“I think it is imperative to broaden questions about the purpose of schooling beyond its economic value” – USA

Fred Goodman, Professor of Education Emeritu - USA
May 4

Games have been Fred Goodman’s life’s work.  In fact, he’s an internationally known “game-master” who has created educational games primarily for the K-12 market.

It could be said that Goodman was ahead of his time, building educational games
long before there was technology to drive them. A major difference in Goodman’s approach to game design is that it makes use of metaphors as opposed to simulations. His recent games use color, shape and form to represent complex decisions visually. Basically, his games teach creative approaches to problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration: all essential to 21st century learning.

One of his earliest games, “They Shoot Marbles, Don’t They?”, was originally created for the Highland Park school system in response to the 1967 civil disturbances in Detroit. He sold thousands of copies to educators worldwide. “I built a model and let the kids try to police it,” Goodman says. “Pretty soon they realized they needed things like judges, laws, etc.”

Goodman has also been instrumental in the Master of Arts in Education program at the University of Michigan. In fact, he has worked closely with Nick Sousanis, who is writing and drawing his dissertation entirely in comic form.

Goodman’s favorite quote, from John Dewey, is “When it comes to schooling, learning by doing is easier said than done.” Here, he shares how he applies that quote to his life, and his thoughts on finding the right job (hint: his answer may surprise you!).

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

Early on I decided to “do something” about John Dewey’s insight about “learning by doing” rather than just write about it. For pretty complex reasons I started, as early as the late 1960’s, experimenting with the use of games to get students to actually make non-verbal choices and live with the consequences. They soon learned to theorize by adopting and testing strategies and then moved on to theorizing by adopting and testing their design of new games.

Since soon after finishing my Ph.D. at Michigan, I was hired as a consultant to the federally funded Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), I had the good fortune to meet Larry Heilprin, a physicist by training but a pioneer in the budding field of “information science.” Larry and I saw instantly the affinity between his thoughts about “information retrieval” and mine about “mass education.” We wrote a “challenge paper” for a conference to pursue these ideas. The key concept for me lies in the abstract’s sentence, “It is shown how information retrieval and education each have surmounted the same difficulty in the same way, by many-1 homomorphic transformations on messages which greatly reduce their word (or bit) content while preserving certain minimum invariants which identify the messages.” That was just a physicist’s way of saying what I was saying as an educator, striving to find a way of “encoding” a complex message into a reduction that a student could understand “while preserving certain minimum invariants” that the coded shortcut would “stand for.”

The simplest way to expand on this insight is my summary statement titled, “Games, Gods and Grades.”

In short, John Dewey was right when he expounded his Cycle of Reflective Thought in his 1910 book, How We Think. All thought begins with a genuine problem, but the solution to that problem causes more problems. Game players understand this whether they were successful in school or not.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

I cannot claim any credit whatsoever in the changes that have come about that make games acceptable as a subject of serious attention. What I can claim credit for is leaving behind a collection of talented former students and colleagues and an institutional entity that they can identify with called the Interactive Communications & Simulations (ICS) Program at the University of Michigan.  This group has decades of experience that can be called upon to question and inform the virtual onslaught of attention to “serious games.”

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Don’t try to find a job doing what you really want to do, especially if people think of you as “too far out.” Instead, find a job that will be challenging but will leave you the time and energy to pursue your dreams.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

The advent of communications technology and technology that allows you to “script” your own ideas (like FileMaker Pro) has made a major difference to me.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education? 


See my little essay on Games, Gods and Grades.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?


As to a “trend” that is “getting in the way of learning,” it is a continuation of the stranglehold that economics has had, and continues to have, on the purpose  of education. Logically, the only reason that automatically results in the possibility of a correlation between the number of years in school and the earning power of individuals is that some people “drop out” of school. If everyone finished high school, there would be no one to compare to high school graduates. If everyone finished college, there would be no one to compare to college graduates. Of course there is a functional reason that the more schooling you have, the more you can contribute to the economy and hence the more entitled you are to a higher rate of compensation. This makes it very clear that an overwhelming functional reason to get more education is to make more money.

But underlying this reasoning is the relationship between jobs and work. The assumption might be that most of the people who do not have jobs, do not have them because they cannot do the work or do not want to work. The reason that they cannot work at a job might be because they don’t have the knowledge or skill to do that kind of work. They might not want to work simply because they don’t want to work for the money available. Both these reasons are plausible. But what if there is work to be done and there are no jobs available? (Detroit is a good example of this. Buildings and streets are in dire need of work but jobs to repair them are few and far between.) And what if the logical consequence of automation is that jobs are not needed to do the work that used to be required? (Detroit’s automobile industry, despite its recent success, is an example of this phenomenon.)

These two questions are not hypothetical. They are serious questions facing us today. And they link back directly to the relationship between economics and education. If the primary purpose of schooling is thought about solely in terms of economics, both questions are “begged.” You stay in school to have a better chance at beating out others for the jobs that are available. I submit that many, many parents and many, many students buy into this argument. In today’s climate, any other argument sounds like “wishful thinking.”

Bernard Suits wrote a book about this. It is called THE GRASSHOPPER: GAMES, LIFE AND UTOPIA. I have used it in all my work with games since it first became available some 35 years ago. Suits’ thinking dramatizes games as central to education in a way that calls into question the strictly economic purpose of education. In a sense it is an old-fashioned argument trumpeted by those who claim value in the “liberal arts” as the primary purpose of education. It used to be totally erroneous to ask a professor of English, history, or any other of the liberal arts, “What is my son or daughter going to do with a degree in the liberal arts?” The answer I heard in my beginning years of teaching was, “That is a question that doesn’t even deserve an answer.” It is the totally wrong
question.

In essence, I think it is imperative to broaden questions about the purpose of schooling beyond its economic value.

About Fred Goodman

Professor Fred Goodman is a University of Michigan Professor of Education Emeritus now living in Westlake Village, California. He has specialized in the design of information systems, simulations and academic games for five decades.
He was, for example in the 1960′s, the chief consultant to the then U.S. Office of Education with responsibility for the design of the decentralized Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC). Starting in 1984, he led a program at the University of Michigan’s School of Education called the Interactive Communications & Simulations (ICS) program. For 25 years ICS has been connecting thousands of secondary students in schools throughout the world via computer-aided-communications to participate in term-long exercises like the Arab-Israeli Conflict simulation, the International Poetry Guild, a variety of Earth Odysseys (in which students interact with one another in response to actual trips to various parts of the world that have been taken by ICS-affiliated travelers) and a “character-playing forum” called Place Out Of Time (POOT) wherein students become characters from the past discussing current dilemmas. ICS was honored in 2000 as a Computerworld Smithsonian project.
He also has had major responsibility at the University of Michigan for the Master of Arts in Education with Teacher Certification Program (known as the “MAC Program”) designed to attract people into teaching from other careers and is the designer of a wide variety of academic games, some computerized, some not, on many subjects.
He is the author of several entries in American Educational Research Association (AERA) sponsored Handbooks and Encyclopedias on “Instructional Gaming” as well as numerous articles on the subject.

Birthplace: Broomall, Pennsylvania, USA
Current residence: Westlake Village, California
Education: Harvard B.A. and M.A.T, Univ. of Michigan Ph.D.
Person who inspires me most: John Dewey
Favorite childhood memory: Playing sports
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Ann Arbor, Michigan
When was the last time you laughed? Why?  An hour ago when my 5-year-old grandson insisted on playing himself at Tic-Tac-Toe.
Favorite RECENT book: Thinking the Twentieth Century, Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder

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