Gemini version available ♊︎

My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part VIII — Who Teaches the Teachers?

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft at 3:24 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

By Dr. Andy Farnell

Series parts:

  1. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part I — 2021 in Review
  2. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part II — Impact of a ‘COVID Year’
  3. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part III — Lost and Found; Losing the Mobile Phone (Cellphone)
  4. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part IV — Science or Scientism?
  5. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part V — Change in Societal Norms and Attitudes
  6. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part VI — The Right Words
  7. My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part VII — Staying the Course and Fake It Till You Make It?
  8. YOU ARE HERE ☞ Who Teaches the Teachers?

Some teachers

Summary: Dr. Andy Farnell explains the oft-overlooked, oft-ignored, oft-forgotten problems associated with outsourcing schools to tech monopolies and, by doing so, giving unjust control to surveillance-centric firms (usually foreign if not hostile to one’s country) over children’s lives and their future

Taking back tech in education is a major challenge for everyone in digital rights.

Being a teacher, and also a parent, many of my battles for fair and ethical technology are within educational institutions. I’ve been raising awareness of digitally mediated abuse in schools and universities, such as invasive student monitoring and the degeneration of our schools’ privacy and integrity as Google and Microsoft “infrastructure” intrudes into places it does not belong.

“Parents have a vague idea that “technology is good” because we “don’t
want kids left behind”. Both ill-formed sentiments are pernicious.”
We all want the best for our students and our own kids. But when it comes to understanding whether educational technology (and the administrative technology we use) is good or bad for them I think we are clueless, and we ought to admit that.

Parents have a vague idea that “technology is good” because we “don’t want kids left behind”. Both ill-formed sentiments are pernicious. We should want our children to learn about technology, not be taught by it. And “being left behind” is not a warning, it’s a threat. Teachers think that all and any technology is unquestionably good. The myth of digital literacy uber alles, being an unqualified good for the economy, has remained unexamined since the 1980s. We conflate mere exposure to tech with understanding, and with life value.

Free but restricted entryI’ve pushed back a lot against the disgraceful scam that is “Turnitin”, first criticised by Dutch technology writer Hans de Zwart as the plagiarism monopolist, with onerous terms that demand a “royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable license” to students’ works. Turnitin is the poster child for everything wrong with careless application of “algorithms” to human trust problems.

For one thing, plagiarism detectors are like “lie detectors”. Although the theory looks impressive, in reality they are merely intimidation devices, as Bayesian Analysis with first order Markov chaining produces a laughable avalanche of false positives. They are bad algorithms that effect a disproportionately negative impact on the lives of young people, almost always without their explicit consent.

“Digital Veganism is a family thing too.”Far from improving student behaviour we encourage an assignment cheating arms-race that feeds essay mills. I design assignments such that we don’t need to worry about plagiarism, make sure that, wherever possible, automatic submission is unchecked in Moodle systems, and explicitly warn my students where I think their rights are being violated.

I’ve written about the flexibility, equality and low-bandwidth ecological benefits of text based teaching methods – amidst which came the unexpected demise of Freenode.

Digital Veganism is a family thing too. This year a moment of great pride has been watching my daughter log onto her Unix system with her username and non-trivial password, then type on the command line to play her favourite music. She’s also been helping me teach some classes, and chastising adults pawing their smartphones for “not paying attention to their children”.

Careful technological parenting makes its demands. Every letter from the school about some new “Lunch monitor system” might require push-back and a little explaining to a teacher about “why that doesn’t work for us”. On the other hand, I’ve had overwhelming support from parents for kids “hacking classes” (where we actually teach Python), so much that they badger me in the street and home asking when the Covid subsides will I run them again? Demand for real technological teaching feels insatiable.

I think the sociological interplay around technology and education is fascinating. Most of us have no real idea what is good or dangerous technology for young people in our care, but we have to muddle through and pretend we do. Especially for teachers – why should they? Most will just uncritically use the tools they are told to 3.

The way that technically disenfranchised adults vicariously shrug their heteronomy via kids is astonishing. In some ways it’s heartwarming, in that we still believe they can build a better future and be more courageous than us. But it’s also pitiful. This happens when we say “Kids are whizzes, they know all about technology”, or “Don’t worry they will just figure it out”. This is dangerous romanticism and shrugging of responsibility. I wrote about this complex psychology in Digital Vegan, citing real examples from social work in which “role reversal” takes place and children are forced to “be the adult” in a world where the actual grown-ups have given up 4.

“Teaching children to take control of technology, to master it, use it to express their creative and intellectual energy, and to explore a library of carefully curated knowledge is what we can achieve.”Because of Covid again this year I was unable to attend ICICTE, the unbelievably cool Greek conference where freethinking teachers, sysadmins and researchers come to share ideas on using technology creatively for teaching. You’ll appreciate, I have a lot of amazing arguments there with people who disagree with me. And then we get drunk together until 4am. There’s a lot more work to do with advancing the idea of “Digital Self Defence” as an approach for kids as young as five.

Teaching children to take control of technology, to master it, use it to express their creative and intellectual energy, and to explore a library of carefully curated knowledge is what we can achieve.

Luring children into a lifetime of helpless dependency on expensive products that work as dark magic, over which they have no control, which expose them to hostile entities and damaging ideas, all while allowing corporate data vampires to juice their souls dry is what we have achieved. And it’s a deplorable tragedy we should be ashamed of.

“Luring children into a lifetime of helpless dependency on expensive products that work as dark magic, over which they have no control, which expose them to hostile entities and damaging ideas, all while allowing corporate data vampires to juice their souls dry is what we have achieved.”Parents nod mindlessly to the platitudes and empty “assurances” given by heads or school boards, yet no-one involved has the requisite technical knowledge to make or evaluate such assurances.

Administrators literally say stuff like; “I can assure you this software is absolutely safe.”

So ask them;

“Do you have any knowledge of cybersecurity?”


“Do you know who wrote the application?”


“Do you know if it uses a client or server-side model?”

“Err, No.”

“Do you know where data is stored?”

[embarrassing silence]

“Have you read the source code?”

[embarrassing silence]

“Have you any basis whatsoever to feel you can sincerely
offer me any assurances?”

[long embarrassing silence]… “No.”

Here’s a little problem;

Anyone who has opened a newspaper in the past twenty years should have a little enough knowledge of cybersecurity to know that applications written by convicted criminals store your child’s data outside the school and that nobody has ever seen the extremely-badly written source code, and so nobody can attest to its safety.

So, with respect, one must say:

“please don’t embarrass us both by claiming you can offer  assurances”.

Most-times though, the conversation is more like;

“I can give you assurances that this software is absolutely safe.”

“Oh, assurances, why didn’t you say so. You’re obviously some kind of expert. Please sell my kid’s life to corporate monsters”

By tacit conspiracy of avoidance we construct a “theatre of fake understanding”. It is a folly of overconfident negligence that puts our children at risk. I am staggered that, other than parents who work in IT or security, so few of the other parents at my child’s school are educated on the issues. They are aware of the issues, but that isn’t the same. Strange confusions of 5G virus or radiation risks are unhelpful.

All are made fools by the salesmen, Microsoft and Google lobbyists who want to exploit the lives of our children. I believe more and more that corporate edu-tech is utterly unfit for purpose, offers no substantial advantages, has no useful place in education up to university level.

I think that for school ages 0 – 17 (primary and secondary):

  • Government mandate open-source Libre software
  • Software used in schools meet the general approval of PTA board
  • Any Parent, Teacher or Child5 may audit the code and raise concerns
  • Parents unsatisfied with the security or ethics of any code or data handling have an unchallengable right to require an alternative be used or to abstain their child from a system.
  • Compatability regarding “employability” or “industry standards” should not be a concern below the age of 17.



3 Which I actually think is a problem. It’s telling that some sceptical teachers might refuse to participate in organising vaccinations (which is their – misguided in my opinion – prerogative), yet they would compliantly expose children to insecure Microsoft software that can damage a kid’s whole life.
4 For example; this happens when a child (who speaks English) of immigrant parents who do not speak English, intermediates with police, sometimes having to translate traumatising crime details like rape. This inappropriate pre-mature role is what is happening when we abdicate responsibility for technology so that kids have to manage their own digital self-defence.
5 Children learning that they have a stake and agency in the machinery that runs their lives is a cornerstone of Civic Cybersecurity. There is no age too early to start.
Share in other sites/networks: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Reddit
  • email

Decor ᶃ Gemini Space

Below is a Web proxy. We recommend getting a Gemini client/browser.

Black/white/grey bullet button This post is also available in Gemini over at this address (requires a Gemini client/browser to open).

Decor ✐ Cross-references

Black/white/grey bullet button Pages that cross-reference this one, if any exist, are listed below or will be listed below over time.

