"View Source" and educational goals

Points of views and questions about the OLPC project. What should it be? How could it be better? Where is it needed most? Ask your questions here and let your opinion be known.

"View Source" and educational goals

Postby dpbsmith » Tue May 06, 2008 2:47 pm

I'm quite alarmed at recent public statements by OLPC officials. To me, the "View Source" button and the promise of open source is integral to the project's educational goals, and it disturbs me terribly that they are now articulating the idea that they can be separate things.

When I was growing up, I could see tubes slowing inside a TV set. I could scavenge old radios from the trash. I could see the tuning capacitors with visible plates. I could smash a tube and be intrigued by how the filament, grid, and plate looked totally different from the diagrams. Heck, I could open a radio that had stopped working, take out the tubes, bring them to a store with a tube tester, find which one was bad, buy a new one, plug 'em all back in, get the radio working again, and have Mom say "my hero!"

I could play a record with the volume turned down all the way and hear audible "needle talk." It was obvious where and how the sound was originating, if not how it was amplified. I could see the film path on a classroom projector, see how the film gate opened and the claw pulldown, see how a mechanical filter smoothed out the intermittent motion as it went past the exciter tube, and so forth.

Even if I couldn't personally build a working vacuum tube, or successfully modify a radio set, I learned a lot of "readiness" just by seeing what's inside stuff. A lot of that quasi-learning happens at a surprisingly young age.

To be blunt, the thing that sold me on G1G1 was the promise (unfulfilled) of a "View Source" button. It's awfully important that the next generation of kids not grow up with all of our technology being a totally sealed box o' magic, constructed of highly integrated special-purpose subassemblies.

This is just as true of software as it is of hardware. I had the opportunity to modify the operating system of the Datacraft 6024/5 I used circa 1970, and at least I could always dig out the fiche and see what was inside VMS even if I couldn't modify it.

Kids may not be programming at age 10, but the lesson taught by a "View Source" button, and the musing inspired by looking at code, even if you can't understand it, is awfully important.

If we lose that, and OLPC degenerates into a suite of individual applications hosted on whatever, maybe we haven't lost everything but we've certainly lost what I cared about, and what attracted me to donate.

And to have this happen such a short time after my donation... and before my personal XO has a working "View Source" button on it... well, it leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.
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Re: "View Source" and educational goals

Postby BoBraxton » Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:36 am

dpbsmith, your account sounds a lot like my own childhood (born 1944, grew up in rural NC, graduated in 1962 from Southern Alamance (public) High School, went on to 4-year university degree (in Philosophy) and three years of additional study in Theology. I now provide tech support at a theological seminary. I agree with your perspective. Our group is getting ready on July 2 to take SIX G1G1 to Kenya (to be with the classrooms and the teachers for two weeks) with plan to return for one month the following summer 2009.
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