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December 8th, 2015

FOSS & Education: It’s Deeper than Ones and Zeros

I stared at a blinking cursor when confronted with the question, “Your profession and position?”

It can be difficult to define the entire spectrum of my role at Reglue. Yeah, I am founder and executive director, but outside of that, in the real world where people are identified by their professional roles, how do I answer such a question?

A head scratching session ensued. The longer I looked at the blinking cursor, the more frustrated I became.

education on computerWe know what people do by their title. Doctor, butcher, baker, candlestick maker: all are simple enough to figure out by these identifiers. But while I do much of my work as a computer repair guy, that only scratches the surface. After the computer is repaired, who am I? A delivery guy? Maybe. But after that…what? Teacher? No, I no longer hold any valid teaching certificates or credentials.

Then, as often happens, maybe twenty seconds before I entered the magical realm of sleep, it dawned upon me: I am an educational facilitator.

I create the learning environment on the spot, at the place where the child will actually learn. By doing so, I am not transgressing into a professional descriptor that immediately asks for credentials allowing me to be called a teacher. As an educational facilitator, I put the learning experience in the present and take a hands-on approach to teach the child all about her computer, along with everything else that goes into that teaching moment.

It seemed silly to me, after the fact, that I had to make such a big production of explaining what I do in a few words. In the end though, the major thing that makes this all moot are the tools used to educationally “facilitate” the environment and the student.

In modern times, it seems we have left the task of teaching our children solely in the hands of teachers. When a student comes home with a less than acceptable report card, we immediately assign blame, if not to the child then to the teachers who have failed their students by not spending enough time with them. Unfortunately, in this age of ever-increasing classroom sizes, this has become all but impossible in state and federally funded schools. I cannot speak to privately educated or home-schooled children.

Here in Texas, as elsewhere, the educational direction has been to teach to tests that are given to kids at the end of the school year. These tests are supposedly designed to present a picture of where a student places within the educational system, and teachers teach the subject matter known to be on evaluation tests such as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). If it ain’t on the test, then it doesn’t get taught. Period.

Man, that is sad. But so is this…

A few years ago one of my friends, Mike, was presented with a note from his daughter’s teacher. It said that while the school appreciated assistance in making every student as successful as possible, teaching outside of class curriculum is discouraged.

Her father did just less than storm the front door of that school armed like Rambo.

The entire thing was over the fact that school books taught his daughter that Edison was responsible for the lights in our homes and that Marconi invented the radio. There was no mention, not one drop of ink, of Nikola Tesla and the technology he possessed in his mind, not even as a footnote. What Mike found out during his first meeting with the school principal was that the school had no real say-so in what was being taught. The school board authorized the purchases of school books based more on price than content.

This revelation spurred Mike to call for a PTSA meeting to discuss the books and the standards by which our kids were being taught. It was a raucous meeting, a meeting that ended with the police escorting some of the participants out of the room and off the school property. The good news is that today, despite the school system’s best efforts, Mike’s daughter teaches at a private school in Nevada.

How does this tie into FOSS and GNU/Linux?

Education starts at home. I don’t give a flip about what any note says. I don’t care about any “disrupting school district teaching materials and methods” that parents may be doing. I care about the generation in junior high or high school who will grow to make some of the most important discoveries of their — or our or any — time. Long after we have passed, these kids will be driving humanity into bcoming the beings we were meant to be: loving, empathetic, educated and accepting beings. Beings who may bring wars to a halt and the ability to spread our presence far into the Milky Way. Or just maybe…one of them will release a Real Player version that doesn’t suck.

Education homework computerLike it or not, many of us are the starting point for technology education within our families. I cannot in good conscience walk by my niece’s or nephew’s computer and watch them struggle to decrypt a blue screen. I cannot stand by and watch Aunt Tilly carefully typing long paragraphs of information she wants to snail mail to a friend because she’s never been taught how to copy and paste or learned how to use email. I grin and bear it, offering my expertise. Especially for Aunt Tilly, who has no idea why her computer is almost worthless, even though you’d think that with the seventeen toolbars she has installed she could figure it out.

On the flip side, we have Karen. A sixth grade child who represents the best of the generation to come, children who freeze us in our tracks when they ask if Javascript is the language they should pursue or is C+ a better direction. That’s something I haven’t found a YouTube video, or any other source, to help her with, but I really haven’t tried yet. Eventually I will. And you will too, when the daughter laying on the carpet in front of the TV reading asks why the word “home” has a long “o” sound but “gone” has a short “o” sound, which doesn’t agree with the rule she was taught in that day’s writing lesson.

