Stuck at home, missing school? Why not sample a futuristic curriculum, free and open source?
The School of Tomorrow is named, somewhat tongue in cheek, for the House of Tomorrow, a movie and book about a teenager being raised by his grandma to be the next Buckminster Fuller. They live in a dome (of course). So what would the curriculum look like? Local futurist Kirby Urner thinks he has some answers.
“I like using retro futurism, science fiction from the past, to get us thinking about our own future” says Urner. “I’m a big fan of the Youtube channel Defunctland, because it reminds us that, even though big dreams don’t always pan out — such as Disney’s America — we still need to dream big.”
Mr. Urner was featured as a futurist in the Oregonian Metro section some years back, predicting a bright tomorrow for his curriculum ideas. He has since worked, off and on, with Saturday Academy, Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, and Coding with Kids, which have helped him field test his ideas. Flextegrity Inc. has been helping out with these latest pilots, by providing ample supplies of C6XTY, a high tech construction material named in part for buckminsterfullerene, a naturally occurring form of carbon.
The curriculum features a combination of coding and geometric visualization. Anyone planning a career in sculpture or 3D animation, architecture or engineering, could stand to gain big time from two hallmark Bucky Fuller concepts, the “concentric hierarchy of polyhedrons” and, even more of a mouthful, the “isotropic vector matrix”. True, Buckminster Fuller (or “Bucky” as he liked to be called) is best known for the geodesic dome. Behind the dome, however, was an entire two volume philosophy called Synergetics and Synergetics 2, both goldmines of ideas, many still unexplored.
“People think Fuller is hard to read” says Urner, who studied philosophy at Princeton with some of the best, “but so is Heidegger, so are a lot of writers, yet what Fuller was attempting was to stick mostly with prose, while communicating some detailed mathematical ideas, thereby countering the language barrier that keeps some students from appreciating their full cultural heritage.” Bridging the C.P. Snow chasm, the cultural divide, between the humanities and STEM, was Fuller’s avowed goal in inventing a new language (and set of disciplines) in collaboration with E.J. Applewhite and with a preface by MIT crystallographer Dr. Arthur Loeb.
For example, the “concentric hierarchy of polyhedrons” refers to a basket of nested shapes, interwoven, with lots of wholesome whole number volumes, easy to remember. The “isotropic vector matrix” (or IVM for short) is a lot like the XYZ scaffolding, which students do learn about, and may get stuck on right angles.
“Alexander Graham Bell was into the same thing” Urner reminds his students, referring to Bell’s famous “kite” constructions, reminiscent of Sam Lanahan’s Flextegrity space frames. The IVM goes by various name depending on the branch of science (CCP here, FCC there).
“For Bucky, overcoming overspecialization meant inventing a new vocabulary” says Urner, “that’s just what philosophers do a lot of the time, they repurpose existing terms or invent new ones.”
“The prevailing schoolish orthodoxy is staunchly rectilinear” Urner explains, “whereas my job is to show how the American writers, the transcendentalists in particular, thanks to their love of nature, have looked beyond the right angle”. He cites M.C. Escher (Canadian) and D’Arcy Thompson (British) as precursors and fellow travelers both inside and outside the American corpus.
In the Buckminster Fuller curriculum, the cube, all right angles, has been booted from center stage in many dimensions, and replaced with the less familiar, yet simpler shape known as the tetrahedron. The vocabulary of nested polyhedrons starts from there.
The tetrahedron is treated as an alternative unit of volume.
The corresponding cube has a volume of three tetravolumes.
The space-filling rhombic dodecahedron, a favorite of Kepler’s, has a volume of six.
“I’ve shared this with preschool students, pouring rice or beans from volume to volume, shape to shape, and they get it” says Kirby. Most of his work averages around a high school level.
Urner has field tested his curriculum at Reed College, Portland State, and University of Portland, thanks to Saturday Academy. His audience tends to be middle to high school aged. “I call it Martian Math, and tie it in with science fiction — because in so many ways, we’re doing literature, not just computer programming.”
“If you haven’t studied the Bucky stuff, you can’t really know recent American history” Kirby asserts, although he expects some teachers to challenge that assertion, even in 2020 when some of Fuller’s ideas about a universal basic income are more relevant than ever.
Where might you find these materials online? How about on Github, the center of everything free and open source in today’s matrix.