The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

Fast-paced sci-fi thriller based upon two ideas: self-paced learning via an AI-enabled laptop and nation-state intentional communities.

Back in 3rd grade, we had a set of learning objectives to master before the year was out. Given the choice of doing math or going outside for recess in the snowy-heavy Vermont winter, Hunter (my pine-cone-igniting and Mr. Roboto-listening best friend) and I would happily stay inside and work through the problem sets. We completed the year's work and handed it in to Mrs. Butler, who then promptly freaked and complained that she was going to have to make up whole new problem sets for us. And then she banished us unto the Siberian Death Camp for the rest of recess (no, I'm not bitter ;).

Ever since I saw my niece using her LeapFrog leap-pad (picking it up and playing through some levels, putting it down, and then 20 minutes later picking it back up again), I've harbored great hopes for computer-aided self-paced learning. It's one of those technologies that can't arrive fast enough.

In sharp contrast, intentional communities have been here for years (hippie communes, crazies with Koolaid, etc.). As they keep dying, it doesn't seem easy to foster and maintain a community, much less roll out a functioning culture, but it happens in this book. Something to aim for?

I realize the 99th percentile of intelligent students is near and dear to your heart...but providing those kids opportunities for enrichment seems to me a much smaller problem than getting kids involved in learning who'd rather be banished to Siberia than doing math. There are a lot more of them. And I think because there are a lot of them, there is a lot more attention given to solving that problem. Just throwing that out there. I know these are things you have considered. --AndyJ

Sure. I think we see lots of learned behavior when it comes to aptitudes or disaptitudes. When babies first open their eyes, the image is upside down due to the eyes' lens; each neuro-normal baby then figures out that flipping the image makes more sense. So learning appears innate. However, we also see kids not liking to learn something. To me, this seems likely due to some series of negatively reinforcing encounters than due to some innate dislike. To me, normal education seems horribly disadvantaged. Direct Instruction means that kids have to want to learn math from 10:50 to 11:30 when the math teacher wants to teach. Any kids who find the material difficult see their peers having "no problem" with the work, so they infer that they must be slower than their classmates. And finally, the teacher determines the pacing and ordering of the material, not the student. While I'm target'ing kids who want to get ahead, the same minimization of negative feedbacks to learning applies equally to kids who have labelled themselves as "not good at X". -- Patrick