Thursday, December 06, 2007
posted by Q6 at 9:30 PM
Ignorance is a funny thing. In small children, it can be cute; in adults, it can be downright laughable. In teenagers, however, mistakes are apparently never made out of ignorance. To hear some people tell it, every bad thing a teenager does is done out of calculated malice.

I'm here to tell you, friends, it just ain't so.

Our newest computer lab is made up of thirty or so of the newest Macs on the market. I won't bore you with the details of how our school pulled this off; suffice to say that people have been watching over them with a degree of care and paranoia that would make any mother bird blush with shame.

Five of them got fouled up recently. Going back through the server files, the tech people discovered that a student tried to hack into the administrative functions and create a user account with privileges (evidence on the latter part was sketchy, but it was clear that he did try to make his own account). At the same time, the server domain settings--whatever the hell those are*--were changed, basically cutting those units off from the main network. After a bit of research on my part, I discovered the following: the student, in an attempt to "make things easier" for himself password-wise by going into the settings window and creating his own account (I also discovered that this was something that each student has access to; naturally, no one in IT could explain that to me). He used his own first and last name, and even used the built-in camera to add his photo. The next day (at a different computer in the lab) he couldn't find the new account--and, like any teenager who doesn't know what he's doing (redundant?), he tried again. This went on for a few days, which explained why five computers had this problem. I couldn't find any access to the domain settings.

As a matter of prudence, I suspended this kid's access to the computers until further notice. When I explained to our site-level tech people that this kid wasn't hacking, he was just ignorant, they were convinced that there was something much more sinister behind it and that this kid should be taken out behind the gym and shot. When I mentioned his name to certain teachers, they refused to believe that this kid had the smarts to hack anything. I told the tech people that I was marking this as an accident, restoring the kid's privileges, and sending my notes to the district IT department for their opinion. (And, of course, I showed the kid which mistakes were the boneheaded ones and how to avoid them in the future.)

District IT came back a day later and confirmed each of my findings, including the one where I suggested the server domain changes were a separate, unrelated matter. Yay, me.

After over a decade in this business, I have yet to figure out why adults--particularly those in education--are so quick to label kids as troublemakers. Sometimes their misdeeds are out of ignorance, not malice. Sometimes the student doesn't need to be punished, he just needs to be taught and made to understand not just the how but the WHY of the way things work.

Sometimes, I think, many of us forget what it was like to be young and stupid.

*I've never been a big fan of computers. Yes, I know how to use them, and even fix them from time to time. I've even dabbled a bit in HTML. But I've never been a fan of a system that couldn't work during a power failure. Moreover, computers at school are a great way to create more work for yourself (especially in the area of security, regardless of the fact that the kids know more about this stuff than we do). I'll go with the flow, but I won't give the computers the control.