Incomplete Books

Title: Black Box Thinking

Author: Matthew Syed


In 2013 a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety8 put the number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm at more than 400,000 per year. (Categories of avoidable harm include misdiagnosis, dispensing the wrong drugs, injuring the patient during surgery, operating on the wrong part of the body, improper transfusions, falls, burns, pressure ulcers, and postoperative complications.) Testifying to a Senate hearing in the summer of 2014, Peter J. Pronovost, MD, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the most respected clinicians in the world, pointed out that this is the equivalent of two jumbo jets falling out of the sky every twenty-four hours.

Failure is rich in learning opportunities for a simple reason: in many of its guises, it represents a violation of expectation.6 It is showing us that the world is in some sense different from the way we imagined it to be.

The cost of medical error has been conservatively estimated at more than $17 billion in the United States alone.7 As of March 2015 the NHS Litigation Authority in the UK had set aside £26.1 billion to cover outstanding negligence liabilities. Learning from mistakes is not a drain on resources; it is the most effective way of safeguarding resources—and lives.*

In effect, practice is about harnessing the benefits of learning from failure while reducing its cost. It is better to fail in practice in preparation for the big stage than on the big stage itself.

Title: Shop Class as Soulcraft

Author: Matthew B. Crawford


In schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.

“We have a generation of students that can answer questions on standardized tests, know factoids, but they can’t do anything,” according to Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association.

A washing machine, for example, surely exists to serve our needs, but in contending with one that is broken, you have to ask what it needs. At such a moment, technology is no longer a means by which our mastery of the world is extended, but an affront to our usual self-absorption.

The repairman has to begin each job by getting outside his own head and noticing things; he has to look carefully and listen to the ailing machine.

The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new.8 The craftsman is then more possessive, more tied to what is present, the dead incarnation of past labor; the consumer is more free, more imaginative, and so more valorous according to those who would sell us things.

parents don’t want their children to become plumbers. Yet that filthy plumber under the sink might be charging somebody eighty dollars an hour. This fact ought, at least, to induce an experience of cognitive dissonance in the parent who regards his child as smart and wants him to become a knowledge worker. If he accepts the basic premise of a knowledge economy that someone being paid a lot of money must know something, he may begin to wonder what is really going on under that sink, and entertain a suspicion against the widely accepted dichotomy of knowledge work versus manual work.

some diagnostic situations contain so many variables, and symptoms can be so under-determining of causes, that explicit analytical reasoning comes up short. What is required then is the kind of judgment that arises only from experience; hunches rather than rules.

Given the intrinsic richness of manual work—cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal—the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education. The economic rationale so often offered, namely, that manual work is somehow going to disappear, is questionable if not preposterous,

These seem to be the categories that inform the educational landscape even now, and this entails two big errors. First, it assumes that all blue-collar work is as mindless as assembly line work, and second, that white-collar work is still recognizably mental in character. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the new frontier of capitalism lies in doing to office work what was previously done to factory work: draining it of its cognitive elements. Paradoxically, educators who would steer students toward cognitively rich work might do this best by rehabilitating the manual trades, based on a firmer grasp of what such work is really like. This would take courage. Any high school principal who doesn’t claim as his goal “one hundred percent college attendance” is likely to be accused of harboring “low expectations” and run out of town by indignant parents.

Title: Play Anything

Author: Ian Bogost


Play, generalized, is the operation of structures constrained by limitations.

kids find joy until we beat it out of them through routine.

Play isn’t doing what we want, but doing what we can with the materials we find along the way. And fun isn’t the experience of pleasure, but the outcome of tinkering with a small part of the world in a surprising way.