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September 2, 2009

Giving Christianity a Bad Name
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:23 AM * 113 comments

School wants student passwords (CNN)

One Georgia school says it has the right to demand access to any student’s Facebook or MySpace account. WJBF reports.

Among other problems with the policy is that it allows some deviant on the school staff to create an undetectable forgery, carry out identity theft, or go fishing for underage sex (and don’t tell me that no teacher or school administrator has ever done that). Could someone sell lists of teen girls’ passwords to perverts world-wide? Sure they could. Another MySpace Suicide hoaxer could use a real teen boy’s account.

The proper answer to this is either “Not only no, but hell no,” or, “Sorry, I don’t have a MySpace account,” or “Sure, here it is,” but hand over a false account created for the purpose of giving them account information.

The practical outcome of this will be to cripple the students as they attempt to enter the modern world after graduation.

The school that’s doing this calls itself “Christian,” though I don’t recall “Blessed are the jailers” in the Beatitudes, or anything in the Bible about the virtues of snooping. This policy seems to violate the tenth commandment, though it would facilitate the violation of the eighth as well.

Comments on Giving Christianity a Bad Name:
#1 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 09:48 AM:

There's also the matter of the TOS violations, both on the part of the students handing over passwords and the school for using them. Most TOSes say something about not giving out your password, allowing others to use your account, or using the accounts of others. Wasn't the myspace murderer successfully sued for a TOS violation?

For me, what it would really come down to is violating the trust placed in me by those who'd friended me. You tell me/show me something in confidence (or under a friends-lock), I'm going to do everything I can to keep it in confidence. And that's called "good moral character," which I believe is what most Christian (and "Christian") schools purport to encourage.

#2 ::: paxed ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 09:49 AM:

Now why does this remind me of the news half a year or so ago about Bozeman, Montana...

#3 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 09:51 AM:

I think that the "We don't expect perfection, we expect compliance" really says it all. This school doesn't appear to be looking for people who can think independently.

I feel sorry for the kids there.

#4 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:01 AM:

I wonder how they're going to validate that a student has a MySpace/Facebook account?
Then, safeguard the information they collect. And finally, only act on legally actionable items, not just things they disagree with.

Thing is, I went to a school that really did its best to monitor and correct off campus behavior. The reality was, the administration could only nail the most blatant and obvious examples (ie smoking just outside the gate to the school). This is a whole new kind of chilling.

As an example - "Why do you have 3 pagans on your friends list, James?" "Or are you in the closet?"

The possibilities for abuse here raise many different hackles for me.

Of course, the real response is to go set up a live journal account or blog ... ;-)

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:05 AM:

The students will have to start using security features, e.g. "If the twelfth letter of a Tweet isn't the letter 'n' then it isn't from me." Change the letter at midnight Zulu every day.

Use strong crypto.

Find a different school.

If this action of the school is ethical, then it should be universal law for all rational beings. If all schools and all employers took everyone's username/password combinations what will the world look like? Would the school's administration like it if I had all of their passwords/username combinations? If the students had them?

#6 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:18 AM:

If the school demands the students' passwords, then the students should demand the administrator's and teachers' passwords in return. Sauce for the goose, you know.

Failing that, a strong reply in the negative is called for by the students as well as their parents.

#7 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:30 AM:

"If an administrator suspects a student of unruly behavior..."

Suspects. Suspects?

"James! Stop dipping that girl's pigtails in the inkwell and give me your MySpace password right now!"

Holy hat.

#8 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:35 AM:

John L.@6: Failing that, a strong reply in the negative is called for by the students as well as their parents.

Given the nature of the school itself, the parents probably think that giving the school access to students' passwords is a fine idea. As for what the students think . . . in what high school ever, private or public, has the administration ever given a damn about that?

#9 ::: Richard Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:39 AM:

The video says that the school is in South Carolina. Please don't attribute them to Georgia...

#10 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:43 AM:

Yeah, yeah.  But this school head is trying, rather hamfistedly, to address a real problem.  If you got through school without noticing that some teens really, really love to hate other teens and sometimes bully fellow pupils obsessively, relentlessly, over long periods – well, good for you.  I was lucky – it didn’t happen to me personally – but I saw other children bullied, and was glad I went to a good school where it was picked up quickly.  Kids have been driven to suicide by bullying on social networks, so it’s understandable that a school tries to prevent that kind of thing.

This school head obviously hasn’t realised that he’s on a hiding to nothing.  If he tries to prevent stupid or evil behaviour by his pupils on MySpace/Facebook/Bebo/etc., he’s attacked for invasion of privacy (and of course, as it’s a Christian school, for being un-Christian);  if he doesn’t try to prevent it, when it happens he’ll be attacked for not doing so, and probably sued too, especially if a tragedy occurs.

I’m just thankful that I’m not a teacher and don’t have to confront this problem.  I don’t know how I’d deal with it.

#11 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:45 AM:

I'm tempted to mail the kids at the school a few copies of Little Brother.

Oh, and the issue here is that the school would probably expel any queer students who're closeted, but are "out" on private social network sites.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:53 AM:

I’m just thankful that I’m not a teacher and don’t have to confront this problem. I don’t know how I’d deal with it.

With tools that are already in place, that are well known and available, that don't involve wide-spread invasion of privacy (and the real possibility of spoofing).

This is the equivalent of requiring all students to present their hand-written diaries for inspection on a daily basis.

There are legal techniques, and illegal techniques. The fast grab for the seeming ease of illegal techniques is a tendency that should be named, and shunned.

#13 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:53 AM:

John Stanner @10: Being a headteacher is not a license to police the web, period.

If the problem is bad behaviour on social sites, the correct response is to teach bullied individuals how to use those sites better, the features are invariably there (block people, cancel "friendships" etc) and/or complain to the side administrators (which are entitled to policing the space). Otherwise it's like a headteacher asking for the keys to your house because he heard that you might be having issues with your parents.

#14 ::: Jamie ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:53 AM:

Josh Jasper@11:

Why, are you trying to make them kill themselves using books instead?

