The holidays are upon us once again. I'm a big fan of Christmas - I love the hushed beauty of a bright, snowy night, Claymation TV specials and Harpoon's delicious Winter Warmer ale. Here at Penn, we celebrate the winter solstice with the stars on Locust Walk, finals and gift drives.
I'm a recovering Catholic, so this time of year always makes me feel bad about abandoning my faith in the little baby Jesus. So when a friend asked me to participate in the Newman Center's "Operation Santa Clause", I couldn't say no. I signed up to buy a gift for one lucky third grader. But when I saw what he and all his classmates asked for, I felt more like the Grinch than one of Santa's helpers - especially because instead of the Wii he wanted, I got him a chess set. Hopefully, he's a dork.
The children, unaware of the $20 spending limit, asked for some serious electronics. No sugar plums for these kids-visions of Xboxes and iPods dance through their heads. But this year, laptops are the new Tickle-Me-Elmo.
This shouldn't be a huge surprise. Laptops are awesome. I can't imagine getting through my life, let alone school, without one.
Computers are the new pens and paper; they are the new books. The Internet puts the world at your fingertips. Denying children access to computers is just as criminal as banning them from a library.
Personal computers are, perhaps, the one tool that could equalize vast educational differences - who needs a well-stocked library when you can download a book? But laptops regularly cost over a thousand dollars - way out of reach for the over 111,000 children in Philadelphia living in poverty.
Enter One Laptop per Child, a non-profit organization started by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte. This modern day St. Nick's modest goal is "to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves" by providing every child, even the most poor, a laptop (hence the name).
Hanukkah Harry sounds more realistic than OLPC's goal, until you hear how much their XO laptop costs. At $200 each - less than two Penn sweatshirts - these laptops could revolutionize computer access.
But the only thing worse than no gift is a crappy gift (you reading this, Mom?) How good could a $200 laptop be?
The specs (433 Mhz CPU, 256 MB of RAM and a gig of HD space) aren't very impressive, but the rest is: the neon green laptop has a the pivoting, reversible 12" display screen that works in direct sunlight. It's so energy efficient that the battery can be recharged by turning a crank (like that emergency radio your crazy spinster aunt bought you for Christmas three years ago). The XO comes with above-average WiFi and, oh yeah, it's water and dirt resistant too. Another hand-knit Christmas sweater from Grandma this ain't.
Birmingham, Alabama has already ordered 15,000. Libya also ordered 1.2 million - one for every child in the nation - and has hopes of soon creating a functioning "e-democracy" made possible by the laptops.
That's right: the kids in Muammar Gaddafi's Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (it's really named that, I swear) will have access to better educational tools and a better say in their government than the kids in Philly.
Normally, OLPC focuses on institutional, wholesale purchases, which means you won't be able to find one at Best Buy. But for a limited time only, folks like you and me can get one online.
There is a catch. In order to buy one for yourself, you have to buy another for a child. The Web site, laptopgiving.org, explains: "For a donation of $399, one XO laptop will be sent to empower a child in a developing nation and one will be sent to the child in your life in recognition of your contribution."
Right now, Penn is celebrating a very merry holiday season. George Weiss, chairman of the capital campaign, recently announced that since the official start, Penn has raised about $2 million per day.
We all know that it's always better to give than to receive. That's why we should open up our institutional purse and buy every public school student in Philadelphia - all 210,432 of them - a laptop. At the rate we're fundraising, Penn will have the money just in time for Christmas.
So, wealthy alumni, I know Penn really wants you to help fund our big expansion. But I say bah-humbug to that. Buy a laptop or two (hundred thousand) and show the children in Philly what Christmas is really about.
Jim Saksa is a College senior from Philadelphia, Pa. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You, Sir, are an Idiot appears on Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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