FCC: 1 gazillion Ms. O: 1

Addendum to Irony 2 of a few days ago:

So, the final straw came yesterday afternoon.  I had a group of kids in my classroom, on their own time, after school, to play with ArtRage on my SmartBoard.  I had just gotten the upgrade to the pay version okayed from the office, and I had the school’s credit card in hand to get the upgrade so I had use of all the tools.

Coolness.

Fill out the form.  Get the registration key in e-mail.  Open the link…and…

Blocked.

Yep, blocked.  The page where I could actually download the program.

So, yeah, I looked up the number of the liaison at the service co-op that provides the filtering and, as nicely as I could, begged for some sanity.

After he unblocked the website for me (only took a few minutes), we had a chat about my concerns.  I said that while I was told (see earlier blog’s comments) that to receive funding, the co-op had to block a minimum number of categories based on a rating system (one more asinine than the MPAA, I might add), I queried why blogs and wiki slide presentations and everything was blocked when it wasn’t on the neat little list my Principal handed me.

The nice man (thank you, Josh!) listened to me gripe, and then promised to check the list against the blocks and do it soon.

Then I asked him who provides the funding and filter mandates, and he said, as I suspected, the FCC.

Vision of Carlin danced in my head…

“So, I get to take on the FCC?  Freaking awesome!” I joked, half-serious.

He laughed, too.  “Yeah, good luck with that…” he said.

But I’d really, really like to.  I think I’ll follow this up and find out who makes these decisions, based on what data, and how designations like “R-rated” and “inappropriate” are awarded.

And why it is that when I googled “Greek people” the other day for an image to use in class (I’m teaching The Odyssey in my LA 10), I got, uh, much more than, uh, Greek people.  (My point here is not that I was offended–far from it, I can deal–but that even with all the freaking filtering of quality information, the ugly or objectionable or age-inappropriate still gets through.)

I’ve had students unable to write research papers on breast cancer research (the word “breast” is blocked) or write arguments against drug use citing NIDA (blocked because–get this–of the word “drugs”).  And we’re supposed to be educating?!?

Anyway, today?  Blogs are no longer blocked.  I can actually read all these blogs I have linked to over here on your right —>.

I won one battle; the war continues.  I hope I’m not alone in it.

Irony 2

A week ago, I attended the TIES (technology information education services) Technology conference in Minneapolis.  It was extremely worthwhile, and not just because I got to stay at the Hyatt Regency and splurge on room service breakfasts (I have medication I need to take with food in the mornings–that’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it even if I have to cut back further on Christmas shopping).

I got to network with other teachers, as well as media specialists, librarians, administrators, and various folks who have interest both in educating kids and using technology to helps us do that.

During my two days (I was not there the entire four), I took workshops in podcasting, using Twitter in Language Arts, Web 2.0 tools, legal issues surrounding Web 2.0 use, and a lunchtime presentation on many websites that I may or may not be aware of (I was both aware of many and unaware of many, just as I predicted).

I got to play with audacity and artrage, record sound and learn many new ways to create images to team with podcasts and presentations. I got some new contacts, and several more sages to follow on Twitter and link to on this blog.  🙂

And, best of all, all the presentations were uploaded to the TIES 2008 Wiki so I could re-view them on my own time, at work, and help share them with the faculty and staff at my school!  How cool is that?

Ah…here’s where the irony comes into it.  I cannot share this with my faculty, because my school has a severe paranoid streak when it comes to technology.  All the presentations from the TIES Wiki are…

blocked.

As are the majority of blogs (including most of what I have highlighted right here) in the blogosphere, Twitter, YouTube, any image- or slide-sharing website, and, of course, facebook and MySpace (not that I have problems with these last two being blocked, I suppose).

As are–I kid you not–any site that is listed as “personal” or “discussion“, so all message boards are blocked, as well.  (I use a message board in my AP class–somehow, that’s managed to work for three years now, flying in under some sort of radar, and it’s not even a school-friendly server but I have it locked down pretty tightly.)

So, I get to go to a technology conference, but I can only view the materials from…home.

And I cannot share most of what I learned with…my fellow teachers.

And I cannot use most of what I learned with…my students.

I teach at a great school.  I really do.  I love my coworkers and administration and students, and I have great respect for the school board (that’s hard to find in education circles, boy).  But…this is a travesty.  This fear of technology is doing a disservice to our kids.  In this area, we are not sending them off to work and college and tech school with the skills they should have to succeed there.

I’ve had seniors ask the difference between a URL and an e-mail address; request assistance in attaching documents to e-mail (I require this for formal writings); not know what “html” refers to–or even be able to name one computer language.

And this is the majority of seniors, mind you.

It’s not that I don’t understand the reasoning behind blocking things; it’s a scary world, open for all as it never has been before, and there is ugliness out there.  Predators, grotesquerie, and just plain crap.  I wouldn’t want my kids accessing this without guidance or preparation, either.

So, we need to provide the guidance and preparation, because that’s what parents and teachers are supposed to do.  The idea behind “education” is not to play ostrich until the student is off to college and thrown into a new world without any tools, but to provide those very tools that she will need.

It’s impossible to teach my AP Language course’s requirement for analyzing blog arguments when the kids aren’t allowed to follow blogs or discussion sites.  It’s difficult to teach web responsibility when the vast majority of decision-making is removed from them.

And it’s beyond frustrating to be a teacher in a school that doesn’t even allow me access to some very useful, very needful, technological tools.  All of these things are blocked on my computer, too.

There are ways around some of these things.  I can encode YouTube videos in a different format and bring in on my jumpdrive; but my teaching style is based, most often, on discussion, and that cannot be planned.  So often the classroom conversation enters into a realm where I need a resource there and then.  Example:  Last week, the discussion in my LA 12 (Brit Lit based) veered to the Battle of Agincourt.  I wanted to show the St. Cripin’s Day Speech from Henry V, Branagh’s version, and leaped to my computer for this educational moment. But of course, I could not; blocked, as I remembered just as my hands hit the keyboard.

I could go home, reformat, and bring in the next day–sure, no problem–but it loses the immediacy, it loses the discussion forum aspect that I believe is so important in authentic education.

Teaching is a multi-sided conversation, not a one-way, or even a two-way, ball toss.

So, I’m working on this.  I’m not alone in the faculty in being frustrated with the constraints put on technology use.  I’m certainly not the only one who believes teaching responsibility is far preferable to avoiding the subject altogether.

We are teachers.  We should teach.