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Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools

Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools

Posted Dec 28, 2012 23:36 UTC (Fri) by smitty_one_each (subscriber, #28989)
In reply to: Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools by Wol
Parent article: Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools

Hence the increasing popularity of home schooling here in the colonies.


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Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools

Posted Dec 29, 2012 1:19 UTC (Sat) by hummassa (subscriber, #307) [Link]

I tend to think home schooling gets in the way of the socialization aspect of schooling, acquiring conflict-solving skills, etc. And, anyway, I live in a country where home schooling is all but forbidden.

Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools

Posted Dec 29, 2012 1:52 UTC (Sat) by apoelstra (subscriber, #75205) [Link]

> I tend to think home schooling gets in the way of the socialization aspect of schooling, acquiring conflict-solving skills, etc. And, anyway, I live in a country where home schooling is all but forbidden.

This is a well-known problem in the home-schooling community. I understand that home-schooled families tend to cluster together and meet among themselves. (But I am not from such a family, so I don't know.)

It is also possible, though I don't know how common it is, for home-schooled children to also take courses a public school. So they could do, say, phys. ed. and recess at a public school, and get the best of both worlds.

Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools

Posted Dec 29, 2012 1:56 UTC (Sat) by smitty_one_each (subscriber, #28989) [Link]

The resources are quite vast: https://www.google.com/search?q=homeschooling+extracurric...

Of course, if you're not a fan, you overlook it.

Petition: promote the use of free software in US schools

Posted Dec 29, 2012 16:51 UTC (Sat) by gerv (subscriber, #3376) [Link]

I tend to think home schooling gets in the way of the socialization aspect of schooling, acquiring conflict-solving skills, etc.

People I talk to who home-school tend to wonder why people who don't home school seem to persist in believing this. :-)

And, anyway, I live in a country where home schooling is all but forbidden.

By which you mean that it is all but mandatory that every child is educated according to the state-approved curriculum. Doesn't that creep you out just a little bit? Are you sure their values are your values?

Gerv

Neutral values

Posted Dec 29, 2012 19:03 UTC (Sat) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

By which you mean that it is all but mandatory that every child is educated according to the state-approved curriculum. Doesn't that creep you out just a little bit? Are you sure their values are your values?
Not necessarily. Ideally, the state just mandates a baseline of minimum contents which should be free from ideology. If you want you can take your child to a private school, where apart from the baseline they can be indoctrinated in whatever religion or beliefs you prefer, or just teach an alternative set of skills.

In practice the official curricula include varying degrees of indoctrination, including what you call "values", but they are not necessarily bad. Even if you think that things like evolution of the species are a matter of opinion (not that I want to enter this particular debate right now), then you can try to influence your local board to include intelligent design as an optional world view.

Here in Spain there was a big fuss some years ago when the government instated a new subject in secondary education: "Educación para la ciudadanía" (Education for citizenship). It included such revolutionary values as coexistence and gay relationships; honestly I still don't see the problem in a country where gay marriage is legal. But no doubt it was moral content, which as I said above is not necessarily bad.

Neutral values

Posted Dec 29, 2012 19:19 UTC (Sat) by smitty_one_each (subscriber, #28989) [Link]

What sort of empirical analysis should follow:

>In practice the official curricula include varying degrees of indoctrination, including what you call "values", but they are not necessarily bad.

In practice, those running the system are only interested in review, where review means expansion. The various demographic markers one could cite never seem to come up.

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 3:59 UTC (Sun) by apoelstra (subscriber, #75205) [Link]

> Not necessarily. Ideally, the state just mandates a baseline of minimum contents which should be free from ideology. If you want you can take your child to a private school, where apart from the baseline they can be indoctrinated in whatever religion or beliefs you prefer, or just teach an alternative set of skills.

This is not about ideology or indoctrination. It is about public schools teaching incoherent, inconsistent as "mathematics", incomprehensible falsehoods as "science" and propaganda as "social studies". The garbage peddled in public schools is not only so watered-down as to be useless, it is actively harmful. (This is the case here in BC. YMMV, especially for the remainder of this rant.)

Evolution doesn't affect anyone's life. Electricity does. Mechanics does. Chemistry does. History does. And yet when schools are filling children's heads with nonsensical mental models and lies, extorting the funds to do so, anyone complaining about it must be a creationist? Anyone trying to opt out must be trying to indoctrinate their children?

If you think a child should (a) memorize state doctrine well enough to pass tests, (b) learn enough actual science or mathematics or history or art to be a functioning human being, and (c) double-think well enough to do both (a) and (b) on a daily basis, you have a very strange idea of how a child ought to develop, and a strange idea about how many hours there are in a day.

Certainly, it would creep me out if I was living in such an oppressive state that this was actually -required-.

