back to article Tech bosses talk kids' books! Could they show a glimmer of humanity? You only get one guess

A recent New York Times profile portrayed Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as the megacorp's human side – in contrast to reptilian boy emperor Mark Zuckerberg. While Zuck once chose to deny, quite categorically, being a lizard – "I'm gonna have to go with 'no' on that," he replied – Sandberg often plays the caring, human half of …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Two sets of rules then for child schooling

    This is expected perhaps. One set of rules for them and one for everyone else. Not surprising anyone is it?

  2. HCV

    the most coveted school in Silicon Valley is the Waldorf School of the Peninsular

    Golly, I really hope that isn't true, because Waldorf schools are kinda... messed up.

    Great salads, though, as long as you go light on the mayo.

    (Also: "Peninsular"?)

  3. #define INFINITY -1

    Oi! Had some good friends who went through the Waldorf system. Contradictory to corporate life, sure--but the alternative is a brick in the wall, aint it?

  4. wayne 8

    Dreams of a Child

    "Rosie lowered her voice to a whisper. 'And when I grow up,' she confided, 'I want to gather all the personal data in the world and sell it to advertisers.'"

    Good one.

  5. macjules Silver badge

    Re: Dreams of a Child

    .. and I never want to have to testify to a Senate committee about how I stole everyone’s details and sold it to the highest bidder.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A more relevant book comes to mind...

    "The Power of Propaganda" by a certain German author from the mid 1900's.

  7. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    What about 1984 ?

  8. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    I'd be awfully surprised if Aldous Huxley hadn't read "The Power of Propaganda" amongst many other similar texts of the period. Starting in the early 1900's there was pretty much an explosion of books exploring the topic of media used for political purposes.

  9. #define INFINITY -1

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    'Starting in the early 1900's' ... minus a few years.

    The Friend of the Free State....

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    What about Ayn Rand?

  11. Ken Shabby
    Black Helicopters

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    Charlotte's Web of Lies & Deceit

  12. Big John Silver badge

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    > "I'd be awfully surprised if Aldous Huxley hadn't read "The Power of Propaganda"..."

    Aren't all successful fiction writers really propagandists themselves? The only difference is that they freely admit what they are doing up front by calling it "fiction," which helps with the whole byline thing too.

  13. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    Other titles come to mind:

    The Little Golden Book of the Prince

    Whose Boat Is This Boat?

    The Art of War and Virtues

    Dick and Jane Play Corporate Tax Haven

    The Taking Tree

    The Very Hungover Catepillar

    Oh, the Shit You Don't Know!

    Sorry... got lost for a moment. It turns out there is a small industry of these parody books.

  14. jake Silver badge

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    James and the Giant Bottle of Peach Schnapps.

    (Standing joke at SAIL many moons ago. Jim never drank fruit booze again ...)

  15. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: A more relevant book comes to mind...

    Aren't all successful fiction writers really propagandists themselves?

    Sure, if you're a sophomoric thinker with no understanding of rhetoric.

    Noting that fiction, or any other use of language, is inherently an attempt at persuasion is nothing new. The best known modern, sustained explorations of that thesis are probably the work of Toulmin and of various rhetoric scholars of the Constructivist school; but the basic idea goes back to antiquity.

    Reducing it all to "propaganda", however, discards any useful distinction among applications of rhetoric and intentions of rhetors.

  16. Mage Silver badge
    Coat

    So ...

    Obviously they are all lizards and also have not grown up?

    Mine has an eReader in the pocket with all the children's & YA classics, such as E.Nesbit, George Macdonald, Lousia M. Alcott, Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, R.L. Stevenson. Also more adult ones; Wilkie Collins, J. Conrad, Austin, the various Brontë sisters and many others.

    Even Einstein allegedly said we need Fairy Stories. These people either don't actually read real fiction at all, or won't admit it.

    I've newer kids & YA books on paper, both ones read from age 10 to newest ones read when my Grandchildren are reading.

  17. ThatOne Bronze badge
    Headmaster

    Devil's advocate speaking

    Come on people, what do you expected those C-suites to say? They are allowed a PR stunt ("tell us more about The Real You"), and they obviously follow the instructions their PR manager has set up for them.

    They obviously won't answer "Machiavelli's The Prince", or "comic books"; On the other hand giving some well-known children's book titles would be a missed occasion, and they didn't become what they are by missing occasions. So they go for the surgical strike, with a clearly defined (and most importantly, unique) message which can be tied to them as an individual, defining trait.

    (My point, in case it was lost: That doesn't make them any nicer, it's just that their answers are not as strange as the article seems to believe.)

