[OT] debate about Free software for the ACT Government

Alex Satrapa grail at goldweb.com.au
Fri Apr 26 09:47:56 EST 2002

On Thursday, April 25, 2002, at 07:30 , Richard Cottrill wrote:

> I'm just going to be rude and suggest that at high school level most 
> kids
> don't/can't think in the abstract terms of a 'structure' for their 
> document
> (based on the musings of a high school English teacher I know).

You've forgotten what it was like to be a teenager?

At 11 years of age (in year 5), I prepared a presentation for my class 
on Nuclear Fission Powerplants.  Complete with poster.  Admittedly, my 
poster-drawing skills are a little lacking, but I won the bet, which was 
that I could talk for 10 minutes about nuclear fission.  In order to 
prepare the speech, I made sure I went in little baby steps that my 
classmates would understand (hell... *I* had to understand).

I'm sure other people in this group would have similar achievements 
under their proverbial belts.  Perhaps you just have to be naturally 
intelligent to be able to use a Unix-like O/S (or maybe you're a demigod 
like ken, and *wrote* the damned thing).

Perhaps the reason high-school kids aren't writing structured documents 
properly is because they haven't been trained properly.  Maybe they 
aren't getting enough practice either.  Training people to use a word 
processor should involve the minimal amount of character-formatting, and 
focus more on how to put ideas into electronic form, rather than messing 
about with pretty-ing up a dumb document.

> I certainly don't write a structured first-draft of anything (or at 
> least the structure
> changes dramatically and quickly).

My first draft of any important document is usually an outline - the 
structure comes first.  Sometimes I'll write some words just to satisfy 
my initial desire to see words on the page.  Those words then end up 
broken up and spread into the structure of the document.

> The rude bit is my opinion that without using a skill people tend to 
> revert back to a high school level of proficiency in things (leaving us 
> with 'specialists').

I contest that without using a skill, people tend to revert back to an 
uneducated level of proficiency, as their intellectual "muscles" 
atrophy.  I wouldn't label High School students as "uneducated". 
Undereducated, perhaps, miseducated in some cases, and definately 
maladjusted in others ;)

> I think 'forcing' people to structure their documents will just create 
> crappier documents.

I expect that training people to use structure, and providing training 
with examples, and regular practice (either tutorials or actual real 
work) will cause those people to become more comfortable with using 
structure rather than random formatting.

Some people won't be helped.  They're in the public service because it's 
a stable job, and they don't actually want to do or learn anything.

> ... given random data, people and computers take a while to structure 
> them.

With the appropriate training, most people (who want to learn) could 
learn the skills required to bring order from that Chaos.

> I seem to have wandered waaaaaay off the original topic...

(Re-)Training is going to be part of the costs of moving away from a 
Microsoft dominated workplace, so it's useful to bring up the discussion 
about whether old dogs can or can't learn new tricks.  Or more to the 
point - what are the appropriate tricks to each the dog in the first 


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