Makerspaces in Education and DARPA

Makerspaces in Education and DARPA

Recently, Mitch Altman announced publicly that he’s not participating in Maker Faire this year because MAKE received a DARPA award for education.  I have talked to Mitch and shared in detail our proposed work. I have listened to him express his concerns about the DARPA award. I don’t agree with Mitch, but I respect his opinion. I believe that Mitch’s public statements do not fairly characterize the program and have caused confusion about DARPA’s role. I’d like to explain what we’re doing and why.

In 2011, Saul Griffith and I, representing Otherlab and O’Reilly Media’s MAKE division, respectively, learned that DARPA selected our MENTOR proposal to bring the practices of making into education and extend the maker movement into schools. The new tools and methods of collaboration that are shared within the maker community need to be brought to schools, and it was going to take a major effort to make this happen. Our program would encourage schools to engage more kids in making by creating makerspaces and providing access to these tools for student projects, and use Maker Faire to showcase more work from students. We announced the program early in 2012 on

The DARPA award challenges us to establish the practices of making in high schools, reaching 1000 schools over four years.  (Those schools need not be limited to the United States.) By creating makerspaces in an educational context, students can have access to tools and equipment that they might not have otherwise; they can collaborate on projects that are driven by their own interests, and by doing so, develop the capacity and confidence to innovate.  We see making as a gateway to deeper engagement in science and engineering but also art and design.

Here are the major areas of work we have under development as part of the Makerspace program:

1) Work with engineering and science educators to develop teacher’s guides for MAKE projects that will help educators integrate making into their own curriculum.   All materials that we develop under the program will be made available for free under a Creative Commons license.

2) Develop modular specifications for low-cost makerspaces in educational settings.  We want to encourage schools to establish makerspaces, so we are providing some basic guidelines on the costs of getting started. You can find a draft of these specifications on

3) Write an overall guide to teaching the practices of making for educators, mentors, and others who help coach students to become makers. This is similar to the guide we’ve written for the Young Makers program.  (see

4) Build a collaborative online platform that can be used by teachers and students to select projects, monitor progress, and generate student documentation for the work.   This platform will allow students to work beyond their own classroom with other students and mentors.

5) Integrate new design tools for CAD and CAM that help students become familiar with 3D design and personal fabrication.

6) Prototype a low-cost, open-source CNC machine that can be affordable for schools to use.

7) Over three years, build a network of up to 1000 participating high schools.

8) Showcase the work of students at Maker Faires and bring students together to meet each other and other makers in the community.

All the software we develop as part of the program will be made open source. All material developed for the program will be made available online under Creative Commons. Neither DARPA nor O’Reilly is placing any claim on student work.

Saul Griffith of Otherlab, our partner in Makerspace, wrote the following summary:

The Makerspace program aims to build literacy in design, science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, by combining what O’Reilly Media, MAKE magazine, and Otherlab have learned about the maker community.  We wish to do this with as much engagement as possible with the broader maker community to leverage the fantastic energy and talents of everyone doing beautiful things.

Our emphasis will be threefold:

1) Self-directed learning (building your own project as a better motivator to engage in engineering).
2) Lower the cost of building and realizing dream projects through lower cost tools (software and hardware.)
3) Making making more social and engaging.

Creating models for makerspaces at schools is the heart of our approach. In some of our pilot work, we are seeing that having a place to make things creates new opportunities. We are re-thinking the shop class and re-inventing the computer lab, and combining both of them. The makerspace should be like a library, available for use by anyone in the school to make things for a variety of purposes.

Insight into DARPA

We were motivated to apply for the DARPA grant by the following statement that was part of the MENTOR program: “One of the biggest challenges we face as a nation is the decline in our ability to make things,” Dr. Regina Dugan, then Director of DARPA. The MENTOR (Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach) program, we believe, gives us a framework to develop educational materials for high schools and to promote the practice of making inside of school.

I can’t speak for DARPA, but if you want more insight into their rationale for funding, you can find a talk by former Director, Dr. Regina Dugan, on this page:

This video also points out that DARPA has relationships with lots of organizations including many top universities. The article opens with: “The connection between MIT and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) over the decades has been a strong one.” MIT has been known to produce more than a few hackers. MIT also produces engineers who work in a variety of fields, including the military. This is true of every university that trains scientists and engineers in the US.


I have been following the conversations on Facebook, Slashdot, and Twitter. I am troubled by speculations that others might accept on face value.

  • All software we develop under the DARPA program will be available as open source. That’s a DARPA requirement and we’re glad that they have it. This also applies to content and other materials that we develop for the program.
  • Student work is not owned by DARPA. Any assertion that DARPA is providing funding to access student work or its intellectual property is just not true. DARPA does not have any claim on student work. Our program encourages students to *make* and share. It is up to the students and educators what to build. We are building infrastructure for project sharing, which we believe engages more students in the process of making.
  • We had the military participate at Maker Faire in Detroit, representing TARDEC, one of the area’s largest employers. (RDECOM, the Army’s research and development group, employs something like 30,000 civilian scientists and engineers worldwide.) We published a story, Code 72, on the makers who work at the Detroit facility.
  • We’ve engaged with NASA, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies. More importantly, we’ve supported others in education who are seeking funding from these agencies to develop programs or research about making. If you want to work in education, you need to work in the government.
  • We are one of several groups to receive funding under the MENTOR program. Our funding is up for review and renewal each year. DARPA has been a good partner that understands the long-term benefits of this kind of work.
  • DARPA funding is only part of the picture of what we are doing in education. I am working to set up a non-profit that will raise funds for promoting making in lots of community contexts, both in school and out. Already, we have almost a year’s experience with a program such as Project Make at a local high school. We are in the third year of the Young Maker’s program, which supports kids building projects to bring to Maker Faire.

