Miguel has another good post up about internet filtering and censorship. I know I said I was going to take a break from this but this topic seems to have exploded in the blogosphere with the advent of James Farmer's relatively new blog service falling victim to the censors.
Miguel wrote a hypothetical conversation between a parent, principal and teacher following a students misuse of their internet access in a filter-free environment. It's really well done but I think if I had been the teacher I would have handled my end of the conversation differently ....
"We're here to discuss your child's behavior on a web site not controlled by the District, but that your child can access during school time. Her access of the site was to use it to bully another child, post pictures from her camera phone, and make vulgar statements."
"Why can my child access that type of web site from school?"
"We don't filter content because we teach students how to recognize the difference between websites that are reliable sources of information and those that are not. We also have very clear guidelines about what sort of online behaviour is acceptable and what isn't." says the teacher. "Your daughter is aware of all this; she helped write the guidelines and then knowingly used school resources in a way that we do not permit."
"Well, could you just teach her without letting her access the inappropriate site and exposing her to a sex pervert?" asks the parent. "There sure are a whole bunch of those around these days. And, how do you know that my child did the cyber-bullying?"
"Your daughter was not exposed to a sex pervert. She used her camera phone and created a web log of her own where she harassed and bullied another student. She knew, as she was doing it, that what she was doing was both wrong and not allowed in our school. We know that she was the bully because everything she did was recorded on her web log and she bragged about it to a group of other students." replies the teacher.
[in an aside to the teacher, the principal says, "Well, how do you know about the connections they're making? They obviously didn't keep you in the loop." inquires the principal. He's reviewing the police report.]
[in an aside to the principal, "as you know Mr. ___ I aggregate all the students blog work and monitor their interactions daily. This issue with _____ came out specifically because my students do keep me in the loop. You and I should continue this conversation when Mrs. __ has gone.]
"Mrs. ___, you should know that this is a very serious issue. Cyber-bullying is against the law and we were required to file a police report. If we can come to a satisfactory resolution of the issue with your help the police may leave it with us. I think that would be in the best interest of your daughter. Young people make mistakes; ____ made one -- the best result would be if she learned something from it and took steps to repair the hurt she has caused."
[parent steps out for a moment]
"I'm worried we didn't do everything we could to prevent this from happening. The District is now liable because we trusted you and you weren't able to keep up with the 150 kids you see every day and what they were doing when you took your eyes off one of them for a moment." said the principal sympathetically.
"I disagree sir. The district is not liable. We have acted promptly and responsibly as soon as we learned what _____ did. This is exactly analogous to any other kind of bullying. If we had ignored it we would be liable; we haven't ignored it. Moreover, we learned of _____'s actions quickly because the other students in my classes were offended at what she had done following all the discussions we've had about acceptable blogging practices in my classroom. But, again, it would be more appropriate for us to discuss this further after Mrs. ____ has gone."
"I know, but the Web isn't safe...they're no longer in your classroom when they're on the Web," replies the principal. "And, by the way, we're going to have to confiscate your classroom computer--the newer one that can connect to the Internet--check it for evidence, make a copy of it, then reformat it." The teacher grimaces. "That's happening as we speak."
Mr. ____ please don't do that until we've had a chance to talk about the issue in a little more depth. I'd hate for this to come to a grievance involving the teacher's association.
[parent steps back into the room]
"You know," says the parent, "You people let my child access a web site where she could post these comments. What was it called? MySpace? At home, I control my child's access to the Internet because I want them doing their homework. I foolishly thought she would be protected at school from bad elements on the Internet. I don't know how any one teacher can control the situation with 20+ students in her classroom at the same time that he is teaching. At home, I told my daughter to be nice to others and not to do this type of thing, but kids are kids and she did it anyway. I'll speak to her again. I'm worried that I trusted you and the principal to help me keep my child off-line, but you didn't do it. After all, when she's at home, I make sure she doesn't go anywhere inappropriate--I unplug the Internet connection--or do these kinds of things at home. She must have done it here on a school computer while she was in your care. What are kids learning here? I don't want her to have Internet access while at school anymore."
"I understand how upset you must be," replies the teacher, "but we can't do that. Your daughter is fortunate to have internet access at home supervised by you. That's not the case for all our students -- we have an obligation to provide them access to the same kind of information and learning that your daughter has. ____ has made a bad choice. That's what's happened here. Now, let's put together a contract about how to prevent your child from doing this again. She'll sign it and we'll continue to work together"
[a contract is put together and prepared for review with the student]
"Ok," replies the parent. "Thank you. In the future, why don't you IM me about that and give me status reports on his/her progress? Do you use Yahoo, MSN or AOL Instant Messenger?"
"I'll email you." says the teacher.
"Instant Messaging is blocked," shares the principal. "We don't allow it because of the SPIM, and/or the viruses that are transmitted via Instant messaging."
"You mean," the parent smiles grimly, "the District blocks IM but not MySpace and those other web sites where kids can do anything, including creating bully-blogs to pick on each other or get stalked by cyber-predators?"
We are not responsible for the bad choices your daughter has made; she is. She wasn't endangered. She harassed and bullied another student." says the teacher.
"That's correct," the principal replies slowly. "We're developing a policy on IM, however. There's been a big debate about the benefits of IM and teachers really want to use this new technology with their students."
The parent leaves. The teacher settles into the chair...it's a long day. The principal stares at the teacher for a moment, sighs, picks up the phone and calls his secretary. He says in a weary voice, "Send the next one in"
It all boils down to trust. The principal in this dialogue, aside from acting unprofessionally towards the teacher, just doesn't trust the teacher. There's an undercurrent of suspicion throughout. An administrator worth their salt would have handled this a little more professionally to the benefit of all involved.