  18. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Re: Devil's advocate speaking

    On the other hand when the reply is so blatantly a lie (as in, book that didn't come out till they were in their 40s) it causes any reasonable person to think "If they'll even lie about books they read as kids, what won't they lie about?"

  19. #define INFINITY -1

    Re: Devil's advocate speaking

    The 'reasonable person' is not catered for by those concocting the responses.

  20. ThatOne Bronze badge
    Headmaster

    Re: Devil's advocate speaking

    > when the reply is so blatantly a lie

    They didn't really lie, they just never answered the actual question. They just ignored the question and named whatever seemed to best justify their actions, or sounded witty and/or clever (to them). It was just another PR exercise for them, a question like "if you were a color, what color would you be": You would never mention your true favorite color, you know there is only one right answer possible lest you want to pass for a sociopath... It's not a lie, it's basic career management.

    Disclaimer: I'm not related in any way or condoning any of the people mentioned in the article, I'm just trying to be just here. I'm usually the first to suspect and mistrust everything and everyone; But this isn't one of those cases. This is just a non-event blown up because the people involved are celebrities. (IMHO, YMMV, etc.)

  21. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Re: Devil's advocate speaking

    "They didn't really lie, they just never answered the actual question. They just ignored the question and named whatever seemed to best justify their actions"

    Just as bad, if not worse. Do you want to hand over large assets and other people's money to people who cannot be bothered to understand things and just parrot an agenda? Reality can be a harsh mistress.

    I can kind of understand not wanting to admit to having a childhood collection of My Little Pony annuals, or indeed the collected works of Ayn Rand lined up in order of tedium, but with their backgrounds surely they can do better than that?

  22. sabroni Silver badge

    Re: They didn't really lie, they just never answered the actual question.

    They were asked a question, the answer they gave was untrue, that's a lie.

    If when asked "How old are you?" I reply "10" I'm lying, even though that is the correct answer to the question "How many fingers do you have?". If I say "I have 10 fingers" then I'm not lying but it's clear I'm answering a different question.

    They just replied to the question without clearly stating they weren't answering it so they were lying.

  23. dshan

    Waldorf Salad Education

    It should come as no surprise that the Valley's elite prefer a school that bans or limits the very tech the parents make their money from, Silicon Valley is full of crazy beliefs — anit-vaxers, adherents of "organic water" and Ayn Rand for example. It's no surprise that they also believe without evidence that "too much screen time" is somehow damaging their kids (more than having reptilian overlords as parents?)

  24. Lars Silver badge
    Happy

    Re: Waldorf Salad Education

    "The first school based upon Steiner's ideas was opened in 1919 in response to a request by Emil Molt, the owner and managing director of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company in Stuttgart, Germany, to serve the children of employees of the factory.". (for free).

    Nothing elitist in that background, but if you put a high price on it and there are a limited number of school it will, no doubt, feel like that, but there is nothing against science and computers and so forth.

  25. jake Silver badge

    When I were a lad ...

    ... hampered by "the three Rs", we managed to create teh IntraWebTubes.

    Basic education does not require iFads/Fandroids. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and point out that the existence of such devices in the K-12 classroom is actually a distraction that takes away from learning the basics.

    Grade-school == "the three Rs", in my mind.

    I'll allow typing as "writing", *please* teach kids to type!

    But IT? Or programming? Only as electives in highschool. Not everyone is capable of that kind of career ... Let 'em figure out that they are interested in that kind of focused, job oriented myopia in college/uni ... kinda like veterinarians, geologists, engineers and psychologists.

    YES there are exceptions to the rule ... nurture the exceptional kids in given fields! Don't drag 'em back to the depths of the great-unwashed's lowest common denominator ... but don't expect the entire class to grok the concept of and/nand/or/xor gates, Not everybody is wired that way.

  26. Voyna i Mor Silver badge
    Boffin

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    Well, Jake, for once I'm going to disagree with you slightly. Reluctantly, because it happens so rarely.

    Back in the day the English élite school system taught Latin. There were historical reasons for it which aren't relevant here, but one benefit it had was that it introduced its little victims to the idea of structured thinking - grammar - and the idea that not everything is relative but some things are right and some are wrong. One of the things they would often learn is logic, because this was extensively written up by the Greeks and the Romans.

    Logic gates should be part of maths (they were part of O level maths in my day and helped get me a summer job in a mainframe department) but the mere concept is valuable. Many people can't argue logically because they don't even grasp the concepts of inclusive and exclusive OR.

