More than a decade into the 21st century and the very tools and sites we need to ensure student success in the world are banned and blocked in many school and learning centers. Though banning and blocking is more convenient, it is not what is right when it comes to preparing children, who will need to use and navigate these waters, for success in the 21st century. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is bringing awareness to this problem by naming September 28th “Banned Websites Awareness Day.” This serves as an extension of the American Library Association’s long-standing censorship awareness campaign, Banned Books Week, beginning September 24. This new campaign directs national attention to the important conversation of the impact filtering has on our students.
In many schools today, our children are living in a digital world, but being prepared in bubbletest schools that whittle kids down to easily measurable, but often irrelevant and outdated, data points. In fact, using the tools necessary for success in the world is considered cheating when completing these outdated assessments. Most educators, parents, and business leaders understand that these high-stakes, artificial situations do little to meaningfully prepare children for success in the 21st century. Sadly, outside of today’s test prep-dominated curriculum, there are virtually no opportunities to share resources and collaborate with the real world. This is understandable when we recognize that doing so is not measured or valued in our schools. This is in part what makes banning and blocking so desirable. Since schools are not evaluated on providing equity and access to real-world skills or tools, not providing access to the world outside of schools becomes most desirable. However, when life inside of schools looks so different than life in the world of work, civics, and personal relationships, one must consider what what the real purpose of schools has become. Unfortunately, many students today feel the disconnected life in schools much more resembles that of a prison than one which will prepare them for successful careers and relationships.
For students to successfully engage in the world outside of school, the world inside of school needs to match it. This can’t happen unless school leaders begin to think outside the ban and make children’s success a priority. Common sense dictates that blocking and banning students from the sites they need to succeed does not keep them safe. While no one would argue that doing so is easier, it clearly leaves our children unprepared. The Banned Websites Awareness Day campaign brings attention to the fact that this must change in order to keep our 21st century learners competitive and ready for life outside school walls. Teachers and leaders must become educated on how to use the web responsibly and enable their students to do the same.
To do so, here are some shifts that need to happen.
We need to move
|From||To||with sites such as…|
|restricting use of sites||responsible use and support in enabling safety filters||Google Images, YouTube|
|standardized textbook learning||personal network learning||Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Blogs|
|disconnected classrooms||rich, global communication centers||Skype, Google Hangout|
|teacher as the only source of information and lessons||on-demand learning from others around the world||YouTube, Twitter, Open Ed Resources|
|students doing work for an audience of one (the teacher) or some (the class)||students doing work worthy of the world for real audiences||Blogs, YouTube, authentic publishing sites|
Banning, filtering, and blocking keeps students locked up in an artificial world that does well at ensuring compliance but little when it comes to enabling students to expand their wings and have the freedom to learn what is important in the world today. To that end I’d like to commend Michelle Luhtala for conceiving of Banned Websites Awareness Day and the American Association of School Librarians for bringing to life an essential ingredient necessary for learning in the 21st century.
Lisa Nielsen, creator of The Innovative Educator blog and author of the book Teaching Generation Text. She is an outspoken and passionate advocate of “Thinking Outside the Ban” to harness the power of technology for learning. She speaks with audiences around the world sharing real-life anecdotes about the actions necessary to do what is in the best interest of 21st century students despite the protests of educational administrators and policy makers stuck in the past. Ms. Nielsen blogs, promotes cell phone use for educators and students, and friends students on Facebook even though an outdated educational system does not support such work. Ms. Nielsen, is a former school librarian and literacy coach. Today she works to support schools in engaging in innovative practices. You can follow her on Twitter at InnovativeEdu.