I had a better day at work today. My MS Word program has been healed and I made it through the day without being a ranting lunatic with any kids so that was all good.
After school I had a meeting where we talked about technology issues and I was a bit of a lunatic in the meeting, but it was rational and passionate lunatic-ism rather than Norman Bates lunatic-ism so I think that it was okay. At one point during the meeting we began a discussion about the blocking and filtering of websites that students can access on our school network. When I first started working at the school, we had a filter, but very few sites were filtered and blocked at all. Over the years, our filtering has gotten to be a lot more restrictive and our policies have not evolved to acknowledge the changing nature of information published on the web and the way that people use information on the web. At this point, our filter blocks things like sites that might discuss the use of marijuana. Now, I can see from a superficial standpoint why someone might emotionally feel the need to block middle and high school students from learning about how to roll a joint, but aren't there very legitimate reasons why a student might want to have access to such a site? What about a kid writing a report about drug use in suburban teens? What about a report on the medical marijuana debate? One of our 8th graders, for example, has been trying to access the Urban Dictonary because she wanted to gather information about social issues and attitudes in America, but the site was blocked. A school employee's reaction was, "Yeah, that's the site where they define mofo and stuff." Well yeah, but so what? Do you think that there is an 8th grader out there that doesn't know what a mofo is? I see them calling me that in their heads on a regular basis in my job in the big building with lots of books everyday!!!
Earlier in the meeting a panel of 6 high school student talked very honestly about student use of technology and freely discussed the fact that easily half of the student body uses a variety of very easily accessible tools to circumvent the school's firewall so they can access Facebook and a variety of other sites, many of which are being accessed for school related work (along with many just for entertainment).
Blogs and forums as entire CATEGORIES of sites are blocked so students cannot access political blogs or other legitimate content … Just because they are published in blog form. Would we ever say that we should ban fiction books because some of them have content inappropriate for students??? Yes, some blogs are basically idiotic drivel that result from people vomiting their thoughts onto a computer screen (kinda like this) and some blogs have some horrible disturbing content, but I can't be the only freakin' person that has learned a ton of useful stuff from blogs in the last year and can see the power and opportunity that they can also offer to an educational institution. Get with the times people!!! Particularly if you are in the educational technology field!!! If it is indeed true that half or more of the students on campus are circumventing the firewall and 15 year old girls are easily hacking the system, then the only thing our blocking is accomplishing is keeping teachers from using those tools to teach kids about how to use those tools and that content for academic purposes.
I know that the knee jerk reaction is that wrong is wrong and that it is NOT okay to break the rules just because you don't believe in them or understand them. I agree, that IS true most of the time!!! But is it not also true that if your methods and rules are stupidly employed AND ineffective, perhaps you need to be open to looking at another way to achieve your institutional goals???