Wednesday, August 10, 2005

If you give a kid a computer ...

It used to be that when kids got into trouble at school, their parents would punish them. As schools got more befuddled or parents got more weak-willed, depending on your point of view, parents started to protest the schools' actions, defending their offspring to newspaper reporters and blasting the school in public meetings. Now, of course, there's no reason to deal with the middleman: Don't like the way your school is treating your kids? Start a website!

Such is naturally the case with the computer-confrontation going on in Kutztown, Pa., where 13 students are accused of hacking the nice laptops the school district gave them, cracking administrative codes, monitoring administrators' computer use, and so on. Kid stuff, you know? What do you expect? These kids know all about computers! You can't stop them! You've got admire them, don't you? What little geniuses they are! What? Punish them? Suspend them? Call the police? What a bunch of no-talent killjoys! Where's the harm here? Why did you give them the computers in the first place if you didn't want them to mess around? That seems to be the opinion of the families of the so-called Kurtztown 13, as expressed in their site, (and the bumper stickers and T-shirts offered there).

It's hard to feel sorry for the school here. It's not a big secret that kids are good at this sort of thing, and have the patience and single-mindedness to go after it. If you're going to give kids computers, you really ought to be able to stay ahead of them on security. It sounds as if the whole thing was poorly handled from beginning to end. On the other hand ... now, you know, I can be a loudmouth mom and take schools to task as well as the next parent, but I wonder what it is you teach kids when you attack schools for enforcing rules. You can be amused by what your kid does, you can be impressed with it, you can secretly feel that sticking it to the man is a cool thing to do, but when you knowingly allow him or her to break school rules, encourage him or her to do it, defend him or her against any repercussions, what are you teaching that child? That rules don't apply to him or her? That they only apply if they make sense to you personally? That they only apply unless it's easy to break them, or fun? And where does that lead? No place good, I think.

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