This week’s pigeon is an Indian Fantail Pigeon. (Image credits) According to one story, Indian Fantail Pigeons first came to the US in 1926, shipped in a cage of pythons that were en route to the San Diego Zoo. Needless to say, only two of the birds survived the trek, but the zookeepers decided their plumage was interesting enough to keep and breed them.
Now, I’m not sure if this story is true. With just a cursory search at least — I really cannot spare the time today to do a deep dive into the history of pigeon or python procurement — I couldn’t verify that the San Diego Zoo had received a shipment of snakes from India that year or that it had decided to breed Indian Fantail Pigeons from then on. But the story is repeated on a couple of pigeon-related websites, and you can see perhaps why it’s a story that American pigeon enthusiasts would like. So why ask questions, right?
I’ve been thinking this week about a 1985 interview with MIT computer science professor Joseph Weizenbaum. The interview opens with a question about the role of computers in education — a question that Weizenbaum dismisses in part because it assumes that computers are good and useful and necessarily have something to offer. “The computer has almost since its beginning,” he says, “been basically a solution looking for a problem.”
It’s a “solution” that, in its search for a problem, has come “to use entire generations of schoolchildren as experimental subjects.” (Related: “Psychodata: disassembling the psychological, economic, and statistical infrastructure of ‘social-emotional learning’” by Ben Williamson.)
Even if we can demonstrate that introducing computers into classrooms helps students improve their test scores (or what have you), Weizenbaum argues there are still many questions to be asked about why students struggle in the first place. “The question, ‘Why can’t Johnny read?’ must still be asked.”