Monday, April 17, 2006

To Block or Not to Block...That is the Question(?)

From Around the Corner, M. Guhlin's blog he quotes Bonhoeffer and suggests these steps to over turn school's efforts to control their computer networks and protect students from inappropriate web content:

1) Speak out and ask authority if what they are doing is legitimate and according to their original responsibility. Ask them to recognize if what they're doing is legitimate. As educators, we must question, speak out and ask if banning/blocking web sites, controlling and locking down computers, is really what we started out to do as educators. But the questions are broader than technology issues. We also need to ask if we're really going to allow K-12 education to be destroyed while charter/private schools are built-up. Is this what we really want to allow?

2) Help those affected by the rules. We give succor to those who are hurt by the Authority, help them and mitigate the effects of the danger, of the wheel that is crushing them. For me, this means helping teachers and administrators in any way possible, to help them find some way to engage students. For me, this includes efforts like digital storytelling, blogging, problem-based/project-based learning, and other initiatives that involve students doing work that cannot be easily tested, that requires authentic assessment.

3) Jam a spoke in the wheel. This last is active, work against the Authority that is abusing its authority. This is political action, the type of action that EFF, GlobalVoices.org encourage in fighting back. We must jam a spoke in the wheel that is crushing K-12 education.


One might ask "What planet is this guy on?"

It's all fun and games until you become an administrator and parent phone calls, dealing with rouge porn printers (Last year, our students were printing out porn to network printers for fun.), network security spyware, viruses, DOS tools, being compliant with the Feds to get e-rate dollars, and on and on. It never seems to stop.

In a previous post, "They occasionally come across a thumbnail." Come on, middle school and high school students are not that stupid. These "digital natives" go out and try to find porn using every trick in the book to circumnavigate blocking software. Our students learn how to write Perl scripts and cgi proxy servers as fast as any professional. They all know that they can use their email links to access MySpace (not any more) using Hotmail or Yahoo mail's SMTP. Most of them do not have the search skills to find information on Google, but if just one student finds the "hack", the instructions on how to beat the system spreads by word of mouth like wild fire.

Our tech department deals with teachers calling them up all the time and request sites to block something. Reasons vary, but here is an example: "because Johnny(student) was wasting time on that site while she (teacher) was giving a lecture." It doesn't matter if the site was harmless. Teachers want it blocked. This happens on a regular basis.

It would be fun to sit around and blog playing armchair adminstrator, but in small school districts where every dollar counts, free-range grazing is not an option like it might be in Texas. (Wink Wink) We have to keep our cattle inside the fence and our limited bandwidth must not be drained by students listening to music on their MySpace page while creating a database in their computer class. Students see it as multitasking, our network sees it as a resource hog!

It would be nice to be able to say there really isn't a problem. Go free speech! But.... we are K-12. We are not a university where students choose to be. (Although some universities censor.) We are a underfunded K-12 district. If we didn't have any censorship we would need lots of money for parent lawsuits, more protective technologies for subversive software, and money to replace the funds we get from grants and the Federal Government.

Adminstrator have a difficult position and are accountable to different forcecs. It is easy to call administrators or district policies Nazi-like administrators or district policies for being wrong when they don't present a solution or present a solution that is not realistic.

For those that say K-12 schools should not block sites, it is like those that say: "If we don't like gas prices, don't drive." Schools need the Internet, we do not need the threat of legal action on the part of parents of students that object strongly to porn being printed on our network printers and blog posts that bully or victimize their fellow students, teachers or administrators. There are not simple solutions to the problems and challenges that face safe educational use of technology.

1 comment:

yaramon said...

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