Goodbye, Seymour

We never met in person.

I barely even knew you existed until I read Mindstorms three years ago.

While reading it, it became abundantly clear to me how much I owe to your work.

Let me explain.

I experienced a distinct mental shift in my childhood. Right around 8th grade, I went from feeling like the “dumb kid” to feeling like one of the “smart kids.”

Math and science, subjects I used to detest and perform terribly in, were suddenly not so terrible. In fact, I started working hard at them, and came to love and excel in them. My whole attitude towards learning seemed to change.

Trapped inside my own mind, it was difficult for me to see at the time what was causing this shift. However, even then, I knew it had something to do with the after-school program I was going to.

I had been attending IMACS, the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science, for a few years. They taught computer programming in Logo and Scheme.

On the face of it, I was learning to code. However, I knew deep down that I was learning more than how to program a computer.

In my school classes, I could feel my computer science knowledge helping me understand math and science concepts. It was a Karate Kid wax-on, wax-off feeling. Though coding seemed unrelated to math and science, it felt like I was able to punch through math problems with my newly trained brain.

There was magic at play, I knew, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

So I began investigating. I started tutoring and teaching. I wanted to see if I could do for others what IMACS had done for me.

At first it was only a couple hours a month, but soon it became dozens of hours a week. I was obsessed with learning and teaching. I loved making sense of something, and then puzzling out how to make sense of it in someone else’s head.

This teaching obsession followed me to college, where I became a tutor and TA. Eventually, I started hosting my own coding workshops on the weekends to experiment with my wacky new teaching ideas.

I felt like a true explorer, going where no one had gone before.

Then I read you.

As it turns out, the magical experience I had at IMACS as a child was no accident. It had been deliberately constructed by you decades before I was born.

I realized that I wasn’t an explorer, but an archaeologist. I wasn’t charting my own course but retracing your steps.

I read Mindstorms like it was the Rosetta Stone for my own brain. I was able to read about things you wanted to accomplish with your students, then reflect back on my own experience, and shake my head in disbelief. That clever SOB really did it.

If Mindstorms was my Rosetta Stone, The Children’s Machine was my bible.

Published in 1994, the year I was born, The Children’s Machine prophesized my entire life. You predicted children exposed to your LOGO-themed educational paradigm will:

  1. Go from being bad at school to good at school. Check.
  2. Observe how the traditional education system is holding them back. Check.
  3. Rebel against the education system. Check. (I dropped out of college.)
  4. Try to reform the education system to be more like your ideas. Check. (I started a computer science after school program, The Coding Space, and created WoofJS, a programming framework to teach kids to code.)

Seymour, I’m sad that we never got to meet. I’m sad that I could never show you how I’m trying to make your ideas happen. I’m sad that I could never make you proud. I’m sad that I can never say thank you. How can I even begin to say thank you? Where would I be without you? Who would I be without you?

People say that writing makes you immortal because even after you are gone, your thoughts still live on in the minds of those who read you.

Your thoughts will certainly live on in my mind and in my actions. The change you started in the world will never die. We’ll make sure of that.