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Education Software Linux

When Teachers Are Obstacles To Linux In Education 1589

jamie found this blog post up on the HeliOS Project, which brings Linux to school kids in Austin, TX. It makes very clear some of the obstacles that free software faces in the classroom. It seems a teacher came upon a student demonstrating Linux to other kids and handing out LiveCDs. The teacher confiscated the CDs and wrote an angry email to HeliOS's founder, Ken Starks: "Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. ... This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older version of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them..." Starks pens an eloquent reply, which contains a factoid I have not seen mentioned before: "The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way. Then again, being a good NEA member, you would spout the Union line. Microsoft has pumped tens of millions of dollars into your union. Of course you are going to 'recommend' Microsoft Windows."
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When Teachers Are Obstacles To Linux In Education

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  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @06:50AM (#26057613) Homepage
    I don't think it's worth attributing the teacher's support of Windows to some kind of fanatical support of union directives. From postal workers to teachers, truckers to plumbers, in my admittedly anecdotal experience I've found that the average professional has very little clue about his union's sources of funds and its goals.
    • by mgblst ( 80109 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @06:58AM (#26057655) Homepage

      Yes, but they don't go around confiscating discs, and writing strongly worded letters. This sounds like it actually came from Steve can-i-have-that-chair-for-a-minute Ballmer.

      Is anyone else reminded of the religous teacher confiscating a biology book from a student, and writing a letter to their pro-evolution parents?

      • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:17AM (#26057833)

        I recently had a conversation with a recently retired friend of mine.

        He barely uses the net- I think he has an email address with his ISP and that's about it.

        He was complaining about how everything was so expensive and how he's had to pay for some antivirus software after their old computer got infected with something. etc.

        I ask: "why didn't you just get some free one?"
        His response: "There's so such thing as a free lunch! Either it's stolen or they'll be cheating you somehow"
        I then tried to explain about linux and FOSS but he had grown up with the solid idea that nothing worth having is ever free unless you're being scammed in some way.
        He could not be convinced that FOSS was legal and genuinely free. There had to be a catch. There had to be a law being broken.

        This attitude is common with the older generation who aren't used to the net. "Free" rings alarm bells and this is an issue I rarely hear mention of when people talk about the problems linux has spreading.

        • by Lundse ( 1036754 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:36AM (#26057945)
          Ask him if mathematic formula are free, or if there was some crime behind them too...
          • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @09:34AM (#26059003)

            A lot of people want to focus on high ideals as motivation for Free software, and that's just not easy for most people to believe. Most people who do contribute either would not be able (no time, contracts forbidding) to or wouldn't want to without other conditions being met.

            Is listening to the radio free? Watching broadcast television? Reading an article excerpt on the front page of a newspaper in a vending machine? Free software represents to people and corporations a good advertising mechanism. There often are services or other products that cost money and augment them.

            Was going to high-school free? Not in the strictest sense, as tax money funds it, but the same applies to many Free software. Institutions often contribute software open-source in order to best serve the public trust. Given the nebulous nature of the funding (all taxpayers), open source is most often a best-fit model to reciprocate that investment in that specific scope.

            If a repairman had a hard time with a particular bolt, and lent you a wrench and asked you to hold the nut as he tried to turn the bolt, would he charge you excess for access to the wrench? Of course not, he isn't running a tool rental business, it just happens in the course of his actual job. This sort of incidental work is common in the technology world. A company needs an email server. They aren't going to hire an army of developers to write from scratch, and they might not buy a commercial solution. They'll have their administrator download an Open Source email server and that administrator has no motivation to keep required code changes private. On the other hand, getting local modifications accepted upstream absolves them of maintenance efforts on a local patchset.

            • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) < ... NBSDom minus bsd> on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @10:09AM (#26059417) Homepage

              The problem is thinking of software as a physical good rather than as information...

              Information can be passed around freely and often is, it can also be bought, sold and hoarded. Giving someone a free piece of software is no different from giving them a free piece of advise or just having a general conversation with them.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:51AM (#26058063)
          Ask him if science theories are freely shared and tested amongst scientists.

          Ask him if medical theories are freely shared amongst doctors in order to foster improvement.

          That kind of thing.

          The principle of sharing predates the open source movement; for example, the free sharing of information has been institutionalized in the scientific enterprise since at least the 19th century. Open source principles have always been part of the scientific community. The sociologist Robert K. Merton described the four basic elements of the community - universalism (an international perspective), communism (sharing information), disinterestedness (removing one's personal views from the scientific inquiry) and organized skepticism (requirements of proof and review) that accurately describe the scientific community today. These principles are, in part, complemented by US law's focus on protecting expression and method but not the ideas themselves. There is also a tradition of publishing research results to the scientific community instead of keeping all such knowledge proprietary.

          I've been a communist all these years? Fuck.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:58AM (#26058137)

          I've been in this situation before, and I just told them that *I* write FOSS, and invited them to ask me why.

          There's clearly no catch, it's not my livelihood, I'm not benefiting directly, and yet I do it anyway. If they can understand why I do it, then tell them thousands of people operate similarly, there's SOME business involved to coordinate the bigger projects and make money in other ways, and these are the results.

        • by ZerdZerd ( 1250080 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:08AM (#26058199)

          That is because they are searching for "free porn" and end up having to pay somehow.

        • by FranTaylor ( 164577 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:14AM (#26058255)

          That there are two different kinds of free.

          Surely an American can appreciate the concept of Freedom and the concept of Free Beer, and the distinction between them.

        • by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:25AM (#26058329)

          If he asks for the catch, tell him where the catch is.

          When you improve the software even a tiny bit, you have to give it away for free too.

          And when he says, the he can't or wont do that, give him the feeling that he's espescially clever, cause in this way, he games the system... Everyone likes evading a catch and get something for free... as long you give him the feeling that it's not free in the first place, cause then it would be worthless too.

        • by Evil Pete ( 73279 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:29AM (#26058379) Homepage

          Ask him if he ever charged money when he helped friends out or his children's school. And if he didn't charge them, was his work substandard?

        • by theaveng ( 1243528 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:51AM (#26058555)

          >>>I then tried to explain about linux and FOSS but he had grown up with the solid idea that nothing worth having is ever free

          When explaining complex concepts, it's often better to keep things as simple as possible. I would simply ask the man: "Don't charitable organizations exist to give away free tutoring to students, free food to the hungry, and other volunteer work?" "Yeah." "Well the same organizations exist in the world of computers. They give-away free software to benefit the community." I'd then leave him to think about that for awhile.

          >>>The teacher confiscated the CDs and wrote an angry email to HeliOS's founder, Ken Starks:

          This is the point where I would take several steps:

          (1) Ask the teacher to meet with me so we can discuss why she stole the personal property of my teenager.

          (2)(a) If the teacher is not cooperative, I would remind the teacher that theft is still illegal, and that she should return the CDs to my teenager, else she could be prosecuted for criminal acts. (b) Schedule a meeting with the superintendent of the school district to discuss the teacher's stubbornness.

          (3)(a) If he is also uncooperative, I would stop paying school taxes to this non-free district. (b) I would then use the money saved to pay the tuition for a private school, or a neighboring public school, that does not violate a young adult's basic rights.

          It's a bunch of bullshit that government schools can dictate to teens/parents what OSes they can or can not use. Or what books they can or can not read. Or... Citizens need to fight back when this kind of tyranny happens, not just "give in".


          My alma mater Elizabethtown College has turned its back on Windoze. They use Linux to run the campus-wide network and for the student labs. I would also mention that in my discussion with the close-minded teacher/superintendent. "Well if Linux is illegal, then why is my college using it?" and see what they say.

          • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @09:45AM (#26059123) Homepage

            ...I would stop paying school taxes to this non-free district.

            Good luck with that. Schools are generally funded through property taxes, usually collected at the county level. The county doesn't give a crap what you think of the schools, they just want their money. Trying to avoid property taxes in protest of school policies is like trying to avoid federal income taxes in protest of federal farm subsidies.

        • by ScouseMouse ( 690083 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:54AM (#26058583) Homepage
          I had this conversation when i tried to explain this to my dad. (Whos not too far off 70) What eventually convinced him was the fact that the authors do *not* do this for free. they do it so they get the reputation, the bug fixes, and the enhancements from others.
        • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @09:17AM (#26058821) Homepage Journal

          Well, there are a lot of cognitive shortcuts people use to reason about situations like this that are applicable most of the time, but have significant exceptions.

          The sticking point with free software is that people think it's too good to be true. After all, software is hard to make, why would somebody do it without being compensated? But free software developers are compensated. They are compensated in payment by their employers for solving problems. They are compensated also in terms of status in the developer community but only when they share. And here's the point they miss: status is worth money. Proverbially, you can't eat prestige; but you can dine out on it.

          Look at a project like the Linux kernel. Early on contributors nothing but status, but for a few people like Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox, the magnitude of the status payoff is huge. Those kind of people can walk into any big software developer and say, "I want a job with a six figure salary and by the way I'll be spending most of my time just working on things that interest me." And they'll probably get a job. There are people who have done comparable work in closed source projects, and while they got more pay in the front end, they never get that kind of status.

          It's kind of like the difference between being a rock star vs. being a guitar teacher. If you are diligent and conscientious, you can make a living as a musician by teaching. But a rock star makes a lot more money than a hard working music teacher -- after he makes it. Beforehand, it's expected he'll starve until he gets his first hit. Software is more moderate. Unknown contributors don't have to starve, because they're creating things for which people will pay good money to have exist. On the downside, being the equivalent of Elvis in the software world involves a lot less wealth.

          The problem with the "no such thing as a free lunch" theory is that the assertion is much to strong. Free lunches exist under special conditions. For years free radio and television flourished. You could say recipients "paid" for the programming by watching the advertising, but using that loose standard of "payment" people who use free software "pay" the creators by enhancing their status.

        • by SirGeek ( 120712 ) <> on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @09:45AM (#26059125) Homepage

          This attitude is common with the older generation who aren't used to the net. "Free" rings alarm bells and this is an issue I rarely hear mention of when people talk about the problems linux has spreading.

          Maybe this analogy might work.

          Your neighbor has a garden where he grows all sorts of vegetables with seeds that he gathered from friends or he saved from previous crops. So his cost to do the garden is essentially nothing. He grows the garden because he likes growing the garden. When he gives away the vegetables, is he breaking the law or scamming ?

          No. He isn't. The same thing with free software. A lot of people write software because they LIKE IT. And they aren't doing it for profit (although that's nice sometimes), they do it for love of writing software to serve a purpose.

        • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @09:52AM (#26059219)

          "Free" rings alarm bells and this is an issue I rarely hear mention of when people talk about the problems linux has spreading.

          That's why Eric Raymond et. al. coined the term "Open Source" back in '96 or thereabouts: because most people presume that "free" means "free as in beer," and get suspicious. But the name "open source" has its own problems, namely RMS railed against it because it doesn't address the idea of freedom.