    But computer science is in my view an extremely good Latin substitute. Get your syntax wrong and either things don't work or give unexpected results. You have to learn a grammar. You have to use dictionaries, even if we call them something different, like reference manuals. The difference is that when your work is done, instead of handing it to a beak who may cane you if you make mistakes, you can test it and see the results.

    Even html/css teaches some of the things that Latin did. Like grammar.

    I think every child should be taught at least one foreign language (I made sure all mine did and they have also all studied in non-English speaking countries), but just as Latin was once the language that helped you get on everywhere, so an understanding of what computers do and how software works is immensely useful for many careers. That isn't likely to change.

  27. jake Silver badge

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    "Get your syntax wrong and either things don't work or give unexpected results."

    English has similar issues, for similar reasons. It's a consequence of the fact that all human languages have illogical bits & bobs, usually for historical reasons. Thankfully. Without them puns would be impossible, and how dreadful would that be?

    To address your concerns, perhaps we should specifically teach the meaning of "or". Shouldn't take more than an afternoon at roughly age 6. Shirley that would save a lot of money, and save a lot of time for important things ... like Critical Thinking. Neither of which require the use of computers.

  28. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    "It's a consequence of the fact that all human languages have illogical bits & bobs, usually for historical reasons."

    That argument was how I kind-of reconciled myself to Python.

    In passing, I'd take your point and say it supports my thesis. If you are a native English speaker, you speak a language which has no regular structure worth speaking of, very little grammar and which, like Python, depends too much on page layout. Learning a regular language like Latin, German or Russian is a valuable introduction to the concept of structure.

    Umberto Eco wrote a book about the search for the perfect artificial human language in which he describes the attempts to structure languages almost like early computer programs. All have failed. The trick to bring off is to know when to stop trying to be regular and when to admit reality is a mess.

  29. Lars Silver badge
    Happy

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    "Back in the day the English élite school system taught Latin.".

    It was the same in other European countries too, and the reason in one word is "Europe".

    Perhaps England is a bit more of a museum in that respect. Incidentally I would never send a kid to a only same gender school.

  30. jake Silver badge

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    However, when you distill it down to basics, English is still a very precise language, when used precisely. It is just as easy to convey logic in English as it is in Latin, Russian, German & etc. In theory, we are already teaching the kids English, right? Shirley it's not all that much of a stretch to teach them to use it logically and precisely when warranted? Adding in computers only confuses the issue ... which is teaching logical thinking, not computing.

    As for admitting reality is a mess ... Ain't nowt daft as t'English Language ... thankfully. When you think about it, this place would be awfully boring if we all spoke^Wtyped the same dialect and with the same slang. English is a garbage dump of a language, and one I love dearly.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "benefit it had was that it introduced its little victims to the idea of structured thinking"

    Evidently you never studied Latin - moreover it was taught in countries where languages have the same structured grammar far more complex than English. Latin was taught because it was Latin, the language of the Roman Empire and the Church, thus the language of the Law, and of those who count. A way to keep the serf distant. It was OK when it was a lingua franca for ideas exchange (but under the Roman Empire it was Greek....) - later it became just a flag some people need to wave to show they were highly "educated" - since learning Latin is far, far, far easier than learning mathematics - or philosophy.

  32. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    "EIt was the same in other European countries too, and the reason in one word is "Europe".

    Perhaps England is a bit more of a museum in that respect. Incidentally I would never send a kid to a only same gender school."

    In fact the reason is the Holy Roman Catholic Church, not "Europe".

    On your last paragraph, I agree that England is about to turn into a museum.

  33. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    Re: "benefit it had was that it introduced its little victims to the idea of structured thinking"

    "since learning Latin is far, far, far easier than learning mathematics - or philosophy."

    Some sort of citation for that is needed.

    As it's evident I never learned Latin - presumably the poor syntactic structure of my posts gives it away - I am obviously unqualified to comment to your mind; but my own view is that it depends what you mean by "learning Latin".

    If you just mean learning the basic grammar and a small vocabulary, that is in no way equivalent to learning mathematics - but it is roughly equivalent to learning simple arithmetic.

    However, when pupils get on to the more complex stuff, prosody, verse, metre, and the system of ideas that informed the Latin speaking élite, it gets rather more complicated. There's quite a long way from "the ramparts of the enemy are long" (cf Molesworth and the Shorter Eating Primer) to "Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris Italiam fato profugus Lavinaqe venit littora", just as there's quite a long way from Janet and John to A Dance to the Music of Time.

    As for philosophy, though, one of the reasons it's difficult is that most of the earlier authors didn't have a scientific framework and our understanding of linguistics, so in some ways it's like alchemy. Which they tend not to teach in chemistry courses nowadays, for some reason.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Some sort of citation for that is needed."