MAKE magazine and Maker Faire have helped establish a worldwide community of good will. This maker community has created amazing new opportunities for lots of people to develop their potential as creators, builders, and innovators. I’m proud of that, but I’m also disturbed by who is not in that community. I believe that one of the reasons for such inequity is our education system, which is broken in so many ways. My work in education is predicated on the idea that exposing more kids to making will create more makers and those kids will have better lives as a result. We can reach more young people through our school system than we can otherwise. I also believe that we have teachers in education who already value making and are already introducing the practices of making. I’ve heard from many of them and I know they need our support. They want to work together with the maker community to bring about change in education. I know it’s a difficult challenge, but I am personally dedicated to making it happen.

By helping young people develop the ability to make new things and inviting them to become makers, we connect them to a global community of experts and amateurs. I hope many of them will choose to be scientists and engineers but I hope that they do so because they have discovered that this is what they love doing. I hope that they come to understand how to use these abilities to tackle important problems and find creative solutions that benefits all of us. The goals of Make and DARPA align in this instance because we have a mutual interest in seeing a more diverse pool of young people become scientists, engineers, programmers.

For me, the DARPA funding signifies that a revitalized manufacturing capacity is a national priority, and fostering interest among young people in making things is how we can take concrete steps to address that issue. Makerspace is not a DARPA program; it is a program that DARPA helped with their funding, which ultimately comes from the US taxpayer. Our Makerspace program is designed to learn from what we see happening in the maker community and work closely with the intersection of the communities of makers and educators to spread these ideas, technologies, and innovation more broadly across our country and the world.

153 thoughts on “Makerspaces in Education and DARPA

  1. albill says:

    This doesn’t really address the concerns that Mitch raises, which you don’t even directly cite.

    Many of us are concerned with connections being made between the Department of Defense (aka “The Military”) and the rather grassroots maker and hacker movement, especially in the context of our children.

    I’m all for improving education. That’s why we have a federal department for that (and it isn’t the Department of Defense). I would think we should look there for aid in improving our educational programs and keep the military out of the making and hacking movement.

    Yes, I know “DARPA invented the Internet!!!” and lots of other neat things. That said, at the end of the day, it is still a military organization serving the ends of the US military. Even the MENTOR program’s own abstract states:

    “The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has embarked on a series of programs aimed at revolutionizing the way defense systems and vehicles are made. Titled Adaptive Vehicle Make, the portfolio has three principal objectives: to dramatically compress development times for complex defense systems such as military air and ground vehicles, to shift the product value chain for such systems toward high-value-added design activities, and to democratize the innovation process. The Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach (MENTOR) effort is part of the Adaptive Vehicle Make program portfolio and is aimed at engaging high school students in a series of collaborative distributed manufacturing and design experiments. The overarching objective of MENTOR is to develop and motivate a next generation cadre of system designers and manufacturing innovators, and to ensure that high school-age youths are exposed to the principles of modern prize-based design and foundry-style digital manufacturing. “

    1. Jake Spurlock says:

      While you do draw attention to one of the three facets of DARPA’s mission, I think that this is the more important thing to think about: and to democratize the innovation process. That is what MAKE is all about, and why I think that the two organizations can stand on similar ground.

      1. albill says:

        To democratize it for the ends of the Military. DARPA is not a civilian project. We don’t need military money invading our hackerspaces or our schools as part of DARPA’s fight to appear relevant or to legitimize them. They can go build their own maker movement instead of coopting ours.

      2. rileyporter says:


        I usually do not “argue” or respond to comments like on these on the internet because its a waste of my time and yours. I am not going to change your mind and vise versa. That being said I feel like your attacks on Dale’s honorable attempt to bring makers facilities, culture and mindsets to our children’s education system appalling. I DO NOT work for DARPA or Dale.

        “They [DARPA] can go build their own maker movement instead of coopting ours.” I think implying ownership of the maker movement to any one org. person. or idea
        to be mildly insulting. I think labeling the whole maker movement along the lines of
        anti-establishment ideals also to be troubling. If I interpreted your comments incorrectly let me know.
        I am a maker, hacker, father. It’s a way of life for my family. I also served in the military and learned new “maker” skills in doing so. Let me be clear, just because I am a veteran does not mean that I think everything the DoD does is a great idea!
        In fact most of the time it’s not IMO.. However, this [DARPA FUNDING] is a very good idea.

        What’s in it for DARPA? Perhaps some of the people they inspire will come with for the DoD as engineers. Perhaps it will inspire kids to be engineers in the civilian sector. Win win.

        Bottom line is in our country our education system is failing. Programs like wood/auto shop programs in our schools are being cancelled (or have been cancelled!). “Research” or “experimental” programs like hacker/maker spaces in our schools is a near impossibility. Obviously, something needs to change
        in the system. However this is really not what this discussion is about.

        If one kid gets inspiration (learns to hack, becomes an engineer, etc) from one of these DARPA funded dollars then it has been a success.

        abill, I respect your opinion. My reply was more so on a personal level as I feel very strongly about the issues I have discussed.


  2. Eric Sully says:

    Personally, I am excited about the news. I’d certainly like to read Mitch’s statements as to why he is against this program, but more importantly I want to know how do I get myself and my school involved. I am a JH & HS Physical Sciences teacher and there is a strong interest for programs like this both at my school and amongst the students. Please be sure to keep us posted.

    1. Michelle "Binka" Hlubinka says:

      HI Eric, Thanks for your interest! There’s a “Get Involved” widget on the site you can use to sign up.

  3. Dennis Ray Wingo says:

    A most excellent effort. DARPA understands that we need makers in our society and you guys are amazing at it!

    Any conspiracy theories need to be left at home.

    (Yes I do contract work for DARPA on occasion)

  4. Darian Lewis says:

    I have to agree with Mitch on this one that the end goal does not justify the means. DARPA is not a maker-friendly organization, in fact quite the opposite, and they will use any technology they see for whatever nefarious purposes they might envision – whether that is the initial stated intent or not. Given the disparate goals of both organizations, any dealings with DARPA will not result in a pro-maker experience in the end. Citing STEM as a goal meets their own end goals of more people to play the network war games they don’t yet have the talent in which to compete.

    “DARPA’s mission is to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research bridging the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use.” (

    Citing that DARPA is involved with universities also does not support your goals. Many DARPA (military) projects are funding college research and that is not a good thing at all; it’s a game of money with universities.

    The point being made by the maker community is simple – they don’t see DARPA involvement as a good thing. You can continue to have this relationship and have people stop supporting you or listen to your community. In the end, whether you’re right or wrong won’t matter if you lose the people who don’t continue to support your goals because of the company you keep. If you find you can’t meet your goals without that support then it may be a matter of realistic goal setting.

    Just my opinion on the topic, FWIW.

    1. zerth says:

      If DARPA offers you money to do something that you were going to do anyway, you should take it. If you don’t, they’ll just spend the money on other projects that you will really regret.

  5. tony says:

    Mitch is right.
    Do not take this money.

  6. Xaq Circle A Fixx says:

    I am less kind and perhaps less reasonable than allbill. Like Mitch and others I am deeply disappointed in Make’s relationship with DARPA. I do agree that DARPA (and it’s predecessor ARPA) has sponsored some really cool projects: The internet, DARPA Grand Challenge, advancements in field medicine, etc. What I oppose is what they are doing it for. Let’s be clear, DARPA is the DOD, they are a massive part of the military industrial complex, their goal is to kill or disable as many of their enemies and their enemies resources as possible. Remember, those enemies are not always foreign, nor do they always realize that they are anyone’s enemy.
    Bringing kids into the military industrial complex is sickening, but this is exactly what you are supporting.

    Makerspaces and hackerspaces are great, they offer better education than the failed Dept. of Education supported schools without top down government control and ideally are funded entirely voluntarily. Do not taint this with DARPA blood money.

    1. Steve Hoefer says:

      This isn’t “blood money”. It’s US taxpayer money. If anything it’s the opposite of blood money because the money spent on this project will no longer be able to be used to invade a country or make baby-seeking missiles. Instead it will be used to get tools and expertise in front of kids. It’s win-win. It’s entirely voluntary, and since all the materials will be freely available you can simply take and take and take and not give anything back. If you want. No pressure. If you find what the program creates to be useful I think you should consider using it.

      There aren’t going to be posters on the walls saying “America Needs More Killbots”, no jackbooted thugs in the corner enforcing recruitment quotas. No subtle classes on cleaning a rifle, or quiet words about how fun it is to travel to other lands, meet interesting people and kill them whispered into young, vulnerable ears. If the kids empowered by this program want to use to fight they system they can. (And do anything else they want for that matter. That’s part of the point.) The only ideology being promoted is Making.

      The remaining argument “Yeah, but it’s DARPA!” isn’t an argument, but an emotional response and doesn’t deserve a reply. It’s okay. Alpha Makers are emotional by nature. We want to change the world. We all want to change it for the better. It’s something we understandably get passionate about. All we’re really quibbling over is the method, and frankly as long as your way doesn’t get in my way, we don’t have an argument. When our ways intersect we would be foolish not to cooperate.

      1. Al Jigong Billings says:

        And once you’ve built your funding of programs on this money and DARPA comes back in a few years and says, “Oh, we’ll renew your funding but here are a few conditions”, what will you do?

        This isn’t a one time money deal. This is the camel’s nose in the tent for DARPA and military involvement in our schools and hackerspaces.

        1. Steve Hoefer says:

          And what if they don’t? What if they’re straight dealing? (And from talking with others who have been involved with DARPA contracts, they generally are.) Then we get to put tools and expertise and inspiration in front of hundreds of thousands of kids.

          And if they do? If they come back and say every makerspace that’s part of the project must produce one killbot per student, then Make will withdraw from the project. Despite being the Defense Department, no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head.

          As a threat to hackerspaces? I don’t get it. Hackerspaces are independent clubs. Some are formed by local moms, some by local militias. They make their own decisions about what’s best for their members. If your space doesn’t want anything to with the project, there’s nothing stopping them from not being involved. This is not a hackerspace destroying virus and hysteria along those lines does a serious discredit to your point of view.

          1. Al Jigong Billings says:

            So if you have a multi-year school program and strings suddenly appear, you don’t acknowledge that there will be any pressure, in order to keep your program alive, to just go with the flow and accept new strings?

            Money is influence or at least a channel for influence. It is disingenuous to pretend it is otherwise.

            Doing these things also acts as a vehicle to legitimize DoD and DARPA involvement in schools and, beyond that, acts as free PR to them as they coopt the maker movement.

    2. m000z0rz says:

      It’s Department of Defense, not Department of Attack – I disagree that “their goal is to kill or disable as many of their enemies and their enemies resources as possible”. Their goal is to defend America, and they realize that a big part of that is making sure that we have a capable next generation which is not something we’re excelling at right now.