          I think we should call it "freedomware" but my idea doesn't seem to have caught on. ;-)

        • by James McP ( 3700 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @10:22AM (#26059583)

          (Yet another analogy)

          Ask him if he remembers the days when people would show up to build a neighbor's barn without getting paid. Why did they do it? Well, some did it because someday they'd need a barn raised. Others did it because it was "just being neighborly."

          Well, FOSS is a "barn" that everyone gets to use. And the "catch" at least with GPL, is that you can't sell a community raised "barn" to other people, you have to give it away.

          But there are still a couple ways for barn builders to make money. Some people don't like to clean their own barn so there are maintenance contracts. Some people want custom barns, so they hire people to modify the barn. Some people will make things that work with the barn, like silos, and they sell the silo while giving away the barn.

        • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @10:57AM (#26060091) Homepage

          Anything cooperative is hurting society and clearly illegal. Individuals producing for free are breaking the law; only corporations are legitimate suppliers/producers, and only those who pay should have access to society's production.

          I had the experience in high school way back in the late '80s and early '90s before "OSS" was a term.

          I was suspended for writing software and sharing it with my friends. My own source code. The administration of my school told myself and my parents in no uncertain terms that I was breaking the law by writing software and giving it to others, and they were having none of it on school property.

          They suggested that to be "constructive," my dad could help me to "start a company" and sell the software to my friends in the computer club, which would be legal, and, they suggested, if priced properly ($5-10 was what they suggested), still affordable to other students and not in violation of the "law," which forbids giving away goods for free. They mixed up anti-socialism/communitarianism in their heads with some kind of Sherman anti-trustiness and applied it to a 13-year-old kid.

          My parents allowed me to leave school immediately and I finished my education as a home schooled student, went to a university CS department at 15 and eventually to the University of Chicago for grad school.

          Those same administrators still run the local high school, which has 5,000 students and is an inner city campus.

        • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @11:06AM (#26060239) Homepage Journal

          "There's so such thing as a free lunch! Either it's stolen or they'll be cheating you somehow"

          That's the #1 thing wrong with American society today. The priests of mammon have convinced the worshipers of our national religion (via their media outlets) that "free" equals "worthless".

          How worthless is a sunrise? Air? A baby's smile? A hug?

          But to the religion of money worship, the idol of fools, whose altar is the bank and whose priest is the banker (and who is really remembered at Christmas; not the man who said "it is as easy for a rich man to enter heaven as it is for a camel to go through a needle's eye") money isn't is tool but the be-all and end-all.

          We do not live in a secular society. First Amendment be damned, we indeed have a national religion that trumps Judism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Bhuddism, Christianity, Islam, and all other religions. Our government leaders are all worshipers of money, and our laws and society reflect that fact.

          "Fuck Obama, fuck that motherfucker. This is fucking valuable and I'm not giving it away for free" says Illinois Governor Rod Blago on the value of a US Senate seat. He is a prime example of our country's fine money worshiping statesmen.

          This attitude is common with the older generation who aren't used to the net.

          Age has nothing to do with it. The net has nothing to do with it.

          As to "there's no such thing as a free lunch" is taken as an absolute, but as an absolute it is transparently false. Did you ever pay for the lunch your mother gave you? Have you never had a friend treat you to lunch? have you never eaten an apple off a tree, or picked a tomato from your backyard?

          The saying means that if a salesman offers to buy your lunch, hold on to your wallet.

          "Money doesn't grow on trees"

          Yes it does. Ask the Sunkist corporation - every penny they make grows on trees.

    • by LaskoVortex ( 1153471 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:00AM (#26057675)

      I don't think it's worth attributing the teacher's support of Windows to some kind of fanatical support of union directives.

      I think in the anecdote in question you can attribute the whole incident to an ignorant teacher. Contrary to popular belief, ignorance is not spread through unions, it is most often spread through one's disinterest in self education. My guess is that educators are no less immune to this disinterest than any one else.

    • by daniorerio ( 1070048 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:01AM (#26057683)
      It's still less ignorant than what this teacher is saying. Maybe this teacher has no clue how the union is funded, it doesn't mean that millions of MS advertising dollars are at work doing a fine job here...
      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:48AM (#26058031) Homepage

        And still - does that give the teacher the right to confiscate something that's not criminal to possess?

        If I was a parent then I would at least file a complaint with the school. If they didn't respond in a responsible manner then it would have been time for legal action.

        • by PhilHibbs ( 4537 ) <> on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:04AM (#26058171) Homepage Journal

          Yes, teachers can confiscate pretty much anything. The child or his/her parents have a right to have it back, but anything that the teacher deems to be unlawful or harmful or disruptive can be confiscated. Sure, this teacher made a mistake, but if they were treading on eggshells all the time then their job would be impossible.

          • by theaveng ( 1243528 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @09:08AM (#26058715)

            I can understand a teacher confiscating the Linux CDs, Britney CDs, or whatever CDs, if the teenager was doing his "demonstration" during class hours. But then the teacher followed it up with a letter that indicates an Anti-linux prejudice and a Pro-microsoft bias, so the real motive is now clear. And unacceptable.

            What's she going to confiscate next? A Bible? A Koran? A copy of the Libertarian News? Her job is to teach & keep order, not to censor freedom of information. As long as the teen is using his Linux, Bible, or LP News during his OWN time (like study hall), she has no business confiscating it.