#15 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:58 AM:

I rather suspect the school administration here simply has no idea about the full implications of what they're demanding. Someone told the principal a little about Facebook, and he decided to just demand everything. Wasn't there some town that did the same thing with its employees?

#16 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:03 AM:

It seems to me that it also makes violating the Ninth Commandment as easy as breathing. Either rumor can be spread about kids based on what's in their FB/MySpace accounts, or via those accounts by administrators with access.

FOAD is the mildest of responses those administrators ought to receive.

#17 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:08 AM:

John Stanning @10: Where did you get that the administration is trying to combat online bullying? The example the administrator gives is a student who mentioned on his MySpace account that he drank alcohol on weekends, and had the school's name listed in his info. He's concerned about policing the image of the school, not about the welfare of the students.

Even if I were okay with the trend of schools punishing students for behavior that takes place outside school property (which, oh my god am I ever not), this would still be the wrong way to go about it.

#18 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:14 AM:

This will open up new opportunities for mechanical Turkdom among high school students. Picture, if you will, students from affluent, busybody schools paying impoverished youngsters in distant nations to keep their blog profiles "clean." Naturally, the girls camping a hot guy's profile would fall for a lonely somebody thousands of miles away who's supplying the real information. And then there would be ever so many romantic misunderstandings. See? No reason to worry. I've turned this from a horrific invasion of privacy to a transnational adolescent rom-com in no time flat!

...Seriously, though, this is total BS. And I agree with Jim that if teachers or administrators are in any way pervy, this opens the door to serious abuses. I fully expect incidents of blackmail to rise: "Join the football team, or I'll tell your parents about those party photos," etc.

#19 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:17 AM:

What gets me is, if the issue is the image of the school and the behavior of the students, why not have the kids agree to a code of conduct when they enroll (or re-enroll) and then just use that? The terms may be disagreeable, but its a contract between the parents and the school. Also, do it well before school starts so you don't hold the kids education to ransom and the likelihood of finding another school. But if they did that, this wouldn't even be news.

Any bets on whether or not they already have a policy of behavior students and their parents agree to and are just stretching a bit?

Again the potential for abuse is pretty staggering.

#20 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:17 AM:

Suzanne M – you’re right, he’s not combating online bullying in this case – I went off on a side-track.  Would it make a difference to the comments here if he was?  He’s trying to protect the image of the school (I think he’s a fool to try, but he is).  Non-Christian schools try (and fail) to do that too.

And yes, I agree not only that he has no chance of controlling pupils’ behavior outside school, but also that he’s stupid to try.

#21 ::: Douglas Henke ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:20 AM:

I maintain and host a Wiki for what's essentially a shared world-building exercise. It's very private for the simple reason that if the participants have to worry about what outsiders think, it stifles contribution.

A few months ago, something similar to the topic of this thread popped up: (BB article)

tl;dr: Employer demands job applicants disclose login and password for "social networking" sites.

At the time, I added the following language to the privacy policy of my site:

"Individual members (including the site maintainer) have no authority to grant or delegate access to the site or any of its contents to any outside party, at any time, for any reason. Outside parties are never authorized users of the site or its contents, even when acting as proxies for, or representatives of, members."

(There is language earlier in the policy that defines exactly who is a "member" and that any other person or organization is an "outside party".)

IANAL, but I hope this is enough to subject a hypothetical nosy employer or school to criminal prosecution (and a ruinous civil suit from me) if one of my users is bullied into doing something stupid.

Comments and suggestions from the gallery are welcome and appreciated.

#22 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:30 AM:

So very many things wrong with this, opening the school up to civil and criminal liability if anything goes wrong, but yeah, the parents are probably thrilled because this means they don't have to do it.

#23 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:30 AM:

I'm with Albatross @ #15 - I think the school admin are completely clueless about how social networking and other interweeb-doohickeys work. I'll bet they think they need a password to even look at MySpace or Facebook pages. The rulemakers have no idea how to even post on these sites, and therefore might be so dumb as to be harmless. They haven't figured out how to use Google to look up people's names. And they haven't figured out that there are plenty of people in the school who would use that information badly. Where are they going to keep these passwords? On sticky-notes? Written on the kid's permanent record? What happens when someone who's less clueless gets ahold of this info?

Not that I think teachers and employers should go around googling people in hopes of digging up some dirt (is what I do on my own time anybody's business?) but this is just idiotic.

#24 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 12:29 PM:

Oh, and let's not forget the "change your password every six months" issues...

The thing about 15 and 23 is that ignorance is really no excuse. If a school decided to arm teachers' aides with machetes to enforce disciple, no one would be saying, "Oh, but they just thought machetes looked imposing, they had no idea you could actually lop off a limb with one."

#25 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 12:30 PM:

How anyone can think this isn't an invasion of privacy is beyond me. But then, a lot of people think high school students have no right to privacy anyway (including, but not limited to, the parents who want them to go to a particular school).

#26 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 12:35 PM:

Oh, I don't think it's an excuse, Paul - just an explanation: Admin are a bunch of idiots. No one - ever - should comply with this order. I hope this school is soon drowning in fake facebook entries, or sparkly, noisy MySpace profiles.

#27 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 12:47 PM:

John Stanning @10; 20: See, I was the target of severe bullying, from grades six through grade 11, when I dropped out of school to make it stop.

So I hope you will understand what I mean when I say that I would not trust a school administrator to have my best interests at heart with regards to bullying if my very life depended on it. And there were times when it did, and I didn't.

Bullying doesn't happen because well-meaning teachers and administrators are trying their best and failing to foster a safe, supportive, and civil learning environment. Bullying happens because schools send a very loud and clear message that they care more about defending bullies than protecting their victims.

It doesn't take a password to make bullying unacceptable in your school. It's quite simple, really:

1. Make sure the staff and students have a working definition of bullying that's broader than stuffing someone into a locker. It should include harassment, both online and in person, stalking, physical and verbal abuse, and intentional humiliation.
2. Train staff and students to take bullying they witness seriously, and react immediately.
3. Punish bullies, not their victims.
3a. Do not let bullies represent your school in any capacity, be it on a sports team, in student government, or other extra-curriculars.
3b. Do not put the burden of prevention on victims by telling them to change their behavior, dress, religious convictions, or access to school resources to prevent bullying.
4. If you have staff that think it's appropriate to join in, condone, or flat-out commit bullying (and you probably do), fire them immediately. For cause, and without a reference.

