I have been saddened but also enlightened to learn in the last couple of weeks that this blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, is censored (blocked) within some– and perhaps many– Texas school districts. The reason? I have blogged in the past about the social networking site MySpace, and some (I don’t know how many) school district Internet filters are set to automatically block NOT ONLY outgoing links to MySpace pages, but also EVERY WEBPAGE that even mentions the MySpace site.

Are we living in the United States here, or totalitarian China? This is something we should be really concerned about as educators and citizens. I have titled this blog post “censored for relevance” because that is what I think is taking place here. Should educators be talking about social networking sites like MySpace? Of course. They should be reading blogs about MySpace, blogging themselves about MySpace, and even visiting MySpace. I think educators (even principals) should even create and maintain their own MySpace websites. I have started. Why?

Simply put, because as educators we should strive to remain relevant to students and engaged in their development of literacy skills. Social networking websites are going to continue to grow FAST in the months and years to come. We need to help students make better decisions about the information they share about themselves online, in MySpace and elswhere. In some cases, it is hard to speak intelligently about something if you have little personal experience about it yourself. I am not talking about illegal drug use here– I am talking about blogging and use of social networking sites. And blogging is not a short term trend. This is a world-changing phenomenon. Think I’m exaggerating? Consider the case of China.

I watched most of an excellent PBS special this evening titled, “The Tank Man.” The accompanying PBS website is superb. Its subtitle:

After all others had been silenced, his lonely act of defiance against the Chinese regime catalyzed the world. What became of him? And 17 years later, has China succeeded in erasing this event from its history?

During the episode, the creators interviewed four extremely intelligent university students in Beijing. THE PHOTO OF THE TANK MAN MEANT NOTHING TO THEM. One of them said something about 1989. They did not have schema for Tiananmen Square. This is shocking, and should be abhorrent to people around the globe who care about values like human rights, self-determination, and free speech.

The Tank Man

I read the book “Almost a Revolution: The Story of a Chinese Student’s Journey from Boyhood to Leadership in Tiananmen” by Shen Tong in the early 1990s. That book was a real eye-opener. I readily admit my knowledge of China is extremely limited, but I would definitely put the 1989 student-led revolution in Tiananmen Square as one of those historical events that EVERYONE on the planet should know about– in the same spirit of “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know” by E.D. Hirsch. Except I would not say, every “American.” I would say “every human being on planet earth.”

What other voices are being censored by your school district’s Internet filtering system? Should mine be included on that list? Do me a favor and check, and comment here to let me know the results. Maybe this is a phenomenon limited to a small number of conservative, Texas school districts. I am not so sure, however.

Are our students studying about the student-led revolution in China as part of their social studies lessons? Are we teaching students about the dark side of capitalism unhampered by governmental regulations that protect worker rights? Or are we ignoring these very pressing and important problems, because they are pretty “ill-structured” and our primary task is helping kids solve “well-defined” problems on a multiple-choice examination?

We need to prepare students everywhere to exercise their rights (which are admittedly debatable) as well as fulfill their duties as global citizens of planet earth. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is UNIVERSAL because it applies to EVERYONE. People who happen to have been born and live in China are not exempt. These are issues worth caring about, teaching about, and taking action about.

Has this post just made Moving at the Speed of Creativity a banned blog in China? I hope not. But if that is the cost of being relevant, it’s one I’m willing to pay. There are thankfully proxy paths around the government censors trained by Cisco and aided by Yahoo.

For more on these issues, checkout the PBS Frontline “The Tank Man” roundtable on “The Struggle to Control Information” in China. I predict that despite their draconian efforts to try and control the information genie, the Chinese policos are going to fail in my own lifetime. We are going to see political change in China, which will hopefully bring about reforms like worker rights protections, guarantees of free speech, respect for due process, and respect for other basic human rights possessed by every Chinese man, women and child just as they are possessed by every citizen of the United States.

Want to be part of the solution? You can be. Listen to other global voices talking about these and other issues. Keep blogging. And keep inviting others into these conversations.

The world is a’changin. Ideas are powerful. Words are powerful. Don’t settle for mere content consumption. Insist on content creation, in your own life and in your classroom. It’s essential as we struggle to prepare students for the roles of leadership we need them to play in the century to come.

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7 Responses to Censored for relevance

  1. So unfortunate to find this type of reaction in schools — the 7 letters “MySpace” being a reason to censor information under the logic that no legitimate information source could ever include this combination of letters. To bury one’s head in the sand has never been a solution to society’s emerging problems. Because, aren’t a significant proportion of “emerging problems” in any historical period the result of emerging new behavior that will ultimately become society’s norm?