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:04AM (#26057709) Journal
      That's what I thought at first. Then I read the full letter. I have a hard time believing that someone who actually installed and tried linux in college would believe it was illegal. If the teacher thought it was some sort of install party for pirated versions of windows, well she was right in what she did and was just ignorant of the facts but then she goes on to say that she understand what linux is, to have tried and installed it. How could she be uninformed to the point of saying that no software is free and that linux is illegal ?
      • by Pvt_Ryan ( 1102363 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:14AM (#26057817)

        That's what I thought at first. Then I read the full letter. I have a hard time believing that someone who actually installed and tried linux in college would believe it was illegal. If the teacher thought it was some sort of install party for pirated versions of windows, well she was right in what she did and was just ignorant of the facts but then she goes on to say that she understand what linux is, to have tried and installed it.

        Makes you wonder what else she tried at college illegal or otherwise ;)

      • by anomaly256 ( 1243020 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:42AM (#26058469)
        $10 says what she meant was one time during college when she missed a hand-in deadline, she used a tcsh shell on the school's Origin 2000 running IRIX for 5 minutes to submit her assignment to the lecturer's email inbox (having one of the computer sciences geeks show her how after she promised to go for drinks, who then prattled on for 4 hours about AT&T and BSD Licenses)
    • by unlametheweak ( 1102159 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:31AM (#26057921)

      After confiscating the disks I called a conference with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization.

      I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful.

      I think it's more a mindset. I've experienced the same attitudes in school and by teachers long before Microsoft became a recognized name. It seems that many teachers still think "no pain, no gain" (or like the kid athletes said during one of the Olympics, "No pain, no Spain"). I also remember that we were not allowed inside the school during sub-zero temperatures during recess because recess is about being outside. Yep, I even remember one teacher confiscating a ball from a kid at recess (the kid told his parents who had that teacher suspended)... and not too recently my mom talked to one of the neighbour kids who was suspended from school for being late for class. It's an authoritarian attitude. Things need to be bought; if they aren't bought then it's either stolen or its communism or "socialism".

      I also remember when a person from a British government copyright enforcement agency emailed the Firefox foundation to inform then that their software was being distributed and that punishments for those offenders will be forthcoming. That person had a hard time believing that software could be free (I believe this was a Slashdot story many moons ago).

      • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:54AM (#26058093) []

        "The idea that Free Software can be sold has some government officials perplexed. Times Online has the story. A UK Trading Standards officer contacted the Mozilla Foundation to report catching a business selling copies of Firefox. The organization confiscated the CDs with the intent to prosecute said business. When informed that such distribution was authorized, the officer first expressed disbelief that Free Software could be sold then said 'If Mozilla permit the sale of copied versions of its software, it makes it virtually impossible for us, from a practical point of view, to enforce UK anti-piracy legislation'."

        there ya go

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:57AM (#26058613) Homepage

      I agree.

      Its simply that most teachers are incredibly under educated. As a Volunteer It consultant for several public and private schools I can tell you that there is ONE thing that is the same across the board. If the subject is outside the studies of the teacher, they typically know absolutely nothing about it. AND they tend to come off as experts in everything because they have an advanced degree in education.

      I had THREE teachers at different schools that were "handy" with computers and taught keyboarding tell me that I was setting up the network wrong. One told me that it's impossible to mix Mac and Windows machines on the same network. Another told me that I cant have all the servers in one place, they have to be as close to the computers that use them. Finally my favorite, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? You cant have any bends in the network cable!"

      These teachers are very under educated. There are some glimmering examples of very smart and very educated, but most are not. They do not spend any time studying or learning anything outside their core education needs. and Colleges in general are horrid at education of grads in computer usage and technology usage in general. I worked with an educator that has multiple masters degrees that refused to ever use a computer that was changed from his windows 95.

      "I know 95! I'm not using anything else!" his classroom PC would be off, and he's using this old relic he brought in. Constantly asking to have it plugged into the school network.

      He's one of my proofs that high level degrees do not make you smart. and yes, being stubborn = dumb.

  • Ha-ha. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by contra_mundi ( 1362297 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @06:54AM (#26057637)
    "I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older version of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them..." Just like XP now.
    • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:41AM (#26057967)

      I find what works best is to supply examples of fine open source software that runs on Windows and Linux. Once they grasp the concept of free open source software and the missing hurdles to it's use, the next step is to note the OS itself is free software. As an example, this page I wrote concerning an engineering challenge for launching t shirts at a NBA game. The engineering task was to find the optimum length for the launch tube. Note the use of open source software in the solution. When the teacher compared the open source solution to the Microsoft Sound Recorder or other packaged solution, then the seed for the concept is planted. Have the teacher read the license. um End User License Agreement. On a side note, the final and winner announcement will be this Friday. Our team has an excellent chance of winning. The teacher knows that I use The Gimp to size photos for the wiki, etc on a Linux machine. Windows is not needed. []

      When Open Source is the best solution, it gets noticed. It is no longer just hobbiest software.

  • by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @06:59AM (#26057663)

    The teacher has nothing to do with the NEA getting money from Microsoft. She's just a low-level drone who's only source of information was maybe an education tech conference she went to and the mainstream media.

    A better letter would have pointed out that Linux is being used in industry, in the world's largest companies, the U.S government and so forth and that children should have the skills to compete in the workforce by learning Linux. The whole free software thing should also be explained in the letter throughly, perhaps with a page or two containing a complete idiots guide to the basics of the GPL, etc. Perhaps reprinted from C-Net or some other technology media source.

  • by JohnFluxx ( 413620 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:01AM (#26057687)
  • Oh dear god (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni ( 642500 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:01AM (#26057691)

    Was this real? The letter snippet reads as if the supposed teacher was ranting about drug use or some other evil of society. So much righteous indignation, so little understanding of the real world.

