Whether it’s Bill and Melinda Gates lamenting the state of American high schools, the CEO of the week lamenting the ongoing slippage in our ability to keep pace with the rest of the world, or Thomas Friedman lamenting our lack of a crisis-mode mentality about it all, it’s getting harder and harder to deny that we’re headed toward a serious wake-up call regarding this country’s competitive capabilities in a world that is becoming increasingly more connected. The rest of the world has always wanted what we have. The difference now is that more and more it’s easier to get. They don’t have to come here to get an education or a good paying job. And our problem is we’ve become far too complacent, urged to shop rather than to take up the challenge.
The challenge is to create students who are lifelong learners rather than successful test takers. One of the phrases that Alan consistently uses in his presentations is “fearless learners,” that we have to give our students the tools and the skills to find relevant information and use it well on their own. That we need to teach them to literally revel in the learning process and the collaborative, social construction of knowledge that it creates. That the teacher to student vertical model doesn’t cut it any longer. I sincerely believe that is what the Read/Write Web can do, that it can provide the means for our students to create their own learning opportunities, that it can teach them how to negotiate meaning, how to find truth, and how to become a lifelong learner. I believe this because it’s my own experience, and because I see more and more of it every day in this community of learners.
But here is the struggle, of course. Schools are not fearless. They are fearful. And they are fearful of a whole bunch of stuff that when you get down to it doesn’t have much relevance to whether a student can learn or not. They’re fearful of students not passing the test. They’re fearful of communities not passing the budget. They’re fearful of parents getting upset when their children don’t make the grade.
And they’re fearful about blogs and Flickr and the like. It’s becoming obvious that there are many, many schools who are blocking blogs and Flickr and the rest out of concern for a students welfare or because some misconceived notion that there’s nothing educational to be found in the tools. I would argue that while we should be aware of the risks, the risks can be minimized by thoughtful practice and effective instruction. Thousands of kids are blogging in schools safely, and they are learning in the process. Schools that don’t find ways to bring these tools into the curriculum are denying their students and teachers all sorts of learning opportunities and not preparing their students for what lies ahead.
But is more to it, obviously. Schools are equally if not more fearful of their own reputations. The transparency of all of this is the real problem, I think, not the safety issue. Take this, for instance:
Unfortunately, incidents like these have made my district shut down blogging sites on our network. I can’t blame the IT department for doing this. Lord knows the last thing we need is a public scandal.
The public scandal should be that we’re not doing our jobs to model and teach students the appropriate, educational use of technologies they are already using outside of school. Sure, they may come across something we don’t want them to see, but let’s teach them how to deal with that. Let’s talk to them about why what they see is inappropriate or demeaning or harmful or whatever. Denying access only teaches them that we’re either at a loss for how to deal with the reality or too scared to do so.