I’ve sensed for some time that some school leaders, who are (in many cases) banning technologies like cell phones and iPods from classrooms, would prefer it if the Internet just went away. Rather than mourn, this group of people would actually celebrate if the spoof news skit “The Internet Has Crashed” was real. According to today’s BBC article “Teachers in websites closure call,” some educators in the United Kingdom (a small minority, no doubt) have actually cast an organizational vote to that effect, proposing that websites like YouTube (which are used for cyberbullying) be closed down entirely. According to the article:

At the PAT [Professional Association of Teachers] annual conference in Harrogate, delegates heard that bullies have posted mobile phone videos on websites, showing teachers as well as pupils being attacked or humiliated. They backed a motion demanding that such websites be closed down. It was proposed by Kirsti Paterson, from the PAT’s Highland and Western Isles Federation, who said one teacher had been the subject of a death threat which was posted online. She said a pupil posted a doctored picture of the teacher, headless, with the caption ‘You are dead’. She added: “In the short term, confronting this problem must be the closure of sites encouraging cyberbullying.”

Thankfully, the article also quoted much more reasonable leaders pointing out how ludicrous this proposal is. Emma-Jane Cross of the organization Beatbullying said:

Calls for social networking sites like YouTube to be closed because of cyberbullying are as intelligent as calls for schools to be closed because of bullying.

Ewan, what’s your take on this?

Thanks Emma-Jane, for being a voice of reason and logic in a heated debate where some are actually trying to vote to shut down entire websites because of the actions of a small minority. As I contend regularly in presentations and workshops on safe digital social networking as well as cyberbullying prevention and Internet safety, we need more digital dialog and we need to provide moderated environments for online social networking in schools so these issues can be directly addressed. Bullying seems tied to human nature, and has likely been with us as a human race since the dawn of time. People will continue to make poor choices and use the tools at their disposal to hurt others, and it is up to all of us to remain vigilant in such an environment. It is NOT just the responsibility of the principal/head, the school board, or the government (local, regional or national) to address these issues. We all need to stand up, and work constructively to establish and support a learning culture that is not tolerant of bullying. One of my favorite videos depicting this view on cyberbullying and bullying more generally is this one on YouTube, titled “Hero in the Hallway!”

No, YouTube is not going to shut down because some Scottish teachers have voted in their local teacher organization meeting to close it. More generally, the read/write web and the phenomenon of user-created content will continue to empower millions around the globe to digitally share their voices with others on our planet. Kids with microphones? What will they say? What are they saying? We certainly won’t approve or “like” everything they say, but their ability (and right) to express themselves should endure despite responses like the one discussed in this article. Reactionary leadership will continue, in the words of Alan Kay, to attempt to predict the future by PREVENTING it rather than by taking the more reasonable, as well as idealistic approach, of trying to INVENT it.

David Sifry, CEO of Technorati, releases regular reports on the growth of the Internet’s blogging community which reflects more general trends of increasing publication of user-created content. There are a lot of graphs from the most recent report in April 2007, but the following graphic showing “posts with tags” captures the general geometric growth trend.

Sifry Report April 2007 blog posts with tags

Will school leaders near you be voting to close websites like YouTube or MySpace also? In all the U.S. public school districts I know about, those websites are already blocked by district website content filters. The issue is bigger than filtering content, however, because it deals with fair speech as well as ethical behavior. The Tinker Case has been a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision for many years providing guidelines for how school leaders should deal with student free speech rights. There is no guarantee the Tinker guideline (that student free speech rights do NOT end at the schoolyard gate) will continue to be upheld into the future, however. Gary Stager noted in June the recent U.S. Supreme Court case Morse v. Frederick may signal an about-face for U.S. courts and their handling of student free speech cases. I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take my reflections as legal advice, but I think it’s reasonable to hypothesize the statists outnumber the dynamists (to use Virginia Postrel’s version of the term as it applies to cultural change) on the bench and in most school district administration buildings. Although Morse v. Frederick didn’t deal with an instance of digitally-shared student speech, it certainly appears to have expanded the authority of school officials to censure and discipline students for off-campus expression.

What are school leaders in your local area, and in your own school, doing to promote more digital dialog among younger students as well as adults? If a hothead proposes a vote to shut down YouTube for your local or statewide teacher organization, who will be the voice of reason? If not you, then who?

a lit torch at night

It’s quite easy to light some torches and yell “burn the books,” “ban the cell phones” or “ban the Internet.” It’s much more challenging to continually work on understanding the issues and developing workable strategies to address challenges. Better yet, leaders should strive to transform challenges into opportunities.

Are you choosing to surf the waves or fight the tide? There are plenty of tide fighters out there. I think we need to swell the ranks of the surfers.

surfer

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On this day..

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  • Just about every tool on the internet has potential to be abused. If we’re just blocking access to tools and sites without teaching students (and teachers, for that matter) how to use them responsibly and safely we’re not empowering anyone. We’re just raising generations of students who graduate and become passive consumers of digital content.

    If students are accessing the content anyway, why not teach them how to use it?

  • As a youngster, some of my most menacing bullies were teachers.

    I might prefer the virtual type.

    🙂 Gary

  • I think the people who want to ban these websites do not understand technology nor know how to use a computer. I’m glad they are only a small minority.

    The internet is a huge part of our current civilization. If you block this from children, they are not getting a proper perspective on our society and how we work.

    I think a lot kids are passive consumers because they never really tried contributing for whatever reason. So, I agree with helping children becoming contributors than passive consumers instead of banning everything.

  • Pingback: “Canution” John and the Luddites, Shut Down The Internet? « My Other Blog()

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