by Richard Stallman
There are general reasons why all computer users should insist on
It gives users the freedom to control their own
computers--with proprietary software, the computer does what the
software owner wants it to do, not what you want it to do. Free software
also gives users the freedom to cooperate with each other, to lead an
upright life. These reasons apply to schools as they do to everyone.
But there are special reasons that apply to schools. They are the
subject of this article.
First, free software can save the schools money. Even in the richest
countries, schools are short of money. Free software gives schools, like
other users, the freedom to copy and redistribute the software, so the
school system can make copies for all the computers they have. In poor
countries, this can help close the digital divide.
This obvious reason, while important, is rather shallow. And
proprietary software developers can eliminate this disadvantage by
donating copies to the schools. (Watch out!--a school that accepts this
offer may have to pay for future upgrades.) So let's look at the deeper
School should teach students ways of life that will benefit society
as a whole. They should promote the use of free software just as they
promote recycling. If schools teach students free software, then the
students will use free software after they graduate. This will help
society as a whole escape from being dominated (and gouged) by
megacorporations. Those corporations offer free samples to schools for
the same reason tobacco companies distribute free cigarettes: to get
children addicted (1). They will not give
discounts to these students once they grow up and graduate.
Free software permits students to learn how software works. When
students reach their teens, some of them want to learn everything there
is to know about their computer system and its software. That is the age
when people who will be good programmers should learn it. To learn to
write software well, students need to read a lot of code and write a lot
of code. They need to read and understand real programs that people
really use. They will be intensely curious to read the source code of
the programs that they use every day.
Proprietary software rejects their thirst for knowledge: it says,
"The knowledge you want is a secret--learning is forbidden!"
Free software encourages everyone to learn. The free software community
rejects the "priesthood of technology", which keeps the
general public in ignorance of how technology works; we encourage
students of any age and situation to read the source code and learn as
much as they want to know. Schools that use free software will enable
gifted programming students to advance.
The next reason for using free software in schools is on an even
deeper level. We expect schools to teach students basic facts, and
useful skills, but that is not their whole job. The most fundamental
mission of schools is to teach people to be good citizens and good
neighbors--to cooperate with others who need their help. In the area of
computers, this means teaching them to share software. Elementary
schools, above all, should tell their pupils, "If you bring
software to school, you must share it with the other children." Of
course, the school must practice what it preaches: all the software
installed by the school should be available for students to copy, take
home, and redistribute further.
Teaching the students to use free software, and to participate in the
free software community, is a hands-on civics lesson. It also teaches
students the role model of public service rather than that of tycoons.
All levels of school should use free software.
(1). RJ Reynolds tobacco company
was fined $15m in 2002 for handing out free samples of cigarettes at
events attended by children. See this link
|Copyright 2003 Richard Stallman Verbatim
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