i'm back in the islands in a little over a week for tposscon. i was there for the inaugural event last year and am interested to see how things will have matured since. it is once again being organized by the hawaii open source foundation's scott belford, so i'm sure it'll go well. i'll be presenting on each of the four days and i'll be trying out all new material. i'm particularly excited about the 2 hands-on sessions.
one of the presentations, "How Open Source Software Improves Society", is not about KDE but about open source and society in general. i don't believe Free software can or will solve all or even a majority of social ills, but i do believe in the monumental importance of informational freedom for building healthy societies and recognize open source's role to play there. i decided to tackle the topic at this particular event for a very personal reason.
i'll be staying with family while i'm there. they live just outside the community i spent my teen years in: nanakuli. nankuli is a hot and often dusty community nestled in a valley on the leeward coast of oahu. when announcing to the mailing list that i'd be coming for tposscon, scott noted that i graduated from a high school that has been officially labeled a failure.
i phoned a teacher of mine at the high school who i'm still good friends with and she confirmed: they have been declared a chronic failure and have been put under restructuring. they've already spent some US$400,000 to get a private company to come in to raise test scores. yes, test scores. as if that was so important. i understand that it's a quantifiable metric, but failing standardized tests are the symptom not the problem.
when i arrived at nanakuli high and intermediate i quickly discovered that life in a gang- and drug-ridden school where ethnicity was a daily definer (and divider) and poverty was the norm rather than the exception was quite different than going to school in rural coastal british columbia. the social state of the school seemed to overshadow and undermine everything else. but the people had (and still have) great hearts and souls.
the years surrounding my graduation saw a visible decrease in violence at the school. more kids went on to university, including prestigious institutions like harvard. there were several students interested in computing, we had a mock trial team, a math team and more. our student government was active and it seemed things were better. it wasn't a perfect hollywood ending type situation, but it was better and that's all one can hope for from one day to the next in my experience.
and it wasn't because of test scores. it was because of the tireless work of the teachers and counselors, the willingness of the students to explore and experience and the support and encouragement of respected community members that combined to create an atmosphere of positive belief and action.
today serious social problems persist in the community (such as 3 generations of meth use). it was hard to go back last year and see people who had been such believers and hard workers giving up in the face of these seemingly immovable objects.
i'm disappointed that the government has declared my alma mater a failure because the people there are not failures. it's an insult to the school staff to call them efforts failures and demean their jobs to ones of rigging tests; it's an insult to the people of nanakuli to call their children and those that went through that school failures by association. but mostly it is a failure to appreciate the human condition on the part of government. it's a serious undermining of spirit and souls.
i have no solutions, though. my personal solution was to leave, as did many of the others who pursued academic or intellectual careers. i'm not sure it was the best answer, but it seemed like the only one i had at the time. scattered across the world as we are, it remains that many of us came from that "failure" of a school, and i bear no shame for that. i'll visit the school in january and leave no question about that.