      1. Al Jigong Billings says:

        Once upon the time is was the Department of War as well, until they renamed it in 1949. I don’t put much stock in the naming scheme. It is the military.

  7. SKR says:

    I say take the DARPA money. We need more kids in STEM and though we may want that for a myriad of reasons, it will also ultimately serve the defense industry whether the money comes from that sector or not. Plus, DARPA has been known to spend money on things that benefit society at large. Yay the internet and onion routing that has empowered activists all over the world. Yay GPS that causes us to drive like idiots. Ok well that’s maybe not so good, but at least it’s harder to get lost and we don’t carpet bomb anymore. Plus, it’s not like the maker community is a homogeneous anti-military one.

    1. albill says:

      DARPA didn’t fund TOR. That was the US Navy. :-)

      1. SKR says:

        It was ONR and DARPA

  8. We need to start making actual real physical things again that people in other countries… » Why Aren't You Outraged? says:

    […] Makerspaces in Education and DARPA Recently, Mitch Altman announced publicly that he's not participating in Maker Faire this year because MAKE received a DARPA award for education.  I have talked to… […]

  9. colin Faulkingham says:

    Sounds like a great program.

  10. bcatdc2 says:

    My thoughts… this is an elegant response to fair criticism. I’ve found the whole debate rather high minded and thought provoking, I see points to both sides, and I’m glad that Dale has added his voice.

    It certainly is not a match made in heaven in my mind. I do loathe the relationship between tech and violence, and I think what the Maker movement is about is antithetical to that relationship. After all war is destruction and peace is creation and innovation.

    That said, I cannot fault Make for working within the system, and trying to drive for success on points of mutual interest. I’m proud of these two organizations in the maker movement taking the initiative to get this grant.

    I also believe that the philosophy behind make is strong enough that we will get some back flow. Perhaps some of these kids are destined to join the military industrial complex. I’d feel a little better about the world if the people trying to “defend” us, were people who had respect for the tenants of the maker movement.

    I for one am ready to move on, unless that is, anyone wants to talk seriously about funding a GCARPA = Global Commons Advanced Research Projects Agency

    I’d happily throw some tax dollars in that bottomless pit. :)

    Hit me up @BCatDC with feedback

  11. Joe Kerman says:

    I dont agree with mitch 100% either, but I dont think you addressed his concern at all. Which is that the funding is from an organization with literally primarily military goals. I would like to hear you address that, specifically.

  12. Sean Ragan says:

    Surely everyone who’s actually concerned with education knows the famous Robert Fulgham quote?

    “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber.”

    Well, that great day has arrived. They’re not building bombers with this money. They gave it to us to build schools. We’re keeping it. End of story.

    1. albill says:

      Welcome to DARPA High, a joint venture of Make and the Department of Defense.

      “Grow up and fulfill your pontential…for the US Army!”

      1. Sean Ragan says:

        Forgive me, but that’s not an argument. Nor (forgive me twice) is it even a very good quip.

    2. albill says:

      Reminds me of the first 30 seconds of this:

      “I’m doing my part!”

      1. Sean Ragan says:

        Nor, forgive me thrice, is that.

    3. Al Jigong Billings says:

      Ah, I didn’t realize that Dale was your employer. My bad.

      1. Sean Ragan says:

        Al, I’m sorry, but that still not an argument–it’s a logical fallacy known as “ad hominem.” You’re getting warmer, though. As a reminder: Arguments proceed from premises to conclusions by way of reasoning and/or evidence. Here, I’ll do one:

        “It is better that tax dollars be spent on schools than on weapons. If we accept this money from DARPA, we can guarantee that it will be spent on schools. If we give it back to them, it may very well be spent on weapons. Therefore, it is better that we accept the money from DARPA than that we give it back to them.”

        That’s a very simple example, but you get the idea. Now you try.

        1. Al Jigong Billings says:

          You seem to be very focused on this “argument” idea.

          Here is a little bit of information: I’m not trying to have an “argument” with you or to make an “argument” with you. Never said I was.

          Obviously, that makes your protests about how ‘x’ isn’t an argument rather pointless.

          We get that you and your employer are perfectly fine with hooking your cart to the Military-Industrial teat and pretending that getting money from the US military is an ethical zero sum game and has no impact (no, sir!) on anything to do with your programs, now or in the future.

          Given history, especially the role of engineers in the military over the last 60 or so years, the rest of us are a bit more skeptical.

          How about you get your education grants from the Department of Education and leave the warmongering to the military?

      2. Sean Ragan says:

        Al, whether you like the term “argument” or not, what we’re doing here is arguing. You’re trying to persuade me. I’m trying to persuade you. And we’re both trying to persuade folks who may read these comments later. If I seem picky about what I consider fair moves in an argument, it’s because I believe arguments should proceed logically, from premises to conclusions by way of critical thinking, reasoning, and evidence. If you don’t think so, well, then there’s no point to our discourse. We might as well be throwing potato salad at each other.

        In your last reply, you seem to be advocating the idea that it matters who signed the check. That because the money for our program came through the Department of Defense budget, instead of the Department of Education budget, it is somehow tainted. That it does not matter how much good we may do with it, because of where it came from.

        Why do you think so?

        If the money came, for instance, from a bank robbery, I might understand your instinct that it carried a taint of some sort and should not be accepted. But these are tax dollars. They came out of your pocket and mine, and I begrudge every one of my tax dollars that ends up being spent on war instead of in schools. Presented with an opportunity to turn some of those war dollars into school dollars, I think it’d be immoral *not* to take it.

