On Pedagogy In The Geek Trades

I find 4 major failings in both how & what we teach in geekery.

  1. We mostly don’t. That is, actual teaching of actual geekery-for-a-living is almost non-existent.
  2. We suffer in attitude & content & structure from the trivially flawed “information transfer” view of what teaching & learning is.
  3. We purport to more knowledge than we actually have, teaching crude guesses as if they were writ, and aphorisms as if they were Euclid.
  4. We withdraw the field, abrogating our responsibility and leaving it occupied by marketeering hucksters and know-nothings.

In the interests of rigor I could now stall with an elaborate causal analysis, but I’m gonna cut to the chase on this and keep moving. It’s ultimately happening because we are a very young trade that has had forty years of epic levels of insane demand for our output. I see more and more that this is the root of nearly all that befalls us in the geek trades: the seemingly insatiable demand for output.

I’d call out the "agile" movement, but truth is it’s everywhere in geekery. Agilists didn’t invent and likely aren’t even primary in this. So I survey this field, and I see these things that I think must be Very Bad[tm]. I wonder what I might do about it all?

So? We can’t make people not want software. In fact, we don’t even want to make people not want software.

But what can we do, then? Or, to reframe so I am less lecture-y-to-you, what can I do?

What I can do is, first, choose very modest projects or steps in the face of the radical uncertainty surrounding the whole enterprise. I especially like that cuz it’s what I do as a geek anyway. It’s just that i’m doing it in an area — education — where I don’t usually.

Second, I can make those projects as fundamentally open and free as I know how to make them and still feed my fat little self & the geekids. In particular, I want to not be in it for the money and I want to prove I’m not in it for the money. A thing that means to me that it won’t, yet, to others, is that every project should have 100% open books. (I first learned of open accounting years ago from a book called "Honest Business". The associated memes have changed, but not the guts.)

Third, I can both constrain and expand my efforts with a focus I’ve never explicitly taken before: the daily life of expert geeks. I’ve always taught "information". I’ve taught theory and technique, I’ve formulated "rules". I’ve generalized & idealized many topics. I’ve quested for hierarchical knowledge structures and generally worked top down. I’ve overvalued theory.

And one thing I’ve really undervalued, too. And that is the fact that I am a me, and you are a you. Plato, may he burn in a perfect geometric hell for all eternity, launched this great lurching horror of mythical not-personal "knowledge". I have come very slowly to see this over many years. An overweening fondness for beige, "impersonal", psuedo-scientific, psuedo-objective, psuedo-knowledge seems a particular enemy.

It’s just as much an enemy as the much more easily ridiculed hucksterism, terrierdom, and corporate sloganeering that seem so visible. Let me put it this way. Le geek, c’est moi. & It’s not isolable from the moi that farts, gets mad, does dumb things, and giggles at himself.

These are all things I have actually known for a long time, some longer than others, and steadily increasing as a presence in my output.

I’ve had many mentors. And I want to be very clear: every single one was a goof, openly, a human with all the twists that entails. Moments of greatness, meanness, silliness, distractedness, and — we’re talking about mentoring me now — remarkable patience.

But I hereby go on record. That is, I’m telling you all this so I can hear I said it and I can openly embarrass myself in trying to do it.

And that is who I want to be and what I want to do.

Want new posts straight to your inbox once-a-week?
Scroll to Top