Minsky: “If you’ve done something, you should be ashamed of it instead of proud it.”

Minsky interview at MIT150 Infinite History
Marvin Minsky: “Why bother?”

First, Marvin Minsky on mathematics and being slow:

MINSKY: I think when I was a child I didn’t have the feeling that I could solve problems that other people could solve. On the contrary, I found things were quite difficult. And when I tried to read mathematics it would take an hour a page and I’d get some of the ideas but not others. And usually it would be six months later that suddenly it would click. And so I think I thought of myself as sort of slow. On the other hand, I thought of everyone else as incredibly slow. But I didn’t think of myself as particularly creative.

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Programming by poking: why MIT stopped teaching SICP

In this talk at the NYC Lisp meetup, Gerry Sussman was asked why MIT stopped teaching the legendary 6.001 course, which was based on Sussman and Abelson’s classic text The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SICP). Sussman’s answer was that: (1) he and Hal Abelson got tired of teaching it (having done it since the 1980s). So in 1997, they walked into the department head’s office and said: “We quit. Figure out what to do.” And more importantly, (2) that they felt that the SICP curriculum no longer prepared engineers for what engineering is like today. Sussman said that in the 80s and 90s, engineers built complex systems by combining simple and well-understood parts. The goal of SICP was to provide the abstraction language for reasoning about such systems.

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Minsky’s radical school of education

Minsky's Society of Mind
Excerpt from Marvin Minsky’s Society of Mind

Marvin Minsky, MIT professor and artificial intelligence pioneer, passed away last Sunday (January 24, 2016). Minsky is widely celebrated for his diverse scientific contributions to artificial intelligence, computer science, mathematics and even microscopy. Less well known are Minsky’s radical views on education.

Some mathematicians think that learning mathematics is about “reaching the summit and then swiftly burying the path.” Minsky didn’t. He was interested in why mathematics is hard for children to learn and what can be done about it. He thought that the difficulty was partly “caused by starting with the practice and drill of a bunch of skills called Arithmetic”. As a result, “instead of promoting inventiveness, we focus on preventing mistakes.” Some children, frustrated by this negativity, dismiss mathematics as repetitive, boring and punitive.

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