The Future Is Almost Here

Dave Killion — December 3, 2012

The Victoria Libertarian Book Club is halfway through our current book (Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age). Pivotal to the story is a book/device named “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”. From Wikipedia

“….originally intended for an aristocrat’s child in the Neo-Victorian New Atlantis phyle”….”The Primer is intended to intellectually steer its reader toward (living) a more interesting life”….”and grow(ing) up to be an effective member of society. The most important quality to achieving an “interesting life” is deemed to be a subversive attitude towards the status quo. The Primer is designed to react to its owners’ environment and teach them what they need to know to survive and develop.”

The Primer falls into the hands of a young girl who, despite being impoverished and abused, flourishes under its influence. This result is very much in keeping with the outcomes I would expect to see were the state separated entirely from education. In a short time, the market would be providing highly accessible, highly affordable, highly effective services that would enable children from disadvantageous environments to blossom into intelligent, happy, responsible adults. But so long as the state is involved, isn’t this just a bunch of wishful thinking? Perhaps not –

“With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages—simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens.”….”Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

There are signs that the children are learning to spell and to read. And once they have learned to read, they can read to learn. We live in a wonderful world, full of possibility. If we choose to eschew violence and coercion in favour of peaceful cooperation, there is no telling what we might accomplish.

Ethiopia story via The Society for Quality Education

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