Decor ▢ Respond and Discuss

Black/white/grey bullet button If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

DecorWhat Else is New

  1. Geminispace/GemText/Gemini Protocol Turn 4 on June 20th

    Gemini is turning 4 this month (on the 20th, according to the founder) and I thought I’d do a spontaneous video about how I use Gemini, why it's so good, and why it’s still growing (Stéphane Bortzmeyer fixed the broken cron job — or equivalent of it — a day or two after I had mentioned the issue)

  2. HMRC Does Not Care About Tax Fraud Committed by UK Government Contractor, Sirius 'Open Source'

    The tax crimes of Sirius ‘Open Source’ were reported to HMRC two weeks ago; HMRC did not bother getting back to the reporters (victims of the crime) and it’s worth noting that the reporters worked on UK government systems for many years, so maybe there’s a hidden incentive to bury this under the rug

  3. Our IRC at 15th Anniversary

    So our IRC community turns 15 today (sort of) and I’ve decided to do a video reflecting on the fact that some of the same people are still there after 15 years

  4. IRC Proceedings: Thursday, June 01, 2023

    IRC logs for Thursday, June 01, 2023

  5. Links 02/06/2023: NixOS 23.05 and Rust 1.70.0

    Links for the day

  6. Gemini Links 02/06/2023: Flying High With Gemini and Gogios Released

    Links for the day

  7. Links 01/06/2023: KStars 3.6.5 and VEGA ET1031 RISC-V Microprocessor in Use

    Links for the day

  8. Gemini Links 01/06/2023: Scam Call and Flying High With Gemini

    Links for the day

  9. Links 01/06/2023: Spleen 2.0.0 Released and Team UPC Celebrates Its Own Corruption

    Links for the day

  10. IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, May 31, 2023

    IRC logs for Wednesday, May 31, 2023

  11. Tux Machines Closing the Door on Twitter Because Twitter is Dead (for a Lot of People)

    Tux Machines recently joined millions of others who had already quit Twitter, including passive posting (fully or partly automated)

  12. Links 31/05/2023: Inkscape’s 1.3 Plans and New ARM Cortex-A55-Based Linux Chip

    Links for the day

  13. Gemini Links 31/05/2023: Personality of Software Engineers

    Links for the day

  14. Links 31/05/2023: Armbian 23.05 Release and Illegal UPC

    Links for the day

  15. IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, May 30, 2023

    IRC logs for Tuesday, May 30, 2023

  16. Gemini Protocol About to Turn 4 and It's Still Growing

    In the month of May we had zero downtime (no updates to the system or outages in the network), which means Lupa did not detect any errors such as timeouts and we’re on top of the list (the page was fixed a day or so after we wrote about it); Gemini continues to grow (chart by Botond) as we’re approaching the 4th anniversary of the protocol

  17. Links 31/05/2023: Librem Server v2, curl 8.1.2, and Kali Linux 2023.2 Release

    Links for the day

  18. Gemini Links 31/05/2023: Bayes Filter and Programming Wordle

    Links for the day

  19. [Meme] Makes No Sense for EPO (Now Connected to the EU) and Staff Pensions to be Tied to the UK After Brexit

    It seems like EPO staff is starting to have doubts about the safety of EPO pensions after Benoît Battistelli sent money to reckless gambling (EPOTIF) — a plot that’s 100% supported by António Campinos and his enablers in the Council, not to mention the European Union

  20. Working Conditions at EPO Deteriorate and Staff Inquires About Pension Rights

    Work is becoming a lot worse (not even compliant with the law!) and promises are constantly being broken, so staff is starting to chase management for answers and assurances pertaining to finances

  21. Links 30/05/2023: Orc 0.4.34 and Another Rust Crisis

    Links for the day

  22. Links 30/05/2023: Nitrux 2.8.1 and HypoPG 1.4.0

    Links for the day

  23. Gemini Links 30/05/2023: Bubble Version 3.0

    Links for the day

  24. Links 30/05/2023: LibreOffice 7.6 in Review and More Digital Restrictions (DRM) From HP

    Links for the day

  25. Gemini Links 30/05/2023: Curl Still Missing the Point?

    Links for the day

  26. IRC Proceedings: Monday, May 29, 2023

    IRC logs for Monday, May 29, 2023

  27. MS (Mark Shuttleworth) as a Microsoft Salesperson

    Canonical isn’t working for GNU/Linux or for Ubuntu; it’s working for “business partners” (WSL was all along about promoting Windows)

  28. First Speaker in Event for GNU at 40 Called for Resignation/Removal of GNU's Founder

    It’s good that the FSF prepares an event to celebrate GNU’s 40th anniversary, but readers told us that the speakers list is unsavoury, especially the first one (a key participant in the relentless campaign of defamation against the person who started both GNU and the FSF; the "FSFE" isn't even permitted to use that name)

  29. When Jokes Became 'Rude' (or Disingenuously Misinterpreted by the 'Cancel Mob')

    A new and more detailed explanation of what the wordplay around "pleasure card" actually meant

  30. Site Updates and Plans Ahead

    A quick look at or a roundup of what we've been up to, what we plan to publish in the future, what topics we shall focus on very soon, and progress moving to Alpine Linux

RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

Recent Posts