< Prologue >
To be, or not to be, that is the question.
Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1, William Shakespeare (circa 1601)
Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty, Billy Joel (1979)
< 1 >
I presented at the K20 Innovative Learning Institute held in Norman, Oklahoma on Thursday. During the presentation several folks tweeted out quotes or reactions, including Laura Buxton who tweeted a quote from me about possible future spouses googling our students (in the context of talking about their digital footprint). Ira Socol tweeted back to Laura that he wished we would stop using scare tactics to threaten our students. I didn't see the tweets until the next day, but I replied back to Ira that I hadn't really thought of it as scare tactics, but I would think some more about it.
After thinking a bit I replied and said I still felt like it wasn't scare tactics, but simply being honest with our students. Keep in mind that that quote from my presentation was in the context of both a positive and negative digital footprint. I wasn't just talking about colleges, employers and spouses googling them (looking for something negative), but also about the positive footprint they should be building (so those folks - and others - could find the positive.)
I pretty much align with Ira in my distaste for trying to "scare straight" our students - I think they deserve more respect than that. On the other hand, I also think they are deserving enough of our respect to be honest with them - I think they can handle thinking about the possible negative consequences of their online actions (as well as the positive), without seeing it as a scare tactic. I don't want to threaten my students, but I also don't want to ignore the very possible consequences of a less-than-stellar digital footprint.
I agree with Ira when he suggested that our views of digital footprints are going to have to adapt (i.e., not hold things against young people forever), but I still think - especially for high school students - that they will be held somewhat accountable for their views and actions as teenagers. (In general, I think we underestimate the capabilities - and thoughtfulness - of teenagers, and we should respect them enough to expect good things from them.) If you agree that that's even a possibility, then I think they deserve to hear that from us now.
< 2 >
In my breakout sessions at K20 we talked about a bunch of different topics (resources here) but, as usual, the topic of Internet filtering came up. What was surprising to me this time was how many teachers were basically in favor of pretty strict filtering policies. In pretty much any educational audience there is, of course, a wide range of views on filtering, but in the past the teachers have tended to skew toward a much more open policy and administration and tech support have skewed much more toward a strict policy. While there was a wide variety of opinions present in the room, there seemed to be a much higher level of distrust of students among the teacher participants than what I'm accustomed to.
During one discussion with a high school teacher as we talked about YouTube, he said that if they didn't block it his students would immediately go to the "bad stuff." I asked that since they currently blocked it, how did he know? He replied, "They just would." I then asked exactly what "bad stuff" he thought they would go to on YouTube, and his reply was basically "just bad stuff." I then tried to make the analogy to a newspaper, so I asked if he filtered the newspaper before bringing it into his class. He replied, "Absolutely, I always screen the entire newspaper to make sure it's appropriate before bringing it in to school." (At that point I decided we probably weren't going to agree about YouTube.)
Among a larger than usual proportion of the teachers in the room there seemed to run a general level of distrust of our students. That we needed to control them, and filter the world for them, and make decisions for them. Now, I'm the first one to acknowledge that this is not a black-and-white issue, that as the adults we do sometimes have to make decisions that we feel are in the best interests of our students and that, occasionally, that may mean filtering or blocking - basically censoring - what they are exposed to.
But I see that "occasionally" as being a very rare occurrence. I wonder about the students in that teacher's class who can't be trusted with the newspaper, and how exactly when they turn 18 they suddenly will be able to handle it? I wonder about the students in that teacher's class who walk out into an unfiltered world when they leave the school building and are not having any guidance from the educators in their lives how best to deal with it? I wonder about our willingness to always put our judgment before their's? How exactly will our students become good at making decisions, become good at making judgments, become good at choosing what we would consider the right path if we never give them the opportunity to choose? How will our students become effective citizens in a democracy when they don't get a chance to practice democracy much in K-12?
I wonder how honest it is for us to proclaim that we are educating our students by "protecting" them? Are we protecting them, or ourselves?
< 3 >
I'm really struggling with my Algebra class. (For those not following along, I've picked up one section of Algebra due to budget cuts to go along with my full time technology coordinator job.) In general, I feel like I do a pretty good job of being up front and honest with my students. There are some topics in our Algebra I curriculum that I think aren't particularly necessary at this point (Standard Form of a linear equation comes to mind, as does one and two-variable linear inequalities) and, when those topics come up, I generally let the students know my opinion. I tell them that this is something that I wouldn't choose to teach them at this point, but that it's something that's in the curriculum so that were going to go ahead and learn it. (And, to be clear, I let them know that they are perfectly capable of learning it.)
I also think I'm fairly honest with my students in expressing my belief that while Algebra is probably the most practical of the high school math courses in my school, it still has quite a bit that won't be particularly useful to most of them. That I believe that the habits of mind they develop, that the learning stance they take, that the ability to learn they develop is probably going to more valuable to most of them in the long run then the actual Algebra skills. I try to show them the practical applications of the Algebra where possible, and I try to share some of the elegance of the mathematics where perhaps practical applications are hard to find, but I also freely acknowledge that at least some of what we do is perhaps a waste of their time.
But am I honest enough? I don't tell them that often I'm not sure if what I'm teaching them is in their best interest. I don't tell them that sometimes I don't know why this particular part of Algebra is important. I don't tell them that I often doubt whether this class is the best use of their time. I don't tell them that I struggle with whether I believe students should be taking Algebra in the first place, or whether school as we currently implement it is really designed with their best interests in mind.
But if I tell them all that, will that actually help them? Right now even the students that don't particularly like school or my Algebra class have a basic sense of trust that it's "good for them." Would it be right for me to tell them that I question that assumption, when I really don't have anything to replace it with? Would that harm them more than it would help them?
To be honest . . . I'm not really sure.