At the heart of all of this: a child’s education should start with free and open source software. When we help them build their futures on the rock-solid base of FOSS, we are exposing them not only to the ones and zeros behind our software, but more importantly, to the ideas and the philosophy on which FOSS culture sits. We are teaching them that collaboration and cooperation can outproduce the dog-eat-dog world that rules us now.

Will your sons and daughters still be laughed at and derided for their naiveté? Probably, as many of us have been. But we’ve prevailed and so will they, as they join us to carry the news forward at every opportunity that there is a better way, a way that makes us all better in the long run.

In that long run, it won’t matter what you call yourself, or what others call you. Teacher. Facilitator. Butcher. Baker. Candlestick maker. It’s not important. What is important is how we educate our children.

When it comes down to that last moment…that last second you have in making a decision…nothing is more important than forming the character and direction of a child.

Nothing.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

9 comments to FOSS & Education: It’s Deeper than Ones and Zeros

  • Mike

    > “It said that while the school appreciated assistance in making every student as successful as possible, teaching outside of class curriculum is discouraged.”

    Wow, that is disgusting!

  • Education’s an emotive subject! I’ve taught, and observed & critiqued, and written about its seemingly endless decline (mostly at the hands of politicians). As you say, syllabuses have been framed & thus restricted, the role of teacher somehow downgraded from subject expert to coach, and at every juncture the stuff of education is impoverished a little more.

    The reality is; we’re all teachers, and if we’ve any nous, we’re perpetual learners too!

    IT suites used to be filled with PCs running Windows. Now I hear that Chromebooks are gaining a foothold in the US classroom, which makes more sense to my mind than the unfathomable penchant for iPads I see here in the UK. But then we’ve only recently realized that it was perhaps a tad shortsighted, sometime in the mid-80s, to stop teaching kids how to code. :/

    Perhaps we’re on the verge of another shape-shift, with Ubuntu’s Convergence, Microsoft’s Continuum or whatever Google’s planning to do with Chrome & Android integration, and the Cloud. Will it be BYOD to the classroom in future? Well if it were my decision, I’d advocate something like Sony’s letter-sized E-ink.

  • Carling

    Quote :- Teaching outside of class curriculum is discouraged.

    Takes me back to 1969 when my wife and I were called into my son’s infant school to see the head teacher, The first words out of her mouth was “Do you realize what you have done” “Your son can’t be taught here”. He is three years a head of the education standards that we teach here. He will have to go to junior school.

    Now to explain how all this came about. I am self educated, The day I left school I could neither read or write my own name or add 2+2 and get the right answer. Though I could recite the bible back to front in Latin,

    After the humiliation I went through with work mates I made sure my children would not go through what I went through, My wife and I taught our son from the age of 3yrs old to read and write his name and address, count from 1 to 10, divide multiply and subtract any number from 10. by the time he was 5yrs old, We did the same with our grand children “Yes” education begins at home

    My oldest grandson went through college, university graduated with PhD’s honors degrees traveled the world, Helped built a school house in Guyana, Taught English at a university in China, Graduated Law school with PhD’s honors degrees and became a corporate lawyer before he was 25yrs old. He’s 27yrs old now.

  • Carling

    While the subject of education effect us all in every way (education Taxes) this Youtube video shows just what Free Open Source Linux Operating System and Free Open Source education can save the school budgets watch it, It will open your Eyes as to where your education taxation is going. and who too. I rest my education case before you!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Co37GO2Fc

    For Free College and University higher education check here
    http://www.edx.com

  • Mike

    Ken, you are a Life Changer.

  • David

    Fantastic article as usual, Ken. If our children are going to be equipped to build the computer systems of the future (as such systems become more prevalent and pervasive in society), they need to learn that they can do it, that they can be a part of that process. Continuing to teach consumerism is doing our children a great disservice.

  • Well, people are just people, they are suffering from things they learn in school and if you start seeing learning and beeing surrounded by it and
    ZES you are not cool unless you have your copy of MS Windows or some Apple stuff, … well you know you are not the cool kids…

  • Carling

    Seems like some people are not keeping up with the tech news
    Broken Windows .net = Now Open Sourced
    Bad Apple .swift = Now Open Sourced
    Seems like they want the not so cool kids to write their cool apps for them…. they know that their in Crowed kids can’t write code

  • 3arn0wl

    @Carling

    The image is of banks of coders beavering away at Apple & Microsoft, isn’t it? Mr. Cooke or Mr. Nadia stepping out onto a balcony above, demanding X feature, or Y app. Using their considerable resources to vacuum up any tasty apps they might find useful, and subsuming them into the huge whole.

    The better vision has been – and will always be – coders writing and sharing their work, to let others stand on the shoulders of giants. Long live the spirit of FOSS.