Rage Against the STEM Machine

I rarely rage on the internet, as I tend to move on to my own business fairly quickly.
But this time, a comic hit a nerve and it stuck.

A while back SMBC posted this comic strip, on  the relation between toys and female engineers. It shows a boy with digital interactive toys, seemingly with endless possibilities, while a girl is presented with ‘just a doll’. The last panel wonders why there are so little female engineers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love digital toys. I love STEM related toys. Anyone who has ever spoken to me about my research topics knows that digital creativity is my thing. I have to tell my self at least once a week I can’t engage in all ‘coding to learn’ initiatives.

But to me, this comic strip shows everything that is wrong with the current obsession with computational thinking.

First of all, interactivity should not be downgraded to the technological -and even narrower: the digital- level. Just because an object has no technological response system, it doesn’t mean you can’t meaningfully interact with it. STEM-related toys are in no way superior to ‘normal’ toys.

Second, a doll is never ‘just a doll’ to a child. Mind you, all children are different, but generally speaking pretend play can never be overestimated in a child’s development, especially when we’re talking about toddlers and young children. A doll can do a million things, all you need for it is imagination. There is no limit to the kind of interactions you can have with it. But of course, it does not have robot arms or incorporated AI. How can it be fun without digital components anyway?

Lastly, get those gritty corporate hands out of the playground. Children should PLAY, because it’s good for them and most of all because it’s FUN. Are we really going to be stimulating a five-year-old to become the perfect employee? As a pedagogical thinker, this turns my stomach upside down.

In my head, this litany packed more punch. But my point still stands: do we really want to become so narrow minded that the only good toy is a digital one?

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