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Tech directors vs students - bet on the students

I'm a student. As a student, my school is one of my favorite places to be: I enjoy learning and find almost all my teachers to be agreeable. I'm also a programmer and an advocate of free speech. In that role, my school holds a more dubious distinction: it’s the first place where my interests in computers and my rights were questioned. Nathan Ringo

The BoingBoing website headline reads:

In Wayzata, Minnesota, a school spies on its students 


Nathan writes that his school has "an unsavory policy of blocking not just porn, but anything and everything they feel is inappropriate in a school setting. Worse, I could not find out who makes the judgements about what should be considered inappropriate. It’s not stated in the school board policy that mandates the filter: that police say that the filter should “only block porn, hate speech, and harassment.” Our censorware, however, blocks material ranging from Twitter to comic books. Meanwhile, students are told to use Twitter as part of our Spanish classes and our school offers a course on comic books. Beyond blocking sites that are used in classes, there are also many false positives."

Fellow tech directors, be warned - Nathan could be (and probably is) a student in every one of our schools. And this is what his letter made me think about...

  1. Do we have a transparent policy on Internet filtering? What is blocked, how are those decisions made, and how can stakeholders have sites blocked or unblocked?*
  2. By overblocking are we simply encouraging students to find ways to go around the district filter? Are we only blocking those with inadequate technology skill?
  3. Have we clearly articulated to students what "a limited right to privacy" means in our AUPs and, more importantly, in our practices? Do our students know that nearly all institutions retain the right to view the use of the Internet by employees if there is a suspicion of wrong doing?

If filtering becomes a contest between technology directors and thousands of bright young students like Nathan, we adults will lose. The kids are smarter, have better tech skills, employ PLNs we've never dreamed of, and have a hell of a lot more discretionary time to spend on cracking or hacking or just trying to get to the resources they need.

I would genuinely like to read the Wayzata administration's side of this story. And yes, I am sure there is a very compelling one.

Our relationship with our brightest kids cannot be adversarial.

* This is our district's procedure, but I am not sure how many staff or students know about it:

Blocking or unblocking websites:
All requests come in via the "Web Filter Change Request Form", located in the Technology Department 'How To' section.  Once completed by the end-user, it must be signed by the user's Principal or supervisor, then forwarded to the IT Director.  Once there, it is reviewed by the Instructional Technology Advisory Committee, made up of teachers, administrators, and principals, then ruled on. Once the change has been approved, it is passed back for implementation.

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And yes, I've been banging this drum for a loooong time...


Dec/Jan Ed Leadership colum: The Responsive Staff Meeting

My Power Up column in the Dec/Jan issue of Educational Leadership is now available online: The Responsive Staff Meeting.

Is your high-tech school still providing paper agendas at its staff meetings? Are they still sit 'n git? Hmmmmm....


November Ed Leadership column: A Buying Guide for Parents

My November 2014 ASCD Educational Leadership Power Up column, A Buying Guide for Parents, can be found online.