We have developed a belief that kids are just naturally cruel, and that bullying is inevitable. Bull. There are many rather famous psych experiments that illustrate that even the most conscientious person will do inhuman things when subjected to systems that encourage it. How many more of those do we need before schools figure out that it's the system and not the students that are the problem?

#28 ::: Lisa L. Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 01:28 PM:

I suspect that the schools actions might be problematic in terms of Federal law; they are, by demanding access entering FERPA territory.

#29 ::: Erf ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 02:04 PM:

James D. Macdonald @5: Actually, if the parents could be made to care about this (and who knows, maybe they could) I could easily see them getting together and demanding the same of all teachers and admin. "After all, they need to know who's really teaching their kids..." If they demanded it loudly enough I bet they'd be able to get this stopped.

The kids don't have any power, but the parents can have a heck of a lot.

#30 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 02:08 PM:

Only trouble with that, Erf, is that in general no amount of invasiveness or even outright fascism will annoy the parents, much less make them pull their kids from the school. In addition, people who send their kids to schools labeled "Christian" don't tend to be liberals about discipline.

#31 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 02:18 PM:

Annalee Flower Horne @1: You're exactly right.

According to the Facebook TOS:

3.5 You will not solicit login information or access an account belonging to someone else.
4.6 You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.

According to Myspace's TOS: You agree not to use the account, username, email address or password of another Member at any time or to disclose your password to any third party. You agree to notify MySpace immediately if you suspect any unauthorized use of your account or access to your password.

Twitter, on the other hand, says only "You are responsible for keeping your password secure."

From the perspective of the providers, this sort of thing would be a nightmare. I think a couple of strongly worded cease and desist letters might be needed here.

#32 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 02:19 PM:

(FWIW, I second the clarification that the school is located in North Augusta, South Carolina even though it is a suburb of Augusta, Georgia.)

I think this guy gives a bad name to private school administrators (or perhaps maintains their already bad name), but I don't think there's anything particularly unscriptural about it. The church in the first century was full of instances of Christians who were expected to yield some of their secular rights in order to voluntarily live in a religious community. Acts 5:1-11 is a particularly chilling story about Peter striking a couple dead for attempting to conceal the percentage of their wealth that they were tithing. By contrast, if I were a judge in Christian Ethics court, I would laughed out of my court the claim that the principal was coveting his students' social networking passwords. There are plenty enough secular reasons why this is a bad policy.

And I won't defend Dr. Marten as a Christian leader, as he obviously did a very poor job of researching the issue before making a draconian and ineffective ruling that affects his students. He has stewardship over their educational and moral development, and in a real sense I think that he is providing an example to his students of how they should exercise Christian dominion when they become good Baptist husbands (sic) and parents.

#33 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 02:37 PM:

A little research discloses that this is in essence a Baptist parochial school, with 140 kids spread out over 12 grades plus K. There's basically a teacher per grade. Church members get cut rates. Obviously they are getting some pupils from outside the congregation but I imagine there isn't that great a divorce between the school administration and the parents. OTOH the whole thing is the empire of one guy.

#34 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 02:51 PM:

While I'm at it, here's a statement from the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools:

Membership will not be afforded those associated with, members of, or in accordance with the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Modern Charismatic Movement, or the Ecumenical Movement.

#35 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:01 PM:

I don't think you have to be Christian to be this stupid.

#36 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:14 PM:

Annalee Flower Horne @ 27: If you have staff that think it's appropriate to join in, condone, or flat-out commit bullying (and you probably do), fire them immediately. For cause, and without a reference.

Oh, good Ghu, yes. I was bullied and humiliated by my classmates from kindergarten through seventh grade (this was back in the 70's), and in both fifth AND seventh grades I had teachers who actually joined in. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. B, singled me out in class and belittled me regularly, culminating in the day she finally decided to place my desk behind a bookcase, separated from the rest of the classroom, and instructed the other kids not to associate with me because I was too weird. I didn't even bother to tell my parents about it for several weeks, because my neighbor, whose daughter L was in my class, was constantly praising Mrs. B to my mother for how well she treated L, and I didn't think my mother would believe me. When I finally did tell her where I was now spent my class time (I think it came out in response to a query about what had I learned in school lately that was interesting, and I had 'fessed up that it was difficult to learn much when you spent all your time out of view of the blackboard), my parents were horrified. Then they told me they'd wished I had mentioned this sooner so they could have transferred me to another class... but they didn't do it then, they just complained to the school, who made Mrs. B move me back into the classroom proper, but AFAIK did nothing else. My parents did, however, request a specific teacher for me for the following school year, someone they knew personally and trusted. So sixth grade was a bit easier.

Then came seventh grade. Mr. D was both my homeroom teacher and my social studies teacher that year. He also engaged in verbal abuse toward me, including egging my classmates on to do the same, and physically bullied of a couple of other kids. He picked up two boys (each on a different occasion) and hustled them across the hall during class to threaten them with violence. And then one day he did it to me. Grabbed me so hard about the neck, digging in his fingernails, that he left red marks. Hauled me across the hall and into an empty classroom, threatened to "box my ears" - for the crime of forgetting my textbook in my locker - then dug those same nails into my arm and threw me down the hall to get my book. I was too rattled to go to the office, so I got my book, returned to class and bled through the rest of the period, then got on the school bus home. When I arrived home, still bleeding, my mother asked what had happened. She was shocked when I told her about Mr. D's treatment of me, and so was my father when she called him to come home from work early. When they called the school, they were informed by the guidance counselor (not even the principal!) that "Mr. D has issues controlling his anger, but he knows about it, so we can talk to him." My parents demanded he be fired, but were told, "He has tenure, and will be retiring in a couple of years anyway, so we can't really fire him." They should have sued, but instead they simply removed me from that school after the end of the year (this happened when there was only about a month and a half left before summer) and sent me to school in the neighboring district. I still think my home district should have paid for it, AND fired Mr. D.

On the plus side, I got to spend 8th through 12th grades in a MUCH better school, with better courses and teachers, and a lot more interesting extra-curricular options. Was it worth the preceding 8 years of crap? Hard to say, but incidentally I ran into a couple of kids at my new school who lived in my home district and whose parents had sent them to the neighboring school system from the beginning, so clearly my home district's reputation was not stellar.

#37 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:14 PM:

C. Wingate @ #34: Hoo boy. They probably spit when Catholics come to near as well.

#38 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:14 PM:

Would they ask for the students online bank account shared secrets? PIN? Their house door keys? Access to their bedrooms?

I work in computer systems support in adult education and I sometimes think I (& other staff) have too much access to details of our students. The student record system contains full name, birth date, marital status, home address and phone number of all students. And photos. And external email addresses. As one of the system administrators I can access it if I want even though my job involves little direct contact with students. So there is nothing physically stopping me listing, say, all single or divorced women students aged between 30 and 45 who live in the same part of London as me & looking at their photos and seeing who I might fancy. And then work from email and name to find facebook or blogs etc. It would be tacky & immoral & almost certainly against my contract of employment but its very possible to do.

The same sort of behaviour from teachers rather than support staff would be much more serious because of the power relationship. (& would I think be illegal in this country). And with under-18 students it gets even worse.

Teachers of young students probably ought to be deliberatly *avoiding* information about their students online social networking. If onl for their own protection.

#39 ::: Lisa L. Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:16 PM:

I think we should send all the kids ebooks of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

#40 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:18 PM:

C. Wingate @34: So, not just "Christian," but "Our own particular brand of fundamentalist churches." A Southern Baptist school would qualify, or a nondenominational fundamentalist school.

I detest how these people have co-opted the word Christian.

#41 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:22 PM:

Pat Greene @ # 40: Christianists is what I've heard 'em referred to.

"Woe unto you, pharisees and hypocrites."

Ironic that I finished reading that part of Matthew last week.

#42 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:34 PM:

Annalee Flower Horne@27: "Bullying doesn't happen because well-meaning teachers and administrators are trying their best and failing to foster a safe, supportive, and civil learning environment. Bullying happens because schools send a very loud and clear message that they care more about defending bullies than protecting their victims."

Yes. What schools - and other hierarchical institutions - don't like to admit is that bullying is socially stabilising. It reinforces existing power structures.

Basically its a way of recruiting the relatively weak onto the side of the relatively powerful by getting them to gang up on the even weaker. (Which on a large scale is what happens when political movements pick on marginalised groups to despise - Fascism really *is* organised bullying)

And it can happen spontaneously. If there is no obvious candidate for being bullied someone often gets picked on at random. There is a positive feedback loop. Once someone is seen to be the victim of bullying those who are insecure in their own position in the social structure have a strong incentive to gang up on them. In effect to join the winning side. (Which is why it REALLY ISN'T YOUR FAULT if you get bullied - and it often really isn't just because you are black, white, gay, fat, thin, black, gay, bad at sport, shy, intellectual, whatever because someone gets picked on whatever happens - people hurt themselves by assuming that they get picked on for a reason. But often they don't)

This makes life easier for the actual bosses (who in a school situation include both teachers and the most socially successful students) because the people beneath them in the hierarchy direct their opposition downwards. (Which is why the old cliche that weak leaders are bullies is true - strong leaders don't need to bully, they get others to do it for them) So bullying is actually functional, it reinforces the social system in a school (or in the army, in prison, or in some kinds of workplace)

So to root it out you have to be radical and take risks. Platitudes won't do. And why teachers (or other people in positions of power) can only oppose bullying by ALWAYS siding with the victim. If you treat it as if it was a fight with two sides to it, or if you are seen to reward the bully in any way, or even to overlook their actions, then you reinforce the bullying - the only way to stop bullying is by humiliating or demoting or degrading the bullies, which removes the point of bullying in the first place. But that doesn't happen because well-meaning teachers (or bosses, or officers) find it hard to accept that they might be benefiting by others bullying.

Of course the best way to avoid bullying is to replace authoritarian, hierarchical social structures with liberal, egalitarian ones. I suspect that that isn't going to happen any time soon in schools :(

#43 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 03:47 PM:

Any structure that requires bullying for its continued existence deserves to be destroyed. If it works the way you say, Ken, then it is my fervent hope that running a school will become much, much harder.

#44 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 04:20 PM:

Ken @38, Yes. Far too many school staff abused their privilege & power over pupils in the past. (Bathurst, NSW example in courts now.) These are new weapons for the malicious.

[On preview @42, also yes.]

#45 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 04:21 PM:

Lisa L. Spangenberg #39: I think we should send all the kids ebooks of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother

I came here to say this. +1

#46 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 04:23 PM:

John Stanning @#20:

If a principal wants to protect kids from online bullying, he should join the social networking site that his students use, and then ask to friend them. If they want support from their principal, they will agree, and then he can check up on them with their consent, just like an actual real friend.

If he wants to protect the image of the school, he can have (as someone suggested up above) a code of conduct. That's what my company does--employees agree not to say bad stuff about the company, basically. Google alert takes care of the rest.

#47 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 04:32 PM:

The entire notion makes steam come out of my ears.

#48 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 04:56 PM:

Mary Dell @#46:  Yes, that sounds a sensible method.  The guy here seems to have jumped in without much thought.

#49 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 05:22 PM:

C. Wingate #34 linked to the South Carolina Association of Christian Schools which says:

Membership will not be afforded those associated with, members of, or in accordance with the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Modern Charismatic Movement, or the Ecumenical Movement.

er... hello?  These people claiming to be Christians are disassociating themselves from pretty much the entire mainstream of the Christian church, all the way from Roman Catholic to Quaker (and out to the wild fringes like the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth by His Special Envoy Simon Kimbangu)?  That is, like, seriously off the edge, man.

#50 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 05:41 PM:

Summer Storms: "Mr. D has issues controlling his anger, but he knows about it, so we can talk to him." My parents demanded he be fired, but were told, "He has tenure, and will be retiring in a couple of years anyway, so we can't really fire him."

