Teachers Need An Open Source Education

Tuesday Jan 27th 2009 by Matt Hartley
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The teacher who claimed that Linux must be illegal was not alone in her attitude.

Remember back in 2008 when a teacher named "Karen" made a remark about using Linux holding her students back? The idea apparently being that students using Linux must somehow be participating in something that is illegal.

Later, apologies ensued despite new wounds on both sides of the issue being created. Seems to me that this is not just individuals in the proprietary software realm who have no idea how open source software works. Apparently the group of misinformation junkies now includes teachers as well.

Free as in freedom, not as in free lunch

Even with the recent growth in adoption with open source software on proprietary platforms, there are still countless people in places of authority who have no idea that there is such as thing as free/open source software (FOSS). And to be completely fair, it is easy to see how a teacher might become confused when they are surrounded by mainstream media talking heads that spend more time trumpeting the threat of "software piracy" than their FOSS alternatives.

Even "freeware" can be passed out illegally as it often contains a license statement that generally indicates its creators must give express permission for the created works to be passed around freely. So you might then understand how an uninformed teacher might be in a good position to jump to sudden conclusions when one of their students is passing around a disc containing "unknown software" on it to their peers.

In reality, these same students are utilizing their freedom of choice to select legal alternatives to proprietary software. This translates into completely circumventing pirated software altogether. This software, licensed with one of the various open source licenses, is permitted to be passed around to a student's peers for casual use. Nothing nefarious is taking place in allowing this to happen. Unfortunately, most teachers today are totally unaware of this.

What makes this entire teacher/student confusion even worse is that there is heavy speculation that people who work within the IT sector for the same school districts as the misinformed teachers, are doing their part to encourage this type of behavior to travel even further than mere software sharing.

IT Professionals that need to be "taken to school"

Try to suggest to a Linux user that they should try and remove Linux from their PC, that Linux user is going to likely laugh at you. Yet apparently, there have been reports that this is actually taking place.

The problem is that Linux users themselves are seen as a rogue element in a world maintained by Microsoft certified administrators. These admins, often working off of their "vast Linux experience" derived from a twenty minute adventure into some random Linux distro from a few years ago, are choosing to contribute to the misinformation already in existence. Some people have alleged that they are making up half-truths about what happens to those who go "full time" into this platform or even just disallowing any connectivity to use their network at all. This presents a problem should any of these students happen to come from strong Linux-using households, which might translate into bringing their Linux-based notebook to the local community college.

So is this a worldwide problem or just a problem for U.S. schools? While I have seen reports and article indicating this does happen all over, the bulk of the hot air appears to rise from within U.S. shores mostly.

Are US based schools alone in their ignorance?

These days, U.S. schools are better at making sure everyone is "Microsoft compliant" than they are making sure their students are able to read before high school. Not to worry though, these same students have mastered the ability to click "Big E icon" so that they get themselves onto MySpace and Facebook.

This, coupled with their talent for using the latest proprietary security suite to remove the random malware threats, will definitely make U.S. students a force to be reckoned with in the world marketplace as they mature.

In the meantime, areas such as Central/South America are making the switch to Linux in record numbers. Grade school students in much poorer countries are learning to use their own problem solving skills to bypass operating system "gotchas" as they come up, while U.S. high school students are working on leveling up their characters in World Of Warcraft!

Even in nearby Canada, I see news every month that a new school district is switching over to open source alternatives as Microsoft is simply not where they want to spend their educational budget.

Now stop me here, but something seems wrong with this situation. We have U.S.-based teachers and system administrators explaining to young tech-minded students that they need to use Windows, should they wish to compete in the world today. Also keep in mind we are hoping to prep these same students to compete in a world where Linux and Windows are being heavily used.

Granted, we often see articles claiming how Linux has weak usage numbers. Yet when pressing on as to how in the world you track an operating system that provides no real means of tracking it, those same media sources seem to suddenly clam up. In other words, no one really has any hard percentages and those making up pie charts with shadowy claims need to consider the fact that they’re not telling the whole truth.

But I digress. With the current educational budget that U.S. schools have at their disposal, it seems like there must be plenty of money to spend on software and hardware upgrades! The savings in having U.S. schools still running Windows 98 and 2000Pro is clearly providing more cost effectiveness than hiring multiple operating system ready administrators that can work with more than just Windows, right?

It's not like these admins are spending more time dealing with malware than improving the computing environment for students? Oh wait, they are.

A simple proposal

Let me make a proposal. How about allowing kids who wish to learn more about using Linux do so, on their own time. Perhaps even by giving them some extra school credit, as is sure beats boring them to tears with subjects for extra credit that they’re not showing any interest with anyway.

This costs the schools nothing, best of all it serves to help with the student's problem solving skills.

In addition, I would suggest that teachers and the school’s Microsoft trained IT staff consider studying up on the subject of Linux before trying to pass futile judgments over it.

While I wholeheartedly agree that Linux is not a platform for everyone, it is something that is gaining widespread adoption worldwide and those who are able to use it along with proprietary operating systems will be a much stronger position to succeed within the work place.

Besides, any Linux user can plop themselves in front of a Windows box and get to work in a matter of a few minutes. Can we say the same for any casual Windows user trying to do the same thing with Linux? Not without a "Big E" on the desktop, most likely.

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