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Preparation for Living in a Public World | by Stephen Abram September 10, 2011

Posted by Michelle Luhtala in Banned Websites Awareness Day, Check this out!.
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Sometimes I worry about the control fixation in some parts of the world today. We see so many attempts to legislate behaviour that are doomed to failure and yet they continue to flourish. This is particularly evident in some of our school systems where there are extreme attempts to damage our children’s ability to deal successfully with the emerging information ecology by overly restricting access to information and websites.

That’s why I am supporting this AASL project.

Celebrate the freedom to read and learn on the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Banned Sites Awareness Day (September 28).

Banned Websites Awareness Day is a censorship awareness campaign designed to celebrate children’s freedom to learn with participatory media in school. In 2011, it will be celebrated on September 28th during ALA’s Banned Books Week.

Blocking access to social media leaves most students susceptible to dangerous behaviours as they can’t easily be taught digital safety in a vacuum. The list of websites that have been banned has become ludricous in the extreme. Some boards have set themselves up as laughingstocks and lose the respect of the very students, teachers and learners they purport to support. Some schools have pushed so many websites off the list of available education resources that the sites have become underground fixations for many students who share the workarounds and succeed in gaining access anyway. Some teachers are forced to recommend that students use some tools from home or the local public library when their employers block educational websites, YouTube, and so many more. It’s a great irony that after so many millions of dollars in technology investments adding digital tools to our schools and school libraries, the best technology and access is often on an unsupervised, friend’s basement home computer as opposed to an educational setting with trained and professional adults available to assist learning and development.

This situation has become so ridiculous that the federal Department of Education has been forced to issue clarification of the rules to try to stem the tide of irrational over-filtering of websites and tools for learning.
Straight from the DOE: Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites

The US “Department of Education’s Director of Education Technology, Karen Cator, “parsed the rules of the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA), and provided guidance for teachers on how to proceed when it comes to interpreting the rules. To that end, here are six surprising rules that educators, administrators, parents and students might not know about website filtering in schools.”
In short:

1. Accessing YouTube is not violating CIPA rules.
2. Websites don’t have to be blocked for teachers.
3. Broad filters are not helpful.
4. Schools will not lose E-rate funding by unblocking appropriate sites.
5. Kids need to be taught how to be responsible digital citizens.
6. Teachers should be trusted.

For the love of children, we have to stop the madness. I’ve seen websites blocked because they contain the word “specialist”. Why? The word ‘CIALIS’ is contained within it. I’ve seen many current affairs, government affairs, and public affairs sites blocked completely. Why? The word ‘affairs’ was blocked completely. Some boards blocked every site coming from Middlesex counties around the world. Why? Well, you can probably guess. One board I am aware of blocked all ‘documents’ (look carefully for the bad word) and anyone who carried the designation ‘magna cum laude’. You likely see my point (as long as your filter let’s you see this post!). It is a slippery slope in a democracy that once any government entity starts to block access to sites and information for any citizen, of any age, you start down the path to a diminished democracy. Acclimatizing youth to the concept that people in power can restrict their free access to information is the opposite of what a good democracy wants or values or the value system that we want our children to adopt in our democracy. An informed citizenry is essential to a working democracy and to effective voting and decision making. Governments should not broadly restrict access, just look at the example of those countries that do. The best democracies encourage and protect the roles of the the 4th and 5th estates and these roles are constitutionally protected in the United States, Canada and more. In recent years we have seen the power of collaboration and social media to change history in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and more. We’ve seen people saved and assisted by social media quickly during natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunami as these become essential communication tools for FEMA and more. Social media are now essential to our elections, primaries, and democratic process as well as to news distribution. Are these to be bocked in our schools and for what purpose?

Schools create the citizens of the future. Will these future citizens learn how to effectively differentiate quality from bad information? Will they develop the skills to identify content spam from good content?; excellent sources from the merely adequate?; sexist, racist, ageist, evil, manipulative content from mere opinion? How can they if they never see the full range of tools and information in the context of effective digital information literacy and critical thinking curriculum? That’s why it is deep in the value systems of educators and librarians that our learners must learn to live in the real world, one where they are in public and are streetproofed for the Internet. You can’t teach a child to cross the road or streeproof a kid without them ever seeing roads or the outside world. It’s the same situation for the modern world of digital information.

Our society values many things including the freedom to speak, the freedom to assemble, freedom of expression, the freedom to read, freedom to research and create. We enjoy free public libraries. The courts and society are very careful to not limit our freedoms in too many ways. Our future depends on access to the world of information, creativity, and insight. The individual challenge of dealing with bad information isn’t met by building walls, it is addressed by opening the minds of learners to credulity, critical thinking, openmindedness, and at the earliest stage of readiness. That way every next generation will be prepared to deal with the challenges they’re faced (or left) with. It’s our responsibility to prepare them for the world that they will meet and live in, not the analog one in which we developed, that will never exist again. Nostalgia is not a vision.

Are we protecting our children too much by walling them away from the whole digital world?

Let’s make sure that we open minds rather than closing them. Let’s build a better generation every time.

Stephen


Stephen Abram is ably capable of providing tips and techniques for strategic thinking and innovation in libraries. He has visited hundreds of libraries in many different countries and is uniquely positioned to spark ideas and insights to the listeners of this blog.

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