A burst of sanity in the schools - chatting students won't go to jail

Kids accused of actually using school-provided computers avoid felony charges, get community service. But is this good education policy to threaten experimentation with jail time?

A school district in Kutztown, Pa., outside of Allentown, had distributed 600 Apple iBooks to students to use for school work. Apparently, the terms of the loan included strict prohibitions against using the computers for anything but school work, including downloading programs or using them for email. Thirteen kids insisted on digging into the computers, running iChat (verboten) and even disabling remote monitoring, which was intended to let administrators monitor student activity, and using it to check up on administrators instead.

Last week the story broke into national news when administrators turned this behavior into a criminal affair, filing felony charges of computer trespass and computer theft. Now a deal has been reached, AP reports, where the kids would apologize, do community service, and be on a few months probation.

At least one student has refused the deal, saying he didn't do anything wrong; another who already had a rap sheet has not been offered the deal.

That one kid is (at least morally) right. While it's not nice to spy on your administrators and break whatever agreement they signed, the proper role of education is to encourage experimentation and deep understanding. Schools should be making kids into curious power users, not simpleton users who just follow the instructions. A computer may be an excellent appliance for learning (or it might just be so-so) but it is also something to learn about and kids should be supported not prosecuted for finding out just what it can do - even if that includes chatting and disabling spying eyes.