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

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Thu May 24 18:34:41 CEST 2007

> 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

Hey Atul --

You ask some very fine questions, very topical.

I think the paragraph above is revealing of your perspective
and shows you are highly educated.  You think this is
about demonstrating to the world the value of "constructivism",
an approach to pedagogy championed by many in the
OLPC movement.

And I'm not saying you're wrong.

In this telling, the laptops are the avatars of a philosophy which
combats rendering students passive, mere vessels for knowledge,
and suggests rather that each has an existential responsibility
for constructing a working model of reality -- so best get to work,
as this may prove an arduous job.

Constructivism makes room for the doctrine called "question
authority" i.e. it has this troubling groundrule:  you can't assume
anyone around you has the better model e.g. maybe "the
adults" got it wrong.

That, in itself, is a troublesome attitude in many societies,
including the American one at the turn of the last century,
if we're to believe Bucky Fuller's account in which a "darling,
never mind what you're thinking, we're trying to *teach* you"
attitude prevailed among the all-knowing adults (who proved
to be wrong, again and again, about matters of some

However, in the minds of many, including some government
officials, the arguments among the various philosophies of
education are considered insufferably academic.  What's
really subversive about the Internet is it puts out tools that
level the playing field in many ways, between insiders and
outsiders, when it comes to matters of accessing an international
database of media sources (only a top elite used have that
level of access, making it easy to censor, to control the

For one reason or another (depends on the scenario), the idea
of a local population becoming highly informed, higly computer
literate, can feel threatening.  All those school children are
going to realize X about Y.  Fill in the blanks. Makes 'em feel

At the very least, we should admit that the Internet traffics in
many alternative models of "what makes it all tick" [quick scroll
of conspiracy theories] and teachers find it distracting to have
to compete with so many alternatives at every turn (not
because they're censorious by nature but because lots of
arguments and back talk may mean one's own model will
languish, neglected -- kids won't even bother to tune in
some of their own best heritage, if persuaded by foreign
media that "Hollywood knows best" or some other such
dubious thesis).  The Internet has the potential to flood a
quiet way of life, balanced with an ecosystem, with endless
noise, subversive simply in the sense of highly distracting.
In a generation, the kids have forgotten which plants are
poisonous and it's downhill from there.

Anyway, let me change it around a little and put it this way:  we
don't like to see the minds of young children subverted and rendered
prematurely ugly by dint of unfortunate sequencing.  Why should
we deprive them of their innocence?  That being said, it's so open
to question what I'm even talking about.  Am I talking about porn?
And that's just the thing.  We're talking about multiple namespaces
(a Pythonic concept).  In some households, "porn" is not what's
so threatening, whereas in other households it may have apocalyptic

BTW, I wonder if you noticed the 2nd link into Scheme World in my
previous post linked to subverting imagery...


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