    I pity the school system that relies on these characters to educate and "guide and discipline" any child.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:02AM (#26057699)

    No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful.

    I can imagine a generation coming out of school believing that "free software" is somehow illegal or immoral. Nicely taught to pay the "computer tax" to Microsoft, which is the only solution.

  • Who broke the law? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mostly a lurker ( 634878 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:04AM (#26057713)
    Here is a teacher, accusing a student and an Open Source software organization of breaking the law (and no doubt intimating as such to her class) and confiscating the student's property for no valid reason. I believe the teacher is guilty of criminal acts. I also believe she leaves herself and the school board open to civil action. I am not an admirer of the US legal system, but this might be a good time to use it to send a message to the world's ignoramuses that, yes, some software is both good and free.
  • by jim0203 ( 980945 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:09AM (#26057759)
    In the article, this hapless bint (how can we stop people like this getting near children?) says "I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods." I think she has got Linux confused with either (a) LSD or (b) [insert adventurous sexual practice here].
  • by MrCrassic ( 994046 ) <<deprecated> <at> <>> on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:09AM (#26057767) Journal
    This is probably the finest example of how to not win over support from people outside of the Linux and Open-Source community.

    I was kind of surprised to hear of the reaction that the teacher had to a student handing out Linux disks, as I don't know anyone who would take personal offense to trying out that software. Almost reads like a joke, but then again there is Rule 36...

    However, I was even more surprised by the response that was given to her claims. Did he honestly think he could be persuasive by being condescending, insulting and, well, just downright mean?? His points are valid, though I think one of them is pure opinion. (I don't think Linux was designed to "free people from Microsoft." I think that it was designed as an alternative to closed-source operating systems in general, which being "freed" from Microsoft Windows is a side effect.) Yet, if that teacher was being a bit harsh, Starks did nothing to quench that fire.

    With all of that said, I think that Linux is gaining positive momentum in education and public offices. Naturally, it will be a slow transition, considering most IT departments are not too comfortable with the idea of switching all of their computer network to a Linux-based one (and with good reason). It's getting there, though.
    • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:45AM (#26058003)

      Please remember that when they're trying to teach, teachers are basically control freaks.

      I'm not saying this to be derogatory, you understand, but when you're trying to get a bunch of kids who don't necessarily want to sit still and pay attention to listen to you, what other option is there?

      That explains the teachers' reaction to the student handing out Linux disks. It'd probably be much the same whatever the student was handing out.

      Regarding their reaction to the existence of Linux - well, there's no shortage of narrow-minded people in teaching, as in any walk of life.

  • by Jack9 ( 11421 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:15AM (#26057827)

    It's interesting that some of her statements are not strictly inaccurate. I might even say enlightened, without the enlightenment.

    No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful.

    Amen to this. There is always an associated upkeep to software, alluded to by the reply about releasing improvements incrementally.

    Kids aren't a commodity, you have to take the rotten apples with the good ones. School teachers are just people who have a lot of different kids to deal with. Imagine grading kids' papers, errors, and half-thoughts for years. I'll cut that person a little slack for what they get paid. Much like my 6th Grade teacher (with a Master's in Psychology) who was at a loss to figure out how to properly spell Chameleon (stuck in the Ca and Ka sections of the Dictionary), people are ignorant about different things. Welcome to the world. I'm surprised she wrote a letter. I saw it as a plea for help worded in a defensive manner. Now she gets educated. The circle is complete.

  • What a tool... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:24AM (#26057877)

    Ok, the teacher is misinformed and here email is a bit terse. Still, it was a chance to educate someone and make a friend; instead he chose to pen a rude reply and escalate the battle to the school's administration.

    I simply do not understand this attitude - FOSS advocates are trying to gain wider adoption of their software and ideas and yet seem to go out of their way to antagonize anyone who doesn't share their viewpoint.

    This could come down to a basic question - what right does a teacher or school have to control student activities in the classroom. My guess is that, if push comes to shove, a court would give them broad latitude in such matters. The teacher has no idea what is on the disks; and the school would naturally be concerned about any lawsuits that might arise over that, so they have a legitimate interest in restricting such activities. All it takes is one CD-Rom with something objectionable to a parent or illegal to paint FOSS and it's supporters as somehow evil and a danger to kids. Not that that is right, but winning and losing these kinds of battles rarely hinges on what is right.

    FOSS advocates should ask themselves why MS and Apple are successful in getting their products into schools and adopt their approach - working with teachers, teaching them how to use their products to further classroom activities; in short becoming a partner with them. I know a lot of teachers, and most of them just want to help their students learn, avoid hassles from parents and administrators, struggle with the myriad of laws and other things that impact their ability to teach and really care about the kids they teach. Sure, there are some who are useless but most are just trying to do a good job in a challenging environment.

    You do not have to agree with or like the teacher's stance, but to further FOSS goals you need to understand it and determine the best way to overcome it. making an enemy is not, IMHO, the best way to further those goals.

    I've found teachers open to FOSS if approached the right way. For example, explaining how OpenOffice/NeoOffice can be used for schoolwork by students so parents don't have to shell out cash for MS Office. Give them a disk, with written instructions on how to set it up to save in an MS format and you've made it easy for them to use and helped build credibility for FOSS

    The problem is zealots see everything as a threat or challenge; and believe compromise and cooperation is selling out; and that any differing viewpoint or argument against their approach is either flamebait or a troll (as evidenced by /. moderations).

