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:
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
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.
Trust us and partner with us as students, don’t wage war on us.
CIPA doesn’t mandate IT department wars upon students.
If we aren’t living in China, why is our school IT department filtering us like we are insurgents?
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.
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