Missed Opportunities

Future NASA EngineerOne of many things that I’m not very good at is recognizing a wonderful podcasting opportunity. Yesterday, I taught two workshops at a staff development center on Concord, (pronounced con-cerd) New Hampshire. After the workshops and my re-packing ritual, Kathy Malsbenden, a co-director of the center took me on a tour of their thin-client lab.

It was a surprisingly clean and lean looking computer lab, compared to its surrounding, a century-old school building. The work stations were set against the walls, fairly large tower machine boxes ($25 each from government surplus) set lengthwise against the wall in front of flat panel displays and keyboards. She booted one of the machines, which immediately accessed a Linux network server, providing an impressive windows looking interface and an AMAZING array of open-source software. Notable was Open Office, a rich and worthy competitor of MS Office. I sure wish that I could run Open Office on my Mac without having to go into X11 interface (I just love to talk like that!).

When we went into the folder labeled Graphics Software, more than 25 applications showed up, including Gimp, a more than worthy and free competitor to Photoshop.

But I didn’t even have the presence of mind to take a picture. It could have been the fact that I’d just taught six hours of workshop or that my A.D.D. medication had long worn off. I don’t know. But I just didn’t see the significance of what I was being shown, until early this morning.

The thing is that I’ve not been a fan of thin-client, for the same reason that I haven’t gotten excited about handhelds as a less costly substitute for laptop computers. You see, I think that we are trying to answer the wrong question. Handhelds are amazingly powerful little machines, and they belong in the education environment. I’m sold on thin-client now in the configuration that I saw yesterday.

But the question we are trying to answer shouldn’t be, “How do we prepare children for the 21st century with pocket change?” The question is “Why are we being asked to prepare our children with pocket change?”

OK, I know that this country spends a LOT of money on education. But we are not spend enough money or attention on:

  1. Teaching children to “read” information that is networked, written by almost anyone for almost any reason.
  2. Teaching children to process numbers, when virtually all information is digital, and therefore, all information is made of numbers.
  3. Communicate effectively, when a storm of overwhelming information can filter out all but the most compelling messages.
  4. To adopt a fully ethical approach to how and why we use information.

Tonight, I will be delivering, for the 2nd time, an address called “Telling the New Story“. It’s about the stories that still drive our education system in a backward direction, instead of going forward into a future that is already around us, and what the new stories are, and how we tell them. I hope that it’s fun, and that we all walk away with a new drive to go out and talk to people about what and how our children are not learning.

I hope this is going to be a big 2 bucks worth.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.