Open source eliminates lack of resources at inner city schools

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Unschooling is the open source way

Fifty years ago, on January 17, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, DC. And it is worthwhile to reflect on how much or little has changed in terms of education. His belief that "my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" still resonates today. Five years later, in 1968, King was assassinated as he was working on his Poor People's Campaign, a multiracial effort to gain economic justice and alleviate poverty regardless of race. His underlying concern had been social justice and altering the balance of power in society by reforming society, which remains controversial today.

King's speeches and campaigns came on the heels of the landmark US Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which legally ended segregation in public schools but did not address racial inequality in them or residential segregation that affects public schools today. In the 1970s and 1980s a series of court cases created forced busing or desegregation busing in an effort to address prior racial segregation in the schools and residential segregation on local public school demographics. The practice was hotly contested in many areas of the country, but none more so than in Boston, Massachusetts. Today, children in parts of Boston take buses or trains to the suburbs where the schools are predominately white and wealthier; traditionally score higher on educational achievement tests; have more textbooks and better qualified teachers; and more computer hardware and software in the public schools.

Until open hardware and software existed, many public schools in the inner cities lacked the resources to provide highly qualified teachers or quality textbooks, books (fiction, nonfiction, and reference), periodicals, videos, or much technology. But today abandoned and old computers are being donated and recycled for use in low-income school districts; free computers can also be obtained through organizations like Free Geek and Freecycle, and on CraigsList.

If school districts install Linux and Open Office, they can save thousands and thousands of dollars in licensing fees, maintenance, and personnel. With Internet access, open source web browsers such as WebKit, Wordpress, and Buddypress can then be installed within six minutes to create a website or blog. And with Internet access, limitless educational opportunities ensue; a few examples include:

With Internet access and an open source web browser, the lack of resources associated with public schools in the inner cities can potentially be greatly reduced or eliminated. 

The potential role that open source can play in bridging racial inequality is profound. By 2050, the current white majority will be become the new minority. Critics contend that if the US does not invest in the education of minorities, then the ramifications could be catastrophic. Moreover, there is a strong correlation between poverty and race and numerous reports that show minorities lagging in educational opportunities, achievement, and attainment.

 Schools have become more segregated. Educational tests between whites and minorities have not changed in 20 years.

The potential role that open source can playing in bridging poverty is also profound and should not be dismissed. The rates on poverty have also not changed in 30 years either. In 2010, over 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the highest poverty level in 17 years. In 2012, the working poor represent arguably the largest, and fastest growing, economic class in the US.

Open source can help the poor get a quality education, jobs, health care, and much more. Never before in history have educational opportunities been more prevalent nor tied to wealth or status. The University of the People, for instance, is the world's first tuition-free online university. Likewise, ALISON allows adults to enroll in courses for basic workplace skills or obtain a diploma or certificate for free.

Today, we are not limited by the color of our skin to partake in these educational opportunities but limited by time, access to open source, and our own initiative to pursue knowledge on its own, whether that is formally in a school setting or informally on our own. Last I looked, Americans are guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There's not much happiness if educational opportunities are restricted based on wealth and status rather than the availability and accessibility that open source affords.

Carolyn Fox is an educator, librarian, historian, and an un/homeschooling mother. She lives in Massachusetts with her UK husband and son.


Small problem here: "Schools have become more segregated. Educational tests between whites and minorities have not changed in 20 years."

I think what was meant is that the achievement gap between 'whites' and minorities has not changed in 20 years. This is not true - the achievement gap between ethnicities is closing - but the emergent gap is more a function of economics (e.g. Bailey & Dynarski, 2011; Reardon et al., 2011). (This does not take away from the underlying point - the underlying gap exists and is frequently predicated on access to resources (see Krashen).

Bailey, M. J., & Dynarski, S. M. (2011). Gains and gaps: Changing inequality in U.S. college entry and completion. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series, No. 17633. Retrieved from

Krashen, S. (2005). The hard work hypothesis: Is doing your homework enough to overcome the effects of poverty? Multicultural Education, 12(4), 16–19.

Reardon, S. F., Murnane, R., & Duncan, G. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations. In Whither opportunity? Rising inequality and the uncertain life chances of low-income children (pp. 91–116). New York: Russel Sage Foundation Press.

Great article, as a Wordpress dev guy I do take issue with this bit though:

'open source web browsers such as WebKit, Wordpress, and Buddypress'

None of those are browsers. Webkit is a browser engine, Wordpress is a CMS/Blogging platform and Buddypress is a suite of plugins for Wordpress.

Mozilla Firefox is however a browser, and open source. I suggest mentioning it as the browser, dropping the mention of Webkit entirely and making it clear that Wordpress is not a browser, but something you can use with your browser for awesome websites and blogs.


I wrote this article on behalf of some of my former students. These kids were poor whites or minorities who came from the projects or deprived areas in neighboring cities. I tap my hat off to these former students of mine and their parents. Their daily journey for a high school education was not easy.

All the statistics and research in the world is nil if you value education and you are zoned for a failing school with a child. Unfortunately, many of these failing schools are in the inner cities where educational resources are limited in terms of textbooks, educational tools, or materials. Too often, school libraries and librarians are cut too.

WordPress - thanks for the info on web browsers; that was slip up. Of course, you're correct on Mozilla Firefox.

Washington, DC schools are better funded than most in the US, let alone the rest of the world, yet achieve very poor results. The fundamental problem is therefore not a lack of resources.

It is a very complicated issue, but with DC (or some other school systems) it may depend where the money is actually going.

Availability AND accessibility to resources (types of textbooks, books, and other printed materials) have played a role in student academic achievement. If a school doesn't have enough books on The Diary of Anne Frank for their students, guess what isn't covered. Likewise, a school, for instance, may have algebra textbooks for high school students, but such textbooks are not usually available or accessible to elementary school students even though there may be a student who is eager and able to learn algebra in the 3rd grade, for example. Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, who was raised by a single mom and grew up in Metairie, LA, faced this issue with math; his school would not allow him to skip ahead in math.

In high school, many students are limited to what courses they can take based on what a school offers or what's available. Years ago, AP classes were not an option, only honor classes were. Today, a top-ranked high school like Lexington High School can give students more options from courses to chose. In other school systems, they may lack a French teacher to provide an AP French course. Similarly, Chinese or Mandarin is now becoming popular as a language course for American students, but it's not always widely available due to staffing, textbooks, and/or funds.

High school electives are offered based on student interest/needs, textbooks or other materials available, and a teacher's background/interest. Such electives in public schools can vary considerably to what Phillips Exeter Academy can offer, for example.

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