Wednesday, December 10

Is our educational system really this far out of touch?

I recently came across this post and can't help but comment.  

Speaking of holding students back, this teacher "tried" linux in college?  Did she think development stopped after she tried it?

I believe this teacher sincerely believes she is doing the right thing, but her conclusions are so logically invalid, they border on incoherence.  Lets start with this one:

"No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful."
This is an assertion I actually agree with depending on your usage of the word "free".  It is true that no software is built without a cost, however, she goes on to infer that he is doing something wrong because of it.  Just because something is built with a cost doesn't mean that someone can not give it away.  Additionally, if you were to pay someone for software like Linux, who would you pay?  Linus Torvalds for starting the project and leading kernel development?  Richard Stallman for leading GNU, drafting the GPL?  Maybe you should pay Eric Raymond or any of the millions of developers, documenters, and community contributors who have contributed in some way to the working, stable, secure operating system we know today.  All of these people have paid the cost of time because they wanted software that met their purposes AND they were kind enough to share what worked for them.  It's a good thing that they did, because what they did by themselves would mean very little in and of itself.  It was the community cooperation makes it great... and free as in speech, the derivative being free of cost to the user.  In fact, in a country where freedom of speech is one of the paramount rights given to every citizen, the failure to understand its effect on software by people who are educating young minds is an abhorrent failure on the part of our educational system in the United States... especially when it amounts to the censorship of anything non-Windows.

"This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer "
Actually, Windows will only run on a very small subset of the different computer architectures available.  It won't run on anything but x86.  That is a tongue in cheek response, I know she means the desktop computing environment, but the word "majority" would be better here.  And last month, Windows dropped below 90% market share... so her statement is becoming less and less valid.

"putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all" 
This is a funny one.  I can only assume he was demonstrating compiz, a 3-d accellerated component of the window manager that is becoming common on many linux desktops today.  The hilarious part of this, in sort of a sad, nauseating way, is that she is not describing an operating system at all, but a window manager.  The fact that the distinction is lost today is disconcerting to those of us who actually understand the difference.  If you add the fact that a "carnival show" and a bunch of incompatibilities were exactly the delivery with Vista, it makes you wonder if this teacher is actually serious in taking such offense to this or if she is simply that out of touch with modern computing.

The really nauseating thing about this is, this teacher is most likely concerned that if she teaches her kids anything but Windows they will not be able to function in the professional world where, to the chagrin of users interested in efficiency, the majority of work today is done on Windows.  The key word is, today.  I would venture to say that, unless this teacher is under 25 years old or went to a very large school, she probably didn't even have a computer in her classroom until she was in junior high and they were likely Apple IIc, IBM or clones thereof.  Her experience using those machines in no way prepared her to use Windows 95, or 98, or 2000, or XP, or Vista and she still managed to get a job that doesn't involve breaking rocks with a sledgehammer.  Similarly, the operating environments our children learn today are not going to be the ones they will use in the future.  The argument that they won't be prepared for the workplace if they are exposed to competing operating systems is completely ludicrous.  Apparently none of the students she is educating will be entering into software development, system administration, web administration or any of those low paying professions, so of course they will only need to know about Windows.  Maybe she's only interested in producing rock breakers.

However, some criticisms could be leveled at Linux advocates as well.  We need to stop spouting off RMS lines to the wrong people.  People in the midwest and south are going to hear RMS talk about sharing and "greater good", assume you are a communist, and tune you out.  The real benefit of the open source development model is that, by combining efforts, many developers are able to produce working software.  Think of an Amish Barn building.  Why do all the people in the community help each other?  Of course it's part of their culture, but it's also a pragmatic approach since they each need one and if they all help each other, the building is done faster for everyone.

I wonder if this teacher knows that SELinux includes the NSA as one of it's contributors?  Maybe she'd like to report that as a possibly illegal activity as well.

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