Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Estudantes ou clientes?

Sempre vi com estranheza esta idéia de que "nossos alunos são nossos clientes". Aliás, do ponto de vista histórico, a palavra cliente não tem qualquer nobreza. Clientes eram aqueles desocupados que formavam claques de políticos da velha Roma. As clientelas, no caso, eram constituídas por meio de pequenos favores dos poderosos.

Admiro muito o cientista da computação Alan Kay. Minha admiração acaba de crescer ao descobrir um pequeno texto em que ele aborda a questão do cliente na educação. Copio tal texto a seguir. Infelizmente não disponho de tempo para traduzí-lo, nem para fazer comentários. Por isso opero aqui um registro e espero voltar ao tema oportunamente.

Hi Mark --

I think the more important point here has to do with the differences between education and vocational training. Neil Postman wrote a number of essays lamenting the huge change in universities -- which have pretty rapidly shifted from being the definers of "what higher education means" to vendors serving customers. He pointed out how ludicrous it could be to have uneducated people demanding courses and rejecting others, largely driven by perceptions of what would help with future jobs as opposed to future abilities to think well and with perspective.

I think these are important distinctions even outside of the liberal arts, and are even relevant in the engineering disciplines. But once universities start saying "we have customers, and we must cater to them", real education goes out the window, especially for the undergraduate years.

In the case of computing, it's not clear just what do to since a strong case could be made that academics also have very weak and career driven ideas of what computing and they should be doing. As you know, I thought that the ARPA/PARC conceptions of what we should be doing were pretty good, and they were built on the premise that our field had not been developed yet, and so most of the education and training in university should be devoted to helping the students do better than the previous generation in not just advancing things, but in trying to invent the twin fields of computer science and software engineering.

However, given that the strong research funding is not with us and there is no longer a strong research community devoted to the above, I would think that it is the universities that just have to wake up and get better. The biggest initial need is to arrive at a much more fruitful perspective on computing itself that can be used to both to understand the past better, but also to see that the present "normals" are much more arbitrary and accidental constructs than most people think. Once "normal" is made visible and can be seen as a construction, then it is much easier to see possible futures that were quite hidden by convention.