MediaShift has an interesting write-up about a school district in Massachusetts that’s grappling with how to best roll out laptops in its schools. The article talks about the program in Natick, Mass., which involved issuing Macbooks to all students in grades eight through 12.
The results have been great for students—they’ve spent their time “doing everything from conversing with peers in Costa Rica through Twitter in a history class, to designing and producing their own online magazines.” But it hasn’t been so great for the IT department employees, who’ve spent their time trying to reinstall content filters after students worked very hard to delete and circumvent them.
From the article:
“Through an arduous process spanning a few weeks’ time, almost 2,000 laptops and desktops throughout the district were fixed, with approximately 1,500 high school laptops recovered in a few days’ time. It became apparent that the role of IT had changed from simply serving as a gatekeeper, to becoming an integral part of the conversation on the use and educational purpose of the newly introduced technology and what responsible tech use means.”
I have personally had my own share of arguments with IT subcontractors at my own school on the merits and utility of Internet filters. We had a guy one year who wanted to ban the entirety of YouTube because there might be questionable content there. I finally prevailed on the principal by pointing out that there is a ton of really useful content there too, and that our job as educators should be to teach them how to use technology responsibly, as it really is—not in a sanitized and locked-down version.
My own Beloved and I have also had this conversation about our potential future family, and he—as an IT professional—is adamantly against censoring children. He credits his own IT acumen, which in this day and age is a profoundly useful skillset to have, with a father who let him explore his passions as he saw fit. He feels that if any of the children in our lives are fated to grow up to be the next Bill Gates, he doesn’t want to inhibit them by restricting their use of technology as long as it isn’t causing them social or developmental problems.
However, as the article correctly points out, there is more at stake here than just what people want to do. As the article’s author, Lynette Owens, points out, filters “are also legally required by schools that apply for eRate funding and must therefore comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).” Fair enough. If they don’t play by the rules, they don’t get the technology. So what is a school to do?
I submit that what we have here isn’t actually a problem of technology at all. It’s a problem of manners. I am all for children exploring and learning, but I also was raised by an old-fashioned mom who taught me that sometimes in life, you simply have to play nice because this is the way of things. Personally, I think the only actual filter on my school’s computer bans Facebook because my boss feels very strongly about that. And whether I agree or don’t agree, there are two more important truths at work here, and those are the golden rule (i.e., he who has the gold makes the rules), and the reality that nobody ever died from being away from Facebook for a couple of hours.
Indeed, my boss is active on that site during off-hours, and is friends on Facebook with all her staff. She routinely comments on my posts, too—just not on school time. If you want to work for her and you truly have such poor impulse control that you can’t live without Facebook for the duration of working hours, then I’m sorry, but you probably aren’t ready to have a job in the real world. She’s the boss.
These middle and high school kids are old enough to learn this lesson, and the school-provided computers are an age-appropriate way to teach it. You want to hack stuff? Do it on your home computer. But the school has to install this stuff because otherwise they don’t get the funding to provide you with the shiny toys. So—with all due respect to the younger generation—play nice and don’t be an ass about it. That is a lesson in manners, not a lesson in technology.