Sylvia Martinez is spot on in her post today, “Students are not the enemy.” Shame on the vendor and vendor representative, Sophos and Chris Ridgway, for sharing an upcoming session at NYSCATE (The New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education) conference titled, “The Enemy Within: Stop Students from Bypassing Your Web Filters.” Sylvia points out correctly that our students are NOT the enemy. Any professional who makes this claim should be reprimanded and corrected. Sadly, the title of this session makes visible the attitude of some school administrators, IT directors, and vendors when it comes to content filtering on our school networks. As we highlight in the “Unmasking the Digital Truth” project, CIPA and other US federal guidelines do not mandate that IT departments work to keep all students on task and undistracted when they have access to digital networks. Content filtering is a minimum requirement, not a call to all-out war with students and teachers by the IT department and its vendor proxies.

Bud Hunt also has it right, in the comment he left for Chris Ridgway on the NYSCATE presentation wiki. Bud wrote:

Dear Chris,

I wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I find this session title and the frame that you’re using to sell your services to be offensive and beyond the pale. Our students are not our enemies and their behaviors are not rooted in violence. So long as you make them out to be, though, you’ll certainly be doing our schools and our students a great deal of harm.

I suspect you’re a smart dude, wise about networks and the Internet. I hope you’ll hear what I’m saying here and, in the future, when speaking and teaching about the actions of our children, you’ll do so in a way that doesn’t make them out to be criminals. Because they’re not. No more so than vendors are scoundrels that prey on our worst fears.

All the best. I’d look forward to your response.

- Bud Hunt
http://budtheteacher.com

I look forward to your response as well, Chris, and the response of the NYSCATE conference organizers. The title of this session should be changed immediately, and the change should be acknowledged in a transparent way on the conference wiki as well as conference program so conference attendees as well as other vendors can understand the change and why it was made. This is a great teachable moment. Seize the day.

I suggest students living near the NYSCATE conference (in Rochester, New York) up the ante by engaging in a social media protest. It would be great to see a group of students show up at Chris Ridgway’s presentation during the first concurrent session (12:30 – 1:30) with protest signs saying things like:

Students are not the enemy.

or

Trust us and partner with us as students, don’t wage war on us.

or

CIPA doesn’t mandate IT department wars upon students.

or

If we aren’t living in China, why is our school IT department filtering us like we are insurgents?

A social media campaign could also be easily organized using Facebook and Twitter, and an online petition could be started using a tool like PetitionOnline or PetitionSpot.

Clay Shirkey, in his book “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations,” observes that social media technologies can be used in a continuum of ways: from simple sharing, to collaboration, to collective action. This proposed session by Sophos representative Chris Ridgway justifies the third level of social media use: collective action. As educators and students, we SHOULD speak out against offensive ideas and philosophies like that represented by Chris’ NYSCATE presentation title.

Students are NOT the enemy, and we should not stand by idly while professionals of any kind (vendors or educators) make public statements which demonize students. The oft quoted words of Edmond Burke come to mind in this context:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Words matter. Let’s hope the organizers of the NYSCATE 2009 conference, the directors of the Sophos company, and Chris Ridgway are listening. There is still time to rename your presentation and acknowledge the error of your ways, Chris. In any event, your session title and these circumstances provide a natural invitation for a student social media protest campaign.

Unfortunately, I can’t make it to NYSCATE this year to storychase this event. Anyone else want to pick up this torch?

carrying the torch

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  • John

    Districts, IT staff, Administrators, and most parents WANT Internet filtering in K-12 schools. Is the problem that there is filtering at all, or that the wrong type of filtering systems are in place? Or, is the problem that the teachers are not getting what they want or were not part of the process of selecting a filtering vendor.

    Do your own google searching to see what happened to the dozens of school districts who recently decided to completely turn off their Internet filtering. Teachers wanted it off and gone; now they all want it back.

    Most of the gripes I hear about filtering are because the teachers don’t know how to use it (open it up as needed, etc.), don’t care to learn how to use it, were not part of the process of selecting it, or just think everything in the world should be available to students at all times. Books are filtered “in” to our school libraries and no one seems to mind.

    Having maintained the Internet filter at a public school, I can tell you that many students ARE the “enemy”. When you look for ways to beat the systems put in place to protect everyone, you are not helping. Instead of hacking the school filter, if these students hacked into your faculty/staff email accounts, would you still not call them the “enemy?” Enemy can be a strong word as used in this proposed NYSCATE session, but what other word she the vendor use to describe these students? His session will most likely help IT admins and school staff figure out ways to prevent the students from doing what they should not be doing.

    If the students cut all the fences in the school yard, do you want to include those students in some kind of decision making process as to why they felt the need to cut the fences? No, you find out who did it, discipline them and try to prevent it from happening again.

  • http://funnymonkey.com Bill Fitzgerald

    Hello, John,

    Some comments in response to your post:

    RE: “Districts, IT staff, Administrators, and most parents WANT Internet filtering in K-12 schools.”

    I work with a variety of schools and educational organizations around the states, and this flies directly in the face of what people tell me every day. Some people want filters, some people don’t. Absolute statements, especially without any support, are not particularly useful.

    RE: “Instead of hacking the school filter, if these students hacked into your faculty/staff email accounts, would you still not call them the “enemy?””

    Interesting comparison, except that this isn’t what students are doing. Thus, while the comparison might be of interest from a rhetorical place, it’s pretty irrelevant, as no one is advocating that students should access other people’s email accounts.

    You also assume that filters actually work, and help the students learn to avoid “doing what they should not be doing.” From where are you drawing this conclusion? Are software/hardware vendors actually claiming that filters improve educational outcomes? Is anybody claiming this?

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