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 11:06 UTC (Sun) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

I don't know the first thing about BC, and not very much about the US system (assuming that BC is the code for some state). But I think that just educating your children is not a very social thing to do. First because education is very time consuming: probably one of the parents has to dedicate full time to it, and doing so is not being beneficial to society at large. But mainly because the efforts can be pooled very effectively to teach more children. If one of the parents is a very good teacher, they should become a teacher and benefit others. If the parents are very good curriculum designers, they should do that for their peers too.

Second because of the hubris: what makes you think that you are actually more qualified to teach your children than a professional? In your case it may very well be true, but I fear that people too dumb to know better will also think they are qualified to teach their children, and ruin them in the process.

Kant's categorical imperative says:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
(Beware of the golden rule though.) I think that home schooling is not practical as a universal solution.

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 17:36 UTC (Sun) by Kit (guest, #55925) [Link]

> Second because of the hubris: what makes you think that you are actually more qualified to
> teach your children than a professional?

Having gone through the US education system (assuming the schools I attended, and the schools of the people I have spoken to, are at all representative), that's likely a safe bet. Most of the teachers I had over the years barely understood the material enough to present it to the students. Many, many teachers struggled to even answer basic questions. When I was younger, I had just assumed I didn't know enough to understand their answers. Later on, when there was material I already understood fairly well, it became quite obvious they had no clue what they were talking about when they gave completely nonsensical answers.

This is due to the design of the system. The system isn't designed to identify the best teachers are reward them, while removing the bad teachers. It's designed to reward those that manage to go the longest without doing something stupid enough to get fired. I have no idea how the teachers that are actually competent (they do exist) are able to stand it... maybe they can't and that's why.

There are many other problems beyond just the teachers, though.

Neutral values

Posted Jan 7, 2013 13:10 UTC (Mon) by sorpigal (subscriber, #36106) [Link]

> I have no idea how the teachers that are actually competent (they do exist) are able to stand it... maybe they can't and that's why.

Competent teachers get burned out very fast, or stick in due to an incredibly, incredible love of teaching. We lose many, however, who are more than good but just not psychologically prepared to be good teachers and constantly fight the school system.

I worked in US school IT for a while and I've seen all stages, from the engaged first-years, to the jaded but caring middle years, to the "I gave up a long time ago and only care about getting paid"s, to the lifers, some of whom still love to teach and some of whom seem to absolutely hate schoolchildren. Any teacher with >5 years experience in the US will tell you it's royally screwed up, but not many have the will to see past their daily grind and attempt any solution. And I can't blame them, given what they must deal with.

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 18:56 UTC (Sun) by apoelstra (subscriber, #75205) [Link]

> Second because of the hubris: what makes you think that you are actually more qualified to teach your children than a professional? In your case it may very well be true, but I fear that people too dumb to know better will also think they are qualified to teach their children, and ruin them in the process.

There are two reasons (and both have obvious analogies in the software world, so we're almost back on topic here ;)):

1. Because I went through university alongside a group of people on the "teaching track". This is what we called them because their stated goals were to become public school teachers, but it became a slur in the rest of the department, because not -one- of these people understood the material she (or he) was studying. They all worked hard to find 120 credits of fluff, would make sure they were all in classes together (to force the professor to slow down, since they far outnumbered the real students, and there was some taboo about failing 90% of a classroom). Even in their final years, they'd routinely badger me with simple calculus or modular arithmetic questions.

As an aside, an analogy in the software world to the people on the "teaching track" are the people doing CS degrees just to get a get an accreditation to get a job. The sorts of people who manage an entire degree without knowing any theory -or- programming, and wind up being examples in the recent "how to filter out job applicants" thread.

Interestingly, I deliberately avoided CS department to avoid them, and ran into the same problem in mathematics. (But math still turned out to be a much better choice, because the student body was so small that they could run special topics courses on whatever I wanted.)

2. To become a "professional", you are required to go through an accreditation process, which assumes you are the sort of person from (1). (Not to mention the political problems with the process.) The process has nothing to do with teaching you to become a teacher and everything to do with saying the right things to the right people.

(3.) As Kit says, once you become a teacher, you are immune to market forces.

The fact of the matter is that smart (or even average-intelligence) people are heavily selected against, as are people who believe in personal responsibility or independent thought. If you somehow get through, you are not allowed to use any of these traits. You won't be allowed to do anything creative or useful. (Almost) nobody around you will be capable of doing anything creative or useful.

That's why I don't believe I'm a special case in being more qualified than professional teachers -- pretty much anybody would be. And as you say, it takes an enormous amount of time and dedication to do, which gives a positive selection effect to home-schoolers.

(Also, I am in Canada, not the US, though from what I hear, the situations are similar. I say this because there are a lot of problems that seem to only occur in the States (for very States-specific reasons), and this is not one of them.)

