Sunday, October 29, 2006

Response to Alfred Thompson

Alfred Thompson asks me in the comments section of his post:
Well Peter, why do you avoid teaching students how to use any proprietary language or user-level application?
It is a very straightforward, simple and legitimate question. I thank Alfred as I believe it to be an important question that deserves a response. My response...

I avoid teaching using proprietary technologies because such practice is antithetical to the broader purpose of education.

Obviously, learning technical skills and concepts is part of what it means to educate students. This is what is covered by the written curriculum. However, those goals are of minor relevance compared to challenging the hidden curriculum. To challenge the contemporary hidden curriculum implies looking to values such as cooperation, sharing, and goodwill toward others. Not a single one of these values can be assessed through a standardized test. Not a single one of these values can be pinpointed in a unit plan or curriculum map. Not a single one of these values are attained through repetitious training or memorization.

So as a teacher of technology I must ask myself - What is a right relationship with technology? What kind of relationship with technology will benefit the world as a whole? What kind of interaction with technology expresses a genuine spirit of cooperation, sharing, and goodwill toward others? If I do not address these questions throughout my career, I am not teaching - I am merely training.

Addressing these questions means an honest investigation of our technological environment. Addressing these questions is not an easy task as technology is a broad discipline - there are many issues. But when it comes to software, I believe that free software is an ethically sound option that challenges the current values of technology's hidden curriculum. Currently, most schools that can afford to teach computer technology do so using proprietary software. It is a fact that proprietary software technologies embody values rooted in competition, exclusion, and individual subjugation. While such values may have legitimacy in particular areas, they are in contradiction to the spirit of scientific inquiry and the pursuit of human knowledge.

Competition in schools belongs on the volleyball and basketball courts, not in software licenses. Therefore, I do my best to avoid teaching students proprietary software applications or languages implemented in a proprietary environment.


Blogger Alfred Thompson said...

I guess I would agree with you on avoiding proprietary software if I also agreed that free software taught what you believe it does, that proprietary software taught what you think it does or that Competition did not belong in software licenses. And I would avoid doing business with Google as well. But alas I believe none of those things.
We will have to agree to disagree I guess. Thanks for the reply.

Blogger Gnuosphere said...

Competition belongs in code, not in licenses. For example, KDE vs. GNOME. I realize now that I've used a word in my post that doesn't express my view accurately. That is, "believe".

It is a fact that free software is an ethically sound option that challenges the current values of technology's hidden curriculum. One simply needs to juxtapose a free software license with a proprietary license and the facts stand out. It is not a matter of belief.

If only we actually read what we often carelessly "agree" to, we would be aware of this fact.


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