    • Re:What a tool... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by seeker_1us ( 1203072 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:08AM (#26058207)

      Badmouthing the NEA wasn't a good idea. However, overall he did what he should have. Escalating to the superintendent was completely appropriate.

      That teacher was a fool.

      Worse, she was a fool with authority and she threatened him.

      Remember that fool Jerry Tuttle who threatened Centos because he couldn't understand the difference between a hacked webpage and a misconfigured server, even when it was explained to him?

      Johnny Hughes was polite, even solved the fool's problem for him, and didn't get a thank you.

      Don't waste time with fools.

  • by kklein ( 900361 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:25AM (#26057887)

    As a fellow teacher, let me speak in this woman's defense:

    As a teacher, and especially as a K-12 teacher, no one has ever asked her to be anything other than an ignorant, time-wasting simpleton bent on convincing the children in her charge that all adults are blathering morons and that education is for douchebags. In fact, I'm pretty sure "Time-Wasting" and "Self-Righteous Ignorance" are required courses in most teacher-training programs.

    There is a reason why most people don't learn much until they get into college. College professors have never had to take any classes in the education department.

    So cut the lady some slack, folks. She's just doing what she was trained to do.

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:28AM (#26057897) Journal
    She just made Linux the coolest thing at that school. I can see the kids handing out those disks in as clandestine manner as possible.

    I hope she told the other teachers to do the same thing.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:29AM (#26057907)
    This is a case of the education system failing. Most teachers, especially in any subject that involves the slightest amount of science or technology, are so badly trained and resourced[1] that they're typically a page or two in front of the kids when it comes to dispensing knowledge. Fortunately, most of them stick to the syllabus - otherwise they'd go off, spouting their opinions as "fact" and screwing up countless lives. However, they have such a limited knowledge of science or tech. from the real world, that anything they haven't come across before will seem wrong. Since most of them will have heard of piracy, porn and viruses it is natural for them to assume, in the absence of any hard practical knowledge they have themselves, that everything they don't explicitly teach is wrong, or bad.

    Rather than being saracstic in his reply, this guy should've offered to educate the teachers into what other options are out there. Instead he's just turned them off and made them more hostile to alternatives.

    Since succeeding in the education system requires children to give the answer the examiners expect - rather than the one that is correct, by closing this teacher's mind to other possibilities the Linux guy has made sure that the teacher will not admit coursework or answers that involve non-MS products. A good opportunity to expand some horizons has been wasted.

    [1] yes, yes, I know: yours was inspirational and a credit to the profession. Congratulations, you're in the top 0.5%.

  • by abigsmurf ( 919188 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:42AM (#26057983)
    Great, so he posted an incredibly arrogant, opinionated response to that letter and has done nothing to change the teachers viewpoint other than maybe think Linux users are all pricks.

    The teacher was deeply wrong with her viewpoint but the best way to respond is to politely correct her and guide her to somewhere where she can read up more on it. That's likely to result in a much more lasting result.

    Instead he goes on about Evil Microsoft conspiricy theories a stupid "Linux is better than windows in every single way" type rant. It's fine thinking one OS is better than the other but you're deluding yourself if you don't think there are things one OS does better than than the other (cue 'lol windows crashes better' replies).

    You won't change people by belittling them and going on what frankly, would seem like crazed ravings to someone unfamiliar with OSS zealots.

  • Ken Starks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by julian67 ( 1022593 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:43AM (#26057987)
    Ken Starks is a tedious and shameless self-promotion artist. He won't ever reveal the real names of the teacher or the student because they don't exist. He's a serial troll. The choice of Helios as a moniker is partially apt because he is at the very least *ego*centric, though certainly not effulgent. Free software would benefit greatly if "Helios" and Roy Schestowitz beat each other into dumb oblivion or if /. and lxer and similar just stopped taking any notice of these arseholes. They're embarrassing.
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:49AM (#26058053) Journal

    "At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful"

    The law isn't just there for assholes to misuse. She's calling him a thief and accusing him of corrupting children. She's also hindering his business and bringing his him into disrepute. I think it would make an interesting case and that it would have merit even if he didn't win.

    To the best of my knowledge she's got every right to choose to keep Linux out of the classroom if the laws and regulations of her school, district, state etc. give her that power. However she has no right dictating what software the children use after hours or what their political views should be. So get a parent or two involved as well/

    Of course you could use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that she's wrong, but you're not going to win her over, and if you did you'd have won one hell of a prize ally.

  • Until.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by $1uck ( 710826 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @07:59AM (#26058143)
    I see a teacher or school claiming this is their stance, I call bullshit. This has to be a lame attempt at trolling for support/blog hits.
  • by bdbolton ( 830677 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:03AM (#26058159) Journal

    Not all teachers are members of NEA. My wife is a teacher in Georgia, and she is not a member. Considering that Karent is a teacher in Texas, I would bet she's not in a union. Unions have never been strong in southern states.

  • by Dunkirk ( 238653 ) <<moc.redirkdivad> <ta> <divad>> on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:15AM (#26058263) Homepage

    Eighteen years ago, I discovered emacs. I got hold of a printed copy of the whole manual for it, which was pretty thick, even back then. I took it to a copy shop so I could have one for myself. (Remember, this is back when a 4-foot wide line printer in the terminal room was about all I had access to.)

    The girl working the counter flipped open the binder to the very first page, and saw a copyright notification, and promptly told me that she could not copy the manual because it would be illegal to do so. I told her to simply READ what she was looking at. In about thirty seconds, she was copying the manual.

