Sunday, March 25, 2007

Edubuntu LTSP

Well, I took the time to haul two computers from Einstein over to SDSU with the hopes of figuring out exactly why I can't boot up a thin client from the server, but I still haven't figured it out. I'm hoping by Wednesday I'll have it all solved since Gregg will be in the lab. The only question is whether he'll help me or not. Maybe more accurately the question is whether I can get the problem under his skin to the point that he won't rest until it is solved.

In the meantime I finished up my Saturday course with Dr. Dodge on Drupal. Pretty sweet I guess, but it is a completely different way of thinking about how webpages work. I'm not really sure that I'm ready to implement something like that across Einstein, but I'll just have to see how much time I have this summer to look at it. So far it is pretty complicated getting some of the modules installed, and I'm not at all confident in the teachers being able to do something like that for themselves. I have more hope for getting some sort of drupal site up for the school and then just linking to teacher pages that they can make themselves, perhaps with Google Page Creator or something. Overall it is a pretty daunting undertaking, but one that seems worthwhile, I'm just not sure I'm ready to tackle it yet, especially seeing as how I'm only just starting to feel proficient at CSS and somewhat capable with Javascript.

I'm still debating about what this blog will be, or become, but I think I'm just going to use it for my own personal stuff. I like the idea of lots of people reading it, but I think in the end the greatest use will be done by my future self, looking back at what I used to do and laughing at how foolish I was (or am). I have so many other goals for blogs and stuff, but I think this idea is still worthwhile. Other ideas include: a podcast blog for Jon about economist articles with commentary by me afterwards, a blog on K-12 educational technology stuff for tech teachers (I think I'll do this in Drupal and link it off of hartmanbot), and of course the einsteintech blog. I guess it isn't as much as I thought actually. Hope all is well with everyone. -joe

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Screwtape proposes a toast

So last night in my church growth group we read CS Lewis' short work, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast". For the uninitiated, Screwtape is a demon in the pits of hell, so the wise will be sure to avoid following any advice he has. You can read the whole thing here if you're inclined. What really struck me in the story is the part where Screwtape talks about how Democracy can be twisted into a thinly veiled excuse for envy, and moreso, how this attitude quickly spreads into education. These two paragraphs were especially profound for me:

"The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem.” An even more drastic scheme is not possible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma -- Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us."

A sobering assessment in any respect, but especially when you consider that this was written forty years ago. Here are my own thoughts on the subject, borrowed from a blackboard discussion from a couple of weeks ago for my Ed 795B class at SDSU:

"The problem with education in America is that there's no scarcity. Scarcity is why Chinese schools work, and why American Universities work. This is why if I could do just one thing for education, and only one thing, I would get rid of truancy laws. I figure if parents can't even get their kid to ATTEND school it isn't our job to do so. Attending school should be a privilege not a right, like driving a car. I know there is a societal cost to having uneducated citizens, but there is also a societal cost in trying to educate them. I totally understand being an advocate for low achieving kids who've got it rough, but we've got a responsibility to be advocates for those kids who don't. These are the kids who try hard every single day and get essentially ignored for it because they aren't dyslexic or ADD or emotionally disturbed. Imagine if we could take all the resources we spend on raising up the lowest kids who don't give a lick anyways and instead applied them to the highest of the high, making sure they were consistently challenged throughout their school day. Maybe we leave a few children behind, but at least we aren't holding anyone back either."

Until last night I thought my view was too harsh, and while I guess I still feel that way a little, it is much less so now that I read Mr. Lewis' thoughts. Even so, I've come to think that it might not be necessary to do away with truancy laws altogether, so long as that feeling of scarcity is created somehow. It could be artificially created within the schools along the lines of what Germany does now, effectively creating tiers of schooling for all pupils. Those without the grades are not permitted access to all the offerings of the school, akin to our own AP course offerings in high school. This would create a level of scarcity that I think would benefit education overall, though it would not alleviate the suffering of teachers still asked to educate the unmotivated and unsupported (and then berated for failing to do so). That may require another set of solutions I haven't yet thought of. -joe