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.
We 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.
Like 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.
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.
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Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue