Most Wonderful Post of the Year – 2007 (Part Two)

December 26th, 2007 · 4 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Normally, I do only one “Most Wonderful Post of the Year”, because, well, if there are two, which post is truly the most wonderful? But since it’s the giving season — and I do love giving — I’ve decided to break precedent (because you’ve got to live every day to the fullest) and offer up a second most wonderful post.

Over the past several years, I have been wishy-washy about the “One Laptop Per Child” project. When it was first announced by Nicholas Negroponte, a bountiful vision of gifting the world’s needy children with fully functioning laptops, I, like so many others, thought “Great dream, how’s it gonna work.” And, I suspect, like so many others went back to my normal worrying about my own life.

I actually got my hands on the bright green “XO” machines last year at South by Southwest. It was, as advertised, lightweight, portable, readable, and, yes, cute. Do not underestimate the power of cute when it comes to kids and technology. Children are not little adults. Physical evidence has a way of putting concepts on my radar and I’ve been paying more attention to the OLPC project (also known in our household as “One Laptop Per Calico”).

Currently, the project is running a “give one, get one” promotion — you donate one laptop to a child and you receive one for yourself (though rumor has it you can donate the second as well — we were not successful in this endeavor, though effort was expended). This promotion ends on December 31, and is fantastic for those who want to both give and get. It’s $399.00…less than you spent on that Wii via eBay. Plus you receive other benefits, like a year’s T-Mobile subscription — this makes the tax deductibility aspect of giving a bit of a wash, so I’m not encouraging donating to this project if you’re just seeking a write-off.

The laptops are remarkably sturdy, make good use of available energy sources (or, rather, lack of energy sources), built-in camera, networking via mesh technology — because since that very first cave drawing, humans have been collaborating — and, critically, are designed to handle less-than-perfect weather. I should also note internet connectivity and, oh, copyright-free books (aka books in the public domain — including many of the classics that kids end up reading anyway).

The system runs on Linux. Curiously, an Associated Press story about the OLPC project in Peru notes that government agencies have hesitated to make major purchases of the laptops because they don’t run the Windows operating system. I find this curious — the cost of adding Windows would turn this project into “No Laptop Per Child”. The statement also runs counter to other news reports that suggest governments are seeking alternatives to Windows due to the high ongoing costs.

Using open source technology such a great degree not only lowers overall costs, but it also extends the learning environment — a locked down operating system doesn’t encourage budding programmers.

OLPC is not a perfect project but perfect isn’t always the best approach. Sometimes you have to stop with the studying and hand-wringing and just do.

One more thing. Since I’m already breaking with the one most wonderful post rule, I’m going to mention another great giving opportunity for last-minute charitable donations. Another program that I’ve been keeping my on is called “DonorsChoose“. This project has a pretty clear mission: Teachers Ask. You Choose. Students Learn.

Basically, teachers submit projects to the program and donors choose (get it?) which projects they’d like to help fund. The projects range from ambitious to modest. The fact that teachers need to make requests for pencils and paper via a charitable organization is perhaps the saddest statement one can make about our nation today. I am not so much worried about the future of the novel as I am the future of education. If we do not educate our children, well, then, the other is sort of moot, isn’t it?

Reading the descriptions of projects submitted by teachers makes me cry. I was so incredibly lucky to grow up in a time of relative school district prosperity (mostly pre-Prop 13 in California) and if there were shortages in the classroom, I was oblivious — and I always got what I needed, right down to in-class time to read whatever I wanted to read. I want that for other children.

File Under: Square Pegs

4 responses so far ↓

  • TJ Bennett // Dec 27, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    It is sad to see how teachers have to beg for basic supplies, isn’t it? My kids are in middle school, and the first day of class the teachers sent home a wish list of donations for the classroom. The kids’ teacher was overjoyed when I agreed to donate paper plates. Paper plates! We invest about $70 at the beginning of each school year in the PTA’s school supply kit for the children as well. The kits have all the basics our children will need throughout the school year, but it took me a while to catch on that the kits quickly become “community property” and items like glue, folders, and paper go to the ones who need them the most. No prob. It may be a racket, but it’s a good one. 🙂


  • Kathleen O'Reilly // Jan 2, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Oh, we ordered one! (complete family of geeks, and my youngest is a green geek, so it was totally appropriate). However, they’re backordered, so we don’t get to play until mid-January. I think it’s a great project, and I love all the innovative thinking that is going into helping other countries.

  • Kassia Krozser // Jan 2, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Kathleen — sounds like we’ll get our green machines about the same time. I’m hoping I can keep the husband occupied with the Wii (Godzilla!) while I explore. I am so in favor of anything that increases literacy. My biggest fear is lack of education.

    TJ — Yeah. Oh yeah. My mom (as mentioned about a thousand times) is a librarian in a school that doesn’t get lots of money love. When I was growing up, she was *my* school librarian (good girl syndromes have to start somewhere). All I can remember is all the new books. Given my exalted status (or perceived status as it has turned out that my friends were all very close to my mother as well), I had the choicest picks of the choicest books. I’d have to stay home “sick” just to indulge myself. It’s a wonder I’m not a hypochondriac!

    I believe, I believe, I believe that we must put more into literacy. We cannot succeed without understanding words, sentences, paragraphs, concepts, stories, and more. Yeah, I’m biased, but I think I’m living proof of concept.

  • April // Jan 7, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I’ll be curious to know how you like the computer when it arrives. It sounds like a great idea and a great project!