    I understand that people want to respect copyright law. I do too. But any sort of ignorance to the fact that it's actually copyright law that MAKES open source work ought to be able to be remedied quickly by just reading the copyright license to the software. Any questions about the situation could then be resolved within about 5 minutes of Googling.

    And, just to threadjack my own post, I just-as-quickly forgot about emacs, and allowed myself to be beat about the head and shoulders by vi until now, to the point that I won't go anywhere near emacs. ;-)

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:22AM (#26058305) Homepage

    What if every Slashdotter that does Linux were to send a variety pack of disks of various Linux distributions to that school?

  • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:23AM (#26058317) Homepage

    Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.

    I doubt the teacher is spouting a union-sponsored line (although that is a fairly typical mindset). Instead, the teacher is most likely ignorant of Linux and FOSS in general. She's not, however, ignorant of piracy thanks to ads from folks like the BSA, MPAA, and the infamous RIAA. Thus, when she sees software being handed out on home-made discs, she assumes it's piracy. She's been conditioned to that response like the good union myrmidon she is.

    There was a time when I'd be shocked at this level of idiocy in a government school, but no more. I'd have been more shocked had she understood and condoned what the student was doing.

  • by Farmer Pete ( 1350093 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:33AM (#26058405)
    The fact that a teacher would confiscate Linux CDs from a student isn't half as shocking to me that the teacher would take the time to write a letter to the creator of the software bashing him for it. It sounds like the teacher has to much free time on her hands.
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:33AM (#26058413)

    The teacher's sentiments are common. Many, many people believe that any software that someone is willing to give away must be little more than a toy. Many of them will assume that Linux is pirated. (For that matter, I know more than a few people who insist my Mac is simply a toy, incapable of matching Windows in computing power.)

    Remember, too, that for all the attention Linux gets in its little part of the world (people interested in tech), it remains almost unknown elsewhere. This teacher clearly has never heard of it.

    That's not the teacher's fault. Those who want to evangelize Linux need to do much, much more work in the "real" world.

    Teachers prepare students to exist and work in the world outside the school. In that world, Windows dominates. it is a simple fact that students will enter a workforce that expects them to know how to use Word and Excel.

    The rant about the NEA was bush league and self-defeating. The teacher almost certainly has no knowledge of who contributes to the union, and Stark has no assurance that the teacher is an NEA member. Linux can't be sold by ideologues chanting anti-corporate mantras.

  • Some real opinions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:44AM (#26058487) Homepage

    Speaking as a UK school ICT Technician / ICT Manager for 7 years...

    1) Some/Most teacher's are stupid, even in their specialist subject

    It's a gross generalisation, but even most IT teachers cannot understand licensing, copyright, installation, administration of network machines, IT best practices, simple programming etc. I have seen heads of IT in secondary schools that have less knowledge of computers than my own mother, who can just about turn on a Wii unsupervised. If you think I am exaggerating, I'm really not. Couple this with the fact that *real* IT teachers (those who have taken computing degrees, and not some "business *with* computing" degree) are fewer than you think, that those who are still current on their IT are even less, and then those who can actually teach *AND* still understand anything vaguely technical are rare, if not non-existent.

    This applies from kindergarten up to a lot of universities - their theory is sound but their IT is actually run by a real Network Manager (who will be denigrated and earn half their money because they don't have a PGCE or other 1-year-extra course that enables them to teach officially). If it isn't run by a real techie, disaster ensues - I know - I used to charge by the hour to clear it up. If you want to pass ICT GCSE, ask an ICT teacher. If you want to know about anything other than Word or Powerpoint or, indeed, anything that might ever require you to click the Help button, don't ask an ICT teacher. Guess who they'll ask.

    2) 99.9% of people have never heard of Linux, even if they use it everyday (Google).

    In my time working in IT support/network management for schools, I have met precisely six other people at work who have *heard* of Linux, and precisely *one* who actually used it more than "Yeah, installed it once, it didn't play games". That one was a fellow IT Technician. (Additionally, I have met three people who used any browser other than IE at home). Bear in mind that the average school has at least 30 staff (part/full-time), that I've worked in LOTS of schools (freelance support for five years), that this includes IT departments at large secondary schools / Academies, that it includes the Borough ICT support teams, sales people who called me etc. and I think you start to get the scale of the problem.

    Now consider that most of those schools had Cachepilots or similar Linux-based hardware, ran on external shared services that were mostly hosted on Linux, Squid, Apache etc., used Asus EEEPC's, and even in one case the entire school network operated off the back of proxy caching servers and firewalls which ran Linux and even the IT people didn't know it until it was pointed out to them.

    3) Free stuff has two connotations to the uninitiated:

    a) Argh! It's rubbish. Because everything free is rubbish.
    b) There's a catch. (i.e. it's illegal, it forces you to do things, it reads your emails, etc.)

    A previous (and very IT knowledgeable) IT Manager of mine, who used to manage mainframes in the financial sector for about 20 years, actively resisted me using Linux inside a school for months before I was allowed to bring in a couple of experimental projects I had built previously using it. Purely because it was "free" and therefore, no good. The "Free stuff isn't Microsoft" isn't a new phenomenon and it scares even the most technical of people who haven't tried it themselves.

    4) In schools, nobody cares.