We had that kind of teacher. Fortunately he did not know to keep his greedy eyes off the teenaged girls, so when all else failed we kind of manufactured a scandal and he was disappeared into early retirement. It was a nasty thing to do, and a lesson in asymmetrical warfare.

#51 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 05:52 PM:

I know that there are wonderful people in the various Christian denominations. (Ditto other religions, but since this is a Christian school, I'll stick to that.) But there are also a whole bunch of idiots, and this administrator is a perfect example.

Far too many privacy issues, possibilities for abuse, and TOS violations in the making for this. The smarter students will hand over login info for "fake" accounts and keep their real accounts clean enough to not be picked up by a Google search. The rest, if this doesn't get shot down somehow, are likely in for a very tough school experience.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 06:02 PM:

Hmm, a lot of people seem to have misread this (unless the post misrepresents the video). They have proclaimed the right to demand the account information, not demanded it of every student. And I doubt it's much of an issue, since parents who would send their kids to a school like this (with its we're-the-only-REAL-Christians blinders) are probably in their back pockets anyway. You know the kind I mean: parents who won't let their kids take spoons to their bedrooms for fear of their being put to unclean uses.

Poor kids. Being kidnapped by aliens would be a relief to them, I'm sure.

#53 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 06:33 PM:

I gotta say, Xopher, that I only know of one unclean use for a spoon. Are there many others?

#54 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 06:34 PM:

In fifth grade, I became the object of a couple of bullies who rode my bus. Twice a day they went after me. The dominant one of the pair was a boy I'll call "Belly Beer" for purposes of the story.

Finally, the other fifth grade teacher (she was their teacher - I was swapped for them at the beginning of the year so that she could work on them) saw what was happening and had me in for a talk. I told her about the taunting and name calling. She advised me to return the name calling. "Call him Smelly Queer," she said.

I did. He backed off right away, and eventually became a sort of (unreliable but benign) friend. I wish all the advice I'd gotten over the years from authority figures had worked so well. I didn't get a suggestion as useful as that again (that I noticed) until I was in college.

#55 ::: Lylassandra ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 07:07 PM:

As someone who was bullied, I doubt this would do a thing to help me or others like me.

As someone who protested the school board stripping the student rep of all rights, if I lived anywhere near I'd be writing letters to my senator.

As a Christian, this is so far from being one of the things I've had to defend myself or my religion for, it hardly registers.

(Though at least it's current. Trying to convince people that neither Jesus nor I should be held personally responsible for the Crusades or whatever gets a little tedious.)

#56 ::: Lisa L. Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 07:08 PM:

The fact that you can unfriend, never friend, or block those you do not wish to follow you on Facebook is a better option, by far, than having an adult lurker other than a parent.

It isn't a principal's job to watch out for kids outside of the school. It's the job of parents.

I absolutely do not follow or friend my students on Facebook. That's not my role. I don't want to know that their dog didn't eat their paper but that they were "bombed with omfg hangover" and opted not to write.

#57 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 07:21 PM:

Lisa L. Spangenberg #56: Even if you have a high privacy setting on Facebook, a lurker can see who your friends are.

#58 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 07:26 PM:

C. Wingate, #34, I know that 20 years ago at Cherrydale Baptist Church School, only one parent had to say they were a Christian. They really sent their kids there because it was cheaper than other private schools (and they got what they paid for -- I remember a science fair where a project was raising a pet rabbit).

I looked my nephew up online to find out what to give him for high school graduation (4G thumbdrive with Little Brother on it) and found his MySpace site. I haven't looked at it or for him since, at least partially because it's a pretty juvenile site.

#59 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 07:28 PM:

Xopher, even if the school demands that information from just one student, it is still a violation of privacy. I do not care what they have done or the school thinks they have done, they cannot assert - or should not be allowed to assert - that right. The fact that the parents are in the back pocket of the school administrators doesn't change that.

Not to mention that the student is prohibited by the FB/MS Terms of Service from turning over that information. Not that that's likely to stop anyone, but it sure as shooting should cause the providers to crack down on this. This is a PR nightmare waiting to happen, regardless of what the liability issues might be, when --- not if -- that information is misused. Because if this school gets away with it, others will try. And sooner or later, somebody is going to access that information with bad intent. Not to mention that if these guys are so clueless, how secure do you think their computer security is likely to be? Want to bet a motivated student couldn't break in and walk off with passwords and other information?

My youngest son has already had his Facebook account hacked (carelessness on his part --- he now really understands the "DON'T write your passwords down" bit) and it was a royal pain to deal with the social fallout. (And the school fallout --- the stuff written got him in trouble with one of his teschers.) He's only 13 -- if he had been older, and subject to someone with a lot more malice and a lot more opportunity for mischief than his 7th grade rivals, there could have been real heartache.

So, here's an idea -- along with the e-books of Little Brother, we send each of those kids a link to the FB & MS TOS.

#60 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 09:02 PM:

pat, I fully agree. I mentioned that only because they aren't going to have trouble keeping track of all the students' passwords—they only have to find out the ones they think they need. Doesn't change the ethical point; but it's not (unfortunately) as grossly impractical as some commenters appeared to be making it out to be.

I would guess that the desired effect is exactly the chilling of students' conversation and online behavior that we fear it will engender.

#61 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 09:38 PM:

As far as I can tell, all such groups insist on Authority as their effectively-primary value, and never so much as for children, whom even women may rightfully command. This makes it in their own context quite reasonable for them to fear their children's ever being exposed to a jot's worth of a Foreign opinion in a book or from an adult.

#62 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 09:44 PM:

Michael: then they must be destroyed.

#63 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:02 PM:

This is not a cure for bullying. It's a form of bullying. "We're going to make you do what we want even when you're NOT in school. We can control you wherever you go."

And I was bullied. Badly. By both students, teachers, and school administrators, throughout my school years. I was provoked to hysterical tears, hyperventilating, and vomiting on nearly a daily basis for several years. The fault, of course, was mine -- I was too sensitive, I provoked the bullies because I wasn't nice to them, the other kids teased me because they really liked me. Yadda yadda yadda. It was always my fault for being weird or different.

