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EdTech Update




« The gift that's kept on giving - and why | Main | Three beliefs about online learning »

Tech and trust

It’s becoming less and less effective to block students from websites. When Los Angeles Unified rolled out its one-to-one iPad program, administrators expected to be able to control how students used them both in school and at home. But, not surprisingly, kids are resourceful and students quickly found ways around the security, prompting the district to require students to turn over the devices. Teach Kids To Be Their Own Internet Filters, Mindshift, October 4, 2013

Hmmmm, trust kids? With the Internet? To make good choices? Like real people with brains? What a concept!

But some schools are doing just that. In the link to the Mindshift article above, Michelle Luhtala, Library Department Chair at Connecticut's New Canaan High School, explains how making good choices about Internet use is embedded in all lessons. My guess is that these kids will make some mistakes - but they will be what I call "safe mistakes" - ones that they can recover and learn from.

So why can and do some schools like Michelle's choose trust and teaching and some schools like Los Angles futilely attempt to block, censor, and control the use of student use of technologies and the Internet - prescribing a very narrow set of uses and resources for their kids?

I keep going back to Jonathan Kozol's observation in his book Savage Inequalities (1991) in which he summarized:

... children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed.

The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe.

My sense is that New Canaan High School's mission is to "educate the governors" and LA's is to train the governed. (I believe this to be a socio-economic, even racial issue.) By trusting its students, New Canaan is allowing them: 

  • To learn time management skills
  • To find, read, and consider divergent points of view
  • To explore personal interests that motivate
  • To receive expert adult guidance in online resources (read Michelle's comments about website evaluation in the Mindshift piece)
  • To not just receive information, but create and share it (check out the great video!)
  • To create an environment where adults are trusted guides, not roadblocks to learning (Control freaks will always be fighting a losing battle trying to block access - as LA has learned.)

All of us - teachers, tech specialists, librarians, and administrators - must ask ourselves if our schools are for the governors or for the governed. I know the kind of school I want to be associated with - and the kind of school I want my grandchildren to attend. 

Thank you, New Canaan, for showing us all it's possible.


Oh, not that I really care. A few articles that I could find that I've written over the past couple decades...

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Reader Comments (6)

I'm laughing as I read this post about not trusting students on the web because in my district the administration is still blocking the TEACHERS with strict internet filters!

October 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori

Hi Lori,

Yeah, well, they ARE the ones to worry about! ;-)


October 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Once again, a great post. Imagine if we could be comfortable enough to allow students to make those mistakes, having them know that they would be corrected and encouraged to not make the mistake again - vs. sending them to the principal / dean / resource office's office for "punishment".
It has always been funny for me to see students walk outside the building (of blocked web sites) and immediately open and view if the door or the wall has some magic property to correctly educate students.

October 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

One of the things your comment made me think about is just how difficult trust can be at times. Control, or even the illusion of control, always seems much more certain.

As always, thanks for the input.


October 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Technology mishaps like this one need to be used as a way to educate, not to punish. I am one of the "new guys" in the school library field, heck I'm not even done with school yet (and for all I know, one of my professors or fellow classmates may be reading this!), but I know I would not be here if I followed every single rule out there. The things that can be learned by going slightly off the path, just away from what those darn adults want you to learn, is so vast, and so important in creating and crafting learners who actually do learn. If students are running off getting around the blocks, it isn't necessarily because the just want to do it, but rather that we have underestimated what they are capable of.

And hey, I probably wouldn't have seen this article if Twitter was blocked, so who is to say that Twitter is all bad?

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Borman

Hi Andy,

Thanks for leaving the comment. I have a tough time seeing how you would run into problems in expressing a responsible idea like this. I summarized my ideas about keeping out of trouble in online posts here:

Good luck!


October 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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