In the Boston Globe today John Sununu wrote about “A Crisis Of Values At MIT.” It gave me pause, and made me think how much the world has moved on from the Abbie Hoffman challenge of “Steal This Book!” When I learned about Aaron Swartz suicide, I thought about Abbie Hoffman and the similarities both men shared in this never-ending quest for freedom, which in the end caused both men to take their lives. What a loss to all of us who lived vicariously thru them.
The digital world is a willow world, it is transient, ages quickly, and is always moving forward. Although people keep trying, no one really ever owns it, or will. It is human against machine. That is what seems to be missing in the Aaron Swartz story. I am a teacher, and when I bring students to the computer lab, I become the warden to the cloud. Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) be damned. Even the dimmest bulb in the room uncurls a tiny piece of paper, with the proxy address of the day, attempting to break past the districts “net nanny” and get into their Facebook or YouTube! These days students could readily get these websites on their phones but it isn’t really about Facebook or YouTube access, it is the challenge of conquering the gatekeeper Net Nanny!
“I was just getting a picture for my PowerPoint!” or, as a scantly clad gal dances across the computer screen, “it’s my cousin!” I am told, as students around him, are yelling out “how did you do it?” and “give me the code!” I, and my consequences, are invisible in this world. Yes, these students could be suspended, the AUP they and their parents (maybe) signed says so, but my school is an underperforming turnaround school, and we are glad students show up! I could call a parent, only to find that we don’t speak the same language or that punishment dealt out by the parent would far exceed the actual crime, causing the student to repress any future initiative.
In the big picture that’s what happened with Aaron Swartz. Federal mama Carmen Ortiz, with an unrestrained use of a prosecutorial whip was called and she was prepared to take away everything forever! No Excuses! MIT didn’t care because Aaron was a Harvard student and wouldn’t be contributing to their future prestige or alumni coffers. That MIT remained silent and allowed the prosecution to continue, that’s what’s really troubling. What else is MIT remaining silent on?
Post note: Expect these questions on the test. Use your critical thinking skills. What did it cost in Federal work-hours to bring the Swartz case this far? What does 6 months of jail time cost? Is this the best use of our taxpayer dollars! I know we have to have prisoners to keep the prison and court system working, but these people are not pedophiles or murderers! Why couldn’t the Martha Stewarts and Aaron Swartz sitting in jail, have been assigned 6 months of community service at my urban turnaround school where they are really needed? Why couldn’t their “permanent records” be expunged at the end of that service? The time spent at my school would be more difficult than anytime they would ever spend behind bars!