Saturday, December 15, 2007

Moderate Trolling

Of course, one big problem with the "radical center," etc. is that "moderate" tends to mean "whatever I believe." Another problem in terms of politics is that right now we have a lot of radicals on the right and a very fragmented left, so if you just pick a mid-point, you end up with something quite far to the right by historical standards. So now the "moderate" positions are things like accepting the premise that it is ok for the executive branch to ask corporations to break the law, reasonable for corporations to do so, and that those corporations deserve retroactive immunity for their illegal acts. Or that "moderates" accept that waterboarding is a reasonable middle ground on the question of torture

But, focusing in Doug's post on a "radical center" on ed-tech issues, let's just skim over the particular issues he mentions:

  • reading methodologies - This has become weirdly aligned along a left/right axis in the US, but the right is way more rabid about it. How many Democrats who aren't elementary school teachers sit around talking about whole language and phonics? Not very many. How many Republicans are up in arms about it? A lot.
  • filtering - The problem with the filtering debate is that it doesn't involve the people who are doing the filtering, nor does it seem to usually encompass the full range of legal issues that the people doing the filtering believe themselves to be addressing, nor does anyone seem to know how substantive those issues actually are.
  • DRM - I'd say the centrist position is that DRM is a bad deal for schools. How does a school benefit from buying DRM-ed content? It doesn't. What will happen if they simply refuse to buy it? Look at the music business. They're giving up on DRM and giving consumers what they've wanted all along. It's not complicated, and it isn't a radical position.
  • Open Source - Open source is not controversial or radical in the technology industry as a whole. It is a widely accepted, successful and often profitable model. Of course, you can take it to a radical extreme and demand that people only use open source software, but who is doing that other than Richard Stallman (who would, of course, phrase it a little differently) and a handful of geeks? There is not a single person with any power or influence in US education who makes that argument.
  • copyright/copyleft - What's the current US copyright practice? Every creative expression by everyone is automatically copyrighted virtually in perpetuity. That's radical. Copyleft and Creative Commons licensing are built on the copyright system. They aren't in opposition to it, but they are an alternative available to creators. I think that's a moderate position. Who is against copyright entirely? More assertive fair use, perhaps. More sanity about things like photographing public spaces, sure. I'm personally in favor of restoring the "founders' copyright" as US law. I find it to be a very moderate position.
  • constructivism - This one is enough of a definitional nightmare to just leave alone.
  • e-books - This must be a librarian thing. I don't understand.
  • fixed schedules - Another librarian thing? Certainly schedules are a point of contention in any school, but I'm not sure what the arguments about their "fixed-ness" are.
  • Mac/PC/Linux - Ah, yes. Every veteran ed tech consultant's nightmare, having this religious war flaring up full strength again. Look, it is Microsoft that is the monopolist, Windows is the OS that doesn't play nice with others. Who has the weakest case for the next decade? Windows. If there is a rationale for remaining dependent on Windows going forward, I'd like to hear it. The moderate position is all of the above.
  • OLPC - OLPC is so multi-faceted it is hard to pin down what one would address about it in this context.
  • fear-mongering - There is not a moderate response to fear mongering! If you are "fear mongering" you are by definition wrong and should not be indulged.


Gnuosphere said...

Just to be clear, the list is Doug's and the commentary after each point is yours, correct?

Tom Hoffman said...


Gnuosphere said...

"Of course, you can take it to a radical extreme and demand that people only use open source software, but who is doing that other than Richard Stallman"

This mischaracterizes Stallman's position. Although he (and I, and perhaps you?) thinks users should fight as hard as they can to use completely free systems, he would feel that the ethical issue is primarily in the laps of the licensors. I would imagine he would feel pity toward those who are stuck using non-free pieces but I don't think he would directly focus the ethical question on users - ever. Sure, he may point out the fact that we play a part in a rotten system when we accept non-free software and this is an important point - but Stallman has never demanded that all users use free software. His demand (which I wholeheartedly agree with) is that those who publish software do so in a way that doesn't trample user freedom.

The word "extreme" in this case comes off as pejorative. Nobody likes extremism. It implies an unbalanced and unreasoned approach. I don't think Stallman's view on licensing is extreme at all. If we use the waterboarding analogy (though the physical suffering makes it a poor analogy in that sense), it's the proprietary licensors who euphemistically advocate "alternative interrogation", the open source camp that says, "torture is not OK but waterboarding might be OK in some particular cases" and the free software camp that says, "all torture is unethical - including waterboarding".

Gnuosphere said...

Re: Founder's Copyright

Though I think it's great that CC has this option is order to bring the extremism of lifetime+X years back to something more reasonable time-wise, a Founder's Copyright still misses out on a establishing a reasonable relationship to 21st-century technology. That is, it's still All Rights Reserved - thus too extreme for the digital age.

Mix copyleft and CC with FC and that's a balanced middle way that even Siddhattha Gotama would be proud of.

Tom Hoffman said...

I should have said, only rms and a few others believe "schools should exclusively use free software."

Gnuosphere said...

Yes. That's certainly more specific than "people" for as the article states, "there are special reasons that apply to schools". For schools, it's as obvious as the fact that "DRM is a bad deal". Proprietary software in schools is at least as bad a deal as DRM in schools.

Perhaps the snag is in the article's title. If we take it literally, most schools would have to stop using their computers for the time being - which I think would be counterproductive. In reality, I'm not even sure it's possible to use a computer in 100% freedom. Not even the OLPC XO is completely free as far as I understand. Maybe a better title is, "Why schools should move toward the exclusive use of free software" or something to that effect.

Gnuosphere said...

scratch "understand".

I'm only hearing things and it may be a misunderstanding. I really wouldn't know until I get my XO. But I will say that if any firmware in the machine is proprietary that would be unfortunate.

Tom Hoffman said...

My understanding is that there's some proprietary code in some drivers or firmware, but they've been working on getting rid of it.

tellio said...

I have found this post to be very useful as a start point to discuss where my university is going in the next ten years. The XO is a challenge to the university's leadership role in K-12 in that it represents decentralization and (I hope) empowerment on the folk level (student, teacher, family). So where do universities fit in to XO and open source?

Thanks for jump starting this discussion for me, Tom et al.