    Educational software for Linux sucks. Completely. I've just started a job at a school where the head and bursar actually do *get* Linux and OSS and we were in instant, unanimous agreement on this while still in the interview. So, as far as most schools are concerned, it's not even worth touching. Yes, office apps are there, you can print, save, email, and all the usual. It's great for remote terminals, for getting basics done and for re-using old, cheap machines. But you're still having to buy new machines to run the fancy Windows content that you want because there isn't any Linux

  • OpenEducationDisc (Score:5, Informative)

    by pluke ( 801200 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:46AM (#26058505) Homepage
    Getting opensource into schools is a hard process. it took me three years before my school moved in that direction. A good stepping stone is the openeducation disc. they can still hold onto their windows installs and software and you can slowly slip the programs into the curriculum, also a great way to dstribute the software to parents for a very small overhead.
  • by CountBrass ( 590228 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @08:53AM (#26058571)
    Any response that contains crude personal attacks

    The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way. Then again, being a good NEA member, you would spout the Union line.

    unsupported claims

    Microsoft has pumped tens of millions of dollars into your union.

    and makes dubious inferences and another personal attack

    Of course you are going to 'recommend' Microsoft Windows.

    falls a long way short of being eloquent.

    Just because you agree with someone's crude rant doesn't mean it's elegant.

    Personally I'm more inclined to think the teacher is quite sincere. Ignorant, certainly, but there's no reason to put their attitude down to malice or even corruption.

    After all to most people, including teachers, the most important thing is that it works with Windows/Office which means it has to be Windows/Office.

    The ideals of Free and Open software are pretty much irrelevant to the vast majority of people. Why should they care that they could, if they wanted to, get the source code any more than we, as software developers, would care if we could get the schematics for the latest Intel chip. Where's the "Freedom" when it comes to hardware, beyond having drivers?

  • Perspectives.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Junta ( 36770 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @09:20AM (#26058861)

    Generally, education has gaps, particularly in technology. Not all is bad, it went in phases. In Junior high, they explicitly called me into the Library whenever the DOS computers acted weird to get me to fix it. However, in my first high school days, I was disciplined for 'harming' the school's computers. Some examples of what I did that got me banned from using their computers:
    -Windows 3 displayed a blue screen, instructing to hit control-alt-delete. I did so. Evidently, their policy was to put an out-of-order sign and call the local computer company on a per-incident fee because that company told them those screens required such action.
    -On their new Win95 computer, I opened a full-screen DOS window. They claimed I had deleted the OS and I barely had time to exit and show them it was still there before they called that company again to fix it.
    -They had brand new deskjet printers that printed at minutes per page for simple text. I figured out their misconfiguration, and was called down for 'making the printers go too fast'. They said they were lucky they hadn't broken from going too fast and they called that company to 'fix' them back too slow (which they did all too readily, they knew how to exploit the ignorance).

    For trying to develop and exercise my professional skillset of choice, I was actively precluded in instructing myself. My second high school refreshingly reverted to my junior high days of being explicitly called to assist the faculty.

    As to Linux, I'm actually married to a teacher. Students were generally surprised to see Linux on the Desktop (didn't look like Mac or Windows) and the IT guy was happy to see a teacher using Linux. None of her peers would make this mistake.

    All that said, the response was pretty dumb. don't be belligerent. You don't fix the problem by being an asshole. You provide education, links to the legal content of popular licenses and a layman's explanation. Provide reasonable motivations that lead to no-cost software development. Saying 'oh, MS bought you off' doesn't provide the requisite context to counter. Educational and other public institution contribution would be a good starting point, as it hits close to home. Corporate contribution in the name of marketing leverage, development costs (particularly for companies for whom the software is not their revenue source) and in order to obtain some government contracts would be another source perceived as both logical and quality. Finally, personal contributions for personal marketing (resume building) and hobbyist rounds out the major motivations. Mention companies like Dell, HP, and IBM doing open source to move hardware and services. Mention that even Microsoft invests in Novell and others due to their recognition of Linux as a legitimate market participant (assigning no value judgment to that, the statement is true regardless of whether you dislike or like the agreement). Mention that most supercomputers run the platform, many without paying explicitly for it.

    You can craft a well-thought out, educational response that may actually spread in a positive way. Telling a teacher she is a bribed shill for MS is going to make her warn her peers in the teacher lounge more about this 'free' software rather than get her perhaps to discuss some interesting stuff she learned. You only have the get one teacher in a school interested enough to talk to get an entire school to at least basically understand Linux.

  • by XB-70 ( 812342 ) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @03:00PM (#26063993)
    Open letter to:

    Mark Williams, District 5, President, Austin Independent School District.

    Dear Mr. Williams:

    As you may or may not be aware, it appears that a teacher in your district recently disciplined her student for demonstrating open source software to his/her classmates.

    IMPORTANT: The article [] about this is going viral on the web.

    I can assure you that educators need to understand that Open Source Software is, by it's very nature, free. Free to use, free to distribute and free to copy. Further to that, Open Source Software can save your school board 10's of thousands of dollars in licencing and royalty fees. Replacing Windows and/or Microsoft Office is now easy. Furthermore, going forward, upgrades are free too.

    More and more schools and school boards are adopting Linux and Open Office []. Open Office is a mature, fully-featured, standards compliant Open Source office suite which adheres to fully open document standards and can open and create virtually any MS Office document, spreadsheet or presentation. Linux is virtually virus-free, stable and secure. Special versions of it are designed for schools. Here's one: []

    The most important thing about Open Source Software is that it helps to level the playing field. Less advantaged students can take home legal copies of software and use and install them legally at home.

    All I would ask is this:

    - Please educate your teaching staff about the advantages of Open Source Software.

    - Please have your IT department review its costs and look at the savings to be had.

    - Please do what you can to help give all kids the same opportunities.

    Thank you in advance for your time in looking into this matter.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas