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Re: Overview, roadmap, priorities

On 27 Jul 2000, Camm Maguire wrote:
> Giving this just a bit of thought, it would appear to me that what
> would best appeal to our children about Debian is what best appeals to
> us: a solid means of access to and analysis of real information,

I would agree wholeheartedly with this.

> a helpful worldwide community to aid in learning,

As the children mature, yes.  At the tender years of 2, 6, 8, and 10,
my children have not yet entered into this community.  They have some
social skills and basic safety rules to learn yet before they can fully
enter into this experience.  At the younger ages, I would expect that
children largely relate to their computers as something to express
themselves with, whether it be writing, music, art, or even programming
(logo, for example).  And something to play with, both through games and
just plain poking about at random ("let's press tab-tab in shell and see
what commands we can find! ... hmm, v<tab><tab> ... vi ... hey, Dad, how
do i get out of this!?")

> and freedom from
> marketing mind manipulation, condescension, coercion and pandering to
> baser instincts.

While these are indeed things that appeal to me as a Debian user, and do
wish to impart to my children, I wonder how high up on the list the
freedoms you are to the children themselves.  In one sense, they are
little philosophers, learning how to make sense of the world.  And they
are certainly sharp enough to notice and dislike this aspect of much of
the "edutainmaint" crap that is out there.  So yes, I agree that we want
to steer clear of it, but to some extent, this happens "automagically" 
anyway because the culture in which free software is born abhors this
garbage and therefore tends to produce things which put the child in the
driver's seat.  Still, I guess it is something to watch out for, because
it is a common mistake to think that the Linux desktop should emulate
Windows, and therefore the mind-candy philosophy of software design does
creep in.

> I'll never forget my 4 yr old's frustration with a Windows Winnie the
> Pooh alphabet game.  The program told her what to do, while in Linux,
> she told the program what to do.  That about sums it up for me: are we
> mindless sheep to be pacified and entertained, or is the computer a
> tool which should flexibly bend to our will as we pursue a line of
> investigation?

Yes, the "edutainment" world is certainly filled with plenty of examples
of condescension, etc.  Yet I have watched my own children with some of
the Reader Rabbit series of programs and have observed nothing but
positive responses from the kids.  There is a grey area in there. 
Multimedia "edutainment"  programs aren't all automatically in this
category.  There are a few shining examples to the contrary. 

> This to me is the only real area where we even have a chance to
> distinguish ourselves.  Windows will always be slicker, smoother, more
> comfortable.  But if we can elicit that chortle from an awakened mind
> as it recognizes the limitation and atrophy that sets in from a video
> game culture, then we can be known as the OS of choice for kids who
> want to use their computer to learn what *they* want to learn, to
> explore, to try out new ideas not already thought of by a program
> designer.  
> Of course, the above is no doubt too extreme, but I'm trying to write
> this quickly.  

Perhaps.  I am not ashamed to say that our family engages in "mindless" 
video games from time to time ... but it's treated like "junk food".  It's
something that is carefully doled out in small quantities because it
really has no "nutritional" value for our minds, yet it titillates our
senses and can be quite addictive and can waste lots of time if you don't
budget it.  I don't mind if we continue to see new Linux video games in
the home, but I really would like to see other sorts of things too.

> Bringing all this to a child's level is no easy task, but not
> impossible, IMHO.  We need to observe their moments of enlightenment,
> as opposed to entertainment, and try to reproduce the conditions that
> led to that moment.  Perhaps a good place to start would be to
> assist in assembling a high quality body of information of interest to
> children from public sources on the web, and presenting it locally on
> the system, free from adds, web page redesigns, and slow connections,
> and with high quality searching facilities. 

Here we stray from packaging work and start to discuss architecting and
designing new software for our children, and I think it's great.  I don't
want to squelch that sort of discussion.  Yet I do think it strays from
the mandate of Debian Jr. which is about making a *Debian* for children,
whereas this sort of project is more general in nature, and therefore
probably fits better on seul-edu.  Are you on that list?  Perhaps you
could distil your ideas a bit and put forward a proposal there?  If you
get something started along these lines, I am sure Debian Jr. will benefit
from having it included.

But, in terms of selecting among the potential Debian packages out there
these thoughts are helpful.  I'm sure we'll be looking *first* for stuff
that *feeds* the children's imaginations and satisfies their intellectual
curiosity rather than simply titillating their brains with mind-candy. 

    nSLUG       http://www.nslug.ns.ca      synrg@sanctuary.nslug.ns.ca
    Debian      http://www.debian.org       synrg@debian.org
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