People or Products?

Joel HammonUncategorized

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True story: A NJ public library cleared off one of their walls and invited the local elementary school and a homeschool learning co-op to display student artwork for the community.  On one side of the wall were the school students’ paintings, which were all slight variations of the exact same picture–obviously given as an assignment in art class. On the co-op’s side was a collection of paintings that was as unique and individual as the kids who painted them. Clearly, the kids just had some time to paint what they were excited about and what was meaningful to them because the co-op holds values similar to PLC: creativity, flexibility, and free play.

*see the note below about the image for this blog post

Standardization has its place in our society and I recognize the value in controlling processes to produce a uniform product in many areas of life. For instance, I don’t want the machinist who is making the bolts for the airplane I’m riding in to get super creative and start freestyling–just please make them to specifications so the plane doesn’t fall apart. To continue with the art metaphor from above, there are definitely times when people come together by choice and end up creating roughly the same thing, to learn a particular technique, for instance. This is well and good. There are good things that happen in school too, but I think for many kids their experience in school feels rote–creating essays, reports, projects (and art work) for no discernable reason, as far as they are concerned. It’s just what they are supposed to do. But when it comes to children’s lives and education, we shouldn’t standardize everything to create uniform bolts (or paintings), but rather aim to create the conditions in which their unique talents and personality can be developed. Do we want to develop products or people?

*So…the image for this blog post is an interesting story in itself. I didn’t get a chance to see the library display that the director of the co-op I visited told me about, but I could see it clearly in my imagination. If it had still been up when I visited, I would have taken a picture and used that.  We couldn’t find any royalty-free images online that would work and I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to create something. Unfortunately, my art skills never progressed past stick figures. I could describe very clearly what I wanted and tried to rope in some of the more artistic PLC members to draw the image for me. They exercised their right to say no to my request which happens a lot at PLC 🙂 I was a bit stuck. Then I read about the new Google artificial intelligence service Gemini and that it was able to create images. So I headed over there and with the help of PLC member Ben, we experimented with finding the magical prompts that would coax Gemini into creating child-like paintings. This is harder than you might imagine. We had a small group of PLC members suggesting things for Gemini to draw and language to make it look like little kids created them. Mostly Gemini spit out incredibly detailed and skillful paintings when asked to make a finger painting that a five-year-old would create. We kept writing, “make it more child-like,” until we were able to produce the 10 images that we used. Ben took the raw images and used a photo editing app to “recreate” the library wall that you see here. Side-note: Debatably, at one point in history, sticking a teacher, a book, and 30 kids in a room was perhaps the best way to mass educate the public. As these AI technologies get better and better over the next decade, how is that going to impact our conventional understanding of “education?” Maybe a topic for another blog post?