[lug] Free Software in Schools

Quentin Hartman qhartman at gmail.com
Fri Dec 21 14:33:09 MST 2012

Keep in mind I'm on your side, but as someone who is a FOSS advocate and
has spent a lot of time in K-12 IT, I needed to answer these points so you
can see some of the potential "why's" behind what you are seeing.

On Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 1:59 PM, Davide Del Vento <
davide.del.vento at gmail.com> wrote:

> Many reasons. A partial list:
> 1) Schools should pick what is best for their needs and should *not*
> behave like fanboys (some are as I wrote)

Acting like fanboys doesn't mean that what they are using isn't the best
for their needs. In fact, they may not be acting like fanboys at all, they
are in all likelihood just excited to have modern somewhat uniform
equipment for a change. Historically it's a rare school that doesn't put
together their tech equipment from a patchwork of grants and cast-offs from

In many cases the (perceived?) needs of schools are driven by specialized
"educational" software that is only available on Windows and sometimes
Windows/Mac. A good example of this from Oregon (no idea if it's used here,
I expect it is) is Accelerated Reader. At many elementary schools the
entire reading (nee Language Arts) curriculum is built around this product.
Right or wrong, this is how it is. Any IT infrastructure that can't run AR
is a non-starter.

2) They may use Microsoft Word just to type an essay when they only need
> justification, boldface and italics, not hard-to-meet business needs that
> sometimes may make MO a better choice than LO

True, but when for schools the cost of Office is zero, or close enough to
zero as to not matter, they have no incentive  to not use what is perceived
as the "best" tool for the job, especially when it's the tool that has all
the training and class material already built for it.

3) Often times this is unnecessarily more expensive and shouldn't be done
> in times of tight budgets with taxpayer dollars

In many cases this just isn't true, and even if it is true with the way
budgets usually work in schools, there's no incentive not to spend the
money. The money earmarked for software must be spent on software,
earmarked for hardware on hardware, etc, etc. Savings in one area can't be
easily rolled into another area, and if the money isn't spent at all it
will be reclaimed by the state and next year's funding will be reduced.

> 4) In fact the budged is to tight that many public schools ask parents to
> contribute money or labor (!)

Right, but as stated in my last point, public school budgets are not
"agile". Even if they were to save money on hardware or software, the
chances of that money finding it's way to fund something else at the school
are near zero.

> 5) I'm fine if an adult freely decides to use something that will lock him
> in. I'm not ok if that same adult is a teacher and pretend to lock my kids
> in

They aren't locking them in for the most part. Even if they are, they
aren't intentionally doing it. They are using the tools they have, which
they understand to be the tools that "everyone" uses. To look at it from
the other side, "I'm fine if an adult freely decides to use something that
is weird and no one else uses. I'm not ok if that same adult is a teacher
who isn't teaching my kid the tools they are going to need to know how to
use when they get a job." Both statements are fraught with problems.
Ultimately we need to teach kids how to use software at a high enough level
that they can figure out any piece of software they sit in front of, and
for the most, they already do that. Unfortunately, the adults that make
decisions for them don't realize that.

> 6) Kids will soon ask me to buy them the same machine they use at school
> because they won't like what we have at home (in my case that would be
> likely microsoft vs gnu/linux, but this applies in the same way to apple vs
> microsoft: diversity, not monoculture should be allowed and actually
> encouraged)

This is almost certainly not true if they are used to what they have at
home. After I introduced my wife to Linux she stopped using Windows
entirely, and hates it when some application (Netflix, I'm looking at you)
forces her to use it to do something she wants to do.

Even if it is true, you have to realize that the public education systems'
charter (whether most people will admit it or not) is "prepare children for
entering the workforce", not "educate children to be thoughtful
well-rounded human beings." This is a much more fundamental problem that
needs to be addressed, but is another force incentivising use of the
"normal" IT infrastructure and not paying much attention to the relatively
esoteric problems of technology monocultures, especially when in practice
monocultures are cheaper to support and do everything they see as being

Kudos to you if you really want to change this, but you'll have one helluva
fight ahead of you. The entire system is setup to discourage this sort of

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