DOPA: From book burning to blog burning, why it needs another look!

Should the DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) (click here for PDF) pass, all access in public schools to ’social networking’ sites on the Internet would be banned.

Newsweek says:

The campaign to crowd out predators from is gathering steam in Washington. House of Representatives lawmakers proposed a bill on May 9 that would block access to social networks and Internet chat rooms in most federally funded schools and libraries.

I'm taken back to the early 1990's when I offered adult training classes on the Internet. A well meaning "little old lady" in town gave me her thoughts on my class:

"How can you call yourself a Christian and teach about the Internet? It is just terrible!"

My answer to her was, "Mam, how can you call yourself a Christian and go to Atlanta, there are prostitutes in Atlanta and people get killed there too?"

I proceeded to explain to her that there is not a difference between the two. Both are places. A place as big as Atlanta or the Internet is not inherently good or bad necessarily, however there are good and bad things that happen there.
Her mentality is the same one that now says, "How can you love children and give them access to myspace?"

Predators and the dishonest always congregate to places where there is not a lot of regulation.

With the birth of any new technology, a gray area of pseudo-non-regulation is born that attracts those who wish to hover below the surface of legality.

Additionally, predators and pedophiles congregate where teenagers congregate unsupervised. Period. (Whether it is the mall or myspace!)

When we have concerns about students getting assaulted, we teach them self defense, we would never dream of tying them to their beds! (Assault and tying to the bed are both considered abuse.) Likewise, we should teach Internet "self-defense" and not flagrantly restrict access to an environment they need for their future.

We must not mistake the content with the communications channel.
If you have a cell phone, you can use it to call an older person and cheer them up or you can use it to play mean-spirited prank phone calls. Same channel, two very different things.

It is easy to cast stones at a communications channel like "chats" "wikis" "cell phones" "text messaging" "blogs" because then it is easy to regulate. It becomes a proverbial on off switch. It is also something that will not hurt many adults and is very misunderstood at this point.

Ban paper!
Perhaps we should ban paper. Many bad things are printed on paper!

Why can we not use content filters and let them do their job?

Wikis and blogs are incredibly wonderful, engaging tools that really breathe life into the educational experience in the hands of a good teacher.

They are a vital communications medium that they need to understand and know about. We are supposed to be creating global citizens who can work in a global workplace, and we are not going to educate students on the tools that will let them cooperate with their counterparts around the world?

I am quite floored at this well intentioned but uneducated effort at protecting kids on myspace.

Wikis have transformed my classroom into a more engaging, more effective place. Blogs have restored a love for writing and made it more relevant for many students!

Its also about personal things being done on personal time.

Yes, kids should not be myspacing at school. But myspace could be blocked. Facebook can be blocked. It is similar to the difference between work and personal. Businesses frown on personal work being done on company time. Likewise, students should be discouraged from "personal things being done on school time."

However, I think to completely block the medium is short sighted.
Last week I actually unblocked myspace for a day so students could print out their blogs from myspace for their computer science portfolio. They had some good entries and I was glad I got to read them.

Bookburning to Blog Burning?
You would think that we could learn from book burning that the medium is not the problem.

Through such shortsighted broad brush practices in the Dark Ages, we lost many great works of literature and history.

If we are concerned about content, then let's put in a rating system and filter for content. I think people misunderstand that because it is called social software does not mean that the software is being used for socializing. (Perhaps we educators should rename it collaborative educational software if lawmakers cannot get past semantics.)

This debate of the "evil of technology" has been around since scientists were called heretics for having new discoveries that contracticted modern thought of their era. It is easier to condemn something and get rid of it than to understand it.

Parents should be involved in myspace

I will say that I'm disgusted at some of the myspace websites of my students. I've called some parents to make them aware of what their students are doing. I guess I'm most disgusted that parents allow their children to operate unsupervised in an online world. It is the disinvolvement or perhaps just the "technology gap" between parents and their children that has caused some truly tragic happenings in myspace.

What hurts more kids, tobacco or myspace?

Since I'm waxing rhetorical here, I'm also disgusted that some of my students also smoke. When we learned of the dangers of tobacco, did the government ban all tobacco? No, we raised the age for tobacco purchase and we put a lot of money into educating the public. How many more students are killed by tobacco than myspace?

The world didn't end with Y2K!

There is also a lot of fearmongering going on in the media as the newssharks smell a story. Anyone remember how the world was going to end with Y2k?

What websites would be banned?
According to a great article over at SEGA Tech, the following websites would be banned if this bill were to pass:

  • JASON Project Online: This amazing hands-on science website allows students to chat in real-time with scientists out in the field, discuss issues they are having with data and experiements, post their work, and ask questions to experts via chats, live broadcasts, and forums.
  • Blogger & Wordpress: These are the two largest blog-hosting companies on the web, and provide teachers and students with easy access to blogging - allowing them to engage in online discussions, post work, and speak to a real audience. More and more teachers are moving to blogs as their class website solutions.
    (Hey folks, that would mean that you could no longer read the coolcatteacher blog!)
  • Google Pages: teachers with Google accounts can create websites for free - easily and quickly, without software downloads.
  • WebCT, BlackBoard, or Moodle: these services offer email, forums, and chat to class participants
  • Many Educational Blogs, such as SEGA Tech, 2 Cents Worth, and Weblogg-ed. These allow visitors to register, share ideas, and collaborate. (And coolcatteacher!)
  • Google Talk, Trillian, Yahoo Messenger, etc: These chat programs often allow teachers to quickly communicate with each other in the building, or discuss issues with experts in thier county (such as tech support, admins, etc). Students can use these to chat with experts in the real world or work collaboratively in different parts of the school.
  • Many aspects of Google Earth, such as the Online Community, Sketchup’s 3D warehouse, and sites like Google Earth Blog and Google Hacks.
  • Wikipedia (any wiki for that matter): one of the most extensive and reliable encyclopedias out there. (Wikispaces, PBwiki)
  • Heck, even Georgia Virtual School would be banned, as it makes extensive use of chat and video conference tools.
What do industry experts say?

David Warlick says:

I have asked Class Blogmeister users (almost 2,800 teachers & 27,000 students) to try to find some time and write about the learning experiences that their children are having, and to be specific about what their students are learning, that they weren’t learning before. I will blog these stories as they come in, but would also be willing to make them available for other campaigns to tell this new story about teaching and learning in the 21st century.

I’ve just started a new blog, Online Community Works, where I’ll post the stories as they arrive.

Will Richardson says.
First and foremost, we have to teach. Not our kids, but our teachers...It’s the perfect opportunity to try to contextualize what’s happening “out there” and try to help them understand why they should be thinking about this stuff and asking these questions. And we should all look at this as an opportunity to move these discussions into wider circles, because, as I’ve said before, this is less an education issue as much as it is a cultural/societal issue.
Will has created a dopa wiki for us to edit and work together to create a letter to legislators. Doug Johnson prints a copy of his own letter. He makes three points that are worth repeating.

Children are best protected by:
  • Having adult supervision during all online activities.
  • Engaging in effective training programs for children, parents and educators that stress safe and ethical behaviors
  • Developing life-long strategies for insuring personal privacy.

Telling the story has never been more important. It is vital to share the successes and excitement of students who are being exposed to blogs and wikis. It is important that adults, educators, and lawmakers know that there are viable, important uses of these technologies.

Otherwise, we are about to enter the new Dark Ages when blogs are burned instead of books. Tell the story, it is more important than ever!

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