    China has erased the memory of the student who stood before the tanks because it had no free press. Someday, that picture will be as famous in China as it has been among freedom-cherishing people all over the world. Even moreso…

    Tanks and censorship of news can work for decades in a place like China, but they will be defeated and they will be proved to have only caused suffering. And here? To censor discussion and awareness of that which is the new world, the new means of communication and interaction among the nation’s citizens, has no utility. It just provides a cover under which those who would take advantage of the new system for illegitimate purposes can more easily work their schemes.

    My wife and I are writing a book about MySpace.com. About how to use it safely, securely. So, I guess Texas school boards are going to ban our book? That’s not something I even remotely considered at any time as we worked on the book. But if that’s what they will do, then I welcome the opportunity to discuss with whoever will listen their actions.

    If education becomes something to be censored, where is our freedom? And, what right do older people have to judge how younger people will communicate and interact with one another in the world that will be theirs in the future?

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    Well said and well asked, Kevin. I’m looking forward to seeing it when you’re done– you can bet I’ll be talking about it along with other resources that relate to Internet safety and digital citizenship as I talk and dialog with other educators and Texas and elsewhere.

  3. Patrick Dierschke says:

    As school districts pat themselves on the back for saving our youth from the dangers of MySpace, there are hundreds of these types of sites going live each day. Piczo.com is a site that is gaining popularity with elementary kids. Herecast, Squareloop, Socialight, Rabble, StreetHive, BuddyPing, Dodgeball are all social networking sites. Do we ban these words as well?

    Instead of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ hair trigger mentality, we need to be educating students about how to be functional users of technology, and the benefits and drawbacks of social networks. Sites such as think.com, a free online community geared toward elementary schools, should be part of the daily curriculum to teach about social networking.

    Thanks for the link to the information about proxies. This should be printed out and given to every school administrator.

  4. Patrick Dierschke says:

    The link to seven ways around a filter:

    http://labnol.blogspot.com/2005/12/how-to-access-blocked-websites.html

  5. Blog Banned in Texas Schools for Mentioning MySpace

    Schools have been concerned about MySpace to the extent that they’ve made it impossible for adminstrators to even go to the site to investigate issues brought up by students. Now the superb education blog, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, is be…

  6. Stephanie says:

    Wesley,

    I agree 100% with you that educators (including principals) should create their own MySpace website — and create their own blogs, use Wikis for teacher team collaboration/leadership team collaboration/teacher-student collaboration, and explore the multitude of other Web 2.0 applications — to understand their use and to begin to figure out ways to utilize these tools in classroom instruction.

    I work in one of those Texas school districts that has banned MySpace.com — fortunately they only block MySpace and not sites that reference it. I discovered this one Monday morning when I tried to access MySpace after receiving an email notification that an old friend had come across my profile and was trying to contact me.

    I created my own MySpace website — and a blog, a wiki for a team of teachers that I work with, and an account with Del.icio.us (to name a few) — to learn more about these tools and how they could be used for communication, knowledge building, and content creation. It saddens me that our district resorts to banning and blocking out of fear (mostly from fear of lawsuits) instead of learning about these tools and then developing instruction around them.

    Our students are going to leave our schools and enter careers where they will be blogging, wiki-ing, tagging, and networking online AS PART OF THEIR JOB. I have friends who work in the private sector who are already using Wikis and Blogs to facilitate communication among project teams.

    Instead of focusing so intently on the stupid TAKS test we should be developing students’ communication and content creation skills — and these skills could easily be taught using history, science, english, and math content.

    Instead — we censor their access to the very tools that they need to be learning how to use safely, wisely, and intelligently. What a concept — educating students on how to safely use MySpace rather than just banning them from using it. ON my blog I compared this to teaching abstinence to teenagers instead of teaching them about safe-sex. It’s pretty much the same thing — and stems from the same belief that “if we don’t talk about it or let them see it then they won’t do it and they’ll be safe…”

    Anyway — great post — I feel fortunate that at work I can still access your website and others even if I can’t access MySpace directly…

    Stephanie

  7. […] Conversations continue about schools that block access to the blogosphere. I ran across an interesting comment last night, in my end of the day aggregator scan. It was in a blog post by Wesley Fryer (Censored for Relevance – April 11, 2006), that he said, “Are we living in the United States here, or totalitarian China?” […]

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