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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Natural Link Between Open Source and Homeschooling

Ted Leung is a software engineer, Open Source advocate, author, blogger, and, along with his wife Julie, a homeschooling parent. In this post Ted summarizes and expands the concepts of Doc Searls (co-author, "The Cluetrain Manifesto"), Thomas Friedman (New York Times columnist, author of "The Lexus and The Olive Tree," "The World is Flat," among others) and John Taylor Gatto (former Teacher of the Year, homeschooling advocate, author) to describe the natural link between open source methods and homeschooling.

Leung first quotes Searls:

Stop and think for a second here. How much of the world's best open-source code is being created by people who were trained to write that code in school? How much of it is the product of mentoring and self-education instead? How much of the intelligence behind it is as different as fingerprints?

What if the old industrial schooling system is as threatened by open source as the old proprietary software system?

Then Leung launches into his own thoughts.

This value system [described by Friedman in "The World is Flat"] is the value system of open source, of blogging, of home schooling, and other trends towards decentralization. And the value system of the traditional/industrial school system (not just public -- many private schools have the same philosophical orientation) are the reason that we prefer to homeschool.

As a former homeschooling parent, what others are saying about the natural connection between open source methods and homeschooling immediately clicks with me. Both are based on principles and methods that run counter to the prevailing organizing culture. In both cases, the conflict is between the institution and the individual. Homeschooling counters the one-size-fits-all and we-know-best mentality of public schooling with individuality and home-centered responsibility. Open Source methods counter corporate development methods and organizational hierarchy with peer-based production, peer-based decision-making, and modular development methods that scale up well for projects of any size.

Newton's First Law of Institutions is worth quoting here: The needs of the institution are always more important than the needs of the individual. Whether that institution is a software company or a public school, it will act in ways that encourage the status quo health of the organization if there is a conflict between the needs of the institution and an individual in it.

Microsoft Chairman and co-founder Bill Gates recently gave a speech in which he condemned the state of high school education in the U.S.:

When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education – and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives – we came to a painful conclusion:

America’s high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

As Gates notes in his speech, he looks at this from two directions, employer and philanthropist:

I’m not here to pose as an education expert. I head a corporation and a foundation. One I get paid for – the other one costs me. But both jobs give me a perspective on education in America, and both perspectives leave me appalled.

When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow. In math and science, our 4th graders are among the top students in the world. By 8th grade, they’re in the middle of the pack.

By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations.

The software industry today is being forced to recognize the value and importance of Open Source, not only for its particular software contributions, but also for its production methods. Open Source works partially because it de-institutionalizes software development. A huge part of the solution Gates seeks for U.S. high schools requires the de-institutionalism of education; a good model for it lies in the successes of the homeschool movement in this country. Decentralizing control, decentralizing responsibility, and decreasing student count per teacher are all part of the solution.

Our local high school participates in a Gates Foundation program designed for rural schools. I have been watching the progress and changes they have made. They are good changes, but they don't go far enough. They are still based on the needs of the institution. I don't think we as a nation have the courage and the vision to force schools to make the truly radical changes that are required. We need more renegades. The renegades who turned their backs on the software industry and rewrote the rules for software production and intellectual property have made a profound contribution to society. The renegades who turned their backs on the education system, becoming homeschoolers, have affected meaningful change for the sake of their own children, but it has done little for everone else. What we need now, in both environments, are renegades on a mission to reform from within.

The link to Julie Leung above is to her blog, where she also comments on these issues; she adds an interesting spin on the notion of "elite" that is well worth reading.


Anonymous ralphg said...

In Germany, homeschooling is illegal. When parents prefer to not have the state brainwash their kids, the parents are jailed.

My wife and I have no patience for home schooling (helping with homework is hard enough), so we send our kids to an independent school, which gets 50% funding from the government. At least we know the school's philosophy is a closer match to ours than the government-run schools.

9:54 AM  

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