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Why should open source software be used in schools?

It is indeed a strange world when educators need to be convinced that sharing information, as opposed to concealing information, is a good thing. The advances in all of the arts and sciences, indeed the sum total of human knowledge, is the result of the open sharing of ideas, theories, studies and research. Yet throughout many school systems, the software in use on computers is closed and locked, making educators partners in the censorship of the foundational information of this new age. This software not only seeks to obscure how it works, but it also entraps the users' data within closed, proprietary formats which change on the whim of the vendor and which are protected by the bludgeon of the End User License Agreement. This entrapment of data is a strong, punitive incentive to purchase the latest version of the software, regardless of whether it suits the educational purposes better, thereby siphoning more of the school's limited resources away from the school's primary purpose. The use of such closed software in education may be justified only where no suitable open source solution exists.

Educators have been called upon throughout history to combat censorship imposed by various powers over the flow of information. The censorship being applied today comes in the form of licenses that lock away the tools to build the information age and laws that limit fair use in ways that are unprecedented in the modern era. The powers imposing this censorship attempt to create an artificial scarcity of information and the tools to work with that information to feed their greed. Where would education be today if, for example, the mechanism and idea of the Gutenberg press were not only hidden, but protected by threat of dire punishment under the law if anyone dared to attempt to "reverse engineer" it?

We are well into the beginnings of the Information Age. It stands to affect the people of the world at least as profoundly as the Industrial Age. It is time for the opening of the tools that will be needed to build this new age. Teaching our children to be passive purchasers of closed, proprietary solutions to problems is not enough. Constraining students to move the mouse within the confines of the instruction set of a few closed, proprietary programs merely cages those students and constrains our future.

Students should, at least, be given the opportunity to see how their new tools work. They should be given the opportunity to examine the inner workings of software. They should be given the opportunity to extend the functions of their tools, where they see or imagine possibilities. They should not be held back by locking the toolbox of the Information Age and told they must not peer inside, must not try to discover how it works, must not share their tools with others, must not use their tools without paying proper tribute to the software overlords, under penalty and punishment of law.


Conversations with high school students who complain of broken networks, unrepaired computers, too few computers, too few choices in programming languages, overworked and (so far as computers are concerned) undertrained teachers are the inspiration leading to this document. The main intent is to provide the following links so that those who wish to bring open source to their schools will have some 'ammunition' with which to persuade those in charge. Perhaps some money can be diverted from its current outflow to be used inside schools.

Documents supporting the case for open source software usage

Links are provided for easy navigation and to facilitate referencing individual items within sections.

Sections:

[ Resources ]  [ News / implementations ]  [ Research / studies ]  [ General open source information ] 

Resources:

Items: [edubuntu]  [k12]  [k12linux]  [k12os]  [emacspeak]  [openoffice]  [seul]  [lfsp]  [freeduc]  [opensourceschools]  [schoolforge]  [skolelinux]  [eduforge]  [iteachnet] 


News / implementations:

Items: [warrington]  [houston]  [leete]  [gedda2]  [gedda]  [macedonia]  [necc]  [sunwah]  [hawaii]  [orwell]  [adelstein]  [extremadura]  [surran]  [miller2]  [greene]  [nunez]  [nunez01609]  [aaxnet]  [gonzalez]  [miller]  [trinity]  [dean]  [lehmann]  [pfaffenberger] 


Research / studies:

Items: [beingfluent]  [kegel]  [wheeler]  [orzech] 


General Information About Open Source

Items: [business]  [netaction]  [hoffman]  [radding]  [bbc]  [yager] 



Editorial comments:

There appears to be a disturbing trend among former news sites on the internet. Many sites either discard non-current articles or place them into pay-per-view archives.

As Edward Welbourne put it,

Yes. Truly perverse. They're *news* sites - their stock-in-trade is *news*, so it's funny they haven't yet noticed the logical business model; have a nice stable archive accessible to everyone (the loss-leader that gets public respect and encourages folk to link into your site), have each article's page include a forward-in-time links section that leads readers to follow-ups (a service readers really do want) and make the most recent week's news subscription-only. Maybe make the most recent day's news available only to "gold" subscribers. Then subscribers (who will rapidly lose track of the fact that they had to pay for access) will send their friends links to articles they can't read, or won't be able to read until a week later, hence bringing new site-visitors onto the above follow-up chain.

http://lwn.net seems to understand -- open archives and subscriber news.

Others rearrange their websites, breaking the original links, then provide search tools which send a barrage of "sponsored links" that requires superhuman persistance to wade past to find the real news archives. This feels like the selling of history to the highest bidder, to me. Perhaps it is just an extreme reaction to the so-called "dot-bomb" bubble, when so many online business ventures collapsed. Regardless of their reasons for pushing "sponsored links" as news, I will try to remove links to such sites from this page.


Copyright 2001-2007 Terry Vessels. Verbatim copying of this article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.
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Last updated: December 24, 2007