December 23rd, 2010 20:56 EST
A Free Education is Already Available, But Do Our Ruling Elites Really Want It?
He wants to give computers to poor children
Nicholas Negroponte is the most dangerous man on earth. Osama bin Laden is a blithering bungler by comparison.
Negroponte wants to put a computer in the hands of every child, especially the 70 million children deprived of schooling. He wants them to have laptops and tablets you can shake to power them up.
In this way the children will learn how to learn and they will be able to speak with each other from Iceland to New Zealand. And this is a mortal threat to every politician and ideologue who thrives on our ignorance and isolation.
Bin Laden blows up things, playing into the hands of fellow ideologues and feeding the military-industrial complex. But Negroponte`s idea, embodied in the organization he founded, the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC), is an inspired attack on the status quo.
Children around the world who know how to learn and how to speak with other children in other countries are a threat to every ism and ideology, every form of oppression and exploitation. Negroponte`s idea is potentially more powerful than communism or fascism or capitalism. To understand this, simply contemplate the exponential role Google, Facebook and Twitter play in our lives. Anyone who seeks to limit our access to the worldwide web or censor its content is by definition an authoritarian threat. While the United States deplores China`s restraints on web access it seeks to shut down WikiLeaks, proving that it perceives the web as a threat to its own power. The United States, like every nation that has ever sought to curtail its citizenry`s liberties, resorts to security as its excuse, but such oppressive measures are a greater threat to our security than WikiLeaks.
Bin Laden is a destructive child. Negroponte is a creative grown-up.
His view of the computer far outdistances the prevailing view of a machine in the service of communications and technology. That view, in his mind, is antique. What he is after is connectivity as a human right, and you can witness the authority of his idea on Facebook. You can also witness it in the current kerfuffle over WikiLeaks. Washington`s concern isn`t security, it`s control. But if highly educated Germany swallowed the Nazi rationale for censorship in the name of security we have much reason to fear how poorly educated America is responding to the government`s bogus case.
The American No Child Left Behind law, which encourages teaching to the test, is a misguided sideshow compared to the simple grandeur of putting the world and all the knowledge therein in the hands of every child. Negroponte`s vision raises a cutting question: do we seek to educate our children or do we seek to brainwash and opinionate them? Does the United States, or any nation, really want the world`s people to have access to a free education through, say, the online Khan Academy, or does it seek to perpetuate the crippling monopoly on education now exercised by the educational establishment? The educational establishment is part of a ruling elite; does the government represent all its citizens or that elite? We`ll see. Any of the world`s citizens with a computer and access to the Internet can achieve a reputable level of education, but is this what the business oligarchy really wants? What would happen to exploitable labor? How would governments fake the case for wars?
Negroponte is talking about making life hard, very hard for bamboozlers. He would transform every child on the planet into an agent of change, not just a passive recipient of an authorized hand-me-down body of knowledge. He would make their lives globally interactive. He would give them the power to challenge ideas, to explore alternatives. Laptops in their hands are infinitely more powerful than AK47s. His dream is the worst nightmare of oppressive regimes and a litmus test for so-called democracies, asking as it does how democratic they really are. How many religious establishments do you think want this kind of world, a world in which they can`t fob off platitudes and fable?
The obvious enemies of Negroponte`s vision are regimes like Myanmar`s and North Korea`s, bugaboos by consensus, but not so obvious and more dangerous are the societies, like our own, that fall short of their own best ideals. Does our capitalist elite really want the kind of world Negroponte projects? If such a world came into being, bankers` wars, the kind we`re waging in Afghanistan, would be more difficult to launch and sustain, and cheap labor markets would be more difficult to exploit. Unionism would be more difficult to suppress. The misunderstandings on which global profiteers thrive would become more elusive. We`re not talking about the next century, we`re talking about a different century, the century of global discourse "the very century the mega-media corporations are seeking to contain by wresting authority from the government to control access to the Internet.
His is an idea that tests our republican mettle. Do we want the kind of world we claim we want? Not a democratic or republican, not a capitalist or communist world, but an informed world, a world teaching itself to check things out? Can Wall Street tolerate such a world? Can Beijing? Can Fox News or any sector of the media establishment? It would be a world without a self-interested elite vetting its information, without commercial censorship. Can the governments of the world stomach it?
There are more than a billion citizens of the world who lack basic education. Negroponte`s project would go a long way to making a dent in that frightening statistic, because that number represents the potential of ideologues to cause trouble in the world. It also represents the continued oppression of women and children.
Negroponte is waging a war on the real enemy, ignorance; Bin Laden is just another in a long line of murderous creeps who thrive on it. Bin Laden is a gift from heaven to banks, corrupt politicians, neo-Nazi security freaks and racketeers. It will be interesting to see if the world`s elites can handle Bin Laden better than Negroponte.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com