Kids Should Hack Their School-Provided iPads

It's the best way to learn.

Last year, 40 tablet computers were delivered to the children of two remote Ethiopian villages. The villagers were 100 percent illiterate—the kids had never seen road signs, product labels, or printed material of any kind.

Technicians from the One Laptop Per Child program dropped off a stack of boxes, showed a couple of adults how to use the solar chargers, and then walked away. Within minutes, the kids had cracked the packaging open and figured out how to turn the tablets on. Within weeks, they were singing their ABCs, picked up from the English-language learning software installed on the tablets. Within five months, some kid figured out that the tablets had built-in cameras—they had been disabled for ethical reasons—and hacked the Android operating system to activate them.

So, frankly, it shouldn’t have come as much of a shock when a few hundred of the tech-drenched children of Los Angeles figured out how to “hack” the $678 iPads they were given by their school district, just one month into the new school year.

In recent weeks, Los Angeles distributed iPads to 50,000 students in the public school system as part of a pilot for a $1 billion citywide initiative. Kids at Westchester High, one of the few schools that allowed students to take their tablets home, quickly noted that they could bypass the district-installed security filter with two clicks, allowing them to access banned sites like YouTube and Facebook.

One of the student hackers—if two clicks can be called “hacking”—was Westchester High valedictorian candidate Brian Young, who was hauled into the principal’s office for a dressing-down. “He wasn’t threatening me, but he told me millions of dollars of technology had been compromised because of me,” Young told the Los Angeles Times. Young said he fiddled with the security settings innocently, after having trouble getting online at home. Apparently, the iPads are configured to work well only on the limited in-school network. Young said he’d hoped to download some apps that the school’s network couldn’t handle or didn’t permit. We don’t know whether young Young was looking to download something to help with his math homework or whether he was pursuing … other extracurricular activities. But that didn’t stop school administrators and local media from panicking.

L.A. Unified School District Police Chief Steven Zipperman fretted in a confidential memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times that students would share their “hacks” via social media. “I’m guessing this is just a sample of what will likely occur on other campuses once this hits Twitter, YouTube, or other social media sites explaining to our students how to breach or compromise the security of these devices,” Zipperman wrote. “I want to prevent a ‘runaway train’ scenario when we may have the ability to put a hold on the roll-out.”

But why would students gaining mastery over their digital devices be considered a “runaway train” at all? The iPads were loaded with software from the textbook giant Pearson, so perhaps the fantasy was that high school students would be content paging through glowing versions of their textbooks.

But the whole point of introducing current technology into the classroom is to help education catch up with the rest of the world, which has been utterly transformed by fast computers with fast Internet access.

Unfortunately, when it comes to technology in education, traditional schools tend to use fuzzy math. Give ’em iPads, the thinking goes, and the test scores will soar. The intended mechanism isn’t always clear, and the vision becomes even more muddled when the inevitable committees, unions, and concerned parents get involved. The result too often is restricted access to semi-useless tech crippled by proprietary software deals and censored Internet.

Implementing bold ideas like “flipping the classroom”—having students watch lectures at home and spending their classroom hours doing problem sets, engaging in group discussions, or getting one-on-one tutorials—means letting kids use the relevant tech on their own time and in their own way. It means trusting them with access to devices like the ones they might someday use at work.

Schools are supposed to be places of free inquiry, where kids seek knowledge and debate ideas in a safe space. Limiting access to such basic sites like YouTube signals that kids can’t be trusted to make their own decisions—about information sources or time management.

One of the most famous innovations in online learning to date is Khan Academy, which offers thousands of tutorials on subjects from A to Z. What site does Khan use to host those lessons? YouTube. Sorry, L.A. school kids!

One Laptop Per Child considered the Ethiopian kids’ hack a success. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids’ [sic] tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that,” a contrite Ed McNierney, OLPC’s chief technology officer, told the MIT Technology Review. “And the fact that they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning.”

On Oct. 1, LAUSD pronounced its ed tech experiment temporarily out of control and admitted that several schools were in the process of attempting to pry the new tablets from their students’ clammy hands.

