Filtration Fever Hits China (and US)

You can't visit China without seeing the western influence there. Our tour guide had a Justin Bieber haircut that he had proudly made himself. Chinese who cannot speak English can sing in perfect Bieberese "Baby, Baby, Baby..." Ah, Bieber Fever is Everywhere.

 Government Snow
But, the government is everywhere too. In the sky, on the ground, everywhere.

The government made it snow on Saturday of the Flat Classroom conference. Snow?
Flat Classroom Conference 2011 - February Beijing, China

As I met Julie Lindsay the lead organizer for the conference, I commented how odd it was that it snowed that day. She laughed in her lilting sort of way
"Ah, the government made it snow last night, it is no big deal." 
Others from Beijing verified this.
"I can see the snow cannons, they fire them near my house and seed the clouds," said Julie.

Others said that this is a frequent occurence in Colorado and Utah where they need snow. I'm not sure but something in me gets upset at governments controlling the weather.

But it shouldn't be surprising as filters have a whole lot of influence on the weather inside the computer screens. They can cast government snow upon the seeds of discontent and revolution. The can just cast snow upon any and all collaboration by chilling the pipes upon which such collaboration flows.

Yes, China is blocking Google services
I can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that China is aggressively blocking Google services. When I arrived in China in February, it was during the time when Middle Eastern unrest was spreading and I could not check my gmail for the first two days even behind my well-selected VPN. Google Docs was unstable as well.

She Who Shall Not Be Named
In fact, we had one young lady named Jasmine and because the government was so heavily filtering the word "Jasmine" (the Jasmine revolution) we renamed her on our wiki and in our projects to keep from losing our wiki. Our behind the scenes joke was that Jasmine was "she who shall not be named" as we did not want to speak the word.

The Company Who Shall not Be Named
Now, my friends in China are quietly moving to yahoo accounts just in case they cannot get back into their gmail. Even with VPN's, Western expatriates are cut off from most Google services: docs, calendars, especially gmail. Unstable and unusable.

Keeping it Flat Anyway
Yes, this has put a hitch in things for Flat Classroom - an organization of global collaboration for students that we have kept decidedly apolitical. We are about teaching. Teaching technology, asychronous collaboration, online leadership skills. We believe that you can't have excellence in education without global collaboration. Period. And yet, when things happen like this it can set us back.

This is nothing new. We will press forward. 

The Great Firewall of China
From what I understand, China has 7 firewall centers as part of their "Great Firewall of China" and these firewalls have been locked down tighter and tighter over the past few months.

Filtration Fever
in China
Despite the influence of entertainment, right now, not only can my Chinese friends not read this blog but now, they cannot read my email.

David Truss, Pair a Dimes Blog
But to segue, here are some words from my friend David Truss in China along with a picture he suggests people in schools with Filter Fever hang in their foyer:

"The Students Live website provides a number of different ways to connect and interact with the Olympic reporter student bloggers. However, we live in China which filters a lot of social software websites and so these were the options that my Grade 9 teacher was confronted with:
Facebook: BLOCKED

Twitter: BLOCKED

Blogspot Blogs: BLOCKED

Flickr: (recently) BLOCKED (again)

I had to use my VPN to bypass the Chinese filter in order to cut and paste the blog post, mentioned above, into an email so that my teacher could read it in his class. A potential global ‘conversation’ reduced to a reading, confined to a classroom. Frustrating!

Now here is the thing… I chose to move to a country where a lot of sites get blocked. I can’t imagine what it’s like for teachers in the ‘free world’ that have their own school districts do this to them!"

in the US
We in the US cannot look down our trusty 1Gbps Internet connections at our Chinese friends.

I can tell you from experience, the two toughest places to collaborate IN THE WORLD are: any school in China and US public schools.

Thank God for the progressive US schools, public and private, who collaborate anyway and that we have many of them in our projects. These schools are usually characterized by extraordinary leadership who understand  that:


What do schools block?
Like China, most US public schools won't allow unblocking of even one Ning - even educational ones like Digiteen, Flat Classroom, or NetGen. They put our emails from us to the teachers into their blacklist filters and teachers can't even get started. Joining a Google Group or Google calendar at school is out of the question.

They won't allow kids to wiki because "people write porn on wikis." (Yes, I had a school that said that.) Sad.

Some teachers have to create non-school emails and accounts and do work from home to make global collaboration happen in the classroom. Their filters are that locked down and no method exists for unblocking anything.

I think that we have to look at our practices and our filtering here in the US very closely.

Filter fever is a symptom of fear. We all see clearly what China is afraid of.

But what on earth are US public schools afraid of?
  • Are we afraid that our kids might learn to work with someone from another country? That is a business requirement. 
  • Are we afraid that we might have to shuffle our work day to work with someone from another time zone? We are surrounded by oceans that soak up the time zones and need to work through this.
  • Are we afraid of a future where we can no longer keep prosperity on our shores by the boundary of our country? We already live in a world where money flows through the Internet and can shift the GDP of whole countries in a day due to websites hosted in country.
Personally, I'm afraid of a future built upon a generation that has been cut off from one another. Students are the greatest textbook ever written for each other. Open the book. Make it happen.

Every Student Collaborates
Filter out the smut but please, we should be able to allow meaningful global collaboration with students all over the world for EVERY US public school system. It can be done inexpensively or for free - the only cost is to move outside our comfort zone.

We work so hard measuring if each individual child is learning that we forget to see if they can work together at all.

In this day of budget cuts, this is something we can do to invest in our future that won't cost a lot of money and will pay huge dividends in future generations. Most students are woefully unprepared for this. Don't say "they are already connected now on Facebook." It simply isn't applicable to the professional environment where they are headed.

Collaborate or be unemployed.

We Love Our Walled Window boxes?
I love my country (the US) and it disheartens me to know that our very future lies in collaborating with countries like India and China and all of the world and we continue to "wall our gardens."

The problem is that I'd hardly call the technology ecosystems at most schools a garden - they are probably more like a windowbox if anything. Some would even say windowdressing as their internal networks languish unused with kids forgetting passwords and not logging in for months.

Let me repeat the motto of our Flat Classroom Conference: there is no excellence in education without global collaboration.

The question is NOT: "What are we keeping out?"  The question should be "What are we letting in?"

Remember your noble calling teachers, administrators, ed tech leaders. Few such callings are as noble as this: to promote students working together in the K12 level so when they grow up we have a world that can work together. Promoting collaboration and collaboration from the bottom up.
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