the high (genius) end of intelligence. Most of us are bunched in the middle.

Nope, says Doc... my IQ has been measured everywhere from very smart to very dumb.
Intelligence is complicated, conditional and hard to measure.

Dave Friedman (not Tom, remember) admits to the point about IQ testing, sort of, but concludes that Doc's thinking is "utopian." Doc replies...

First, the open source movement doesn't advocate ending corporate hierarchies. It advocates good code. ...

Second, I'm not consigning academic degrees and pedigreed qualifications to "anachronistic times." Or to anything. Those are terrific honors, and useful to have. They are also beside the point. ...It's about those the old system missed or squashed, and that will find fresh advantages in a flat new world that rewards the growth and practice of intellegence, regardless of whether or not it shows up in grades, SAT scores or IQ tests.

Third, the Net, the Web, and the growing portfolio of freely available services that make possible what we're doing here ... Pretty freaking amazing, if you ask me. Go back fifteen years and imagine the Internet we have today: something nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve. ...

As for alternatives to IQ tests for selecting employees, how about this advice, provided by one of the best bosses I ever had:
Recruit for the position, but hire for the person.

Big ending...

... when I got out of college, I was spared boring jobs at two insurance companies by flunking IQ tests. One was Aetna. That was administered right at the employment agency. No waiting. Impressive. I forget the name [of] the other one, but I remember the setting vividly. It was in Newark. Nice offices, friendly people. The guy who interviewed me told the employment agency something like, "I was so impressed by the interview. He seemed real smart, and knew an awful lot of stuff. But then when we got the IQ test back we found out he was really dumb."

He said "discuss."
Okay, then.


I see Doc Searls noted my little site.
Thanks for the mention.
Visitors are always welcome, although my range of interests is almost too arcane for anybody but me. Doc says...

Now, you'd think if anyone has been in a position to see the fat parts of bell curves at work, it would be Hoots. Hey, I've done food service work myself, and lemme tell ya, if you're looking for work that will make you cynical about your fellow man...

Yet Hoot buys the case,
put forward by John Taylor Gatto and seconded by myself, that most kids are born smart, genius is common, and the bell curve is a crock.

Right about that. Many very gifted people are born into a situation that will never, and I mean never either see, appreciate or develop whatever natural gifts they may have. It has been my privilege to work with a handful of very fine people whose lot in life has kept them among the working poor, not by any deficiencies on their part, but because they were/are simply trapped. But being trapped does not stop them from doing simple, hard, honorable work consistently well. These people are the foundation of this and every other economy in the world.

I have also seen what can happen when people come into this country as immigrants - torn from their homelands for any number of reasons, unable to speak English - and become very high achievers. I learned long ago that what we like to think of as "intelligence" is nothing more than an intellectual construct, normally used when we need to put someone down and don't have the courage to admit that what is really at stake is our own inability to help them.

Story: When I first started in the cafeteria business I noticed one day the contrast between a very old employee and one of the high school kids working part-time.

The old lady was slow and physically limited. She wobbled as she walked and trembled so badly that we couldn't let her serve vegetables because she would either get burned or burn someone else with spilled hot vegetable juice from the little bowls. But she could serve bread okay and keep up with the dessert station. She also answered the phone nearby with "Thank you for calling [company name], this is Blanche. How may I help you?" Unfailingly gracious and polite, her uniform always neat, she was a model employee who would do anything I asked cheerfully and to the best of her ability.

High school and college kids are a wonderful resource because they are quick to catch on, fast and efficient, and much easier to cross-train than older people. So this kid was all over the place, carving meat, back in the dishroom rolling silverware, out in the dining room clearing tables, learning to do the checker's job making tickets for people at the end of the line...whatever was needed. I realized two things. First, the old lady had been there for years and the kid was just hired, probably just for the summer, yet their pay was only slightly different (we are paid for the job we do, not our abilities, and the rate is set by the marketplace, not the proprietor). Second, the actual productivity of the kid was a lot more than that of the old lady.

Thinking about that I came to the conclusion that the gracious manners, mature example and model attitude of one was a fair tradeoff for the measurable productivity of the other. I decided that my expectations should be changed from "Do as much or more than everybody else" to "Bring to this job your individual best, whatever that might be. "

You might notice that what we call "intelligence" has nothing to do with valuable contributions. Those who think in those terms need to take a closer look at how they assess people, beginning with the "mentally-clallenged" individual bagging groceries and continuing until they will themselves face challenges, if they are lucky, as the result of getting old.


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Hoots said...

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Sign of the times, I guess...