Sunday, December 26, 2010

Interview with Pearce Delphin (Part One)

Connected teachers spend a lot of time discussing the future of education on social networks. One main theme that continues to be a focal point of these discussions is how modern education needs to be more student-centered. The conversation usually takes place between teachers and I thought it would be of value to invite students from around the world to join the discussion.

I recently connected with a 17 year old student from Australia named Pearce Delphin, also known as @zzap on Twitter. Pearce came onto my radar after I read a story about some controversy he was involved in on Twitter. He struck me as a very intelligent and opinionated 17 year old, so I decided to ask his opinion on a host of subjects that interest educators in my learning community.

Pearce lives in Melbourne, Australia, he just completed high school at Peneligh and Essendon Grammar School, a private school in Essendon, Melbourne. He obtained a scholarship to Monash University and he is thinking about getting a Business/IT degree there. Pearce is interested in politics and describes himself as a deontological libertarian. He loves "coffee, philosophy, books, and of course, IT and the Internet."

Q. How would you describe your social media use on a normal day?

@zzap: On a normal day, my social media use is heavy. Along with my coffee
intake. In fact, I don't know what's heavier. The only thing I like more than social media is coffee. Amongst other things. Social media is generally limited to Twitter, though. Naturally I have a Facebook account, and a YouTube account, etc., but they really don't do it for me like Twitter does. Facebook is swamped with inane idiots I had to put up with through my school life, so unless I'm organizing a meet-up with some school friends, I tend to try and avoid it. Because really, I don't care much for most of their poorly structured, grammatically grotesque status updates or (foursquare rip-off) "check-ins".

Since mentioning foursquare, I also use that. It's a great way keeping track of your friends' whereabouts, similarly with Google Latitude, although you need to be more careful of you allow see your Google Latitude location, since it automatically updates your location, unlike foursquare where the user has to check in to a certain venue.

Q. Are you a gamer?

@zzap: No. Games have never really interested me. I like Grand Theft Auto (mainly San Andreas; the sand-boxy feel to that game was awesome), and of course the Sims and sometimes SimCity. But I wouldn't consider myself a gamer; I play them very infrequently.

Q. In the intro I linked to a story that gained you some notoriety in the news-- how did you learn to do that?

@zzap: No idea. I just acquired skills over time, I guess. It wasn't anything particularly fascinating. I just observed a flaw in Twitter and I exploited it. I have never had any formal programming training or classes. In fact, I don't particularly like programming/coding. It seems so dry.

Q. Has the incident changed your views on how you use technology at all?

@zzap: Not really, no. I was concerned for a little while that Twitter would remove my account (like they did with another user I know who used the exploit to cause anyone who viewed the tweet to automatically retweet it like a massive spam worm). I had had that account for a good four years (I was an early adopter) and I certainly didn't want it taken away from my now. But thankfully they didn't, and all was fine. Other than that, my views on technology and how I view it hasn't changed.

Q. Do you think school, as an institution, is valuable? Why?

@zzap: School is valuable to the extent to which the students are willing to learn. I don't support a compulsory schooling system (not sure about over there, but here you're legally obligated to attend school until 15 y/o), because all it does it reduce the lowest common denominator and drags everyone else down with it. When the standard is set so low because everyone has to attend, it causes the intellectuals to become frustrated and bored.

This goes the same with higher education -- university used to be exclusive. Now almost anyone
can get in to do whatever they want. Do we really need commerce degrees for salesmen? I mean, trying not to sound elitist or anything, but you cannot argue that the value of some degrees (as in the effort required and what that effort can tell you about the ability of the person) has been significantly cheapened in recent times.

Naturally, these leads to to the depreciation of degrees in general -- the degree itself now turns into just a piece of paper that entitles you to a job interview. Employers having to test a degree holder to verify that they now understand the things that completing the degree should imply shows that the degree becomes worthless. It's just a title of no value. And that fact is sickening.

Q. What aren't you being taught in school that you feel should be taught?

@zzap: Real life skills. Which seems to have completely disappeared in the last 20-years or so. Hell, I wasn't even taught grammar. GRAMMAR. You see all the kids of today not knowing the difference between your and you're, and you feel like you want to be angry at them because they're too moronic to pay attention in English class. Then you realize, perhaps they were paying attention in English class and their English teacher just never taught them the difference between a possessive pronoun and a contraction.

Schools also ought to embrace technology more. I don't want to go into too much detail about this, because I went to a very conservative private school who considered modern technology on the same realm as the Devil. But in general it seems like schools don't go to enough effort to include technology in the curriculum. Typing class would have been nice. I can type at 110 WPM, yet I still use two index fingers only. It would have been nice to know how to touch type or whatever you call it. You know, with all the fingers? I'd be unstoppable then! mwuahaha.

All the things that they seemingly used to teach, but then they removed from the curriculum. For whatever reason. I mean, how can you say schooling is becoming more progressive and embracing when they used to teach something like typing and now they don't? If anything, in some sense, it's going backward.

Q. What do you do in school that you feel is a waste of your time?

@zzap: Everything. Almost all of it is a waste. But I think that is something more personal. I'm an independent learner; I feel like attending class is a waste of time for me. Generally I disregarded everything that occurred in class, and if I had a test I would cram the weekend before and then go and ace the test. This was my life for two years.

Waking up each morning questioning the point of it all, cramming on weekends, and then going well. The worst thing was that a lot of teachers ... they didn't so much "dislike" me, they just became frustrated with me. Because I ignored their advice in class, I didn't hand up my homework, because it all seemed pointless.

Unlike most, I had acquired an effective technique to learning. Certain teachers resented that, and wanted all their students to do it their way. I was not prepared to sacrifice my learning for those kinds of teachers; and in the process, I pissed some of them off. Regardless of this, I received a good score in my final exams and there were some teachers that accepted my independent learning techniques. That's what we need more of: more acceptance of alternate mechanisms of learning.

(To be continued in Part Two)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hilarious that you should remove my comment post when you're writing about an anti-censorship libertarian. It smacks of the same hypocrisy evident in corporate America's infantile approach to Wikileaks.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Maxi,
    Any comment that is inappropriate in nature will be removed. You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to express an insulting one on this blog. As long as you don't include personal attacks, insults or other inappropriate language, I have no problem with your comments. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and sharing your opinion about America's approach to wikileaks.

  5. As a teacher you are presumably aware of the definition of the adjective 'pompous' - something along the lines of "affectedly grand, exaggeratedly or ostentatiously dignified, or self-important". My opinion, judged on his responses to your questions, is that the twitterer you interview fits this description. If you consider this a personal attack and an insult then you must exist in a very sheltered and sterile world. Have you ever read a comments section on YouTube, for example?

  6. Maxi,

    I have read the comments on YouTube and I think we would both agree that the level of conversation there is not very high. The YouTube comment section is not a very good model to emulate in my opinion. Have you ever read the comment section on The Economist or Boing Boing? It is up to people like us to help create a standard where people are respectful and thoughtful of others. I like to debate and discuss things with people using social media, but I think we should use these digital spaces to elevate the conversation and name calling is not really elevating anything.

    To say someone's opinions are pompous is one thing, but to say that person is pompous is not helpful in elevating the conversation.

    Thanks again for your interest and I hope you will continue to read and engage in future conversations here.