Recently one of my friends and colleagues, Rodney Turner, shared a blog post titled Tech and Trust written by Doug Johnson. In a nutshell, the post compares two very different philosophies of device and network management. He discusses the futile attempt by the LA Unified School District to lock down the iPads that were recently distributed across the district and how students found a way around to circumvent the measures. The he discusses a forward-thinking high school in Connecticut where safe and responsible internet use is woven into all lessons. At New Caanan High school students are allowed the freedom to make mistakes. These mistakes are turned into teaching moments where students can learn from their mistakes. Students at New Caanan are encouraged to explore their interests and create new information all while under the guidance of trusted educators. The teachers at this school act as guides during the learning process, not roadblocks.Just days before Rodney shared this post I had a conversation with a colleague from my region who works in a district that is 1:1. He said that if a student violates one of their technology policies then they will suspend their internet privileges for 15 days. One student had his computer access revoked because he left his laptop out. (It was a 7th grade boy.) Since this school is 1:1 I can only assume that most assignments are completed online or at least require the use of the Internet. So I asked how teachers handle situations where students have lost their access. He told me they have to have something “printed and ready to go.”
WHAT!?! Really?!? I was fired up, but I walked away and I let it go. (If you know me then you know that is not an easy thing for me to do.) I tried to push the conversation out of my mind until I read Doug’s post on trusting students with technology. The part of the post that really stood out to me was the quote from Jonathan Kozol’sbook Savage Inequalities in which he stated, “Children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe.”
I could not help but recall the conversation from earlier in the week and feel the students in that district are getting cheated out of some very valuable lessons. Instead of having a logical consequence the main tools they use for learning are ripped away from them for weeks at a time. What I really wanted to ask (but didn’t) was what the consequence would have been if Little Johnny had left his textbook in another class. Would they have denied him access to his book? I don’t think so. If he had left his crayons on the other side of the classroom would he have lost his ability to use them for three weeks? Again, I don’t think so. So why do some schools feel the need to punish students by taking away the very tools they must have access to in order to learn? How can ANY district that claims to value education have such punitive policies in place? I just don’t get it.
My solution would be to create a variety of groups that would be assigned different levels of access to the Internet. Students who show they are mature and responsible would have full access to the Internet (obviously with the exception of what must be blocked.) This would include music, social networking, and other sites that are typically blocked because they are seen as purely entertainment. If a student abuses these privileges then they would be placed in a group that does not have access to all of the social sites. They would have to earn full access back over time. I realize there is an issue with who would have to move students back and forth between groups, but it can be done efficiently. In this system students still have a consequence, but a consequence that does not interfere in their education.