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RE: Mission Statement

> So, under what circumstances would you see people as /having/ to move to
> Linux. The only one I can really see is if there are activities available
> there that are not available elsewhere. OTOH, people might /want/ to because
> the OS is more stable and thus more accessable by the computer-warey.

I don't think schools will *have* to move to Linux for a long time, 
and I don't think that's particularly necessary for our goals.  In a 
school environment individuals have much less choice, though, and 
they have to move when the school decides it will move.

I don't envision a killer app happening for Linux.  If it's really so 
killer it will end up being ported to other operating systems (that's 
happening to the Gimp as we speak).  I do think there could be a 
killer environment -- a fitting together of a lot of things that make for 
a good educational environment.  But none of the pieces of that 
environment will be the driving force.  There's the multiuser aspect, 
packages (rpm, deb), consistent email interfaces, cheap hardware, 
web servers, remote administration, X over the network, and on and 
on.  None of these will *make* anyone choose Linux.  But 
altogether they can start making a difference.

> <snip>
>  But I don't think Seul-edu is trying to be on the
> > forefront of
> > education (at least not this front).  If Seul-edu succedes then
> > maybe there will be a good environment for those who *do* want to
> > do this, but one thing at a time.
> So what is it trying to do? 

Make software free and do things the Right Way.  Well, maybe 
other things too, I won't commit to anything and I certainly can't 
commit for Seul-edu.

Revolutionary ideas like to bring attention to themselves.  I think 
this is another place where Linux is different.  Many a program 
aspires to making itself into a library on Linux, but this doesn't 
happen on commercial OSes/environments.  You can't sell a library.

And the programs have boring names.  nn, mutt, less, mail, 
sendmail... oh, I can't think of many names.  And it's getting worse 
-- everyone wants to give their program a fancy name nowadays.  
But I like the simple names, the ones that don't bring attention to 

I'd like to see computers in the schools be things that don't bring 
attention to themselves.  Which don't require everyone to go to a 
lab.  Which don't make you "Learn How to Use the Program" -- 
computers aren't that hard.  Kids can just use them, do stuff, learn 
along the way.  Linux has the philosophy behind it that could make 
that happen.

> I suppose my enthusiasm for it is the fact it
> gives a potential new start - my own educational adgenda obviously informs
> this. There was an interesting split for a while in the UK between packages
> written on the BBC machines, which tended to be open and creative, and the
> pre-PC RM machines which tended to be more formal and closed. I'm suddenly
> interested in why that might have been. I think maybe there was a parrallel
> split between Apple and IBMs in the US.

Do the programs come from above or below?  That seemed to be a 
theme in your article.  When the users become the creators you 
get much different things than when things are made for the users 
by somebody else.

> > Drill is overdone, but not worthless.
> Agreed - I found that the major use of Drill and Kill was that /teachers/
> felt more comfortable with it, it got them using the machines after which
> more open-ended packages (logo, art packages, music composition, word
> processors, simulations etc.) could be introduced.

And it's so seductive to sit kids down in front of one of those 
programs and just let them go... I have succumbed to the 
temptation more than once myself, I am sorry to admit.

> > But another aspect of what I was talking about is that glitz really
> > isn't all that necessary.
> Too right, but try telling a publisher (or even a reviewer) that :-/

That's where the largely noncommercial aspect of Linux helps.  
Commercial apps always seem out of place when I see them on 
Linux.  Too big and self-important.  And perhaps by making things 
accessable and the cost-of-entry low it will allow teachers to make 
decisions instead of districts, so that word of mouth and 
experience can let the true cream rise to the top.  Perhaps.

> > Another issue is whether it's the Linux way, so to speak.  Many
> > people (mostly Slashdot trollers and journalists with a desire to
> > spread FUD)
> Wow! some words new to me :)

Slashdot is <http://slashdot.org>, where many people sit around 
and have long pointless discussions where no one really says 
anything to each other.  This is often caused by trolls, which are 
people who say inflamitory things that cause long and pointless 
debate over a question that was never really sincere in the first 
place, a question usually posed by someone who won't even bother 
to read the followup.  I don't know why they decided to call these 
people trolls, but they are infectious in Internet culture.  I think 
many class discussions in school can have trolls too, but that 
name hasn't been used much to my knowledge.

> I agree about the real tools - though attempts to shoe-horn spreadsheets
> into the curriculum have been a bit painfull :) 

I've been reading more stuff about HyperStudio, and some of the 
lesson plans people have made using it.  There is some pretty 
creative shoe-horning there, such as one where kids exploring 
counting by making cards that exemplify different numbers, like the 
number "24".  When you have a hammer...

> However - if all Linux will
> do is provide a more stable environment for basic tools I don't really see
> where we go from here.

Not just more stable.  More powerful and more complete as well.  
Lots of schools have Office, CorelWorks, or MS Works installed.  
Then they have a copy of Photoshop on one computer in a special 
room.  There's Netscape.  That's about it.  Not exactly a rich set of 
tools for a variety of tasks.  The schools probably couldn't afford a 
much bigger set of tools, especially at the price that professional-
level apps are sold.

Then there's the issues of maintaining those computers.  At the 
point when every computer has twenty significant applications and 
a hundred minor applications, things will go nuts on Windows or 
Macs.  If you ever get it to all work, if you want to let kids explore 
they'll break whatever you give them -- not even out of malicious 
intent.  If they have good intent both the children and the teachers 
will become too afraid to break things that they won't try novel or 
interesting things.  And they won't use the computer for minor 

Maintenance is a big deal.  Stability is a big deal.  Coordination is 
a big deal.  Other operating systems just don't scale well.  It 
seems like you can do anything on them that you can on a more 
stable system but that doesn't pan out.

Those tools can be more than basic -- even if, individually, they are 
all fairly simple, the sum total can be much more.  What do you 
need to make a web page?  An image editor and a text editor.  But 
the product has the potential to rival anything you see on the web.  
Basic tools are powerful -- IMHO, more powerful than complicated 

> Closed software bad (well, not actually bad, just a rather uninspiring use
> of the technology) Open software good (when it's good open software).

Well, that would fit with Linux fairly well, I'd think.

Ian Bicking <bickiia@earlham.edu>