People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t... Freedom to Surf (thanks to Committed Sardine for link)
Kids should be allowed to use the Internet at school for non-school purposes. Period.
Pursuing personal interests and recreational pursuits (so long as not illegal), should actually be encouraged, especially in our school libraries. Why?
1. Personal use gives teeth to the threat of suspending Internet use for disciplinary reasons. If Johnny likes accessing the world soccer scores each morning in the library, he may think twice about doing something that will suspend his Internet "privileges*." If students are only allowed "academic" use of the Internet, how many will actually find such a consequence punitive?
2. Gives practice in reading, research, problem-solving and creativity. Kids online are practicing a lot of skills. If fluency, vocabulary building and intrinsic motivation for reading are goals, what difference does it make that a student is reading the reading primer or a personal interest website?
3. Show consistency of with other formats. Does your library carry Sports Illustrated and Seventeen? Have you developed a fiction collection for voluntary free reading? Do you have board games in your library or classroom? So why treat digital resources differently from paper?
4. Creates a positive school atmosphere. We have got to get over the idea that schooling has to be serious and boring to be effective. Think how much easier educators' work would be if kids actually wanted to be in school.
5. Helps close the digital divide. Many students still do not have access to online resources from home. Seems somehow cruel and unusual to deny this huge cultural influence to some students.
A common reason for disallowing "recreational" computer use has been that these resources may be in short supply. The reasoning goes that school work (writing papers, doing academic research, etc.) takes precidence over "fun." For all the reasons mentioned above, we need to re-think this blanket policy and find other means of "fairly" allocating computer time.
* I believe a successful case can be made that Internet access is a right rather than a priviledge given its uses in politics, business, education, medicine and other basic parts of society.