Teachers Teaching Teachers #95 - Locating the Tyranny of Filtering - 03.12.08
It's happening in small, geographically dispersed schools in rural Alaska. Three people are responsible for doing it
for over a million public school students in New York City. An
independent school in Milwaukee uses the same software that is being
used in NYC to do it. In Colorado, an outspoken opponent of it
was recently hired for a district level job, and now he is on a small
committee that gives the thumbs up or down. In North Dakota, a secret
password is emailed each week to a group of thirty teachers who can
then undo it in their schools,
when needed. In rural Virginia, a teacher carefully measures her
arguments for the educational benefit against the possible risks each
time she requests for it to be undone. Because so many schools do it
in so many different ways, the developers of VoiceThread have to work
overtime to keep their Web 2.0 tool available in public schools.
In September, Wesley Fryer "observed from China that the level of content filtering / censorship enforced by the central, totalitarian government was actually LESS severe than the content filtering enforced in many U.S. public schools" (Content filtering in Communist China versus an Oklahoma school » Moving at the Speed of Creativity).
Really? Do the descriptions in the first paragraph accurately represent the tyranny of filtering in U.S. schools today? Or do teachers have more power than we often exercise? It's become too easy for educators to represent filtering as if it's something that oppresses us. What if we find that the enemy is us?
From the discussion captured on this podcast, we can sketch a much more complicated picture of how filtering really seems to work in U.S. schools. See what we mean by clicking Read more, below.
- Woody Woodgate is a one of nine local "site techs" in his district in Alaska. Since the distance between these schools makes it difficult for the district tech administrator to get around to all nine schools, the site techs have access to the filter. When a teacher needs to change it he or she finds the site tech in the building and requests a site to be unblocked.
- In New York City, it turns out that one of the three people managing the filter for over a million public school students has been a friend of alternative, progressive education in the city for many years. Olgierd Bilanow, now a system engineer for the NYC Department of Education, agreed to have a public conversation on this podcast about how the filter works in NYC, and how he sees his partnerships with teachers. Olgierd and his colleagues have almost never turned down a request from a school to have a filtering category (e.g. social networks) opened up. However he also points out that he has more requests to block sites and categories from schools than he has to unblock them.
- At Matt Montagne's independent school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, teachers merely have to send an email or make a call to a help desk to get a category or a site opened. Filtering doesn't seem to be a problem at Matt's school, although he still wonders what it would be like to not have a filter at all.
- Bud Hunt is still critical of any school or teacher who wants to use filtering to control students or to avoid problems with what students might do on the Internet. However, Bud still remembers the mixture of embarrassment and frustration he used to feel when he was a teacher and one of his students or he would hit on a blocked site, but he has also seen blocking from the central district's point of view, now that he works for the district as an "instructional technologist." Bud sits on a committee of four people in a school district in northern Colorado which approves or disapproves requests from teachers to unblock or to block particular web sites. Bud never votes to block a site. Bud's advice: Find out who is doing the filtering. They're probably frustrated with the filter too!
- As the District Technology Coordinator for a school district in North Dakota, Craig Nansen manages the filter for all schools in North Dakota from a central office. Craig says that North Dakota's filter is user friendly for all of the schools. All a teacher has to do is give Craig a call and a site can be unblocked in about 30 minutes. Craig also provides a password to teachers each week so that they can turn the filter off when they need to during the day.
- Ben Papell and the other good folks at VoiceThread realized that filtering would eventually make it impossible for teachers to use their tool in the classroom. They created a protected space, Ed.VoiceThread where teachers would monitor their students, and where we could argue that because it is educational material, it should be unfiltered.
- In rural Virginia, Lee Baber has formed a strong, trusting relationship with the IT guys in her district. They have learned to trust her requests because she always backs them up with strong arguments about the educational value of opening any particular site. They also know that she will moderate the students work online.
It's true that these seven examples -- and the conversation with these
people that you can hear on this podcast -- provide little more than
anecdotal evidence, but at least it's enough to begin to question the
typical picture of filtering in U.S. schools.
Maybe it's time to start singing with Joe Hill: Don't Morn-Organize!
See more responses to this podcast at http://teachersteachingteachers.org/?p=162#comments