[Edu-sig] Some thoughts on the word "Laptop"

Atul Varma varmaa at gmail.com
Thu May 24 11:23:29 CEST 2007

On 5/11/07, Jeff Rush <jeff at taupro.com> wrote:
> The problem is that ones associations with a word depend, to some degree,
> on
> other things in your life.  "Laptop" was probably chosen because of the
> connotations of "personal", "portable", "useful/practical" and
> "self-powered".
> I don't associate "laptop" with "yuppie", perhaps because I didn't develop
> a
> negative association with that word but first saw them carried by
> engineers/programmers and only later by business folk.  A laptop was
> something
> that I as a kid wanted, but couldn't afford, personal, as in I didn't have
> to
> share with schoolmates or siblings. Mine.

That's interesting, and understandable.

> And for you "machine" has a positive meaning, as for me an engineer, but
> for
> some it means "dehumanizing", "rigid/inflexible", "noisy", "bulky".
> Definitely not something for children, unless you view them as resources
> to be
> processed mechanically, an offensive idea to most.

Also understandable.  Although I believe that what attracts me most to the
term "Children's Machine" is actually the juxtaposition of the two words:
taken by itself, "machine" does tend to mean "dehumanizing" to me, but when
the word "children's" is put before it--a term that is anything *but*
dehumanizing--the phrase takes on an entirely different meaning.  But as you
said, a lot of this just has to do with everyone's individual perceptions.
I get the impression that regardless of what word OLPC uses, it's going to
be a loaded term for everyone that conjures up vastly different visions
depending on each individual person's backgrounds and beliefs.  Which is
unfortunate in one sense, but on the other hand it seems to imply that
"laptop" is as good a word as any other.

> From my reading of your post, it sounds like you are referring to what in
> my
> childhood would be the explorations with tinker toys, erector sets, lego
> blocks, lincoln logs -- an open-ended set of pieces with which to tinker
> and
> explore.   But to those people who don't understand the attraction, who
> lacked
> such things growing up, those remain just toys for a child's distraction
> and
> amusement, not something educational.  Now we as geeks know the power of
> such
> constructivism, but many do not, perhaps intentionally due to its
> subversive
> nature.
> OLPC walks the narrow line between being pragmatic and having the
> appearance
> of irrelevance while carefully hiding its dangerous, subversive
> nature.  It
> will succeed as long as it keeps one eye on the amplification of children,
> rather than that of teachers, administrators or governments.

This is where I think my understanding of the aims of the OLPC project start
to break down.  What is the "dangerous" and "subversive" nature of OLPC, or
of using laptops as constructivist tools?  When I was a child, I never
considered myself to be a dangerous or subversive person, and I never
thought of computers as such either; at most, they were another means of
learning and playing that (to my disappointment) my school didn't happen to
embrace.  If I were to teach a child Python today, I wouldn't think of
myself as being dangerous or subversive, but rather just introducing them to
a passion of mine, one that I hope they may find as fulfilling as I do.

What is the OLPC program trying to subvert?  And why is it dangerous?  While
it probably sounds incredibly naive of me, it strikes me that the
amplification of children should actually be the goal of teachers,
administrators, and governments, and that helping the latter should
naturally benefit the former.  If we assume that teachers, administrators,
and governments are too ignorant to understand the power of the
constructivist mindset, yet we still try to peddle constructivist tools to
them in the guise of pragmatism, then it's understandable that people have
misperceptions about the goals of the OLPC program, because the OLPC program
is being unclear (and deceptive) about them in the first place.

In other words, shouldn't the goal be to convince teachers, administrators,
and goverments that constructivism is a good thing, rather than telling them
that they need laptops so their country can produce the next Jobs or Gates?
Or am I misinterpreting something here?

- Atul
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