Posted by: reformedmusings | December 18, 2008

Teacher threatens to call the cops over Linux in classroom

Just when you thought that you’d seen it all…here’s the article on PCPro’s website: Teacher threatens to call the cops over Linux. Note that the incident occurred in Austin, Texas, but the news is from the UK. That just hints at the international scope of the uproar over the incident. Bottom line is that a teacher confiscated some software CDs from a student and sent him to detention because he was showing Linux on a laptop to fellow students. She apparently thought he pirated the software (see below).

The teacher somehow connected Ken Starks, the Helios founder, to the CDs. He wrote about the original incident on his blog: Linux – Stop Holding Our Kids Back. In his blog post, Ken included parts of an outrageous email that an Austin teacher sent him. In it, she claimed that no software is free:

At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows.

Wow, that’s a pretty impressive display of ignorance. Obviously, she put zero effort into researching the situation, which is sad for an adult to whom children look to for guidance and discipline. She went on to say:

Mr. Starks, 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 admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

Really? Ken captured the root of the issue nicely:

…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. To do otherwise would probably get you reprimanded at the least and fired at the worst. You are only doing what you’ve been instructed to do.

You’ve been trained well.

Who says that Microsoft can’t buy ignorant loyalty? The only thing that they couldn’t buy was the European Union courts.

This was all interesting enough, but as Internet communication usually goes, it took on a life of its own. According to Mr. Stark, his blog post found its way to the front page of Slashdot, where it was read by hundreds of thousands and garnered about 1000 comments. Ken was up front with the teacher and sent her a link to his blog post, which was factually accurate and of moderate tone. From there she found the other comments and was disconcerted. She and Mr. Stark eventually talked it all out.

Mr. Stark wrote the follow-up post Character-Assassinations-Ain’t-Us in which talked about the escalation of the situation as well as his conversations with the teacher. In it, he noted that someone in New Zealand offered him $1000 for the teacher’s full name and contact information. I’m sure that they were going to send flowers. To his credit, Mr. Stark refused. As he said on his blog:

Now to the meat of the matter. Many, many of you have pushed for the identification of this teacher.

I cannot or will not relinquish that. Read the comments from slashdot alone or the hundreds on my blog to understand why!

There isn’t any amount of money I will accept to throw a human being into that cement mixer.

Mr. Stark is obviously a man of integrity and high character. PCPro also printed follow-up article HeliOS and Linux-hating teacher kiss and make up.

I found a few take-aways from this incident:

1) Microsoft’s billions pay lots of lawyers and influences lots of folks through advertising and “otherwise”;
2) The NEA isn’t doing your kids any favors;
3) Anything that you put into electronic form – emails, pictures on your phone or computer, blog posts, etc. – is public domain and will come back to haunt you no matter how careful you think you’ve been. (That teen girls/boys send nude pics to their boyfriends/girlfriends just astounds me. Hell hath no fury like an angry ex-);
4) The anonymity of the Internet tends to make mountains out of insignificant mole hills.

In the end, no one in this incident got hurt. I don’t believe that Ken Stark owed anyone an apology. A teacher actually received an education on Free and Open Source software. And Linux is still free, as in free beer.

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