I'm sorry. When someone comes up to me and dumps a full cup of piss over my head and tells me that they're going to rape me after school, and I'm a young ten and the bully is thirteen, I am not going to be nice to him. Nor do I especially think he liked me all that much. Even if he did, there are limits to what one should have to accept as friendly overtures from other students.

Aside from multiple examples of bullying from other students (and that is a real example above -- really happened, and I got suspended for a week for hitting the kid with a math textbook the next day when he groped me), I can think of several instances of school administrators and teachers bringing up my extra-curricular activities and using them against me, or just using them to make fun of me. Sometimes it was stuff I didn't bring up, it was stuff they just found out.

It was very common for a teacher to pick on me in class, and for kids to torment me later, following the teacher's lead. If there'd been an internet then, I am certain I would have had blog and it would have been full of examples of my differences from other students. Fuel for the bullies, if I had been forced to give that information up to my teachers and the teachers shared it. I had a few who almost certainly would have.

#64 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 10:07 PM:

This is the equivalent of requiring all students to present their hand-written diaries for inspection on a daily basis.

No, it's worse. They can check students' accounts by reading them. This is the equivalent of demanding the keys to their house so they can rifle through their belongings at will.

#65 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:00 PM:

Just finished watching Trumbo on PBS. plus ca change...

What was that line about the price of liberty?

#66 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2009, 11:59 PM:

A thumbdrive with Little Brother on it sounds like a fine idea. So, what else should be on such a care package?

#67 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 01:34 AM:

I find the "don't write down passwords" rule to be impractical. It leads to people using the same password anywhere. A written-down password is your secure backup, kept somewhere safe and secure. You don't carry it around, stick a post-it note on the monitor, or leave it where a teacher/parent/whoever can easily find it.

As for the bullying accounts...

Mark 10:14

John 11:35

#68 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 03:16 AM:

Dave Bell 67: When you're 13, and all you have is a Facebook password, you're better off memorizing it. Especially if your "friends" happen to see the page in your agenda binder where you've written it down.

As for me, I lose things enough I don't trust myself to write them down.

#69 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 09:26 AM:


So, on that thumb drive with Little Brother, add a copy of Bruce Schneier's Password Safe

#70 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 09:29 AM:

Sorry, with Password Safe Link here

#71 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 10:36 AM:

re 58: The main church site gives different prices for "church members"; I interpreted that as meaning members of that particular church but it's possible it could mean something else.

#72 ::: Manny ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 10:36 AM:

If I were a student, I'd view this as a chance for creative writing. It would be fun to build a sock puppet for them to spy on. What do you think? Street racing, collecting stuffed Cthulhus and transgender activism?

If I were too busy for that, I'd give them a valid password (to a sock puppet, of course) then change it after a week or so, in case they check it right away. Then if they ever wanted to spy on me, I'd know because they would have to order me to hand it over again.

If I had hypothetical Christian-school parents, I would have practice at this kind of game long before I got to high school. (My RW parents would have their hide for asking.)

#73 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 10:51 AM:

The matter was summarised best, over a century ago, by the great Ambrose Bierce:

I dreamed I stood upon a hill, and, lo!
The godly multitudes walked to and fro
Beneath, in Sabbath garments fitly clad,
With pious mien, appropriately sad,
While all the church bells made a solemn din --
A fire-alarm to those who lived in sin.
Then saw I gazing thoughtfully below,
With tranquil face, upon that holy show
A tall, spare figure in a robe of white,
Whose eyes diffused a melancholy light.
"God keep you, strange," I exclaimed. "You are
No doubt (your habit shows it) from afar;
And yet I entertain the hope that you,
Like these good people, are a Christian too."
He raised his eyes and with a look so stern
It made me with a thousand blushes burn
Replied -- his manner with disdain was spiced:
"What! I a Christian? No, indeed! I'm Christ."

#74 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 11:17 AM:

Dave Bell @67: I've got more root passwords than I can remember, never mind bank passwords and Amazon password and my email and my hosting account and just hundreds of things. I've got two ssh private keys with passphrases. And so on and on. Far past what I can remember.

In fact, I'm actually remembering more than I could remember. I've stretched my abilities some over the last decade. Still nowhere near everything.

But don't write them down! Use Bruce's Password Safe, or KeePass (which I use because it has Linux and Windows Mobile versions as well as Windows) or something. Most of my passwords are 16-character random strings, that I never see. Also, use Firefoxes ability to remember passwords, AND APPLY A MASTER PASSWORD so the stuff it remembers is encrypted.

Yikes! And now NoScript is saying the process of previewing my message has a cross-site scripting vulnerability.

#75 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 11:39 AM:

The interesting thing is that all the advice about protecting yourself against dangerous paedophiles also gets you out from this problem. The things you're advised to do, to hide your identity and vulnerability from a stranger, also hide you from the school. Don't tell people your full name, address, and school.

Now, there is the problem that you want to be able to communicate with people you know. You want to be able to chat with you best friends. So you give them your user-name. And that risks blowing your secret.

But it doesn't need super-clever spy kids using dead letter boxes and old-fashioned tradecraft. Though some of the ideas, such as ways of signalling that a blog is compromised, can be applied. Do you devise codewords for the staff, or risk searchable traces? And, if the existence of such methods is revealed to the school, what sort of post-Columbine shit does that provoke?

How do you safeguard yourself without provoking the excesses of adult power?

#76 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 12:09 PM:

Good advice on passwords, but...

This all sounds like an actively hostile security environment. I wouldn't carry a written list around school, and I wouldn't use a software solution anywhere near a school computer.

It's a different enviroment to what we are living in.

#77 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 12:35 PM:

Re: the headline "Giving Christianity a Bad Name"

I wouldn't worry. It never sticks for very long, does it?

#78 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 01:04 PM:

Bruce Schneier's Solitaire cipher may also be helpful....

#79 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 02:01 PM:

Bruce Schneier's Solitaire cipher may also be helpful....

If we're talking about some of the very "fundamentalist" people a deck of cards is equally suspicious.

