I recently had the privilege of being on the committee charged with finding the districts new CIO (Chief Information Officer). Though I wasn't asked to, I submitted two questions to be asked by the panel during the interviews. One of the questions concerned what role teachers should play in deciding which websites would be blocked.
Of the five candidates interviewed all but one answered the questioned from the standpoint that a teacher would request that a site be blocked. The only one that didn't was a candidate that was familiar with my position that most sites should not be blocked. My main concern is sites that are blocked because they are deemed to be classroom disruptions. The most glaring example is the fact that the term "hip hop" is blocked while a similar search for "death metal" is not. I maintain that neither should be blocked and could serve curricular purposes. Current policy states that they can be unblocked for a short period of time after school hours for a teacher to do research.
As hour society becomes more digital it is vital that students have access to this information. I am speaking specifically of sites such as YouTube, MySpace, and 2nd Life that are taking on increasing significance in the 2008 elections. One of the candidates state that his default position is to block when there is any doubt. The problem with this position is that the unblocking process is nearly as difficult as unblocking an artery. This block at all cost seems to be at odds with teaching.
Education serves several purposes one of which is to develop well informed citizens capable of making intelligent decisions to propel our representative democracy into a productive direction. If we can't even let students participate in the communities that are on the interenet how can we succeed in this mission. The political process is energized by "meet up" groups and email contact directly from the campaign. Barack Obama is one of my friends on MySpace. YouTube offers access to hours of political speech and commentary. At what point do we let the world into our classroom?
I live in my own little world of edtech blogs and develop misconceptions about the world. I just assume that everyone is like me and wants to free up information for students, but I now know that the default setting is to see a predator lurking behind every IM, percieve a waste of time everytime a students reads lyrics to a song, and fear freedom and thought whenever it threatens control.