  13. mtraven says:

    It might be useful to read this critical look at the field of AI and its relationshipwith military funding:

    Also the book “The Closed World” by Paul Edwards.

    No simple answers, but taking miliary money, even with few strings attached, has the potential to distort any field of endeavor.

    1. Sean Ragan says:

      “No simple answers”

      I’ve got one, actually. See what you think of it: Every dollar the DoD spends teaching children to make stuff, through our program, is a dollar they don’t spend buying bullets, rifles, bayonets, cluster bombs, tanks, or land mines.

      “but taking miliary money, even with few strings attached, has the potential to distort any field of endeavor.”

      How and why?

  14. Makerspaces in Education and DARPA Julie Williams-Hudy says:

    Thank you SO much for explaining this. I am very excited about this, sound wonderful!

  15. acasto says:

    I fully support this endeavor. I simply don’t see a downside to nurturing the critical thinking skills necessary for kids to grow up and make their own principled decisions involving the politics of war. What good does it do us to snub our noses at a VERY indirect approach to military innovation only to lose out on the chance to equip future generations with the problem solving skills necessary to govern the use of such innovation?

    1. Lewis Baumstark says:

      This is the comment I’ve been waiting for. Too bad there isn’t a moderation system where I can mod him up.

      Every STEM grad student whose funding comes from DARPA and every engineer who works for a defense contractor has to struggle with the issue of “is what I’m building going to kill people?” Giving children the chance to engage with that question earlier is very likely a good thing.

      Of course, much of modern military research and technology is about ways to wage wars by killing fewer people or even not killing them at all. That didn’t happen in a vacuum.

  16. Mike says:

    Newsflash! We’ve already infiltrated you. I work for DoD and support the Maker Movement. We’re people too, lol!

  17. zenwebb says:

    I don’t feel like either ‘side’ is 100% right or wrong – they both have good points, but they each lack completeness.

    I think its worth considering that up until this point, the umbrella term “maker” was all-inclusive, meaning it applied equally to people from many different perspectives. If I remember correctly, hackerspaces, and indeed the “maker movement” has strong roots in counter-culture. Until this point, the “makers” consisted of clean-cut engineers and academics, as well as DIYers, hackers, counter-culture people and survivalists (the Burning Man types).

    Unfortunately, regardless of who is “right” and who is “wrong”, MAKE’s decision to apply for and accept DARPA funds was MAKE’s decision alone (correct me if I am wrong). For an organization that thrives on openness and inclusion, I didn’t sense much transparency in this decision. For that reason, it may be understandable that the counter-culture crowd feels like their trust was violated, and I feel like that needs to be honestly addressed. Yes, MAKE is a for-profit company and has a responsibility to pursue funds that are aligned with its mission, but MAKE was also made possible by the counter-culture crowd and underground hackers. I do feel that it would be wise to maintain this connection and trust, otherwise we may begin to see splintering within the community, which would not be good for anyone.

    Don’t get me wrong; I do love MAKE and will maintain my subscription and all, but I do feel that people like Mitch are important to the maker community and need to be a part of some of the decision making. Like I said, I didn’t sense much transparency in MAKE’s decision to work with DARPA – if MAKE wants to honest about their role in the community, they need to acknowledge that they are a part of it, rather than the controlling interest in it. Many people today feel that our government does too much without our consent, please don’t follow their example. Let us help, or at the very least, let us be a part of the decision-making process in these huge changes.

  18. Fiacre O'Duinn says:

    For what it is worth, here is the overview I wrote soon after the announcement discussing the partnership and some possible issues. Make, DARPA and the line in the sand #1 ( Make, DARPA and the line in the sand #2 (

  19. Kishore says:

    I’ve worked in science education for a while. I even run a big science event, so I get the hard decisions that have to be made about money and money sources (Last year I got physically spat on by someone cuz I took money from a big oil company). But here’s a story on why I’d take the money from DARPA – hell on why I’d take it from Satan himself for this kind of program.

    I work at a university and I have spent the last two weeks interviewing high school students for summer research opportunities – incredible opportunities to be mentored and participate in cutting edge biomedical research. And these aren’t your 4.0, on the studious path kids, I’m talking about teen moms, kids without parents, even a couple who didn’t know what a cell was. The data says these kids won’t make it through college, let alone ever explore science or tech. You know, Real kids.

    I met one who was struggling. No english spoken at home, financially destitute, incredibly shy. Until he mentioned this maker club he was able to attend. You could see the spark – everything about him changed. And we ended up talking for 1.5 hours about ruben’s tubes and stuff.

    And in that 1.5 hours, you know what I learned? This kid didn’t need to learn the Kreb’s cycle or how to solder – he needed a good person to talk with and mentor him. Strike that – he deserved that in a place he could ACCESS it.

    It is a fucking crime how many millions of kids have their creative spirit crushed by our soulless systems or worse yet, by not having access to people that truly care about their development. So yea, I’ll take money from DARPA or DTRA or Halliburton or . I may not always be happy about it, it may gnaw at my own morality at times, but I’ll sleep at night. But I don’t sleep well thinking about kids that are needlessly left behind.

    So I applaud the DARPA grant – not because I give a shit about DARPA’s problems – but because I hope it shakes up the science education system even more. It takes big projects with real results to do that and it takes a willingness to build a big coalition (including government folks).

    I hope Mitch enjoys his weekend away from the Faire and shuts off some TVs.

    1. Al Jigong Billings says:

      The solution to this is to fix education and to get money from the Department of Education, not the Department of Defense, for schools. Militarizing our schools because the DOE sucks is not a longterm solution.

