battlelinesThis weekend, our family took an unexpected trip to Zimbabwe. For the most part, we were without internet access but we were not without debate. Over Zambezi beers and views of Victoria Falls, we disputed, argued, and attempted to convince one another of our “rightness.” And so this week’s blog post was born. In a rather collaborative format, we are co-writing this blog in response to the debate: should schools (and teachers and parents) limit a child’s use to the web?

On one side: A big whopping HELL YEAH!

And on the other side: Nope… open up the flood gates.

To decide the battle, we’ll break this topic in to 5 rounds. May the best spouse win! But to further intensify this challenge, we are asking you to be our judge. In the comments section, please vote for TEAM BLUE or TEAM GREEN with your justification. In a week’s time, we will calculate the votes from both of our blogs and the winner will be pardoned from laundry duty for a week and will be awarded bragging rights FOREVER!

Round 1: Digital Footprints

Team Blue’s perspective: We all know that kids have the world at their fingertips: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Their life is an open-book yet most schools slam those books shut from 8 am – 4 pm blocking all student access to Social Media and immediate global connectedness. Instead, schools should be embracing this immediacy and encouraging their students to tweet their queries and Instagram their learning. Why keep it hidden in the walls of the school and avoid sharing it with one another’s larger PLNs?
Team Green’s perspective: Is social networking the answer? Not from where I sit. There are so many amazing (free) protected resources out there in planet cyberspace. Students can share their learning in a more private and protected way. We need to shield children from sharing with the world to ensure they don’t mess up (too big). Giving students the opportunity to foul up in a protected environment means we can guard them from potential embarrassment or flogging at the hands of the comment section.
Round 2: Access to Inappropriate Material
Team Green’s perspective: It’s hard to monitor all that’s out there. With a room full of student inquirers, inappropriate content can make its way on to student screens (whether intentionally or not). The difficultly is that the story of “the HUGE breasts” will reach every dinner table and the Administrator’s inbox quicker than you can say, “summer vacation.” The consequences for a teacher are often more significant than those that come down on the student because, “The teacher should have known better.” Additionally, situations like this often result in blocked websites or teachers who do not want to use the internet as a resource.
Team Blue’s perspective: Schools with good “Acceptable Use Policies” put the responsibility on the students… where it should be. If something appears “by mistake,” students should be responsible enough to close it, move on, and keep it to themselves rather than advertise their experience to the whole Biology class. Additionally, schools should bring the parents into the equation and teach them that their “digital natives” need to become “digital citizens” and coming across inappropriate material is a teachable moment and should be viewed as such. Any school wide filters will block information that is imperative to student learning.
Round 3: Distractions
Team Blue’s perspective: My recipe to avoid distractions in the classrooms: well-thought out lessons and good classroom management. If your students are actively pursuing distractions in the classroom then you better take stock of YOUR teaching. Take a look in the mirror and evaluate your instructional practices with a critical eye. In an environment where students are stimulated and challenged by your lessons, they will not be looking elsewhere for something to occupy their time. 
Team Green’s perspective: There are a million and one learning objectives, assessments, and tasks to get through in the 180-day school year. Allowing students free and open access to the web invites unnecessary distractions in to an already fast-paced and focused teaching itinerary. In a high-stakes learning environment, teachers and students need to focus more on productivity and procedural goals than the temptations that the sirens of Facebook, 9Gag, and YouTube offer.
Round 4: Curriculum Requirements
Team Green’s perspective: As teachers, we are responsible for imparting knowledge to our students. Whether we are teaching them the quadratic equation or how to infer the character’s feelings in a novel, it is my job to disseminate age-appropriate and topic-significant information for my students. Since the school already has successful filters in place, focusing on “safe searches” won’t cut in to my valuable teaching time and I, instead, can prepare them to pass their IB exams. The school can offer a dedicated “Boot Camp” for internet safety as we prepare students for the “outside” world. “Boot Camp” just doesn’t have to be part of my lesson plan. 
Team Blue’s perspective: As a teacher, we have bigger jobs than delivering our curriculum. We are required to seize teachable moments so our students grow up to be good world citizens. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would avoid teaching about racism if it crept in to my classroom for one reason or another. Why should access to the internet be any different? If my students come across inappropriate information on the web, it is my job to take hold of that moment and turn it into an education that prepares them for a moment when there are no watchful eyes. I need to empower them to be principled.
Round 5: Censorship
Team Blue’s perspective: Censorship sucks! By limiting a student’s access to the internet and the vast information, resources, and opportunities it avails, we are censoring potential learning for our students. Harper Lee’s brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned and challenged by the American Library Association because of racial slurs. Why are we giving up the this piece of literature instead of using it as an opportunity to teach how our society has evolved over time? Why are we so afraid to teach?
Team Green’s perspective: I’m not afraid to teach. I just think we need to be careful what we teach. I don’t think many educators are worried about a website with a derogatory term or a perspective that is “a bit dodgy.” But as a teacher, I don’t want to educate my students about “water sports” (from Urban Dictionary a site my students inadvertently navigated to). It’s just WAY out of my pay grade.

So… who do you think takes the prize?