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 20:49 UTC (Sun) by Wol (guest, #4433) [Link]

The UK system is somewhat better - in that most (secondary) teachers do understand their subject reasonably well.

It's just as bad in that any decent teachers soon want to leave ... :-(

My daughter is typical. She did a degree in Music Theatre, before deciding to go into teaching. She then did a PGCE (Post-Graduate Certificate in Education) which was largely spent in the classroom, before getting a job as a teacher. Six years on she is a very good "Head of Specialty", is getting really fed up, and is thinking of leaving her school - and possibly leaving teaching - in a few years time.

Her fiance is also a teacher, also fed up, and also wanting to leave ...

("Head of Specialty" - most schools in the UK specialise in something, be it maths, science, arts, whatever. She is head of her school's specialty department - performing arts.)

(The alternative to a PGCE is a Graduate Trainee - again, get a job as a teacher in a school and get trained on the job. Most of these people come from industry and teaching is not their first job.)

Cheers,
Wol

Neutral values

Posted Jan 4, 2013 19:57 UTC (Fri) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

I can confirm this. I know several people who were by all accounts excellent teachers in the UK, including some who left high-paying jobs they hated to go into teaching from sheer love of the subject.

Every single one left after a few years, often to go back to the jobs they hated, because dispiriting though they were they were less dispiriting than the UK state school system. (Private school teachers by all accounts have a better time of it, probably due to sheer funding issues.)

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 19:04 UTC (Sun) by gerv (subscriber, #3376) [Link]

But mainly because the efforts can be pooled very effectively to teach more children. If one of the parents is a very good teacher, they should become a teacher and benefit others.

That would be fine - except, at least in my country, the government takes money from you and pays for the schools it wants, not the schools you want. If a group of similarly-minded teachers want to set up a school, and a group of parents want to send their children, you can do it - but you pay for their education twice, once in taxes and again in school fees. Which makes it an option only for the better-off.

They have recently started a "free schools" initiative which was supposed to be free of curriculum-based meddling and imposition of values, so the above school could get some of that tax money back to fund itself, but sadly turned out not to be. :-|

Gerv

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 15:34 UTC (Sun) by hummassa (subscriber, #307) [Link]

> Evolution doesn't affect anyone's life.

You mean, not up until the point that you get a antibiotic-resistant strain of MRSA eating your flesh? Or the fact that the wheat, rice and potato crops allow for seven billion people to survive on this planet?

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 15:45 UTC (Sun) by paulj (subscriber, #341) [Link]

Or various kinds of animals have evolved, through human-selection, to produce more milk or meat or hair...

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 17:06 UTC (Sun) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

I was waiting for an excuse to link to this xkcd comic.

Neutral values

Posted Jan 4, 2013 20:00 UTC (Fri) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

Or, indeed, bananas, varieties of which are a staple food for an awful lot of people. Without an understanding of evolution (and the effect on disease resistance of clonal reproduction), you cannot possibly understand why bananas are so disease-prone.

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 19:08 UTC (Sun) by gerv (subscriber, #3376) [Link]

Ideally, the state just mandates a baseline of minimum contents which should be free from ideology.

That's simply not possible. All education is ideological. Take a simple example: you need to take one of these three positions on God:

  1. He exists, and that existence affects what we teach here.
  2. He does not exist, and that non-existence affects what we teach here.
  3. He may or may not exist, but whether he does or not have no effect on what we do in this school, so we aren't going to take a position, and won't talk about his existence or non-existence.

The third position is the one most commonly suggested as "free from ideology" or "neutral", but it's clearly not. Saying that "God is irrelevant to what we do here" is clearly not an ideology-free statement.

Gerv

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 19:45 UTC (Sun) by viro (subscriber, #7872) [Link]

Do tell, what kind of ideology is there in, say, teaching kids how to wipe their arses? And how does existence of God enter the process of teaching them that, unless you seriously try to mix it with discussion of e.g. Deuteronomy.

School or not (and I bloody well hope that this particular topic is dealt with at home, thank you very much), not everything is ideological and temptation to bring ideology into everything really ought to be resisted, whatever that ideology might be.

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 20:35 UTC (Sun) by gerv (subscriber, #3376) [Link]

"temptation to bring ideology into everything really ought to be resisted, whatever that ideology might be"

That view would be, er, an ideology then.

Do you think children should be taught moral behaviour at school? If not, how would you go about making school an a-moral place? If so, then you've already brought in a set of values/ideology/worldview when you decide what the "moral behaviour" is that you are teaching.

http://blog.gerv.net/2012/12/neutrality/

Gerv

Neutral values

Posted Dec 31, 2012 20:39 UTC (Mon) by jedidiah (guest, #20319) [Link]

It is an extreme minority viewpoint that religion has to be injected into ever facet of life to the point of thanking God for a successful bowel movement. For the vast majority of people, religion is not directly relevant to most things. Beyond that, there are really not as many differences between religions as many people would like to make out.

