Public education and open source. Let’s help people get free, for free.
“Free, life-changing, and available to everyone” and “provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them” are ideas I steer by.
“Free, life-changing, and available to everyone” is what I and my peers in WordPress and open source work for. It’s what teachers work for in public education. NeuroTribes invokes this rallying cry for the commons in its introduction.
He told me that he wanted the code to be like Jesus in its own humble way: “Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.”
The code mentioned above is Perl, an open source programming language I have a long relationship with, and the he is Larry Wall, creator of Perl and a big influence on me. I first read NeuroTribes when it came out in 2015. I was an undiagnosed autistic father with a newly diagnosed autistic son, and there on page 2 of the introduction of a book that changed my life and worldview are “free, life-changing, and available to everyone” and “there is more than one way to do it”, two ideas that, thanks to Larry Wall, have influenced my entire career.
On a bright May morning in 2000, I was standing on the deck of a ship churning toward Alaska’s Inside Passage with more than a hundred computer programmers. The glittering towers of Vancouver receded behind us as we slipped under the Lions Gate Bridge heading out to the Salish Sea. The occasion was the first “Geek Cruise”- an entrepreneur’s bid to replace technology conferences in lifeless convention centers with oceangoing trips to exotic destinations. I booked passage on the ship, a Holland America liner called the Volendam, to cover the maiden voyage for Wired magazine.
Of the many legendary coders on board, the uncontested geek star was Larry Wall, creator of Perl, one of the first and most widely used open-source programming languages in the world. Thousands of websites we rely on daily- including Amazon, Craigslist, and the Internet Movie Database- would never have gotten off the ground without Perl, the beloved “Swiss Army chainsaw” of harried systems administrators everywhere.
To an unusual and colorful extent, the language is an expression of the mind of its author, a boyishly handsome former linguist with a Yosemite Sam mustache. Sections of the code open with epigrams from Larry’s favorite literary trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, such as “a fair jaw-cracker dwarf-language must be.” All sorts of goofy backronyms have been invented to explain the name (including “Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister”), but Larry says that he derived it from the parable of the “pearl of great price” in the Gospel of Matthew. He told me that he wanted the code to be like Jesus in its own humble way: “Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.” One often-used command is called bless. But the secret of Perl’s versatility is that it’s also an expression of the minds of Larry’s far-flung network of collaborators: the global community of Perl “hackers.” The code is designed to encourage programmers to develop their own style and everyone is invited to help improve it; the official motto of this community is “There is more than one way to do it.”
In this way, the culture of Perl has become a thriving digital meritocracy in which ideas are judged on their usefulness and originality rather than on personal charisma or clout. These values of flexibility, democracy, and openness have enabled the code to become ubiquitous- the “duct tape that holds the Internet together,” as Perl hackers say.
“Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them” is a recently acquired phrase. I picked it up from this HeroPress piece by Topher DeRosia, “Accessibility Where It Matters – HeroPress”.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about WordPress is how it provides things to people. It provides a living to those who have none, it provides community to those without one, and it can provide tools to those who need them.
Amanda Rush is blind, and navigates a world that is often hostile to blind people. WordPress developers work very very hard to make the WordPress software usable by people with no sight.
A wonderful by-product of that is that Amanda and people like her can build a career for themselves, without depending on a physically friendly workplace and a physically friendly transit.
WordPress provides Freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.
Through WordPress (and by extension open source software), I’ve improved my circumstances, become more self-sufficient, and I’ve been able to assert some control over my life in general. It’s improved my employment prospects drastically, which means I no longer have to work whatever low-paying odd jobs I can find to keep the bills paid. I believe that it can help other blind people as well. We have an eighty percent unemployment rate in this community.
We’re still fighting discrimination in the workplace, and we’re still fighting for equal access when it comes to the technology we use to do our jobs. But the beauty of WordPress and its community is that we can create opportunities for ourselves.
With WordPress, we can make decisions for ourselves, and have all kinds of help along the way from the community. I urge my fellow blind community members to join me inside this wonderful thing called WordPress. Because it will change your lives if you let it.
“Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.” That is a clarion call for both open source and public education. I hear the social model, intersectionality, structural ideology, equity literacy, designing for pluralism, and designing for real life in these words.
Public education and open source. Let’s help people get free, for free. Let’s get structural, get social, get equity literate, and build an indie ed-tech that confronts injustice instead of amplifying it.
Free, life-changing, and available to everyone. Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.
- Equity Literate Education: Fix Injustice, Not Kids
- Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life
- Bringing Safety to the Serendipity in Digital Pedagogy
- Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism
- Communication is oxygen. Build a districtwide collaboration infrastructure and an open by default culture.
- Tech Regrets and The Ethics of Ed-tech
- Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology
- Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.
- Default to Open: Open Education, Open Government, Open Data, Open Web, and Open Source
- Hyperlinks and Education in the Disinformation Age
- The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth