I don’t know how familiar how many of you are with Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, where his goal is to ” provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.” He’s talking about places like villages in Ethiopia and Sudan and the like. OLPC started giving away laptops in 2007, and I’ll let you go to their website to read more, but their latest experiment was with Motorola Xoom tablets in Ethiopia.

In two isolated villages, each with about 20 first-grade age kids none of whom had ever seen a single letter of print before, OLPC dropped off taped, unmarked boxes with tablets inside. No instruction, no teachers. Just the boxes of tablets. They figured the kids would play with the boxes. hahahahahaha.

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.”

You should stop, follow this link and finish the story, then come back here for what I have to say. I mean… that is… if you’re… you know… interested.

OK. Here are my thoughts.

One: It’s just so cool and great, and shows what kids are capable of if given even a little chance.

Two: People are already spinning this into a we-don’t-need-teachers-any-more-since -this-is-the-new-millennium-and-people-will-teach-themselves-to-be-rocket-scientists-using-Khan-“Academy”-blah-blah-blah type of story…

BS. I mean I love stories like this, and I think we should spend A LOT more of our time in schools making the kids figure things out on their own and quit holding their hands so much, but really? Kids saying ABC songs and spending months figuring out how to spell lion is not exactly an education system any more than Khan videos are a substitute for a real high school or university education. Sorry, don’t EVEN get me started on the whole internet infatuation with this Khan guy. I don’t get it.

Three: I get the feeling that if we tried anything similar here–you know dropping off some boxes with some unknown machines in them, and seeing what the kids do with them–it would be more like this:

First, all the parents of kids with IEP’s and 504 plans would want the boxes in advance so the SPED teacher could help open them and figure everything out before they got “tested” on it. One or two would demand to know the answers to the box beforehand. Some would get a tutor on box opening and mysterious machine figuring out. A few would ask to be excused from the box opening because it’s against their beliefs. Some would go out and try to buy their own box with a mysterious machine in it. Some would stay home “sick,” because box-opening and machine-figuring stresses them out.


A significant percentage would not even notice that there were boxes at all.

“The boxes are taped! Can I have some scissors?”

About 25% would stop right there.

“Ow! Can I have a band-aid? I think I cut myself.”

We’d lose another 20% there.

Once we finally had some out of the boxes…

“Does it come in pink?”

“I got a better one at home.”

“What do I do now?”

“Mine’s broken.”

“Mine too.”

“I’m confused.”

“Will this be on the test?”

“This is boring.”