      1. Kishore says:

        The sinner/saint view of any funder is myopic in my opinion. They all have benefits and drawbacks. I’m working on $30 MM DOE grant that has conditions I find 100X more restrictive and damaging than what was laid out in the DARPA grant. Race to the Top is excluding millions of kids. NSF is abandoning informal science education in favor of workforce development grants. Welcome to the wonderful world of grant funding – its a dirty business.

        At the end of the day, its about the integrity of the folks executing the grant, not the ones funding it. People drive good programs, not money. After all, no one from DARPA is going to call 1000 schools or recruit local makers to staff these makerspaces – someone from MAKE will be doing all the work that REALLY matters.

        So can you trust them to create a maker space imbued with a spirit that will engage and inspire kids to build things again? For some of you, the answer is no and others the answer is yes.

        In my experience, the money won’t dramatically change the spirit of the people working on the project, it just changes how many.

  20. bobster says:

    I am not an American and have always wondered why Americans or so against DARPA and the DoD. Can someone please explain this to me?

  21. Adam says:

    I was never a fan of Mitch. Now I know he’s not on the right page.

  22. B. says:

    (The jist being that as long as the curriculum includes a critical component that encourages makers to look at ideology and power structures in technology development, thereby subverting the military via its own funding, then this kind of relationship is acceptable. Further, such critical engagements are probably needed either way, whether we’re talking about the government, corporate interest, or the military, there is always some power structure behind technical development with a specific ideology.)

  23. Ben Wildeboer says:

    I’m glad to see a larger concerted effort by MAKE to start education programs around the maker community. I believe the general values (creativity, collaboration, openness) of MAKE mesh amazingly well with what makes a good learning environment (I’m a science educator). So the money comes from DARPA. Would it be different if it was funded by the Dept. of Education? Sure- the DoE wouldn’t require open source and they’d tie it to some sort of poorly executed standardized exam. If we can use DARPA money to kickstart a movement in schools that holds a lot of potential to truly engage students in science & technology, then we should do that. I’ve written some recently about integrating hackerspaces and schools (, and look forward to seeing how this project develops.

  24. An educator says:

    As a resident of California, a teacher in higher education, and a previous customer of Make, I have to say that this program is very disappointing. Like Mitch, I don’t feel comfortable supporting your enterprise while this is happening, and your message does not allay my concerns.

    First, this is the antithesis of education. It’s one thing to use DARPA funding in a university lab or a private company. Problematic as those relationships are, one generally supposes that those researchers have gone through history and ethics training into potential pitfalls, and they have chosen to use military funding with certain foundations in critical thinking.

    In your scenario, the high schoolers do not have such immersion in research protocols and did not have such a choice to begin with. What’s worse is that, according to Tim O’Reilly, the students neither “know nor care” about the source of the funds. But isn’t it our job to educate them? Besides, when they do find out about the military—and they will—it won’t be through a forum where they can air honest questions or concerns. Can you assure us otherwise?

    Second, and keeping the previous point in mind, the use of the terms “open source” in this context is duplicitous, with all due respect. Do you assure parents that the military is not tracking their kids as they move through high school and into college? Can you really look a parent in the eye and assure them that this is not the case, or that you have any control over whatever the Pentagon does? As much as they may be interested in “open source” (to further their goals), the military is not truly open.

    Third, if Americans found out about a similar program in a country on the U.S. enemy list, it would be brandished as indoctrination, plain and simple. The message to the students here is one of American superiority, not of collaboration.

    I also have to tell you that in my neighborhood, I can walk down the street to see a shuttered high school for lack of funding. I find it incredibly coercive that, seemingly, the compromise that parents now have to make is with the military as their best hope. It certainly speaks to our post-9/11 times of fear. All other possible avenues for transforming education seem to have been exhausted. There’s one benefactor here. It’s the military, not teenagers.

    Finally, let’s not fool ourselves thinking that money invested by DARPA in a high school program is money not spent on weapons research or on cyber-surveillance.

    I do hope this comes to an end. Many of us would be glad to come back to Make as an organization that reflects our values.

    1. skr says:

      On your first argument that this is the antithesis of education, where’s reasoning for that? The ethics training argument is a non sequitur. How does the ethical training of researchers have anything to do with a kid learning to print on a 3d printer. The second part about an open environment to air concerns, doesn’t really sound like the harm would be “the antithesis of education”, just the status quo of every classroom in the current hierarchical authoritarian education system we have. Plus, it’s not like the DOD or even DARPA is picking the teachers. It’s existing teachers getting the money. Do you not trust current teachers to provide that type of environment?

      The second argument against open source is again followed by another non sequitur. What do you think open source means? It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with tracking or the opacity of the military organizations.

      Your third argument that this would be brandished as indoctrination is an ad populum fallacy. It doesn’t matter what a bunch of people would call it if in fact it is not that thing. Do you really think the current science teacher at the HS closest to you is going to indoctrinate his or her students with jingoism? Seriously?

      Considering the spate of logical fallacies, I think the schools need the money.

      1. An educator says:

        1. If you believe that making has no intrinsic ethics component, you need to pay more attention to why DARPA funding is roiling hackerspaces way beyond this one case.

        2. Opposing DARPA funding is not a defense of the status quo. And it’s incredibly imaginative, if not to say self-deluded, to defend DARPA and the military manufacturing edifice as the non-status quo here. Your question about the teachers, well that’s a whole other can of worms, since it does not even seem that some of them even know that this is on the horizon.

