A brief digression: saving net neutrality

UPDATE: I can own my mistakes. Looks like a lot of people, myself included, were wrong about exactly how this deal went down. (See http://blog.streamingmedia.com/2014/02/media-botching-coverage-netflix-comcast-deal-getting-basics-wrong.html for more details.) HOWEVER, regardless of how much this particular instance is about net neutrality, net neutrality is still something to be aware of and to be protected. That part I will not be changing my mind on...probably.

The internet is as necessary to a proper education today as are the piles of textbooks, notebooks, and perhaps even the chairs and tables in our classrooms. If it as we know it goes away, the world takes a giant step backwards. I'd rather not give our students ONE MORE problem we caused and they have to solve. 

The headline reads, "Netflix Agrees to Pay Comcast to End Traffic Jam" and I vomit a little in my mouth. 

This is EXACTLY how net neutrality - which, BTW, is how the internet was "designed" - dies. Netflix already pays carriers for better peering through their networks, now the carrier here is getting paid again. Let's see, that's you and me for our internet access, Netflix for its basic access, Netflix for peering priority, and Netflix for normal (NOT special) treatment of its bits through Comcast's network. 

Can you see the trouble with this model? Simplified: if this sort of thing continues to expand, parties without Netflix-like cash won't be able to pay the extortion charges to carriers in order to get their bits to their customers. Then the internet becomes yet another 1-to-many road controlled by the rich. For some history which, as we all know, loves to repeat itself, read on:

Newspapers began from printings created by average citizens which spawned the idea of modern journalism and has grown into an entire market controlled by uber-corporations. Sure, you can send in your letters to the editor, and they'll pick the ones that get printed...

Radio started a world-wide creative and innovative marketplace of ideas as early users built their own hardware and began communicating with folks half a world away. Then, the American government and its favorite lobbyists decided that the entire electro-magnetic spectrum was actually theirs to rent out to people - voila, the FCC is born in 1934 and now anyone who would like to use the airwaves must pay them for the privilege. 

TV wasn't ever open to average citizens due to the high costs of startup. However, sites like YouTube, Ustream, Vimeo, and many, many others have democratized the creation and distribution of video around the world and the world is arguably a better place because of it. Creativity is at an all-time high, citizen journalists are working from feeds of raw video from every conflict and celebration on the planet. Imagine if this rich environment is stifled and information about what is going on around the world again is controlled, filtered, and doled out by corporations large enough to own both the networks that make up the internet AND the governments that want to control it.

The internet is unlike anything else that has ever come along in its power to unite people around the world and connect humanity. At the same time it is still in its fragile infancy and is susceptible to attacks to its basic ideologies and founding principles. Principles that are worth preserving and fighting for. Please head to the following link and do what you can. Thank you.

www.savetheinternet.com/sti-home

Education for a distant past

Today's all about the spectrum of ideas out there, I guess. On the same day that I read this wonderfully sensible post from Tom Whitby:

"Now that we have seen how the needs of society have structured the needs of skills for students, and now that we have seen how the needs of education have structured the changes in methodology to address those skills, we now need to consider the best way to deliver access to information for curation, analysis, understanding, communicating and creating. For that direction let us consider what tools are used by Industry, Business, Banking, and the Arts. If the answer is TECHNOLOGY, why is there any debate about why, and how much technology should play a role in education? Yes, good teachers can teach without technology, but to what end, if the student will need to master technology to compete, or even exist in a technology-driven environment?

It is time that this debate ends. There are no choices for educators to make here. If we are educating our children to live and thrive in their world, we cannot limit them to what we were limited to in our world."

...I also happen upon this from a school right down the road from me:

(to the question in their FAQs) Do you have a computer lab?

"In keeping with classical education philosophy, we do not believe that learning to use a computer is foundational to a child's education. MHA seeks to provide children with the tools of learning, versus "skills," so that when and if they need to use a computer, they will be able to learn to use it on their own. Most children learn to use computers in their own homes. Time spent in school learning to use a computer would detract from time spent in other educational endeavors which move a child closer to becoming a true scholar. "

By "true scholar," do you think they mean someone who can live in an ivory tower somewhere, away from the demands of modern life? Is the plan for their students to automagically become so successful that they'll have people who can go online for them to do their banking, filter their content for them and apply critical thinking and analysis to it for them, maintain their social connections for them, craft their public reputation for them, et al. - immediately upon graduation?

Seriously, though, I agree that having a computer lab is less than ideal and I admire the philosophy of focusing on learning skills, as there is no way today to tell what our students will need tomorrow. But why apply this philosophy only to computer use? Why do they teach math, or history, or anything? 

Being able to use a computer skillfully is a necessary part of a successful modern life - as Tom Whitby deftly expresses in his post, this debate needs to end. Any so-called educational institution that is lacking in the how-to, when-to, and why-to lessons for its students is doing them an immense disservice.

And this, from the same FAQ entry, is not a substitute for purposeful educational experience:

"However, we do not discourage the use of computers for research or writing papers, and in fact it is sometimes required. We also allow older students to bring their own laptops into the school if they wish to use it for taking notes or doing homework during study halls."

So, their students are totally welcome to use computers - the most powerful tool of self-expression and the gateway to the most important collection of human knowledge and experience the world has ever seen - as typewriters. And their older students are free to use them to do "homework." Two quick questions: what kind of homework which would benefit from computer use does this school feel it can assign without giving execution instructions, and how old do their students have to be before they can start to figure out how irrelevant their education is?

But hey, they're not a completely backwards institution. At least they don't offer APs!

/rant

What do you get when you add together three bad ideas? The LA school district's iPad program.

I read this article about LA's school iPad program this morning.

I already thought the initial iPad program sounded like a bad decision on LA's part - partially because I don't agree with the practice of providing students with such a neutered computing device. (see Doctorow's "war against general purpose computing" http://boingboing.net/2012/01/10/lockdown.html )

Add to that the fact that they were neutering the iPads even more through device control services, and I really don't see how the proposed educational benefits would be worth the 30 year bond being used to pay for the program.

Then, to top it off, because the students began to "hack" their iPads in the natural and inevitable processes of exploration, learning, and experimentation - which is what schools actually ought to be encouraging in their students - LA is thinking about delaying the rest of the rollout, as if they can somehow fix the underlying faults of their plan.

I am frustrated by how often i see this kind of thing. If a backwards, old fashioned, and poorly executed plan is the problem, the fix should be modern, progressive, and with best practices in mind. Apparently, that's too much trouble.

POST-RANT THOUGHT: It must be awful to be one of the LA officials involved in this. The external pressures of culture and the status quo combined with the internal pressures from their understanding of how the world should work (which I'm sure they've come by naturally) must be absolutely paralyzing. My thoughts are with everyone involved as they are faced with modern reality. I hope they re able to coordinate all of the necessary parts of the system in order to use this to grow and move it forward. It won't be easy but it will be right.