08.06.20

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Miseducation

Posted in Apple, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft at 9:30 am by Guest Editorial Team

2020 figosdev

Index

Who's programming who?
Who’s programming who? Chapter 3: Miseducation

Summary: “…the real crime (OLPC founder Nicholas Negropontes word for it) is that schools aren’t teaching computers at all — they’re doing application training.”

Given that attendance is mandated, you would hope that the school curriculum was harder to turn into a subsidised marketing opportunity for large corporations. The snack machines in the halls when I was in high school tell another story. Don’t get me wrong, kids love junk food and so did I, and I was a customer of those machines. Whether they are closer to a public good or subsidised marketing is another matter entirely.

“Although the library is a great place to promote freedom and so an ideal place to use Free software, training everyone in the use of Microsoft products at school helps Microsoft to maintain a monopoly — to the point where Microsoft is willing to lower prices to encourage school purchases.”Where else can you find schools marketing products of questionable public value? The computer labs and libraries are two examples. Although the library is a great place to promote freedom and so an ideal place to use Free software, training everyone in the use of Microsoft products at school helps Microsoft to maintain a monopoly — to the point where Microsoft is willing to lower prices to encourage school purchases.

There was another well-known situation where Microsoft was willing to lower prices — anti-competitively, to keep OEMs (brand computer companies) from offering a choice of operating systems. If OEMs sold only computers with Microsoft products, Microsoft would keep the OEM licenses at a rate that ensured OEMs wouldn’t consider the threat to their bottom line by giving choices to the customer. Tapping into schools is just another way for customers to gain the impression that Windows and computing are the same thing — unless you have a Mac.

“The iPad is a primarily a device for “consuming” data as a product.”Apple is no saint in this regard either, sweetening deals for iPads when Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his own children have one. He wasn’t being stingy — Jobs simply didn’t want his own children raised with the computing equivalent of crack cocaine; something habit-forming and lower value than a real computer. The iPad is a primarily a device for “consuming” data as a product.

It’s a shame that Apple went in this direction, because in their earlier days, Apple products were better for education. With BASIC on startup, not unlike the C64, and countless other products from Logo to “edutainment” games for school, to HyperTalk, Apple was once a platform almost ideal for schools.

I say this not as a fan — I hated the company for their condescending advertising campaigns — for acting like there was no such thing as a good car with a manual transmission, or the computer equivalent of that. For all their offerings related to education, their branding was based on celebrating and encouraging the cluelessness of the user. Apple was (and still is) an odd company.

“By the time they’re out of school, these companies will have changed the tools nearly as much as if they were different products from different companies, so what schools are really doing is conditioning future customers — doing free marketing for Microsoft and Apple, at a cost to the schools.”The argument for doing all this is that schools are simply training students in the tools they will use outside school. By the time they’re out of school, these companies will have changed the tools nearly as much as if they were different products from different companies, so what schools are really doing is conditioning future customers — doing free marketing for Microsoft and Apple, at a cost to the schools.

Schools would ideally be an opportunity to enhance education, not merely train corporate workers. Many of the applications used in corporate settings will differ from Word and Excel, and the “training workers” argument has the same problems as Pascal’s wager — how are you preparing workers with Microsoft products, if they end up in an Apple workplace?

But the real crime (OLPC founder Nicholas Negropontes word for it) is that schools aren’t teaching computers at all — they’re doing application training. And it’s one thing to teach people how to use tools from the workplace, but quite another to teach people how to be helpless.

“For years, starting with the 1990s, education shifted from teaching about computers to focusing on applications; and this shift is the real way in which schools have sold out their students.”When computer education in schools began, they weren’t merely learning to use applications — they were learning more universal computer skills. For years, starting with the 1990s, education shifted from teaching about computers to focusing on applications; and this shift is the real way in which schools have sold out their students.

Progress is being made, with schools that teach all students about coding instead of merely offering it as an elective. But Microsoft has a history of corralling skills into Windows-only silos, even when it takes years to do so. If you let Microsoft teach coding, they will shift this universal skill into coding for Microsoft. It’s what they do.

People who can code are qualified to work with Free software. Whether their skills are basic or advanced, The biggest problem with using Free software is the fear of breaking something. Computers did not always come with operating systems pre-installed; there were plenty of customers who could install an OS who couldn’t even write code.

“We owe the entire world better than this, but at least let’s not condition children to depend on unethical corporations for their computing. We could be teaching them how to create their own future, instead of preparing them for the one some corporation wants.”While coding won’t necessarily directly help with operating system installation, the skills you learn while coding (including debugging) are skills that can be applied to managing a less familiar software platform — the OS included.

Denying students this opportunity makes them more dependent on proprietary software, and schools that only offer Microsoft or Apple products (while more people have Android on their phones) are shortchanging both the students and the future. This is not an endorsement of Android or Google, both of which are nearly as terrible as the iPad itself. Another way in which it is terrible to subject students to these products is the limitless corporate surveillance it puts in schools.

We owe the entire world better than this, but at least let’s not condition children to depend on unethical corporations for their computing. We could be teaching them how to create their own future, instead of preparing them for the one some corporation wants.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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