        3. My point about open source is that the phrase is being seductively appropriated here to defend a department that ultimately is not open. For example, countless of veterans have all kinds of illnesses due to exposure to stuff like depleted uranium or other substances, and the military is certainly not forthcoming about what they were exposed to. Up to you if you’re persuaded by the open source siren calls. I’m not.

        It should be clear, as well, that what’s written in this post is contradicted by what Wired reported:

        4. I’m sorry but a DoD branch with an explicit mission to maintain “strategic superiority,” as Regina Dugan said at TED, is nothing short of jingoism. No amount of evasion by the teacher is going to change that.

      2. skr says:

        Making of course has an ethics component but the ethical implications are just not there when talking about a student making an led badge or printing in 3d. You act as though DARPA is going to be appropriating new technologies from HS makerspaces which is pretty unrealistic. Plus, the kids that would be able to help DARPA are the same ones that are already winning national science fairs and going to college at age 14 to work in a research lab. That’s where they would actually work on something that could have ethical implications.

        I never said anything about a military edifice as the status quo. I was referring to your mythical open and honest forum argument which doesn’t exist. Then I offered up a reason why it doesn’t exist. Will it be more nonexistent with military money?

        No, the phrase is not being appropriated as whitewash. It is very specific in meaning that the things developed will be open source as opposed to the proprietary property of the military. They are basically putting up an open source firewall between themselves and the makerspace. Again, what does “open source” have to do with the opacity of the funding organization? What does this new non sequitur regarding exposure to depleted uranium have anything to do with say laser cutters? I think I need to go grab my tinfoil hat if you are suggesting the military is going to be covering up radiation exposure of students. Just because the military has performed questionable acts doesn’t mean that their money somehow magically spawns immoral acts. You have shown no mechanism for your absurd non sequiturs to even remotely begin to apply.

        As to the jingoism, how does simply funding STEM education indoctrinate kids with nationalism, military adventurism, or foster an overwhelming sense of superiority regarding the our military? Just because the phrase “strategic superiority” appears in their mission statement does not necessarily mean that they are fostering an aggressive military stance. You also offer no mechanism for the indoctrination you fear other than kids might not despise the military as much as you would like because they are materially benefiting from a small program funded by a research arm. That’s not jingoism.

        1. B. says:

          “Making of course has an ethics component but the ethical implications are just not there when talking about a student making an led badge or printing in 3d.”

          This is just not true. Here are some ethical issues around “making LED badges”:
          * Treatment of the works who build the components
          * Treatment of the people who recycle (if that even happens) left over components, broken components, and other eWaste. (also etching chemicals, etc..)
          * Environmental impact of the manufacture and distribution of components.
          * Who has access to such workshops? Who has the prerequisite knowledge? How well are minorities and low income students represented?
          * Emphasizing coolness over use and value.

          Much of this could be related to the consumption of any electronics, and/or any educational program, but I think that’s the point. There is an ethical component to every choice because humans and social and therefore our choices effect others.

      3. An educator says:

        Obviously we’re not going to agree skr, but I’m not attacking your intellect or person, unlike the other way around. I’m saving my energies for discussing the program itself.

  25. gadhra says:

    Will MAKE have someone to represent their side of the discussion at HOPE #9, by any chance? (PT, I’m looking at you sideways)!/maltman23/status/187010004354727939

  26. fiftyquintillion says:

    We’re so far down the rabbit hole it is hard for us to see where our values are. DARPA is concerned with war fighting. It’s a systemic attitude woven through their funding and their personnel. And it is a concern about whom your bed partners are and who we want to legitimize. The pragmatic risk is a kind of hydraulic despotism where those that fund you get to steer. Their values differ. Looking forward down the road 10 or 20 years – how do we want to foster peace around the world? A lot of human cognitive energy is devoted to war fighting and at the same time we’re facing other issues that also need our attention.

  27. Kelly says:

    Congratulations on the DARPA award, I think this is great news and a great effort. Anything we can do to make our students (and thus our future) more hands-on, more technically competent, and more innovative is good. It seems clear from the explanation of the groundrules that our our youth will only benefit from this. And if the unintended side effect of this is that it may someday help us to defend our country against threats, well then… wait, I don’t see that as a drawback.

  28. Jeff Thompson says:

    What I find unfortunate is that the first response from MAKE is troll-ish comments that don’t deal with the substance of the concerns. “As a reminder: Arguments proceed from premises to conclusions by way of reasoning and/or evidence. Here, I’ll do one… That’s a very simple example, but you get the idea. Now you try.” – this is incredibly condescending and does not contribue to a substantive conversation that MAKE initiated.

    MAKE is now silent, and perhaps figures that since this post has drifted off the front page that it’s no longer an issue worth talking about. A constructive dialog would be quite interesting and important, addressing the relationship of making and hackerspaces (not the branded form “makerspaces”) to the tools and technologies used and developed.

    Pirate Bay creating autonomous file-sharing servers is interesting because it co-opts the technologies of war. I don’t think MAKE needs to be political (though I would argue this project with DARPA is), but it’s a worthwhile conversation that can exist alongside tutorials and project features.

  29. Des hackers séduits par le Pentagone » OWNI, News, Augmented says:

    […] de manuels de programmation O’Reilly media et du magazine Make, organisateur de Maker Faire, justifiait très vite dans un long billet son choix, tout en disant respecter la décision de Mitch : Notre […]

  30. Will says:


    Guilt by association.

    Laying with dogs, getting fleas.

    Continue associating with progressive levels of Trash and any decent makers will continue disassociating with Make.

    Please don’t spoil a good thing with evil.

    I don’t agree with Mitch generally speaking, but he’s on the Right side of this one.

