Rule-Following Rebels

Consider the following:

A campus squad car on top of the Great Dome
http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_year/1994/cp_car/

A replica of a Dalek (the robotic character from Dr. Who) on top of the Stata Center
http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_year/2012/stata_dalek/

Cal Tech’s cannon appearing on “The Dot” of lawn
http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_year/2006/mitcannon/

These are historical hacks (ethical pranks) that occurred on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During our tour, the presence of highly creative practical jokes on a college campus didn’t surprise me, but the posting of hack ethics did. Here are just a few of the ethics:

* Be safe. Your safety, the safety of your fellow hackers, and the safety of anyone you hack should never be compromised.
* Be subtle. Leave no evidence that you were ever there.
* Leave things as you found them (or better).
* Do not steal anything.
* Above all, exercise common sense.

Hacks are committed by rule-following rebels—a total oxymoron. Hackers accomplish amazing feats while following the established expectations. Just a few weeks ago I was reading a young author’s piece when I realized I was in the presence of a hacker. This young student was responding to an assessment that asked him to read a short article and watch a video clip on both the Great Wall of China and the Pyramid of Giza and decide which ancient structure he’d recommend for his town. He read the articles, watched the videos and then proceeded to write an essay advocating for the Great Wall of China to be built in his town to protect against future zombie invasions. Zombie invasions? Yes! To my delight, the student made the assessment his own and educated me on all things zombie. For example, he described how the Great Wall could provide a defensible compound–a necessary component of preventing a total zombie takeover. Throughout the essay he supported his thesis with reasons, details and facts. Elaboration and writing craft was present in each paragraph. His transitions moved us smoothly between well-organized ideas. He even followed the sixth-grade standards for conventions.

Whether hacking on a college campus or in writing, good hackers seek a fine balance. They know which rules are for following and which are up for interpretation. Are your students successfully committing writing hacks? Have you ever committed a hack as an educator?

One thought on “Rule-Following Rebels

  1. I’ll have to think of some creative hackers in my life (there must be some!) but thanks for sharing the awesome story of your student’s spin on the assignment. Great fun!

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