Isaac Asimov on education in the future

erchache2000 shared the link to the above video of Isaac Asimov talking with Bill Moyers in “The World of Ideas” back in 1988. His fascinating discussion of the idea of computer mediated instruction being anything but dehumanizing. I love Asimov’s idea that rather reproducing a model of privilege that had been available only to the few, i.e. 1-on-1 instruction, is now available to the many: the one-to-one amngst the many. He gets beautifully at how the internet allows for a radically different paradigm for thinking about education, while at the same time touches on the thrust behind unschooling when talking about not only allowing, but encouraging, kids to follow their own interests. What’s more, Asimov seems so cool in this video, I love his final comment “why not?…why not?” Spoken like a true believer, I love that about this video, it’s speculative, visionary, and in many ways idealistic—what we don’t seem to realize is we have that platform, and it’s time for us to use it with some of that vision.

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11 Responses to Isaac Asimov on education in the future

  1. Andrea_R says:

    You know, I’ve been thinking of similar things but more on the line of encouraging people to tinker, to just *try* stuff.

    As you know, I do a *lot* of tech support. I’m finding a ton of people absolutely terrified to click a button without express instructions to do so. We’ve got to find a way to encourage actually thought – not rote step-following.

    “but that’s how I learn!” a couple people have said. Nope, that’s not learning. If you cannot do it outside those steps or have no idea the *why* behind it, then it’s not *learning*.

    And isn’t that the whole point? To learn?

  2. Reverend says:


    Exactly, and oddly it is applications like WordPress, and folks like you in the forums, that have been like, “Do it!” that actually helped me push past some of my own rote notions of steps. I can;t say I’ve become a great programmer because of it—or a programmer at all—but I have basically created an occupation out of thank tinkering that has not only been a lot of fun, but truly rewarding. My education certainly has something to do with that, no doubt, but the willingness to tinker, and learning from the community of tinkerers out there like you, changed everything for me.

    I think this attitude needs to be a healthy part of any education. The freedom i gave students in ds106 was absolutely novel for them, but that said, some of them hanged themselves with all the rope. They had no idea what to do with it.

  3. Ron says:

    Asimov did a great job of capturing the essence of unschooling without referring to it as such. Interest in one thing leads to learning about other things. Because it’s not forced, children do enjoy it & are learning all the time.

  4. Andrea_R says:

    I think Ron has a few stories himself of letting some of his college students figure things out. I believe he found the same – the odd few who were absolutely terrified with no direction.

    that tinkering is what I’ve been doing pretty much all my life and in all fields. baking and cooking come out with happy accidents, so does sewing and quilting. Same thing with web development. It;s the “oh cool!” factor, and in a seemingly unrelated blog post I read elsewhere, the notion that “just fooling around” and taking a pile of stuff (digital or otherwise) results in a finished complete project.

    you know, a “thing” you created.

    there’s also this rule of sorts I’ve tried to teach my own kids – learn all the rules involved in whatever you’re doing, then you can find out how to effectively break them. There’s a sewing book called “bend the rules sewing” and indeed with their education we’ve most certainly broken all kinds of stuff.

    And I think I got a lot of this from my grandparents, who were most definitely tinkerers. Leading by example, and encouraging others most definitely helps.

  5. Newman5 says:

    Does anyone have references to … Does anyone know if Asimov put this philosophy into his science fiction? The difference between Science and science fiction is timing. Is anyone writing good ‘learning science’ fiction?

    And, (ds106) it all about good storytelling. Right now, the story that ‘computers dehumanize learning’ is easily understood and accepted. We, bavatuesday readers, have to present a new story that explains this new paradigm. Why not?

    • Reverend says:


      Absolutely agreed,ds106 is gonna make the myths, Morrison. And what do you need references to? I’ll see if I can fill in the gaps

  6. Newman5 says:

    Thanks for the reply Reverend Groom!

    References to a science fiction writers “Educational Philosophy” or to visions of future educational structure. SciFi writers take existing technology and … (blow it out, turn it up to 11, drive it ’till the wheels fall off, tear the roof off)… speculate about future development and uses. These creative souls are the ‘vision-neers’ of our technological culture. What does Disney call them, “imagineers”?

    I’m about to see Tron: Legacy. Tron, from Disney, was a seminal film for me. It blew my ten year old mind. I thought about computers and video games in a different way and it changed my future. Years later, Ender’s Game did the same thing.

    Ah! Ender’s Game very much influenced my thoughts about education and training. No spoilers… but “IT’S a TRAP!!!” Orson Scott Card, the author, has serious issues with modern edu and it comes out in his story. Has he done an interview to describe his thoughts about this? What other stories and Authors have insights into education and technology?

    Okay – Here’s what I wanted to share. Two books about Society, Science Fiction and Education.
    — This one I haven’t read, but seems interesting
    — This one I have read and it’s worthwhile. Compiled in the 70s it has the flavor of “TomorrowLand”.

  7. Many thanks. Added to my Deschooling Playlist

  8. Nona Mills says:

    Asimov did a great job of capturing the essence of unschooling without referring to it as such. Interest in one thing leads to learning about other things. Because it’s not forced, children do enjoy it & are learning all the time.

  9. Prophetic. So it makes me wonder how we proceed in this route: we could “re-humanize” schools, not unlike how Sir Ken Robinson envisions them, or we could automatize and dehumanize schools like Gates, and Kahn foresee. The former should restore dignity in teaching and learning, the other, well…who needs teachers.

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