  31. The Pentagon Competes for Hacker Hearts and Minds », News, Augmented says:

    […] and Make magazine, and an organiser of Maker Faire. He wasquick to justify his decision in a long blog post, whilst also making clear he respected Mitch’s decision. Our program would encourage schools […]

  32. Cecilia Absher says:

    As a mother of a young maker (13) and a former public school board president in NY who cares deeply about education and fostering innovation and self-directed learning opportunities, I see this grant as a big positive. Schools in NY are faced with budget cuts, tax cap constraints and ever increasing pressure to “perform” on tests. Now with the common core focus on STEM there should be more focus on engineering and technology – but again the budget challenges make this difficult to implement.

    I see the collaboration of DARPA with Make and the recognition of companies like Intel that facilitating student engagement in hands-on tech exploration as a strong indication of the vital importance of this type of education. When I see a Harvard physics professor confess that his lectures were less impactful them hands-on practical labs and the admissions director of MIT pointing out that open ended scientific pursuits should be valued as much as traditional AP courses and yet we live in an environment where students’ opportunities to do so are being more limited over time, it makes me appreciate that Make-and Dale’s vision and passion are critical to creating a future generation on makers and innovators. If a grant from DARPA can help without sacrificing values or anyone’s rights, this should be celebrated by educators and business alike. Let’s work together to bring into the mainstream and to actually make STEM come alive. It is amazing what young people can do with a little guidance and validation that their ideas and creativity matter! Thanks Dale and Make.

  33. Ron Shirtz says:

    Several observations:

    To state that tax payer’s money spent by DARPA on these programs is ethically better than spending it on munitions or similar military projects is an absurd argument. The US military budget exceeds ALL the world’s military budgets COMBINED. Money is never a serious issue with the military, regardless which political party is in office. Believe me, the DOD/DARPA have money to burn. This is just pocket change to them. If they really want to be altruistic with their–I mean, our tax money–than let them forgo some of their billion dollar weapons projects and give the money saved to schools to use as they see fit.

    Then there is this:

    Kristy Murray, director of the DOD’s Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative stated:

    “The STEM App Challenge will benefit the national STEM efforts for K-12 education, but may also have an immediate impact on the Defense Department,” she said. “We are always looking for innovative ideas for how we better incorporate mobile devices for learning within DOD.”

    So the DOD will use children as guinea pigs to beta test version 1 software!
    This will save the DOD time debugging its instruction apps!

    The military was great tradition of ordering soldiers to be exposed to nuclear radiation, performing experiments on unsuspecting troops with hallucinating drugs, or dumping them with Agent Orange and not telling them the effects. You really think there is no strings attached, or that this is not a talent scout exercise to profile and cherry pick our best and brightest children for military development? Sounds more like Ender’s Game to me. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. What Constitutional right does the DOD have to involve itself into civilian affairs? This is nothing more than an blatant attempt to replace Athens with Sparta

  34. Michelle says:

    Maker Faire is DEAD. RIP 2012.

  35. Daniel Jolliffe says:

    Make magazine has always been primarily about making money.
    It is not a non-profit society, It is a business and as such its prime goal is to make money. Ethics, in so many cases, are secondary.

  36. Athenian Asked to Mentor Schools in Making - The Athenian School Blog says:

    […] History of the Makerspace Project […]

  37. Culture transmission is bi-directional - O'Reilly Radar says:

    […] is participating in the DARPA MENTOR program and Dale has already discussed our involvement at length. So I need to disclose it, but this post isn’t about that. This post is about the idea that […]

  38. Maker movement på global och lokal frammarsch | Stockholm Makerspace says:

    […] pekar på stora risker med statlig inblandning, inte minst sådan med militära intressen (och så här svarar MAKE på kritiken). Exemplet visar på behovet av att dra lärdomar från erfarenheter i omvärlden inför en […]

  39. Hacking the Commons: How to Start a Hackerspace « webnography says:

    […] announcement early this year that they are now accepting funding from DARPA – who are also sponsoring 'makerspaces' in high schools nationwide – has introduced some deep questioning over the ethical responsibilities of hackers and DIY […]

  40. Learning at its Finest says:

    […] intrigued by the philosophy behind MakerSpaces mostly because it gets to the heart of learning in the pure […]

  41. ‘The Maker Movement’ – An introduction « Filippa Malmegard says:

    […] pekar på stora risker med statlig inblandning, inte minst sådan med militära intressen (och så här svarar MAKE på kritiken). Exemplet visar på behovet av att dra lärdomar från erfarenheter i omvärlden inför en […]

  42. The high-tech return of high school shop class – Schools of Thought - Blogs says:

    […] Advanced Research Projects Agency to build the "hacker spaces" in schools – a move some criticized because of its military ties. The money helped to launch maker spaces at a handful of Northern California schools this school […]

  43. » The Professionalization of Make transfabric says:

    […] with a target of reaching 1,000 schools by the school year of 2012-13 (the announcement, the controversy). Similarly, in 2011, the Chinese government, announced the funding of 400 hackerspaces in […]

  44. Made with China – The Professionalization of Make - Hack Things - We help software people make hardware says:

    […] with a target of reaching 1,000 schools by the school year of 2012-13 (the announcement, the controversy). Similarly, in 2011, the Chinese government, announced the funding of 400 hackerspaces in […]

  45. beau says:

    How do you become one of the 1000 schools?
    Is it possible for a private school to become one

  46. Nils Hitze says:

    Interesting clarification – i actually think that taking money away from the DARPA means less money for weapons – but maybe i am just naive

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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