Dancing, drinking, playing cards....

#80 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 02:29 PM:

I've come up with a system of generating passwords that works pretty well, that I can keep in my head. What blows it out of the water is the occasional site that requires non-strong passwords, such as "no special characters," or "alpha-only." If it's a toy site, I choose not to keep an account there. If it's a critical site (I think AppleOne temp agency is one of these), I get really REALLY annoyed.

As to school bullying, my cloak of invisibility actually worked pretty well through grade school. Strangely, I started having trouble in junior high with a little pack of Mean Girls. My mother, uncharacteristically, actually handled things pretty well. WRT the one that liked to call me [some nasty nickname I've long since forgotten], my mother recommended I reciprocate, but with a semi-nonsensical nickname. The bully's surname was close enough to "navel" that we came up with "Sunkist." I'd call her that in the same tone she'd use on me, and it was fascinating watching her eyes glaze over as she tried unsuccessfully to parse my meaning and intent.

That caused the Mean Girls to change tactics (I forget what they did), and eventually my mother asked me if I'd like her to intercede. I said, "please," and so she called the principle.

I deduce this resulted in the Mean Girls receiving some disciplinary action, because a few days later, the queen came after me at the bus stop, shrieking and crying, and knocked me over. Mostly puzzled, I bellowed for my best friend, who pulled the queen off and sort of tossed her away.

A few days after that, "Sunkist" actually smiled at me and said hello in a friendly way.

I don't recall having any issues with bullies in school after that.

I didn't put a lot of this together until years later. Recently I've begun to appreciate how profoundly lucky I was at the convergence of intelligent parenting and enlightened school administration.

#81 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 03:07 PM:

Jim @79:


(Can't find an appropriate link for drinking. Has no one done a cipher based on alcohol?)

#82 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 03:47 PM:

Jim @79

If we're talking about some of the very "fundamentalist" people a deck of cards is equally suspicious.

Well, in that case, a Bible should arouse no suspicion, nor would having some verses highlighted, and it seems they'd be just as good as lines of poetry for the "first letter of each word" password-generation scheme. (Using part of the text as a one-time pad would also be possible of course, and telling your friends that the Bible Study text for this week is such-and-such should again be innocuous, though if the administration were at all technologically savvy they'd certainly figure this scheme out pretty quickly.)

#83 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 04:11 PM:

Pass phrases and using the first letter of each word therefrom for a password are said not to work very well (low entropy). I would think that picking them from the bible would be particularly dangerous, actually.

Of course, using a different edition than the one the church uses might help some :-). But then you'd be back to remembering rather than having a written reference.

#84 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 04:17 PM:

Macdonald @ 53:

I gotta say, Xopher, that I only know of one unclean use for a spoon. Are there many others?

I feel like such a naïf. I don't even know one unclean use for a spoon.

#85 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 04:20 PM:

If a deck of cards is a problem...

How about a cricket bag?

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 04:24 PM:

Depending on your standards for "clean" and "unclean," the unclean uses for a spoon are as uncountable as the grains of sand on a beach.

#87 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 05:48 PM:

Any scheme for hidden communication among a significant group of students is likely to be compromised; it just takes one mole, or possibly compromise of other communications channels.

So what you need is clear-cut signals for switching to the next system secure system, when the last one is known to be compromised. These need to be known to everybody except the mole. Hmmm; I think this is an intractable problem. This is probably not the direction it's crackable from.

A classic cell structure works, but almost certainly requires more care and discipline than a bunch of adolescents are likely to drum up. And anybody in or connected to the central cell can compromise it, which means it's fairly likely to happen in this kind of environment.

Lacking an intelligent central computer connected to the phone system that the authorities don't even suspect exists, I'm not sure how best to approach this one.

#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 05:56 PM:

I'm not sure how best to approach this one.

Ridicule? People saying that anyone who sends their kids to a school with a fascist rule like this is probably a fascist too?

I don't think it's soluble with technology. I think social pressure (or perhaps legal pressure, but IANAL) is more likely to work, but still very difficult.

#89 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 06:07 PM:

Do any of the unclean uses involve grains of sand on a beach?

(Forget I asked that)

#90 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 06:32 PM:

Yes, Soon Lee, I will. You really don't want to know. Trust me on this.

#91 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 06:38 PM:

Earl Cooley III, #66, Little Brother took up a very tiny bit of the 4G, so I was thinking of the thumbdrive use as a big part of the present, too. He's going to the community college now to get a Computer Technology certificate.

C. Wingate, #71, yes, they did that back then, too, but people really didn't have to "act" Christian, just say they were. The other big outside group that brought their kids were from a military base where the elementary schools outside were really bad.

#92 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 08:04 PM:

Lorax @ 82: if the administration were at all technologically savvy they'd certainly figure this scheme out pretty quickly.

And if it's a typical school administration, the secret will probably be safe for most of a school year.

#93 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2009, 11:37 PM:

Hmmm, well, TrueCrypt has significant plausible deniability features for hostile security environments, but there's a bit of a learning curve for hidden volumes and hidden or decoy operating systems.

#94 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 12:31 AM:

Of course parents can be made to care about this. How many nude infant/toddler photos of their children have they scanned, tagged, and posted to family members on Facebook, in lieu of a family album? Do they really want to grant teachers and administrators the ability to look at those photos? Do teachers want to admit to having looked at those photos? Would their clicking then be actionable, as in the case of "sexting" photos verified by a teacher earlier this year? Could examining a student's profile be an instant ticket to child porn charges? Would they really risk it?

The solution here isn't to hide the information, it's to poison it.

#95 ::: Tina Black ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 10:17 AM:

At least they did not create a school "fan" page and put up a poll:

Jeezus HS:


Meh ...

Hiss ~~

and THEN harvest info from "friends".

#96 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 02:21 PM:

On writing down passwords: for a situation like the 13-year-old's Facebook password, this ought to suffice. Don't write down the actual password, but do write down a hint. For example, if the password is, say, 0ak@sh&th0rn then the hint is "trees." Should be safe enough in that kind of enviroment, and still be a reminder to the person whose password it actually is.