    I had to learn Latin, studied it for eight years, as it was still compulsory in the school I attended. I became quite proficient as my grandfather was also a teacher, and my father's teacher a renowned Latinist (who also won the Certamen Hoeufftianum), and I could easily go beyond pure school exercises. So I really have nothing against Latin itself (or ancient Greek or Sanskrit, etc. etc.). But I fail to understand the aura built around it - sure, once it was the language of the ruling class, but now?

    Despite what people think, learning Latin, with all its grammars and inherent exceptions, it's fairly easy - maybe a little more complex for English speakers - especially now they think they don't need to learn any foreign language - but far easier for others (i.e. Italians or Germans...)

    It's a set of rule, and you apply them - you just need to memorize them. They are fixed in stone now (being a dead language) and never change. It takes some effort just any other language, but it's not rocket science. Being an old language is great to understand and study previous and following ones, but it's still a matter of languages.

    You are not required to solve any difficult enigma - as in any other language, you study how others write, and imitate them. Sure, you can become a better or worse speaker/writer, but even mistakes will still make you intelligible.

    Mathematics, on the other hand, it's not just memorizing - here is where real thinking skills come into play, especially when you need to find yourself a path to solve a problem - and there's only one right "solution" - although there could be different paths, some more "elegant" than others, and any mistake will hinder you to achieve it.

    I'll never thank my high school math teacher enough, because she taught us how to solve problems using logic, instead of just handing out lengthy repetitive calculations exercises. Unlike the previous one.

    Philosophy too needs to use reasoning, and while unlike mathematics there could be "different solutions", still it requires a bigger logic effort than Latin. My philosophy teacher too encouraged "confutationes" - as long as they were well thought and built (not like internet "deniers"...)

    Something you can't really do in Latin - those are the rules and you can only apply them, maybe with some poetic exceptions if you feel like Catullus, because your Lesbia is hurting your feelings (but good luck with the metre...) - but you can't really apply any reasoning to them.

    Showing you don't really need an old language to learn thinking skills.

    That's why politicians may know Latin, but very rarely they will be very well versed in mathematics, or even philosophy.... and usually are only proficient in the twisted logic of rhetoric.... which was mainstay of Latin education...

  35. Lars Silver badge
    Happy

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    @Voyna i Mor

    Let's agree, but you used four words against my one word, and it's an interesting topic.

    One interesting question is this - "why did the industrial revolution start in Europe".

    More than one thousand years ago our friends around Baghdad were far ahead of us in mathematics and science in its various forms. But then a priest stepped in and progress stopped.

    Then about 500 years ago a chap, Martin Luther, broke the power of the Catholic Church in Northern Europe and what we call the Age of Enlightenment become possible*.

    The priests started to preach in their native tongue but teaching Latin in schools did not end.

    As the good programmer I think I was and good at copy/past as you have to be, here is some regarding Latin.

    "Latin was originally spoken in the area surrounding Rome, known as Latium.[4] Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the dominant language, initially in Italy and subsequently throughout the western Roman Empire. Vulgar Latin developed into the Romance languages, such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Romanian. Latin, Greek, and French have contributed many words to the English language. In particular, Latin and Ancient Greek roots are used in theology, biology, science, medicine, and law.".

    While I did not attend a "Latin" school I had my fair share of phrases in Latin as it's part of our European heritage.

    And my favourite is - Ceterum censeo Brexit esse delendam.

    *according to Bertrand Russell

  36. veti Silver badge

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    Arab scholarship stalled, not so much because "a priest stepped in" as because the Caliphate disintegrated into many independent, contentious kingdoms. Great science goes hand in hand with great empires. Disunity always slows learning.

    And the industrial revolution didn't start in Europe, it started in England. Largely because the English common law tradition fostered the attitude that pragmatism should always trump ideology. Sadly, too many British people today have forgotten - or never learned, or understood, or internalised - that rule.

  37. Lars Silver badge
    Happy

    Re: When I were a lad ...

    Oh dear, oh dear Veti,

    Is it shocking to you that England is a product of Europe, people, language, religion, culture and geography.

    I have not claimed the industrial revolution did not start in England, nor will I, but it's the result of a chain of events that started in Europe. And one of those highly important events was to take the church out of science. It's not quite like that today but you might recall how hard it was, even lethal, to claim the earth was not the centre of the universe.

    As for the "priest", his was Imam Hamid al-Ghazali.

