Sunday, March 01, 2009

PPS Has Friends in the Silicon Forest

As we mutter like Gollum in doom and gloom, about some lost "precious" (our economy), let us not forget that Portland is looked to, by much of the world, as a capital of FOSS. Of what? Here you are in Portland and you probably don't know what an XO is either, and therein lies a problem. Our schools need to catch up with the times. This isn't Oliver Twist. The software is now open, and free (FOSS means 'free and open source software').

So how should PPS make friends with the geeks? That bridge has already been crossed. Winterhaven is a well known "geek Hogwarts", feeding directly into BarCamps at CubeSpace. I taught there as a volunteer, a mix of Google Earth and Python, so I know whereof I speak. PDX is on the map, and not just for Ikea. We're a capital of Open Source according to Christian Science Monitor (2005), and we'd do well to remember that (the ring!).

However, the mathematics curriculum is still dark ages, stuck in the days of calculators. The situation was so extreme in Hillsboro, home to high tech, that West Precinct police, under George Heuston and company, actually started their own school, a Linux lab (Redhat). I know this because I was one of the instructors, hired through Saturday Academy, Jerritt Collord the other one. The point: kids are desperate to gain entre to their high tech heritage, and the schools just aren't the gateway that they should be, so we the police will do this as a community service (bold move George!).

Roll the clock forward, and we're looking for ways to differentiate, make our town shine. Why not consider building the best, most relevant "on-ramp" to the information superhighway that money can't really buy, only help with? What it really takes is training, and lots of it.

But that's what we have in abundance: willing trainers, ready to show you the ropes on legally free software, using affordable hardware.

I think the key place to focus is on town-gown relations, but remember to include the private sector in "gown" (think "g for Google"). Don't be afraid to let "private industry" help with a makeover.

There's no philosophical conflict, between public mindedness and profitability, philanthropy and running a railroad. Some individuals feel conflicted, sure, but consider Mentor Graphics, a proud sponsor of the ISEPP lecture series and a generous source of tickets for local high schoolers and their teachers.

This is Portland at its best. The Silicon Forest cares about its public schools, always has. Let's keep that in mind.