Teacher: “No Software is Free” [Updated]

Thanks to Glyn for pointing this one out to me.

A thoroughly shocking saga from “across the pond”.

This blog is momentarily interrupted to bring you a snippet of recently received email.

…observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks.

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

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.

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 verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them…”

Karen xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx Middle School

Where on earth does one start? I assume that AISD is the

Austin Independent School District,
1111 W. 6th Street,
TX 78703

This teacher’s position is frankly scary; to be in a position of authority and yet be so ignorant. I would suggest that she is sent on a two day FOSS course at AISD’s expense and then asked to give presentations/tutorials to the rest of her teaching community. She could also burn some CDs and give them out too.

I really hope that my children (who both use Edubuntu) will not encounter such blind ignorance during their school life.

I hereby pledge that I will do my utmost to help any offending teachers should this arise.

Update: Helios has written a postscript to this story after it became caught up in a frenzy of /. and digg mania. It seems as though Helios thinks he needs to apologise for something. Personally I didn’t feel that he had done anything wrong in his original post (he did keep the teachers identity private afterall) but clearly he didn’t like the tone of many of the comments. That’s honourable and almost certainly the right thing to do. But surely this is a two way street? Don’t you agree that Karen should have done at least a modicum of research before launching her exocet? Afterall she is a teacher…

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  • Guillaume says:

    Nossa senhora!!!

    I agree that if the student was not listening to the course while presenting Linux to his friends, he is to blame, but that’s the only thing he has to be blamed for. The rest is purely to be blamed on the teacher. She should be ashamed to maintain such a discourse without having tried the stuff.

    It’s not possible that such a discourse exists! Not only today, but even at all (what’s this underlying racist idea that would authorize that poor people have bad software and rich one have good one)…

    I can’t stay doing nothing in front of that. I’ll try to write a calm, cool and pedagogic answer to this person. However, I’ll need your help: 1. to get in touch with the person directly and 2. because I imagine this kind of people won’t care about the opinion of a French guy living in Brazil; the impact of USA guys would be greater, 3. my English is poor, 4. maybe a physical encounter/conference in the school to explain the basics of FOSS can help.

    Also, I’d like to send the mail with copy to her hierarchy, because I can’t stand that she spreads so false ideas. She has to be stopped! And, has you propose, her whole school must be “put into the loop” and now help spread the truth. I would suggest, as a repair for her mistake, that she gives an assignment to the involved students in order that THEY present to their peers what FOSS is philosophically and legally, and also make some demos, because she apparently needs it too (as she ever compared the beauty of Compiz with respect to the very limited 3D in Vista’s ? http://www.youtube.com/v/lawkc3jH3ws and with what difference in hardware!!!).

    More importantly, we need to put again the right ideas in the mind of the child (and his parents, friends, etc.): I’m sure this “Karen” has frighten him menacing him of legal pursuits… We must also enter in contact with the kid and provide him the means to discover truth and argue against this “teacher”.

    Are there people ready to help me in that?

    A first list of ideas of her that we have to contradict:
    On a technical point of view:
    -> Free (as a beer) software is not bad (see how M$ are so full of security holes)
    -> Free (as a speech) software is not illegal (there’s also free art: music, pictures…!)
    -> Free (as a speech) software can/must be redistributed (show her the FSF website/GPL)!

    On a more general point of view:
    -> M$ does not provide free, even old versions of its software, and even if it would do, we don’t want it (because it traps you into their system => open formats, etc.)
    -> “and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them”. Yes computers have been designed to help people. So they should be there to do what THEIR USERS want. But, is she aware that it is exactly the contrary towards which M$ and the Majors are pushing towards with Vista’s “security” system and all the DRM stuff?

    On a more societal point of view:
    -> “This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer”. As she ever asked herself why this is the case (1. see M$’s lost trials for monopoly abuse with IE, 2. Office acts like a virus: if you use it, you oblige your friends+familly+collegues to use it, because of the closed protocols and file formats – see, again, M$ lost trials in the EU)
    -> Poor people do not deserve worse software than rich ones (how can a *teacher* have such ideas in mind! She needs to be recalled the basics of the mission of a teacher/nation: sharing, support, equalities of chances, etc…)

  • Dave says:

    On another point, any instructor who purports to be ‘teaching’ computers, should be teaching *computers*, unless it is a course in Microsoft Technologies – which it did not sound like. The world runs on “Word Processors” and “Spreadhseets” and the Web. None of which are proprietary to M$, regardless of how hard it tries.

    A word for teachers everywhere: Teach how to use COMPUTERS, not how to use Microsoft. But, oh, wait… Didn’t Microsoft maybe give that school (teacher?) ‘incentives’ to teach their software? hmm… maybe, just maybe…

  • Guillaume says:


    Sorry, I wanted to write a proposition of letter for this Dear professor and her hierarchy, but I didn’t find time this week-end to do it, and I’ll probably not have time this week. However, I’m thinking she has got the deserved publicity:


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