    This might help.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wp6cnp1kZBY

  38. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Short version

    They're all full of bullshit

  39. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Coat

    Bill Gates

    Was around 22 years old when this book was published (in Japanese) and it would be another 16 years before it was first published in English. So if Bill Gates were to be asked what book inspired him...

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everyone_Poops

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    l33t schools, viva Brexit!

    there was an enchanting feature of the EU government - used to be easy to find, but I couldn't this time. anyone knows? link?

    There is network of schools, each in a different EU capital. Children of EU government employees able to easily move from one to another of these schools, as they have the same classes, etc., not the local national curricula. Only a small percentage of "locals" were allowed to be enrolled.

    Think about this.

    Papa (or Mama, or both) work for the EU government. Sames as the parents of all my classmates. Some of them high ranking. I grow up among these peers. Tomorrow, I start my career in EUcracy, business, whatever. I have all these friends all over the place already.

    Think about this.

    This is breeding (at EU taxpayer expense) a tight network of second-generation powerful upper class twits Ladies and Gentlemen, separate from the rest. One set of rules for them, another for us.

    A (shudder!) New Nobility. All nationalities represented.

    Except, ha!, Britons.

    BTW, El Reg could do worse than making an expose on this.

    (Waldorf? a joke, compared) (a.c.for no want no trouble with mylord and mylady)

  41. MonkeyCee Silver badge

    Re: l33t schools, viva Brexit!

    "Children of EU government employees able to easily move from one to another of these schools, as they have the same classes, etc., not the local national curricula."

    Isn't that the IB program? The idea being that you can get shifted at short notice and be able to carry on your schooling in a different country.

    Since they (and other specialist schools, like the NATO ones who teach in English) are available to the locals too, I'm not sure there is whole class issue, any more so than the fee paying school system already enables that.

    If you want to join the EU technocrats, then you'll meet more like minded people when you do your bachelors in European Studies than in your high school.

    "El Reg could do worse than making an expose on this."

    Probably more the gruinard's style, since getting your kids into a nice school seems the pre-occupation of the UK middle classes. My kid is Dutch, so I don;t really have to worry about bad schools in the same way.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: l33t schools, viva Brexit!

    No, not IB, it was a specific EU Commission scheme for their employees, local kids admitted only if necessary to make up a minimum number of students per class. It used to be you could find all the regulations online. It could be they killed the project, or that, wisely, it's no longer in your face.

  43. SVV Silver badge

    Great Children's authors

    I used to love all those books by Biggles about Capt W E Johns.

    Must just add here that the worthy self promoting answers that they all gave that didn't answer the actual question asked are the most Silicon Valley thing ever, and rather than condemning them to the ridicule they so richly deserve, will undoubtedly receive much praise from the similarly mush brained narcissistic self actualizing smug leaders of the tech world in California.

  44. LDS Silver badge

    It looks it's more "Do what they do, not what they tell you you should do"...

    Because they act in a very different way than what they say you should act. Like Zuck taping his laptop camera, and buying all the properties around him, to ensure his privacy.

    I'm not surprised they are well aware of the risks of excessive dependency on electronics - after all they have well funded studies about how to make people more dependent on it turning them in zombies to make money from.

    And frankly, we don't need only "coders" - btw what's wrong with "programmers" or "developers"? Do they hint at more independent people. while "coder" look to hint at someone who just write code without thinking?

  45. DropBear Silver badge

    There's a "small" problem here...

    ...the people in question were asked to help assemble a "box of books" for children, and their answers reflect that; they never said they read whatever they picked as kids:

    "Ewing says she kept her brief fairly open: She asked these people to identify children’s books that inspired them. Some of them chose books from their own childhood, but others chose books that they had read to their own children–thereby passing on their love of reading to the next generation–or books that they had recently stumbled upon."

  46. MonkeyCee Silver badge

    Since the C suite are bullshitters....

    Which are the books that inspired you most as a kid?

    I propose three categories, under 10s, young adult and adult, since I expect many of us were reading a few years ahead of our age.

    Astrix/Tintin, Northern Lights (first two anyway) and Dune.

  47. strum Silver badge

    The Beano.

  48. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Article

    In fairness to the NY Times, it has recently run several articles that--at least at a quick skim--seem to take a cooler look at Ms. Sandberg than she used to get. Whether the one referenced in the column did so, I don't recall.

  49. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    And actually

    Fast does write that

    "Some of them chose books from their own childhood, but others chose books that they had read to their own children–thereby passing on their love of reading to the next generation–or books that they had recently stumbled upon. "

    (My italics.)

    That strikes me as not unreasonable, though I might not hire any of them to run or stock a children's library.

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