Los Angeles should take a page from OLPC’s lesson book. School officials say the project has not been halted and that schools are still on track to distribute another 300,000 tablets next fall. But unless administrators are willing to radically rethink their goals for the billion-dollar tech initiative in the coming months, a few hundred kids figuring out how to customize their iPads may just be the most beneficial result.

This article appeared earlier in Slate.

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  • Marshall Gill||

    But the whole point of introducing current technology into the classroom is to help education catch up with the rest of the world

    No, KMW, the whole point is wealth transfers and payments to cronies. The idea that anything the socialist indoctrination centers in California do has to with "education" is laughable.

    If we are so far behind the rest of the world, shouldn't there be a focus on basics, instead of expensive technology? A child just can't learn to read or do basic math without an internet connected computer?

  • LarryA||

    A child just can't learn to read or do basic math without an internet connected computer?

    Of course they can. It's just slow and boring instead of fast and exciting. Did you miss, "Within weeks, they were singing their ABCs, picked up from the English-language learning software installed on the tablets"?

  • Acosmist||

    We aren't behind the rest of the world. Maybe Finland, maybe not. That's...the only debatable one.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Schools are supposed to be places of free inquiry, where kids seek knowledge and debate ideas in a safe space

    Admit it, you were laughing when you wrote this, weren't you?

  • Doctor Whom||

    Free inquiry is mental enslavement. [/educrat]

  • Jon Goldberg||


    What do you expect?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    German prosecutors seek six-month sentences for homeschooling parents who refuse to send their nine children to schools approved by the Vaterland (nb - the article, from Deutsche Welle, seems badly translated into English).

    In the Romeike case, supporters ask the US Supreme Court to protect German homseschoolers under US political-asylum laws.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    not Deutsche Welle, but still badly translated

  • Snark Plissken||

    I make the odds of SCOTUS granting these Germans asylum slightly ahead of Obama and McCain mutually coming out of the closet and retiring to Fiji together.

  • Rrabbit||

    The article is incorrect. Prosecution had asked for six months on probation, not for six months of prison time.

    The court actually decided on a fine of 700 Euros.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Prosecutors get to appeal sentences, and I understand this is what they're trying here.

    If it was probation, sorry for linking to a mistaken article - but what are the terms of the proposed probation? I'm guessing that one condition would be sending their children to a state-approved school. So if they don't comply, if probation is like it is in the US, they'll go to prison.

  • Rrabbit||

    This already was the appeals instance, the Landgericht. The article quoted by the grandparent is almost two weeks old, the appeal's court decision was on October 16.

    German courts are very reluctant at handing out prison sentences for minor misdemeanors.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Ah, yes, sorry, you're right.

    I found a more recent article in German (couldn't find an English follow-up). Here is the Google Translate version:

    "Parents and children must " endure impositions "

    "In the trial of a couple who taught his children at home , neither prosecutor nor defendant could prevail. Calls for maximum term of imprisonment as well as after acquittal fell on deaf ears . Rather , the district court left it at the first instance judgment of 22 May 2013.

    "...Just a few minutes required Landrichter Dirk Liebermann to resolve the tense clash of parental rights and prison in politically correct pleasure . The district court saw no reason to alter the punishment of the parents , the child District Court had " true " ruled punishment should be , not too little, not too hard . Finally Liebermann calls to the defendant : " Come back to the rule of law ! Keep off the impositions of " The altväterlich seeming appeal was the definition whereby " is the rule of law , where one puts unreasonable demands " - in reference to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who formerly massive reinterpretation of the definition of family in the public suggested over engnd introduced : " . Family where a shared fridge is . ""

    I hope this updates and clarifies matters.

  • Snark Plissken||

    But the whole point of introducing current technology into the classroom is to help education catch up with the rest of the world, which has been utterly transformed by fast computers with fast Internet access.

    What rest of the world is that are you talking about? Singapore? I bet those kids in Singapore do well in mathematics not because they are sitting around playing with iPads. The rest of the world I live in focuses on the three Rs much better than most school in the US and I'm quite happy about that.

    In fact the trend in high end private schools is to move away from distracting hi-tech and give kids a good grounding.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    But, but - shiny things!

  • Snark Plissken||

    I taught my son to read in English using this book. It is fantastic, but it takes some work and there were occasional battles at the beginning. I simply can't imagine any sort of iPad game or program that would do anything close to that, nor even more these friendly reading programs that try to use little puzzles and pictures to teach kids to read, they simply don't work or don't work nearly as well. This digital divide crap is really getting old.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I simply can't imagine any sort of iPad game or program that would do anything close to that

    Why? The entire point of DISTAR/Direct Instruction is that the delivery of lesson is heavily scripted. If anything, it's the teaching methodology that is most suitable for software instruction.

    Still, you got me thinking. I have a colleague who's research interest is Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). I'll ask her what she thinks when I see her tomorrow.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Heavily scripted yes, still tons of feedback required and most importantly the adult provides the driving force.

    It is possible to learn tons of stuff on the internet of course, when one is older, self-directed, motivated and have an idea of the difference between learning and BS.

    Children learning their three Rs, need to learn concentration and self-discipline as much as anything else. They need tons of subtle feedback, encouragement, pushing, correction, etc. I don't see iPads being a game changer in this regard any more than so-called educational television was.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I agree that feedback is necessary, especially for language acquisition.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    did it ever bother anyone else that two of the three Rs are not Rs? If you are trying to educate me and you use a poorly constructed mnemonic why should I trust you? It should be RAW not the 3 Rs.

  • Lady Bertrum||

    Zig Engelmann's son wrote a software version of 100 EZ Lessons called Funnix. I used it to teach my youngest to read, or, I should say, my youngest used it to teach himself to read.

  • John||


  • Jon Goldberg||

    East Asian Americans actually outperform East Asians from Asia.

  • Jon Goldberg||

    What rest of the world is that are you talking about? Singapore? I bet those kids in Singapore do well in mathematics not because they are sitting around playing with iPads.

    I think he means the rest of the world economy, not the rest of the world's education system.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "On Wednesday, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct filed formal charges (full text) against Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew who insisted that parents change their child's first name from "Messiah" to "Martin.", even though the only name issue in the case related to the child's last name."


  • Nazdrakke||

    You appear to be lost again this morning. Let me help you. and, of course,

    One of these places will certainly have space on a pew for you.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Perhaps this link to the same story would be better (hint - it's not from TownHall):

  • Nazdrakke||

    I'm familiar with it, and if I thought that you had a genuine interest in liberty rather than license for the things you approve of I'd have passed w/o comment.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    So I support license for marijuana? Because I posted a link on that issue, Horatio Goatblower.

  • Acosmist||

    I can't recall anything you said as interesting as...every comment of his. So, you know. Go to hell.

  • Mr Whipple||

    You can't let kids hack their iPads. They might start downloading porn and exchanging their dollars for bitcoins and going on hidden Tor sites and buying illegal drugs.

    Or even worse. They might be exposed to those evul Koch brothers and those nasty libertarians. They might even become libertarians.

    Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

  • Entropy Void||

    ... or start downloading illegal 3D printed GUNZ!!!111!11ELEVENTY-LEVEN!!111

  • Mr Whipple||

    Oh you can buy them on Black Market Reloaded (BMR) along with a nice Glock.

    No shit, I saw one of those 3d printed guns for sale there.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Will copyright holders ask Congress for another extension of their rights?

    "For now, Hollywood is staying mum; a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America declined to comment on its plans. We weren't able to find any sign the topic has come up on Capitol Hill. But most of the experts we spoke to said the stakes are so high that a renewed lobbying push is almost inevitable."

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    But the whole point of introducing current technology into the classroom is to help education catch up with the rest of the world, which has been utterly transformed by fast computers with fast Internet access.

    You know, if you're going to make a claim like that, you should at least provide some evidence. Maybe even just a teeny-tiny link to some examples.

  • Snark Plissken||


    *drops mic*

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Jesus H Goatfucker. Does Peter King get a paycheck from NBC?

    "Obama should stop apologizing. Fuck those Krauts and Frogs. They should be glad we're spying on them. The NSA has saved thousands of lives. WE ARE THE WORLD POLICE. BOW DOWN AND TREMBLE BEFORE US."

    ps- Rand Paul is a traitor.

  • John||

    Paul is a traitor, but raising money for the IRA, a Marxist terrorist organization committed to the overthrow of both the UK and Irish governments, is as American as apple pie.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    King has done more than just raise money for the IRA. He also "wrote" a hilariously bad propaganda novel for them.

    When he's not doing that, he writes Mary Sue fan fiction about him single-handedly beating up Al Qaeda. I am not joking.

    Representative Peter T. King’s barely veiled 2004 thriller about a congressman who must thwart a planned “dirty bomb” attack by Qaeda operatives working in Brooklyn and on Long Island.

    There is nothing about the man that isn't completely odious.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    I actually don't care that our government is spying on everyone else in the world, least of all other governments. I don't really have a moral objection to other governments spying on us, though I have a personal and professional interest in blocking their efforts. What I care very much about is that our government is spying on us, or that other governments are sharing their spying on us, because it's our own government that has the most potential for abuse of that information.

  • Ted S.||

    Obama should spy on the remnants of the IRA and laugh in Peter King's face.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I turned on CNN earlier, and Jabba the Hut was interviewing some Congressman who is a doctor, and Ezekiel Emanuel(?), who is an administration mouthpiece.

    The new talking point to counter the "If you like your coverage" sound bite, apparently, is this:

    "Those people whose policies are being dropped never even had insurance. We define insurance in such a a way as to completely negate any claims to the contrary."

    I mean, no policy which does not include maternity coverage is not really insurance. So there.

  • Nazdrakke||

    Doubleplusgood, Mr. Mouthpiece.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Juan Williams was trying to explain that was not breaking a promise because the people whose plans are being discontinued are being offered better plans (while hilariously claiming that the new plans are lower cost).

  • blcartwright||

    but what if the customer didn't want a better plan? but then people would have to think for themselves, and that would be confusing.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Here's yer buddy on FOX.

    What a poopstain motherfucker.

    He's also Rahm's brother and a "bioethicist" which seems to have no meaning.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    A bioethicist imagines reasons why it's ok to kill the ill.

  • Ted S.||

    And if my uncle had a clitoris he'd be my aunt.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I saw that too. The arrogance of Ezekial is stunning.

    "Those people had bad insurance so we're protecting them by getting it dropped".

    And then flat out lying about the facts on the ground.

    Fuck that asshole.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Now that nattering imbecile Granhlom is at the table. All will be made clear.

  • Almanian!||

    Bitch was the governor of my state of eight, long years. She is the single most clueless and incompetent pol I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing.

    An absolute imbecile who is the opposite of a leader.

    Other than that - great person!

  • VG Zaytsev||

    And she did such a great job of ruining MI that she hightailed it out of there as soon as she left office.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Now David Gregory and Co are hyperventilating about whoever-the-fuck it was who failed to call the police about underage drinking.


  • np||

    The whole iPad thing is a waste of public money. However, regardless of funding, on the subject of locking iPads: maybe if they stop treating highschoolers like children, they wouldn't have this problem to begin with. Rather than simply recognize it's futile they ultimately took all the iPads back, presumibly until they can "fix" the problem, further wasting money that was spent.

  • LarryA||

    But but but if they stop treating highschoolers like children the college kids would want to be treated like adults and there goes loco parents!!!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Nice. "You're either an upstander or a bystander."


    Let's keep those prisons full.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    Just like Seinfeld said in their finale, there's no such thing as a guilty bystander. So basically they're saying you're either good or neutral.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Other than that - great person!

    She seems to have had a little work done, if you know what I mean. Got herself purtied up for the teevee audience, I reckon.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The Outrage in Question:

    Gansler, Maryland's chief law enforcement officer and a candidate for governor, held a news conference Thursday after The Baltimore Sun published a photo that showed him at the center of the party in South Bethany, along with his comments that he had no "moral responsibility" to intervene.

    The image and Gansler's assertion made national news Thursday. Gansler has been an outspoken advocate for stricter laws against underage drinking.


    A spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving said Gansler's actions "disheartened" the group.

    "This alleged episode points to a bigger problem, and that is the so-called tradition of 'beach week,' during which recent high school graduates flock to local beaches where many consume alcohol underage," spokeswoman Anne Duerr said. "As a community, we must not turn a blind eye on our young people during events like this."

    If Gansler is an advocate for harsh penalties, then fuck him. Throw the book at his fucking kid, and let them find out what life is like amomg the little people.

  • General Butt Naked||

    during which recent high school graduates

    In other words, ADULTS.


    The infantilization of America continues.

    Besides, what does she think is going to happen when police get political pressure to crack down on 1000's of drunk adults? It's gonna be full on SWAT time with human/canine casualties.

  • np||

    For insurance purposes, early to mid twenties are still considered children. Not many know that the federal age for sexual majority (e.g. media consent) was 16 prior to 1984. That was then raised from 16 to 18 at the same time when the drinking age was raised to 21 in 1984. The language of the law already refers to under-21 as minors. It wouldn't surprise me if in a couple decades, it is raised again from 18 to 21 for everything. It has occurred for marijuana, and some states are pushing to raise the tobacco age to 21.

    What I think some of us take for granted is that the state is actually effective at social engineering, in the establishment of norms by outright criminalization, or implicit coercion through regulatory threats. I've seen polls show the majority are against lowering the drinking age below 21. "College kids" won't be a mere expression anymore.

  • Rhywun||

    "As a community, we must not turn a blind eye on our young people during events like this."

    "We must keep them ignorant of alcohol at this tender age so they may later learn the valuable lesson of choking on their own sick at a college kegger."

  • Ted S.||

    Calling the people who want to infantilize society evil is most definitely not turning a blind eye, Madame MADD spokeswench.

  • Ted S.||

    If Gansler is an advocate for harsh penalties, then fuck him.

    That's the one question I'd like answered. If he's always been against the 21-year-old drinking age, I might have respect for him on this issue, even if he's probably an asshole on all the other issues.

    But, like Wicked Eliot Spitzer on prostitution, he's probably a hypocrite.

  • Mokers||

    These iPads weren't hacked. Hacking would involve getting around the security settings by visiting a website, downloading a mobile exploit, etc. Fiddling around with some settings to get access means there was poor security, but not hacking. There are many Mobile Device Management tools out there that can lock down iOS and Android devices a lot. You can even do things like allow certain products on the App Store to download or create a in-house app store for only their devices. The hacking was likely a result of some poor security settings and poor MDM and security profile management. So this was a rollout without proper testing and oversight (surprise, I know). I wonder who is going to get fired for this.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Besides, what does she think is going to happen when police get political pressure to crack down on 1000's of drunk adults? It's gonna be full on SWAT time with human/canine casualties.



  • JidaKida||

    Makes pretty good sense to me dude.

  • Jon Goldberg||

    Twin studies have consistently shown the large role genetics plays in this issue. But that's not PC.

    What is PC is saying that if you spend a billion dollars of someone else's money on overpriced junk, kids will suddenly start learning better, because after all, all those smart kids have overpriced junk and they are smart. Or something. And then, when the kids hack into their junk to play Minecraft and look at porn, it is turned into another feel good story about how creative they are. Because you can't make a test to measure creativity. I think.

    Another thing that amazes me is that this article was originally published in, yet commenters have repeatedly assured me that there is no such thing as left-libertarianism.

  • np||

    Hey American, you just can't give up, can you?

  • Acosmist||

    Science is scary. Come back to the cave, np.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Have you seen the Croods? Hilarious.

  • Carolynp||

    Exactly!! The only thing you didn't say was they should find the moron who told them the kids couldn't hack the tech and fire them. Have you ever met a teenager?


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