Linux – stop holding kids back… so wrong

Recently, a school teacher named Karen in the Austin Independent School District confiscated what she thought were copies of illegal software but were actually Linux CDs. She then wrote an angry email to Ken Starks (aka, Helios), who then published the email and wrote back his own angry response. At least that’s what Ken Starks would have you believe happened.

I’m annoyed that the Linux community is getting on this guy’s side, and he’s trying to make off like a hero. I even question the authenticity of the email. I believe it’s either (depending on how cynical you want to get) a rewrite of an actual email for extra dramatic effect, a completely fabricated email referencing an actual event, or a completely fabricated email referencing an event that never even happened but one that Ken Starks considers realistic or plausible.

Let’s say—for argument’s sake, since I have no proof yet that this is a hoax—that the email is authentic and that the incident actually did happen. If that’s the case, Ken Starks’ blog post does not put the Linux community in a good light at all.

If the teacher’s email is authentic, it’s still not ethical for Starks to publish without the author’s consent what would otherwise be a private exchange, especially for the purpose of public ridicule.

More importantly, Starks does go on to ridicule the teacher in question and offer her personal insults as well. Here are some highlights:

You should be ashamed of yourself for putting into print such none sense [sic].

The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way. Then again, being a good NEA member, you would spout the Union line.

A dedicated School Teacher would recognize that fact and lobby for the change to Free Open Source Software and let the money formally spent on MS bindware be used on our kids.

A teacher who cared about her students would do that.

Now this teacher—if this incident really did happen, and if she wrote that actual email to Starks—is certainly extremely misinformed. Linux CDs are not illegal, and software can be free. It’s possible that “Aaron” was being disruptive but well-intentioned, and she was a bit harsh to the boy. However, if Starks really wanted to inform her and have her change and get educated, he should have written a kinder reply. His vitriol serves only to alienate her and tarnish the image of Linux communities.

To Karen, if this incident really did happen, and if your email did actually get published without your consent for the purposes of public ridicule, I apologize on behalf of the parts of the Linux community that will let me. You didn’t know that what that student was doing was perfectly legal, and you might have overreacted, but you probably thought at that time that what you were doing was right. If Starks hasn’t totally turned you off to open source software, I’d invite you to explore it yourself some time. It is perfectly legal and cost-free.

P.S. I find it disturbing that this is starting to appear not just on Digg and Slashdot but as actual news stories on tech websites when it’s clear that the only source remains Starks’ blog post. There is currently no outside verification whatsoever that the incident occurred or that this Karen (no last name) teacher actually sent that email to Starks.


  1. the whole story is weird… i have similar doubts about its authenticity. but whatever. if it is true, the entire exchange represents a huge missed opportunity. and starks response is a great example of the kind of techie elitism that turns people off.

    i guess a blog post that consisted of “i got an inflammatory email from a teacher. I sent a polite but firm response and we had a spirited but civil exchange. We didn’t agree in the end, but I think we both learned a little bit about each other.” that probably wouldn’t have been picked up by slashdot, right?

    also, scapegoating the teachers union is beyond ridiculous.

    i was a computer teacher in a past life, and a member of the union. nobody ever even mentioned which operating system was the “preferred” option. there was no union line on that matter that i was aware of. i introduced Linux in several places in our school system, and NEA agents in dark glasses never came to take away my membership card. i was congratulated by my peers for saving money and reusing old hardware.

  2. Well… I like your blog ’cause well… You analyze things well. Thanks for posting the post (lol @ redundance), it is an eye-opener, hasn’t thought of it like that but I agree with you.

  3. @themcp
    Yeah, that’s pretty much my feeling about it. It looks like a cheap ploy to get more traffic to Ken Starks’ blog. If he wrote something civil back, it wouldn’t be as much of an attention-getter.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. You’re allowed to vote my shares in your apology from another part of the Linux community. It’s interesting how similar the Linux community and the Christian community are; both have their purist, proselytizing evangelical sects, and both have their this-works-for-me-and-if-it-works-for-you-too-let’s-all-be-happy sects. I’m in favor of the ones with all the hyphens.

  5. Thanks for reading, Dan. I’m a Christian and definitely see a lot of similarities. Some of the similarities, as you’ve pointed out, are unfortunate.

    I’ve long since given up on the in-your-face antagonistic evangelism…

  6. An interesting read Aysiu. I too had the feeling that the whole thing was fake. I can’t quite pinpoint it, just a gut feeling.

    But if attention is what Stark wanted, he surely got it.

    Whether it is a good thing to get attention through a mud slinging contest remains to be seen. I personally think the whole thing lacks class and any self respect.

  7. Yeah, unfortunately, I don’t really have the energy to do investigative reporting and try to track down the vice principals of every single middle school in the Austin Independent School District that has a Karen in it, in order to verify the incident actually occurred or, if it did, in the way that Ken Starks presented it.

    Supposedly that’s the job of tech journalists, but unfortunately what passes for tech journalism seems to be just regurgitating what Starks has presented and doing so as fact. I saw very few “according to…” and “allegedly” in the “tech news” sites that have been reporting this “story.”

    Nevertheless, regardless of whether the story is true or not, you’re absolutely right—it lacks class and does not put the Linux communities in a good light. I can’t believe some people are actually making Starks sound like a hero in all this.

  8. As to the publishing thing, it wasn’t illegal, maybe in bad taste, but like phone-tapping, as long as one party agrees to it, publishing things like this is protected. If he had passed over name/number/address, then he would be liable for suit. You guys know better than most how many machines email passes through, and how many of those are someone else’s. It’s far more like passing notes across the classroom than sending sealed US mail.

    As to it being real, this one event may not be real, but I have actually watched it happen and also have seen the ignorance enforced by the administration. You mention something that is out of a person’s normal range and rather than “hmm that’s interesting” you get “no. that’s wrong. you’re doing wrong.”

    No, I’m not. I know the copyright laws better than any regular teacher, I’m an artist, I HAVE to know them. I know the tech better than the teachers stuck teaching one technology (PC or mainframe or Mac or..) And I have experience dealing with software and hardware that most people will never hear of … remember MFM drives? Ever dealt with a WANG? I loved most of my teachers (1-12/& college) but a lot of the ones I meet now have swallowed marketing lies (since there was no marketing on the whole, it wasn’t there to counter) and take them to be gospel. And they hold onto those lies as if they were a Bible.

    Should the students be allowed to run/load live cd distributions on school property without permission? No. But people should actually stop and think before other people (students, employees or friends) get hurt by their reactions.

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