Andy Carvin wrote a thoughtful post today on the Digital Divide Network about the recent controversies over blogs (and all webpages) being censored by some school district Internet filters if they use/mention the word “MySpace.” Andy cites my post “Censored for Relevance,” which I also made available as a podcast over the weekend.

In his post and reflection, Andy asks the following:

How do you spread a campaign when the very act of describing the campaign gets you censored?

Good question. I think the answer is simple, however. We address this situation through face to face conversations and dialog with other educators.

There has been a good deal of discussion in the edu-blogosphere about concerns over “the echo chamber.” In other words, are we just writing and ranting to ourselves in the blog ether, and not really affecting the minds, attitudes, and actions of a majority of teachers, educational administrators, and policymakers? This discussion is warranted, but I see little cause for alarm. The blogsophere is going to continue to grow in its scope of access and its impact. RSS is not even supported in the current version of Internet Explorer for Windows. That will change when Windows Vista arrives, and slowly but surely, more people will gain knowledge of and access to the tools of the read/write web, including blogs. The voices of the blogosphere (including mine, Andy’s, Miguel’s, and many, many others) are not going away. We are not going to be silenced. In fact, we are going to grow in power, because we are going to continue collaborating and working together. Just as the Chinese government is not going to silence the collective voice of its people crying out for self-determination and respect for other basic human rights, short-sighted and reactionary school districts banning the word “MySpace” are not going to silence educational thinkers pointing out the ridiculousness and counter-productive nature of this policy posture.

The April/May issue of GLEF’s Edutopia magazine (on page 30 of the print version) reports that 58 percent of teacher-respondents to their latest survey report they don’t read blogs. I think this number may actually be small for the total number of classroom teachers and campus administrators around the U.S. But again, I see little cause for alarm.

The cause I do see is the need for face to face conversations and dialog about issues being raised in the blogosphere. This includes the need for teachers to be aware of blogs and use them, not just for their own news and idea consumption, but principally for their own publication of student work. Teachers need to have experiences using blogs themselves. Most will not start using them if they just hear about them, or see them used in a workshop. They need to create a blog themselves on a student-publishing friendly blogging tool like David Warlick’s Blogmeister, and then use it themselves. Pre-service and in-service teachers in teacher preparation and graduate programs need to be blogging. Only through experiences with read/write web tools will larger numbers of teachers come to embrace and utilize them for instructional purposes.

Administrators need to be challenged to face these issues. Ultimately, IT departments work for administrators. And if administrators say, “Our teachers need to be learning about issues like MySpace,” then their IT departments will be forced to make changes in filtering policies.

I recognize that school districts are inherently conservative, reactionary organizations. They are not dynamical, to use the parlance of Virginia Postrel. Schools and the administrators who run them are typically statists.

How can this reality be changed? Well, I will readily admit that I don’t know, in large part because contexts vary widely and I have a very limited perspective. But I will say that all our schools are led by individuals, and the vision (or lack of vision) of leaders at the helm of organizations makes a TREMENDOUS difference in the culture which predominates among its members.

Our challenge here is to engage in face to face conversations with not only teachers, but also administrators. And maybe primarily administrators. Our educational leaders cannot plant their heads in the sand and insist that posture is appropriate for the long term. We must prepare students for the real world, just as the driver education instructor must prepare student drivers for the REAL WORLD roads out there. We cannot let our school administrators maintain this ostrich posture.

It’s time to pull those heads out of the sand, and start talking (in a community-wide dialog) about the ways we can effectively prepare students to make good decisions in the networked world in which we live. Using moderated social networking environments like that provided on the free Think.com website is one great suggestion. I am sure there are many others. The point is, we need to be engaged in a collaborative dialog to prepare students with the skills of digital citizenship. This includes Internet safety, but extends well beyond its limited topics.

This dialog is about preparing students for the 21st century. How interesting that as I write this, yesterday students here in the great state of Texas just took the statewide reading TAKS test. My son, who is in 2nd grade and isn’t yet required to take that examination, collaborated in making a podcast about using the social networking and gaming website Lego Online yesterday. The contradiction here strikes me hard.

The 3rd graders we talked to after school yesterday reported that the reading TAKS test was easy. Well duh, it should have been! It is a test of minimum proficiency, after all. Yet our teachers and schools “get up for the test” like it was the Super Bowl. And still, blogs and webpages that mention “MySpace” are blocked in some school districts.

We’re living in the 21st century here, people. It’s time we talked to our school administrators and school board members, and engaged them in a dialog about digital citizenship.


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If you're trying to listen to a podcast episode and it's not working, check this status page. (Wes is migrating his podcasts to Amazon S3 for hosting.) Remember to follow Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also "like" Wesley's Facebook pages for "Speed of Creativity Learning" and his eBook, "Playing with Media." Don't miss Wesley's latest technology integration project, "Mapping Media to the Common Core / Curriculum."

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  • http://www.learningismessy.com/blog Brian Crosby

    … Wes Fryer talks about Face 2 Face – that’s it… that’s what I’m talking about.
    “Working, Breathing, Reproducible, Intriguing Models”
    http://learningismessy.com/blog/?p=51

  • Kurt in PA

    I think your points are valid. It raises several questions. First, where’s the outrage aimed at those who fill MySpace and other blog sites with illicit drug use, promiscuity, and profanity? Where’s the outrage at those who are prompting the blocks? Where’s the outrage aimed at the pedofiles who make these sites unsafe? Directing educators on methods to bypass web filters is, in my opinion, the wrong message. It could, depending upon local polices, land them in trouble. The problem is not the administrators who are trying to block the trash with inadequate tools. The problem is the muck that a few bad apples decide to post. We should demand that the providers of such sites work to keep the content appropriate for schools.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    MySpace does have a link at the bottom of every page to report inappropriate content, so there is a level of user-policing going on. I don’t think we want everyone to join MySpace and try to clean it up, but I do think we should become better informed about what is out there, what folks are doing, and how they can use these social networking sites more safely.

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  • http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com Vicki Davis

    Your post is excellent and relevant. I am glad that there are people like you at the forefront who are able to speak with such people face to face.

    I think education is at a crossroads. We have a tool chest that we should expand to include new tools while not discarding old ones that work and remain relevant.

    We simply cannot have educators who are asking student to learn something new every day who stop their foot in anger and refuse to learn something new themselves!

    Great post!

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