by Nancy Willard
This is my first post at SafeKids.com and it was generated by a question from a reporter: “I am currently working on a story about the explosion of Facebook and other social networking sites and their use by both students and teachers (and what free speech implications that has for teachers), as well as how school districts are reacting to students having smartphones (that can do more than just make calls).” Here is what I said:
The power of these new social networking technologies is flat out amazing. One only needs to consider the recent events in Iran to be struck with the understanding of how profoundly our society has and will be changed by these technologies. Sure the Church and the Crown were concerned about the invention of the printing press. With good reason. The invention of the printing press led to reformation, the scientific revolution, and democracy.
What these technologies are doing is challenging the hierarchical authoritarian-based structures in our society. We are changing to a network-based, community-based society.
And this brings us to schools. Currently, most schools function as strict hierarchies. But they don’t have to. For decades, astute educational leaders have been arguing that schools would function better as learning communities. Where instead of being the “sage on the stage,” the teacher acts more as the “guide by the side.” Where learning is relevant – and student directed. Where the focus is on learning how to learn and find information – not regurgitation of facts. Where collaboration is viewed as a desired objective – not cheating.
Innovative schools across this country are shifting to the use of the web 2.0 interactive technologies – as they must. It is impossible to prepare children for their future in classrooms that were designed to serve our past.
Unfortunately, some schools are reacting to all of this by trying to impose greater control. Hierarchical forms of control are doomed to failure. Filtering software was supposed to provide schools with the ability to prevent students from accessing certain sites. Guess what? The same bypassing technologies that allowed the Iranians to bypass their country’s filters are being used by students across this country to bypass the filters that schools are wasting millions of dollars for. Think I am wrong? Google the terms “bypass Internet filter.” Close to 700,000 hits.
The wise educational leaders in our society are providing the insight to shift our schools into this new mode. The school leaders who seek to retain their power, their authority, their control will ultimately fail. Just like the shah of Iran.
There is a growing community of professionals who are seeking to respond to the challenges of the risks that young people do face online – but with an understanding of the source of those risks (the young people at the greatest risk online are the ones who are already at greater risk offline) as well as a profound respect for the incredible benefits to our society presented by these empowerment technologies.