Playing Lawyer

I’ve been following a discussion online about school Acceptable Use Policies for using computers. AUPs are documents that many schools get students to sign which outline the rules for using the computers. Students – sometimes quite young students – then have to sign it like a contract, a sort of in-writing promise that they won’t do the wrong thing; visit banned websites, try to hack the system, abuse the equipment, etc . The contracts are usually enforced by people who rarely read the Terms of Service on the websites they visit themselves.

My own personal view is that getting kids to sign a document saying they will do the right thing is ‎rarely responsible for actually getting them to do the right thing. The best you can hope to achieve ‎with an AUP-style document is the chance to wave it in their face when they do the wrong thing… but ‎really, what positive thing has that achieved other than the opportunity to lord over them about the error of their ‎ways?‎ (Unless you consider creating a culture of mistrust a positive thing)

On the other hand, if all you really want to achieve with the AUP is to make sure that every kid knows ‎what the rules and expectations are, then there are plenty of more effective ways to do that than ‎having them sign some quasi-legal document invented by the school (or more commonly, copied ‎from another school).  ‎

There are lots of rules and expectations in schools that kids “just know” because it’s just part of the ‎culture and “the way we do things around here”.  Most of those don’t need to be enshrined in some ‎sort of unenforceable contract.‎ Computer Use AUPs are about as effective as Lineup Neatly in the Cafeteria AUPs, Do Your ‎Homework AUPs and Keep Your Shoelaces Tied AUPs.  There are rules, customs and expectations ‎about all these things, but we don’t seem to feel the need to have a contract for all of them. Why is Using A Computer so different.?

I think Computer Use AUPs harken back to the old days when going to the computer room was a big ‎deal, and computers were so rare that we needed special rules about using them. I’d like to think we’ve ‎moved on a little since then…‎

Image: ‘Panama Real Estate – Contracts