Creativity Is The Ultimate Kill Switch

Shall we play a game?

This is the question a computer asks the teenaged hacker in the 1983 movie “War Games,” as it begins to launch “Global Thermonuclear War.” The hero saves the day with a simple, elegant hack of forcing the computer to play Tic Tac Toe against itself, which shuts down the missile launch sequence threatening to trigger an actual nuclear attack.

Here in May, 2017, a very real, very serious global cyberattack collapsedbecause a 22-year-old hacker with the Twitter handle @MalwareTechBlogactivated a kill switch within the malicious code.

In school world, we are wrapping up a furious season of testing, with children as young as 5 bubbling in circles on test documents. For many of us, the test rules our schools in everything from curricular choices to bell schedules to staffing. At this time of year, it’s hard to see going to school as anything different than finding your place on the conveyor belt inside a test prep factory.

To me, this cyberattack is a sobering call to make sure we are giving our students as many opportunities as we can give them to think creatively, innovate from and iterate upon existing work, and solve real problems. As his own account of the successful counterattack shows, the hacker’s insight into the nature of the malware infection coupled with a gut-level intuition to lure it to a “server sinkhole” trapped it like a bug under a bell jar.

That kind of innovative thinking is nurtured by a lifetime of practice in problem solving. If we, as educators needed yet one more illustration of why teaching our students to think flexibly and divergently is the ground of our work, then the #wannacry malware has given it to us.

All we need is the courage to give our students the freedom to play in a problem-based kind of intellectual and creative sandbox. They are counting on us to structure these opportunities for real work rather than mindless test prep.

And who knows what may come of our dedication to this practice?They may leave us even stronger in the kind of thinking that might actually save the world from a global attack just by repurposing a $10 website

Image credit: Lawrence Dunhill via BankInfoSecurity


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