Hackable Turtles, all the way down
Ok, I get it.
Last month, I was pulled into an iPad vs real computer discussion. It’s a topic that I’ve sworn off many times, but never successfully. In the comments, Peter mentioned that “hackability is a social principle,” and was an end worth pursuing.
I’ve been slotting those concerns into my mental box with rms and the Loper OS guy, the space reserved for arguments where I agree with the principles express but disagree about the importance or centrality.
In broadest terms, hackability means the ability to use a tool to modify itself. It may be the rush of early summer talking, but creating responsive, humane, hackable environments for our students is the central challenge of school reform.
Hackability is not just about devices, operating systems or code. Hackability reflects on student choice and agency, highlights the gaps between our curriculum and our mission.
For a system or community to be hackable, every user/member must be able to design and propose changes to the real system, not thought experiments or a pocket universe of tri-fold posters.
Our students deserve the a world where they can open, reprogram, repurpose the electronics that surrounds them. I also want that to be true for their classrooms and communities.
Stager, Moglen and others rightly see liberation technology as an antidote to coercive conformity, from antiquated k12 systems, from stability-mad states or from “the thug in a hoodie.” As such, the padded playground of iOS/Facebook/toy computing is doubly toxic, a new exploitative regime masquerading as liberators.
I get that. I really do.
But I honestly think that we have a great opportunity to build an Innovation Under Austerity culture, which is an awful lot like Maker culture, into our schools. For years, the path that I’ve seen most clearly involves students creating and discovering in ways that fulfill, and then shatter, traditional expectations of student work. Since we launched our iPad program last fall, I’ve become generally convinced that the iPad can be that device for our students and our school.
But this week, I’m far less sanguine about the real costs and tradeoffs of that choice.