Sunday, March 12, 2006

What's Appropriate?

So I wanted to post a link to a site on this blog and then talk about some of the powerful resources that are available to us and our students on the web, and how much access to these resources changes everything. But the site I was going to link to contains graphic images and language. While that would be okay for the teachers that this blog is setup for, I know that students also read this blog. So even though this blog was originally intended as a discussion blog for our staff development, I feel constrained by the knowledge that some of our students (as well as the web at large) could be reading it.

And this is complicated by the fact that I think the site I wanted to link to would actually be appropriate (and beneficial) for our high school students to look at. While the images and language are graphic, it’s probably not any more graphic than many of the movies they’ve seen and the video games they’ve played. Yet the reason that I think they should view it is the same reason that distinguishes it from the movies and video games – these images are real. Real photos, real video, real issues, real people. I wouldn’t want my six year old to view these images – because I don’t think she could understand them. Yet I think that our 15-year old freshmen are old enough to handle it (and should reflect on the issues the site raises). But this means that – at least in my mind - somewhere between six and fifteen is where I’d draw the line. But how do we determine where that line is? For many the answer would be that the student’s parents decide, but it’s not practical to ask all the parents for permission (or practical to deal with the different responses), so we end up not using the resource. We end up not utilizing something powerful because it might be offensive or controversial to some people. By posting the link I’m not making them follow it or, once they see what it’s about, continue to view the images. (And, of course, my not linking to it doesn’t mean they might not run across it on their own anyway.) But as we’ve recently seen here in Colorado with the social studies teacher at Overland who was recorded giving an “unbalanced” presentation, and the music teacher in Bennett who showed Faust to her elementary students, posting it could be a career decision for a teacher.

Ironically, if I did link to it I’d be violating the blogging guidelines that we recently posted that I helped write. (I know the pace of change is accelerating, but doesn’t it seem a bit much if I want to violate guidelines that I helped write less than a month ago!) So, the point of all this is, I think we are going to have some major issues ahead of us as we deal with the implications of the resources available on the read/write web. It’s about much more than the issue du jour of blocking access to MySpace, I think it’s a fundamental change in the relationship of our students (and ourselves) to information and the world at large. I think it’s going to get very messy for a while and – while I usually think I have an answer for everything (the “right” answer of course!) – this one’s going to be tough. Does anybody have any words of wisdom on how we should try to develop policies to deal with these issues? How are we going to utilize all the resources available to us, provide the best possible education for our students, and prepare our students for the connected world they are going to live in – without “crossing the line” and offending people? How do we determine what is “appropriate?”


  1. Karl, I've tried for two days to watch the video...the title comes up, but nothing shows as far as side buttons or video. Have you checked it lately?

  2. I saw it Karl. Wow. It was moving and very enlightening. As far as students are concerned, I think it is inappropriate. Having a son who witnessed first hand 9/11 and knowing the consequence, I do not want students exposed to videos like this. I understand the message, but I do not believe our students are capable of digesting the graphics in a mature way nor do I think they can "get" the message.

  3. I hate to offend, but it's often this kind of issue where students turn from education. All too often, we feel as if our teachers are condescending or trying to spoonfeed us things. I would suggest you sit down with a few students and really talk to them. Not about grades or what they did in biology last week. But talk ot them, you'll find that we're people. Actual people with thought processes just as complex as anyone over the age of eighteen. Any given student in any given class is not only capable of getting a message, however disturbing it may be, but really learning from it. Mental maturity and ability to "get" things is not magically bestowed upon us on our eighteenth birthday. I don't know where exactly the line is between 6 and 15, but we are much more capable than people seem to think. It really depends on the student, but we are very much the same as you are. Young students hold that belief that teachers sleep under their desks and aren't real people, that mentality seems to be reversed sometimes.

