When I first moved to Arizona, the city of Scottsdale was essentially a showpiece of Apple technology. Macs filled the classrooms and the offices, and the layout was one of quiet efficiency. The IT people I met seemed relaxed, unhurried as they went about their work, and I got the impression that they often had enough time to just sit back and hang out. Support emergencies were few.
Over a decade later, I read a newspaper article on how the school’s computer network was brought to its knees due to virus infections. Of course between then and now, the powers-that-be decreed that Macs were inappropriate for the the Scottsdale Unified School District, that students should have the opportunity to work on the same computers they’d eventually use in the workplace. Apple was out, Dell was in. This same scene played out in a large number of districts around the U.S.A. as Apple’s dominance of the educational market was lost.
Now the fallacy of the logic behind such decisions has been pointed out again and again. Let me just say that the real reason for the switch was that Dell was more willing to cut a few dollars from the cost of each computer. The district officials actually believed they’d save a lot of money by giving Macs the heave-ho.
Just a few days ago, I caught a newspaper article about another school district that had ditched Macs in favor of Dells, the Henrico system in Richmond, VA. After four years of iBooks, they were hoodwinked into believing that Windows laptops would be a better value. At the same time, the IT people are busy securing the systems, blocking student email accounts, installing anti-virus software, enhancing firewall protection and restricting access to the wireless network.
In other words, they are adding protections that were nowhere near as critical when iBooks were around. Does that tell you something? The first line in that article says it all, “Never in the history of Henrico County’s laptop program have the students’ Apple iBooks fallen victim to a fast-spreading virus or worm.”
Or any virus or worm for that matter.
Naturally the IT staff has to play the hand it was dealt. If the district thinks it can save money by purchasing computers that require a higher level of support, so be it. Maybe the IT staff spent too much time hanging out and listening to their iPods, and the district wanted to get the most value out of its investment. Besides, if more support people are needed, they can always be hired. It must be the new math. You spend more money to support cheaper computers and somehow you end up ahead anyway.
Until the next malware infection strikes of course.
Now, in most districts, the folks who manage the school systems are elected officials, responsible for the public trust. They are spending your money and my money, and if they do so in an irresponsible fashion, one that subjects the district to security and financial consequences, they should be ousted during the next election. Now, not just ousted. The school districts should be held legally accountable for wasting your money.
In the real world, of course, it won’t happen. Mac users aren’t suddenly going to band together and file class action lawsuits against school districts that are lured to the Dark Side. Besides, legal actions of this sort would probably only benefit the attorneys. If a school district faces mounting legal expenses, it can just raise taxes to cover the deficit. You just can’t win.
Is there no solution? Well, as I said, there’s always the next election. But have any school board candidates actually used the promise of a switch to Macs among their campaign slogans? I’m asking. And when a district is tempted to remove Macs from a system, does Apple get a chance to plead its case? In the case of Scottsdale, they told me at the time that the answer was no.
In all fairness, Apple has begun to reclaim lost ground in the educational arena. Certainly its presence in the Vail, Arizona district, where iBooks are replacing textbooks, is attracting worldwide attention. Despite the fact that the high school being used in this grand experiment is still under construction, the transition, based on my limited tour of the facility, seems remarkably smooth.
So, yes, there is hope that more and more districts will look to Macs as a way to escape the trap of endless exposure to potential malware and other problems. It can really happen without filing a single legal document.
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