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You, Doctor Martin…

January 7, 2009

One of my favourite Anne Sexton poems opens with the lines “You, Doctor Martin, walk / from breakfast to madness.” Sexton’s striking image of walking from one world to another is brought home to me every time I walk into a school — only it’s not madness we walk into, it is an internet free zone.

Like most people who read what I say in my blog, I have a very active online life. I blog when time allows, I use Facebook to keep up to date with conferences and meetings, I use wikis to discuss professional learning and knowledge, I share photos on flickr I use Twitter to keep in touch and to share and to learn… and that’s just a fraction of my online presence. In short, I try to be a connected learner. And then I go to work.

Most of the sites I use at home are blocked in school, most of the tools I use at home are blocked in school, most of the learning I do at home is blocked in school… sometimes because, and I kid you not, the content is ‘educational’.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredibly nasty things on the internet and we do need some way of protecting children (and adults) from the less savoury aspects of the web, but I think those who dacide what we have access to are a little too zealous in their approach. Perhaps they need to take a lesson from those who have been responsible for protecting and guiding children for the countless years before the internet, namely, teachers.

2429733088_e93bd5d5c0.jpgIf I wished, I could find more depravity and deviance from whatever society currently considers ‘normal’ simply by walking into the school library and being very selective in my choices. There are countless murders and sexual goings on on the shelves of school libraries and yet we do not have any heavy-handed censor telling us that we are not allowed to read them. Instead, we rely on teachers and librarians to educate pupils, to help them with their choices of book, and to discuss issues that arise from the reading of the books. Imagine what would happen if we were to approach the internet in the same open and honest way?

It is patently obvious that we need to change our approach to the internet in schools. It is the elephant in the room and it’s not going away. Don Ledingham’s recent post highlights another aspect of the changing expectations of the world after school, namely that collaborative/co-operative working is an intrinsic part of the real world. Don quotes from The Higher Education Academy:

Group work has become increasingly important in higher education with the greater emphasis on skills and lifelong learning. We want students not only to be effective during their studies but also as future employees.

What struck me about that quote, was the realisation that the skills being described are the skills I’ve developed over the years, but more importantly, they are the skills that I exercise when I am working online…

The current way we deal with the internet in education is no better than standing there with our fingers in our ears and our eyes closed pretending it will all go away. This is not only pointless, it might even be restricting our pupils’ ability to learn the skills they will need after they leave school. Dr Martin would surely have had an opinion…

Photo Credit: atelier29
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Literacyadviser permalink
    January 7, 2009 11:50 pm

    Neil,
    I’m sure it isn’t an explicit political agenda but rather the result of the fact that most policy makers/holders of power in education (and society in fact) are ignorant or suspicious of the internet, and of the empowerment of people in general and young people in particular. It will take the efforts of individuals such as yourself in demanding access to particular websites to make the difference in the long run, exhausting as this may be.Your colleagues need you!

  2. January 8, 2009 12:04 am

    Most people are still woefully ignorant about the internet – not just the policy makers. We all have an education job to do, and that includes people like me – still beating my head against brick walls of ignorance and prejudice and fear in the circles in which I now move. (Actually – read “storm” for “move”) The only benefit to me has been the realisation that I’m still treated as if I were an enfant terrible …

  3. January 10, 2009 6:13 am

    Bravo. I’ve been running my own head into a wall myself over this issue at school and have blogged a couple of times about it. The first stage of any new method/technology is fear–abject, inane fear. We just have to keep being the voices of reason. Fight the good fight–you’re not alone.

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