    There is certainly a line between 6 and 15, but as a 15 year old, I certainly feel like I'm capable of appreciating just as many ideas, however disturbing, as my teachers. Who knows, perhaps I'm wrong and there really is some sort of intellectual epiphany at 18. But where is the line at any age? Is there a real line between a high school sophomore and a college sophomore?

    I know I strayed from the topic about links and blogging, but I really felt the need to express my thoughts on this. Sometimes adults, parents, teachers or just people in the community forget that teenagers are still people. I could be wrong, but I certainly feel like a real person, and I hope to remind people that perhaps we aren't so different after all.

  4. Cara - I sent another email. It requires Flash 8 and many of our machines have Flash 7. I upgraded yours so it should be good to go.

    Barbara - I understand, but I'm not sure I fully agree. I find it interesting that we think high school students are too young to view these images, yet when they turn 18 they are not too young to join the military and see (and be part of) the real thing. (And, of course, in WWII many younger than 18 joined.)

    Molly - I agree to a certain extent. But I think most of the time it's not "condescension" on the part of teachers, but truly a concern about doing harm to students. It may indeed be misplaced concern at times, but I think most high school teachers give their students a reasonable amount of credit here. I think that adults who don't work with teenagers, however, usually give them too little credit. Having said that, however, I think we do all learn from experience and that additional years can lend perspective.

    But the other issue for teachers - other than whether they think it's appropriate for students - is whether anyone in the community thinks it's inappropriate for students. As we've seen lately - and as most teachers who have been teaching for a while have seen personally - a teacher can get in a lot of trouble very quickly for something that at the time didn't seem to be such a big deal. Teachers have to walk a very fine line between what they think are appropriate activities for students and what someone else might think. And it doesn't matter if the majority of teachers, students and parents think it's appropriate - if just one thinks it's not. We are responsible for all of our students, so it's difficult to deal in a class (or blog) situation with "it really depends on the student." And these days it seems as though we rarely are allowed to make an "honest" mistake, learn from it, and move on.

    As far as your eighteenth birthday - didn't anyone tell you about the Epiphany Fairy? Be sure to look under your pillow . . .

  5. I agree with Molly in that MANY students are able to handle the issues, visuals, discussions and do so in a mature manner which enables the moment to be educational, not just shocking. I will use as evidence the experiences her freshman US History class had using two video resources - The Century series "Civilians at War" and "Children of the Holocaust" - two documentaries which are difficult. I have been unable to take the time to watch Karl's new site (Mac at home and Flash (or I)didn't work correctly and not willing to view it on the computer in my classroom). I love the conversations that ensue in the class and at home. But I also know that some powerful forces sit in some of those homes. My reluctance isn't my unwillingness to see my students as people, but due to my experience that some of their parents don't view them as such. SO while 9 of 10 ( I am guestimating) parents come back with positive comments about making their student think, the other 1 is the one that goes to the powers that be (or Mike Rosen) with the belief that their child was forced to think about icky things. Can't wait to see the video!

  6. I have to say that I agree with Brad's thoughts. I know that the material is good and useful but I am afraid of the "fallout" from parents. I also think that the students are able to handle the footage and discussion (and at times we, I mean myself, do not give them enough credit) if there is time to lead a discussion. I think one of the things that needs to happen is that the parents need to be involoved in discussions with their students. I also think that we have a duty to help the students become critical thinkers. By avoiding topics that might be controversial because it might make someone uncomfortable. Where does the dis-service begin?

    As far as Karl's questions about breaking the rules that were recently written - Isn't that the beauty of technology and a "flat" world. I mean, if the world is changing so fast, we have to be flexible to the rules so that we can reach the students. One of the great things that I heard about Chemistry, and now share with my students, is that the only absolute is that there is always an exception. If we do not realize this and try to conduct ourselves in a legalistic way I think we are missing the point. I am not saying that we throw all caution to the wind but I do think we need to take risks in education and try to show the students how the world works (and not just how Littleton works).

    The video contains a lot of power, not just in the images, but in the message and how it gets you to think.