As long as you avoid the blatant practice of religion, it's easy to keep that stuff bottled up.

The other moral and ethical implications are in fact universal despite the insistence by some groups that they have some sort of monopoly.

The problem is really not hard. The outliers can go join the Amish.

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 30, 2012 20:58 UTC (Sun) by Wol (guest, #4433) [Link]

The *first* subject to go would be maths. As the joke goes - "if you define religion as an irrational belief in the unprovable, then not only is maths a religion, it is the only religion that can prove it's a religion".

And the reason it's funny is it's TRUE!

Science would follow - if you don't have maths you can't do science ...

At the end of the day, it's impossible to live a belief-free life - maths is a belief system, science is a belief system, ...

Cheers,
Wol

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 0:29 UTC (Mon) by viro (subscriber, #7872) [Link]

Just how the hell is mathematics a belief system? Statements about its usefulness for describing the world may be a matter of belief (even though it's more of "as far as our memories can be relied upon, it seems to have been useful so far"), but the math itself? Details, please. And no, vague postmodern masturbation won't do; leave it to Eng.Lit wankers and their ilk, please.

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 0:47 UTC (Mon) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

Goedel proved that any sufficiently complex theory (capable to express Peano arithmetic) is either incomplete or inconsistent. For example, it's possible that the common arithmetic is inconsistent, perhaps one day we stumble into a contradiction in it.

Nobody believes in that, but that's the point - we can't prove it.

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 1:00 UTC (Mon) by apoelstra (subscriber, #75205) [Link]

>Just how the hell is mathematics a belief system?

The premise of mathematics is: assuming [some collection of axioms] plus [some rules of inference], what can be derived?

As Cyberax pointed out, with most axiomatic systems in use today, we need to take it on faith that the system is consistent. And if you treat mathematics as a game, that's the only point you would need to invoke an irrational belief. But it's nearly impossible to do mathematics this way, and definitely impossible to teach it this way.

The way that math -is- taught involves saying that some subset of the world is described by these axioms. For example, if you have a collection of blocks from which you can add or remove blocks, we assume that the blocks will obey Peano arithmetic. Then consistency follows from the assumption that the world itself is consistent. (This assumption underlies -all- of science, and it also needs to be taken on faith.)

In fact, you assume the block quantities will obey Peano arithmetic at such a low level, that you teach that addition and subtraction are actually defined in terms of these quantities. You'd never just give a child an axiomatic system and walk away.

The point is: when teaching mathematics, especially to children, you need to choose some part of reality which you claim is modeled by the math. This is where the teaching becomes subjective and ideological.

(At least, this is my understanding of Wol's post. Maybe he meant something completely different.)

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 1:01 UTC (Mon) by apoelstra (subscriber, #75205) [Link]

Sorry, I missed Jon's post asking to end the discussion! I retract my comment.

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 1:16 UTC (Mon) by viro (subscriber, #7872) [Link]

Blocks definitely do not satisfy Peano's axioms, what with the set being finite...

Anyway, Jon has the final word here.

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 2:25 UTC (Mon) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

Addition and subtraction are actually safe. They can be expressed using a complete theory, so we know they are consistent.

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 22:45 UTC (Mon) by Wol (guest, #4433) [Link]

I've seen Jon's block, so sorry for ignoring it, but yes that was exactly my point.

As per Goedel, ALL logic systems dealing with number are either incomplete, or inconsistent.

Hence our *belief* that arithmetic works ... :-)

Cheers,
Wol

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 0:34 UTC (Mon) by hummassa (subscriber, #307) [Link]

I don't know any polite words that can describe how utterly inane your post is. You clearly have absolutely no idea of what mathematics are.

Let's ban religion from schools ...

Posted Dec 31, 2012 0:52 UTC (Mon) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

...and I'm thinking that this particular discussion has wandered pretty far from LWN's usual topic mix. Maybe it would be a good time to end it?

Neutral values

Posted Dec 30, 2012 22:14 UTC (Sun) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

Take a simple example: you need to take one of these three positions on God: [...]
Given that the separation of church and state is a prerequisite of modern states, I would say that the agnostic position is the only tenable stance for public schools. Yes, it is ideological, but very desirable.

This principle is more or less embedded e.g. in our modern Spanish constitution ("Spain is a nondenominational state"). Note that it does not say "agnostic"; it could be theistic but without an official denomination.

Just to bring a semblance of on-topicness to the discussion, having more free software at schools is without a doubt an ideological position too. Even the innocent "sharing is good" is part of an ideology; many people are against it.


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