Here at Instructify, we comb the web for free or open-source software, sites and gadgets that can save teachers time, money, or allow them to teach in new and exciting ways. We believe in the value of these sorts of tools — that’s why stories like this one are so alarming.

A teacher in the Austin, Texas school district, upon seeing a student distributing disc-based copies of the free Linux operating system, confiscated the discs, had a conference with the student, and sent an angry letter to the nonprofit company distributing the software in which she said, “No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful…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.” The teacher also vowed, “if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows.”

It’s good to remember that, even in this enlightened age where teachers can access more free resources than ever, many educators believe that students need to use the “right” kind of technology, as if computer productivity were the exclusive domain of a select few providers. Ken Starks of HeliOS Solutions, the company in question, sent a strongly worded reply to the teacher. While Starks’ rebuttal is awash in self-importance, he exposes the central fallacy in the teacher’s letter — that the technology itself is what’s most important, when it’s merely a means to an end.

The world isn’t interested in whether kids use Windows or Mac or Linux, IE or Firefox, Word or OpenOffice. If you’re a carpenter, nobody cares if you use a Skil circular saw or a Black & Decker (nor will getting used to one mean you’ll be lost figuring out the other). All that matters is whether you can build a table with it. Technology is no different. We teach students to use technology to enable them to make remarkable things with it — a cutting edge website, a work of art, a movie. Anybody can learn MS Office. The folks who can crunch the numbers to find where a company is wasting money are the ones who’ll get hired. This teacher lost sight of the fact that tools are only as necessary as the jobs we use them for. It’s the end, not the means, that matters. -BILL FERRIS

P.S. Starks and the teacher were able to reach an understanding and patch things up.

Teacher Confiscates Linux Discs, Chides Charitable Computer Group, “No Software Is Free” via Consumerist

Linux – Stop holding our kids back via Blog of Helios

Photo credit: RaeA on flickr