Hacking and Education / by Tyler Wood

"Persons of genius, it is true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow. Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom. Persons of genius are, ex vi termini, more individual than any other people -- less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character (On Liberty, J. S. Mill)."

It is such a terrible crime to turn those that love learning into criminals and against society generally. I think creating a world where potential assets to our world are locked up so young for making mistakes, as if we never did, is over-doing it. Should they be punished? Sure, but arrested and have their lives potentially ruined? No. If they cheated on a test or hacked to cheat, it should be considered the same offense at school - cheating. Why are we becoming so aggressive towards kids who clearly don't always understand what they are doing? Isn't that the teachers' job to teach, not to punish and destroy their lives. If the offense continues, then escalate the punishment, but I don't understand throwing the book at kids that get up to no good one time.

How do we utilize these talents?

The first thing we should do is more education before the hacking can occur. If we begin educating students on the meaning of copyright and ownership, they might be more inclined to understand later, why it's unacceptable to steal tests or worse.

The second thing, we should give these kids alternatives that are actually appealing to the kids. It seems to me that not only is it true that "nobody is looking out for characters ... whose unwitting descent into criminality might have been avoided had somebody spotted his particular talent" (Glenny, 2012), but we should be trying to challenge them like gifted and talented children for their talents and interests and focus. It appears that the teachers are so out of touch that they don't even understand what the kids are doing, and instead of learning and steering them on a path of positive uses, they turn quickly to punishing what they don't understand. This only makes the underground more robust and appealing.

Also, anytime teenagers are better at something like this than businesses that get paid to stop it, perhaps it's not the teenagers that we should be worried about but the false sense of security our businesses and governments have surrounded us with.

Should we have no limits on children's use of the internet?

I agree with some reasonable limitations, like pornography and adult content sites, but that won't stop the hacking. In fact, that will only help create the hackers like prohibition created speakeasies. The question is what do we do when we find the hackers.

Teens' brains are not fully developed, so how can we trust them on-line?

I would argue that if we are basing our decisions on the lack of trust we have for a brain in development, then how can we trust these same morally limited teens to share a locker-room or hallway space with others? The internet is no different than any physical space the teens are in, in my opinion. If we can trust them to walk to school, walk the halls, and engage with each other, then they can certainly interact on the internet in the same way (teachers should be present in school, as well). We need to educate that behavior, not ban it. I have taught for 4 years in a kindergarten and I have seen punching, kicking, pushing, shoving, gropping, and many other activities that would be illegal for adults to do with each other, but do we throw these kids in prison? Do we kick them out of school? No. Of course they are developing, but that doesn't mean we should ruin their futures because it might be easier, in fact, that is precisely why we shouldn't be arresting them. If they hack to get answers on a test, then they cheated, they should be punished accordingly. If they hacked to steal an identity or personal information, then they stole and should be punished accordingly. I think we have developed a very perverse idea of justice towards minors in general, and the way we handle hacking teens is really highlighting our attack on the young. 

Consider this, cancer has been talked about like a computer code/virus. We do want to cure cancer, and yet we are systematically locking up people that read code and think outside the box to fix or pervert that code. If we could be embracing these minds and allow them to flurish, we could be helping the world at large. Instead, we scare, intimidate, and push them out of mainstream life to go down that rabbit hole and find people who accept them, and those people don't always have the best of intentions. Kids aren't born bad. 

What about the businesses that are hacked?

As I pointed out previously, if we can offer alternatives to hacking businesses that can still challenge and stimulate the minds of the children, then this might not be as big of an issue. I also have concerns about our morality on this issue. Why does it seem, based on our laws and reactions, that what is morally superior is the businesses profits over the potential educational opportunities?

Article I Section 8 | Clause 8 – Patent and Copyright Clause of the Consitution. [The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” (Stanford University Libraries)

The Constitution protects copyright for the progress of science and useful arts, not explicitly profits. Do I think we should all download music illegally - no. But to punish some teen or child who does download illegally so harshly that their life could be ruined (a life that is still learning, developing, and growing) for the sake of a business' profit stream, that seems morally obtuse to me. I believe education is morally superior to profits and I appreciate the fair use clause for that. I think that hacking is an area that is so new we don't understand it and are over punishing because we don't understand it and don't see the potential learning opportunities in teens and kids who hack.

If children in Ethiopia can hack without even knowing the language then this is clearly children's natural curiosity and creativity at work and this is a teaching opportunity (Mangu-Ward, n.d. paras. 1-2). If we responded to kids' touching behavior like we do to this, seemingly natural behavior, we would ban hugs, holding hands, and handshakes and expect these kids to have a 'normal' life with touching later on after school. It doesn't make sense. We shouldn't shy away from challenges. 

We can't hide for long, sooner or later we will be implementing new technology into the classroom, but what can we do? I have drawn up a few ideas for possible problems and pragmatic solutions for my school. Click below to see my chart of problems and possible solutions for unexpected technology issues.

Obstacle Plan for Technology Implementation 


Glenny, M. (2012). Tap into the Gifted Young Hackers. The New York Times. March 8, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/opinion/tap-into-the-gifted-young-hackers.html?_r=1&

Mangu-Ward, K. (n.d.). Kids Should Hack Their School-provided iPads. Slate. retreived from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/10/l_a_school_ipad_program_students_should_hack_their_tablets.html

Standford University Library. (2014). Copyright and Fair Use, US Constitution. Stanford University. Retrieved from http://fairuse.stanford.edu/law/us-constitution/#sthash.h9U9TdMk.dpuf

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