Taylor the Teacher notes with sadness that after waiting weeks to finish start of school standardized testing / benchmark testing with students, learners of all ages awoke to a new content filter at school that blocks virtually ALL web 2.0 / read/write web content sites:
District installed new Internet filter today because the other one was too much like we lived in a democracy. All blogs, including my own class blog and all student blogs on blogspot are blocked. I mean, we can’t have kids WRITING every day! What would the world come to?
I’m with you Taylor, I really am. How can we thrive in a world of ideas when thousands of mouths are being duct-taped shut by school officials and board members? We can’t.
Taylor pointed me to Doug Johnson’s outstanding recent post “It’s called Intellectual Freedom,” where he wrote:
In choosing to block YouTube, you [the school administrator] are a censor. You violate your staff’s and students’ intellectual freedom, their rights to view. By arbitrarily blocking other sites, you are violating your staff’s and students’ right to read. You are denying them their rights accorded by the First Amendment.
As I wrote about again last week, I’m aware of the security risks latent in permitting user access to webmail, USB flash drives, etc. But the point many school districts have moved to with content filtering is totally ridiculous and totally unacceptable. As Doug writes, this DOES violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. Would we tolerate this same sort of heavy-handed censorship in the library? Why should we tolerate it on the network? We shouldn’t.
I find all of these events quite ironic, given the launch of the 2007 K-12 Online Conference today which focuses entirely on the use of web 2.0 tools for learning. The question I want to ask school administrators (and I actually DID ask over the past two weeks as I shared 9 seminars about E-rate around the state of Oklahoma) was/is: “Why do you want to purchase technology and have access to the Internet?”
The fact is, many administrators (admittedly in my limited frame of reference) don’t have a good answer to this question. In attempting to maintain traditional models of instruction in schools, administrators see little value in Internet connectivity other than as a CONDUIT OF CONTENT from the outside world into the minds of learners at school. Websites permitting user-created content strike fear into the hearts of administrators in many school districts. Let students have access to virtual microphones on the global stage? Lindsey’s speech in this Ad Council video personifies the types of use many adults expect of students on the web, yet cyberbullying is not the predominant way most students are using interactive media sites.
I REALLY enjoyed watching and listening to David Warlick’s preconference keynote for K-12 Online this year. His metaphor of the airport and airplanes to learning, compared to the “rails of learning” he discussed in last year’s keynote, resonated with me on multiple levels.
Having about 60 hours of fixed-wing flight time myself and some knowledge of airspace regulations, after hearing David discuss aircraft, learning, and “boundaries” I immediately thought of the differences between controlled versus uncontrolled airspace.
Airspace classes vary by country, but essentially delimit the space over the earth into different categories where special rules apply to aircraft and the pilots who fly them. Uncontrolled airspace (according to ICAO definitions) include Class F and Class G airspace:
Class F: Operations may be conducted under IFR or VFR. ATC separation will be provided, so far as practical, to aircraft operating under IFR. Traffic Information may be given as far as is practical in respect of other flights.
Class G: Operations may be conducted under IFR or VFR. ATC separation is not provided. Traffic Information may be given as far as is practical in respect of other flights.
Uncontrolled, Class F or Class G airspace flight rules contrast markedly with the highly regimented rules of Class A and Class B airspace:
Class A: All operations must be conducted under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or Special visual flight rules (SVFR) and are subject to ATC clearance. All flights are separated from each other by ATC.
Class B: Operations may be conducted under IFR, SVFR, or Visual flight rules (VFR). All aircraft are subject to ATC clearance. All flights are separated from each other by ATC.
In many U.S. schools today, if we think of the virtual learning space being the Internet and its associated websites, essentially everything is “controlled airspace.” Few schools permit any “Class F” or “Class G” access to the web for students or for teachers.
As a learner and knowledge worker, I not only crave uncontrolled airspaces for virtual learning, I require them to do my work as well as participate in many of my hobbies. I think the NEED learners have for uncontrolled virtual space is entirely lost on at least some IT directors, school administrators, and district board members. The constitutional right which we have as citizens of the United States to free expression within reasonable limits, as highlighted by Doug Johnson, may be an aspect of this entire discussion over network security and content filtering which many have not considered. Doug cites the definition of “Intellectual Freedom” from the Amercian Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom website:
Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.
Have school officials where you lived received this memo? Perhaps it is time they did.
The operating assumption of many emails I see regularly from companies helping schools manage their networks and Internet access is: “Our role is to serve you by locking down the virtual learning environment available to your teachers and students as much as we can. We care not for intellectual freedom, collaboration potentials or capacities for creativity. Rather, we exist to empower you to control and limit learner behavior. Shrouded in the misleading cape of CIPA, we aim to render your school network and thousands just like it (purchased with billions of tax dollars from U.S. consumers and citizens) useless for anything but school district email access and basic web surfing of a limited number of static pages. Blogs? Wikis? YouTube? Every type of user-created content is considered evil incarnate by our content filters. We exist to support your efforts to get your students to sit down, shut up, listen to teacher lectures, take multiple choice tests with paper and pencils, and take notes for eight hours every weekday.”
I saw an email recently from one company, essentially bragging that all the latest proxy sites announced by the state department of education had already been blocked/shut down by its existing content filter. Readers of the email were actually expected to be HAPPY about this situation.
I spoke with a teacher last week whose school district was recently awarded statewide recognition as a top technology district. In this same district, ALL blogs are blocked and all teachers as well as students are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN from visiting or using any blogs on school computers. This is a situation similar to that of Taylor the Teacher, which I cited at the start of this post. To propose that student literacy could improve by blogging in this school district might be seen as analogous to proposing that students be required to worship Satan with song and dance after they say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. I am not exaggerating much here. This teacher had FEAR in her heart, placed there by administrators of this award-winning and recognized “technology-leading” school district, when the word “blog” was even mentioned.
My 9 year old is about three-fourths of the way finished reading J.K. Rowling’s delightful fifth book in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” If you have read the book or seen the movie, you doubtless remember the character Delores Umbridge:
Metaphorically speaking, it is as if Umbridge has become the administrator of many U.S. school networks. Rather than empower and support students in their quest for knowledge and skills, Umbridge constantly sought ways to control student behavior, limit their freedom, an add to an ever-growing list of rules posted in the corridors of Hogwarts.
Where are Fred and George when we need them? Where is Dumbledore? Who will provide the leadership and magic required to free our schools from the tyranny of Delores Umbridge and her mandates for controlled airspace on the networks of our schools?
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On this day..
- Podcast382: A Digital Witness in Tahrir Square, Egypt in January 2011 - 2011
- Is Baby Duck Syndrome Holding Back Digital Literacy Development at Your School? - 2010
- No Constitutional Right to Bear Cell Phones Exists - 2010
- Over 80% of Two Year Olds Have an Online Presence - 2010
- Educon 2.2 in Philly: January 29 - 31, 2010 - 2009
- Oklahoma 2008 Veteran's Day Videoconference - 2008
- Mobile phone counseling for teachers from My Mobile Guru - 2008
- What Common Sense Media didn't tell parents about WikiPedia but should have - 2008
- Inventing the New Boundaries by David Warlick - 2007
- Complexities of open content - 2006