OLPC Vs. The Gospel?

Wednesday, 2007-August-08 at 17:24

In a recent article, Lingamish takes aim at the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) educational project

…. Providing children in the developing world with access to electronic information is such a cool idea. But jump with me into the future. Every child in the developing world has a laptop. Now, tell me what they’re looking at on those laptops. Economics? Research on eliminating the AIDS virus? No. There are two possibilities that I guarantee you will find on the connected OLPC of the future: stupidity and porn.

Look around, folks. Have you spent any time lately in My Space, or Yahoo! or Flickr? Connect a bunch of hormone-fueled and not exactly intellectually-motivated kids on the Internet and you’ve got yourself a global slumber party. Lots of fun. But not much else. That’s the first point in my argument.

Let us take a look at the present.  I was recently in Best Buy here in New Jersey, buying myself a GPS.  There was a line outside, waiting for the store to open—the store was rumored to have a shipment of the Nintendo Wii.  Parents, uncles, grandparents, all under constant bombardment by their youngsters, standing in the hot sun waiting to buy the Wii because a child in their lives demanded it.

It is a similar thing when computers are introduced into some child's life—as long as we do not fill it with the endless drudgery of word processors and vocabulary quizzes.  They will tend to explore things, especially in a more or less open system.  In fact, I’d venture to say that the abject failure of computers to boost the performance in America’s schools is due to closed systems, rigid rules, and the aforementioned mind-numbing content.

Mr. Ker is a Bible translator in Africa, so he likely considers the XO merely as a cool laptop that will take resources away from ministry and other things that are really needed in third world countries.  To this, I say, you may be right, but I hope not.  Those countries are often full of corruption—should we then refuse to supply foodstuffs, medical supplies and personnel, and other things they need because some of the resources may be diverted?  The principle is the same.  If we do not do this, we know where those youth are headed—they will be the nearly uncompensated workforce that makes clothing and other products to be sold by large Western corporations—is that what you want?

Instead, I say, let's engage those youth where they are.  Where are they?  Young and open to learn, willing to explore.  Given the time to learn, some of these children are likely to be the ones who find a cure or vaccine for AIDS.  Their minds will not have been regimented yet, so they will look at areas that students of our hierarchical and structured education system would never think to look.

Now, imagine with me as we walk through an area near Los Angeles.  As we walk down the street, we see a man passing out tracts.  Yes, small paper rectangles printed with religious text.  Most passers by ignore him.  A few take the tracts he offers, most of whom discard them within a block.

We stop in a retail store, where dozens of children and teens flock to the electronics department to play the demonstration systems for XBox 360, PlayStation 3, and the Wii.  Simple stories and action that they would not watch on television nor read in a book are suddenly among the most alluring things on the planet.  Here is your answer to reaching the world's youth.  Harness this and they will flock to your message in the same way they flock to the Splinter Cell and Halo series.

Second point: Globalization of media. When did it start? With the massive exportation of the TV series Dallas. Twenty years later, I bet things have improved a lot. Last I heard the best-selling shows overseas are Baywatch and Walker: Texas Ranger.

Yes, our corporations have long been America's worst enemy.  Which is why it is important to get these kids some education outside of the top-down, structured, "message from the mountaintop" perspective that passes for education and outside of the commercialism that characterizes most of what America does overseas.  If we equip the people of those lands to take charge of their own economies and governments, America will no longer be a facade of corporate logos and celebrity spokespersons covering up every sort of greed and corruption.

Look, I know that it is rough raising the support needed to carry out overseas ministry.  I think you would agree that if contributions doubled tomorrow, most groups would build huge headquarters buildings here in the states, because they would not be able to effectively deploy the additional resources.  OLPC is not a competitor for those resources.  Instead, it promises to involve a completely different group of people in assisting people in foreign nations.  For a nation that is as world-illiterate as ours, that can only be a good thing.

I have to say that I admire the fact that Lingamish does not take everything as preformed.  He likes to think things through and come to some kind of uneasy balance.  I would not have it any other way.

Entry filed under: Christianity, Computers, Education.

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