(Note, I have never used this password and likely never will, I made it up for the sake of the example.)

#97 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 02:24 PM:

Liza @96:
Note, I have never used this password and likely never will, I made it up for the sake of the example.

Or you want us to think that, so that it's the last thing we'd ever consider guessing when hacking your account...

(And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and they are used to people not trusting them, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.)

#98 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 02:28 PM:

Liza, "Don't let the [principal] know of our rite, for he would call it sin!"

#99 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 03:10 PM:

abi @ 97: That's all right, I know not to go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

Also, I seem to have forgotten an N that belonged in one of the words in my comment. If its loss bothered anyone, here it is: n.

#100 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 04:21 PM:

Liza @ 99: One of the reasons the Afghanistan occupation irritates me is that the "classic blunder" line has become a political hot potato. :-P

#101 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 05:01 PM:

Mark @ 100: Which takes me to a completely different pop-culture reference:

"Don't pick it up, pick it up, pick i--
Don't pick it up, pick it up, pick i--
Don't pick it up, pick it up, pick i--"

#102 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 05:11 PM:

Dave @3: I think that the "We don't expect perfection, we expect compliance" really says it all.


It seems to me that they've got it backwards: Christ expects that sometimes we won't comply--so much so that he made contingency plans--but asks Christians to strive towards perfection anyway.

Seems much more understanding of human nature to me.

#103 ::: Matthew Daly ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 06:52 PM:

Lorax @82: You can't use plaintext in place of a randomized one-time pad and expect security. That way leads to the running key cipher, which is very easy to identify as they all have the same letter frequency table assuming that the key and message both tend towards ordinary plaintext. (That is to say that Vigenere with a running key, Porta with a running key, and ASCII-bitwise-OR with a running key would all have different signatures, but all Vigenere with a running key ciphertexts would have the same signature.) Once you recognize the signature and know which individual letter operation is being performed, it is an fun puzzle to untie the two messages simultaneously, but one that is easily within the power of a motivated amateur with a Python script or even someone with pencil and paper and a Concordance. Just for lulz, here is a sample ciphertext so encoded that people might enjoy working out:


#104 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 09:20 PM:

Matthew Daly @103: Just for lulz, here is a sample ciphertext so encoded that people might enjoy working out:

For a minute, I thought this was a 'real literature makes you work for your enjoyment' thread.

#105 ::: Paul the ex-poet ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2009, 10:23 PM:

I guess I was more fortunate than some of you. At my schools, bullying only occurred out of sight of teachers, and existed to the extent that teachers couldn't be everywhere or see everything. This isn't to say I didn't suffer from it, I even took up martial arts, but the further along the years went the less I had to put up with it because I got on the college track and none of the bullies did.

I don't see how bullies are a part of the same power structure as the teachers. I thought bullies were a competing power structure (the only overlap being a couple of coaches). The targets of bullies were sometimes the teachers' favorites: the smart kids.

#106 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 04:22 PM:

Paul, were the smart kids the teachers favourites at your school? You were lucky. At my school good at sport counted for more. And both obedience to authority and also general niceness rated higher than academic ability (and you could make arguments that they should)

David Dyer-Bennet@87: "Any scheme for hidden communication among a significant group of students is likely to be compromised; it just takes one mole, or possibly compromise of other communications channels."

I think school students have been managing to communicate secretly for centuries! Without using encryption, electronics, or any tradecraft beyond the that which is common to most children.

Whispers in the corridor, secret notes passed between desks, quiet chats at the far end of the playing fields, all still work. Against teachers anyway.

Not that the teachers are always trying to find out. When my daughter was ten years old I took her to some secondary school open days. At the school she eventually went to, it took me five minutes to work out two places that the kids went to have a secret and illegal smoke. I even came across a small group of girls smoking. If I could work it out that fast I am sure the teachers could. But perhaps it wasn't in their interests to stamp it out.

But then, on a larger scale, I know places in our neighbourhood where cocaine is sometimes bought and sold, where bars serve underage customers or stay open out of hours, where pubs still allow smoking even though it is supposedly banned, and (possibly) where prostitution goes on. Unless I really am a natural-born world-class detective, I assume that the police know all those things as well. But they have better things to do than suppress a few late-night drinking dens.

#107 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 10:00 PM:

#106 - Ken - At my high school, smoking was not allowed in school or on school grounds, but an outside area between two wings, known as "The Pit," was an open secret. Teachers even had to sign up for monitoring duty by the door leading outside... Not to stop kids from smoking, but just to guard against fights and (unsuccessfully on purpose?) marijuana use (it was the '70s after all).

#108 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2009, 11:38 PM:

Paul @ 105: Oh, that just made it even worse. You see, I was one of the smart kids. Other kids didn't like that about me, and after a while the stress got me to the point where I didn't really give a rat's ass about much, so I "wasn't working up to my potential" which in turn did little to endear me to teachers. Except possibly in the one or two cases where I actually knew more about a certain topic than the teacher giving us the lesson on it, which was an issue all unto itself.

Thank goodness my parents finally transferred me out of there.

#109 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2009, 04:18 AM:

If you haven't already read it, allow me to recommend to you the novel "Children of the Atom" by Wilmar H. Shiras. It's out of print, but there are some used copies available through Amazon and AbeBooks, and probably other places as well.

#110 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2009, 11:02 AM:

Earl Cooley III (109): I liked Children of the Atom a lot more as a rather lonely teen than I did when I re-read it in my forties. But, yes, it's worth tracking down.

#111 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2009, 08:43 PM:

I'm reminded of the original purpose of rhyming slang, which was a thieves' argot. (Used in that way, you don't give the whole phrase, just the front end. So "stairs" become "apples" and the mnemonic is "apples and pears".) If I were up to something sneaky, I might remap the set of phrases, with as much idiosyncratic text as possible. There needs to be enough common context that the pair is reliably generated, though.

#112 ::: Rob Rusick spots spam @112 ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2009, 09:38 PM:

With its payload repeated in 4 links.

#113 ::: Cassy B. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2014, 09:49 AM:

Empty compliments @113.

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