Make the World a Better Place:
Design with Passion, Purpose, and Values
Robert B. Kozma, Ph.D.
I am an Emeritus Principal Scientist at SRI International and former professor and research scientist at the University of Michigan, at the end of a fifty-five-year career in education, research, and international consulting.
The writing of this book was a three-year personal journey that drew on my own passion at seeing the world in the state it is and on the conviction that we can do better. The book builds on my personal experiences, my career, my own research, and that of many others, but most of all my Dad's admonition when I was a young man that I should leave the world in a better place than I found it. This book is dedicated to him and to that challenge.
I grew up in a working-class suburb of Detroit and benefitted from post-World War II economic growth, particularly in the auto industry. During my youth, my father advanced from the factory floor to a management job that moved us to the middle class. I was the first in our family to go to college. In 1968, I received my B.A. in political science at the University of Michigan, having worked on the factory floor in the summers to pay for my education. Our family owned a house and a car. We realized the American dream.
However, I soon learned that this dream was not available to many. I became a public-school math teacher in the inner-city of Detroit, through an experimental program that turned B.A. generalists into teachers, and lived in a majority-Black neighborhood. Ninety-five percent of my students were African American and most were poor. They lived in neighborhoods where factories were shuttered, where stores and homes were boarded up. Fortunately, I taught in an experimental, federally-funded program that was designed for success. My students were excited to learn and proud of their accomplishments. Their excitement inspired me.
I went on to finish a Ph.D. and returned to Ann Arbor to become a research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and a professor at the School of Education, where I taught graduate courses on design. While at Michigan, I took a sabbatical at the Center for Design of Educational Computing in the Humanities at Carnegie Mellon University, where I studied with Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon.
It was an exciting time in technology, as computers transitioned from mainframes to personal computers and schools led the way in their adoption. In 1984, I started a small company that designed educational software for the new Macintosh computer. Swept up in the personal computer revolution, I moved to Silicon Valley and SRI International, a world-class high-tech R&D institution, where I led multi-disciplinary teams to design advanced technological systems. During my academic career, I published more than 75 book chapters and research articles, which appeared in major research journals.
In 2002, I left SRI to do independent consulting on technology-based educational reform policies that would prepare students for the 21st century knowledge economy and information society. My principal clients were Intel, Microsoft, UNESCO, and the ministries of education in a range of countries that included Singapore, Thailand, Jordan, Chile, and Norway. My wife and I did pro-bono work in rural villages in east Africa. And I’ve traveled to over 70 countries, around the world.
I draw on this deep well of experience to write this book.
The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.