Posts Tagged ‘reform’

Update: The WVDE eventually unblocked Twitter. However, we still can’t access playlist.com

 

I’m pretty sure the West Virginia Department of Education would block me for inappropriate content. I like to say bad words…especially the really bad ones. I also read books with sex, nudity, murder, rape, profanity, etc. I even occasionally watch rated R movies.

Of course, I don’t do any of this on school time or around students.

My music appreciation class has used playlist.com several times this semester. I’ve created playlists to share with them and they’ve created them to share with me. Last week, I booked time in our school library for our final project for the semester. On day one of the project, several students chose to use playlist.com as a resource. On day two of the project, playlist was blocked. Thankfully, the WVDE provides an email address and you can request a review if you feel a site was mistakenly blocked. I sent in my request and this is the response I received.

Thank you for your request. 

We have recently received a request to have this site blocked due to profanity in the music and user submitted comments.

We filter websites in accordance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which states that we must filter for pornography, profanity, and content that is harmful to minors.   This site was found to be in violation of that criteria.

We hope you understand that while sites such as this offers many great educational resources, there is also unacceptable content as well.  At this time we will not be able to remove the blocking of this site in our filtering system.

*sigh*

I emailed back.

Who made the request?

If teachers are using the website in class and complaining about their students being exposed to profanity then I would question how well those students are being supervised.

I’ve used this site many times this semester to create playlists for my music classes with no problems. One class was even using it for part of their final project this semester, which is how we found out today that it’s now blocked.

I would ask that you reconsider having this site blocked.

Three days later…
I cannot provide information on the person who requested the page to be blocked.  The fact is that we review all requests to confirm that they do violate our filtering policies and this site was confirmed to do so.  We cannot unblock this site at this time.

*grumble grumble grumble*

Folks, I’m totally cool with filtering pornography. I personally don’t want my 7 year old to accidentally come across www.sheeplovers.com or www.girlswholovetheirbrothers.net when he’s supposed to be using the computers at his school. (Heck, I even have filtering software on my home computer…shh!) However, I really think the folks in charge are just being ridiculous. Do they really think we can block EVERYTHING that might be questionable? The BLOCK IT IT’S BAD mentality is crap. It doesn’t do what they want it to do and actually hurts the educational process. Teachers can no longer access Twitter. TWITTER???? Because someone might curse? Because kids could be exposed to profanity? Have these people never walked down a high school hallway? Just in case they haven’t, let me be clear: Kids don’t need Twitter to be exposed to profanity.  But hey, on the off chance some Amish kid who’s never heard an F-bomb hops on line and decides to tweet, let’s BLOCK IT!

As I write this I’m resisting the urge to sing the praises of Twitter for collaboration and professional development. I really could go on forever about the topic. I will say I’ve used Twitter with my students to bring professionals into our class. Author Scott Westerfeld tweeted a message to my students when I told him we were reading his book and creating a playlist to go along with it. Singer/songwriter Corey Smith weighed in on how the internet has changed the way musicians market themselves…yes, he did that using Twitter.  Even school reform guru Diane Ravitch read a blog post I wrote about school reform and sent a message to one of my students. How did this happen? You guessed it! Twitter. That connection to those people made my kids feel a little special and made what they were doing in class feel a little more real.

(But, Twitter’s bad…right? We have to protect the kids, right?)

Folks, we can’t block our way to safe childhoods. The internet is just like everything else. Instead of blocking everything that might be harmful, we should be educating our students and teachers about the appropriate uses of Twitter and Facebook. Instead of telling teachers they can’t be trusted to connect with students online, how about we educate kids on how to recognize inappropriate behavior and what to do if an adult approaches them online or in person? Am I crazy for thinking that’s a good idea?

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For the last couple of weeks I’ve been slowly making my way through  The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith. It was a reading suggestion from Jack Deskins, who is the Arts Coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education.  It’s been one of those books that I start highlighting from the first sentence because it just goes with my thinking so well.

Today was one of those fun days at school when 1,000 things are going on and kids are being called out of class for various things. My 2nd block class ended up with about 25% of the students left in the room when all was said and done.  Grant was one of the 6 left behind.

My first year teaching at my current school I had Grant in my beginning guitar class.  He drove me a bit insane. He’s one of those kids that’s too smart for his own good…the kind that makes teachers crazy because they can’t really teach him anything in the regular classroom. His thinking just surpasses what the “normal” teen has going on in his or her brain. (Or at least my perception of what they’ve got going on.)

Skip two years and I have Grant again in Music Appreciation.  We regularly talk about issues in education in this class. We’ve watched a Ken Robinson TED Talk. We read articles about high-stakes testing.  I encourage them to take charge of their learning and to not let it be something that just happens to them between the hours of 7 and 3.  I decided to share the book with Grant.

I let him read the preface. He latched on to the last line.

“But if you relax and simply read the book for interest, you’ll probably enjoy it more, learn more than you expect, and be less likely to forget points that are most relevant to you.”

Makes sense doesn’t it

It did to Grant. It’s pretty exhilarating to see a student get worked up over education…to see him go off about reading choice and other ed issues.  “Ms. E, the girls over there couldn’t tell you what was in the chapter Ms So and So assigned them to read for a test, but every one of them could tell you that Edward has his shirt off on page 254 of Twilight. You know why? That’s what they WANT to read. It means something to them!”

 “We’re not even being educated for today or tomorrow. We’re being educated for the past. This makes me angry. The sad part is it won’t make any of them (gestures to the other students) angry.”

Later, I offered to let him borrow the book once I finished. He said, “I don’t know if I can read that book. That’s the kind of book that will motivate me to do something and then it’ll make me angry when I realize I can’t do anything.”

So, what would you tell Grant? How can we justify giving him, and all the other students we see, an education that isn’t what they need to be successful? An education that doesn’t teach them to think critically or to question what they’re doing and why?

More than that, what do we do about those other students who are walking along being blissfully ignorant of the fact they’re getting shortchanged because we’re forced to teach to the test in the name of accountability?

(I did ask Grant if he minded me blogging about our conversation. He gave permission. Also, the quotes from Grant are his words. I took notes while we chatted.)

I begin each class with a writing prompt. I mentioned them in an earlier blog post…my zombie apocalypse prompt turned into something bigger than I had anticipated, but I was completely okay with it. My kids were thinking hard.

Today’s prompt was this: If you give one piece of advice to any person in history, that advice would be…

My music appreciation class seemed to have a difficult time with this. A few very quickly said that they would tell _______ not to get in the car or go to work on the day they died. Others took a little longer to decide. Several mentioned stopping the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy. One even said she’d tell Hitler’s mom to have an abortion.

One kid stopped me with his answer. He said, “I’d tell whoever invented school to not do it.”

Well, holy hell.

This did not come from a student I know very well. Until a week ago, my only real interaction with him was passing in the hallway…I just don’t know where he’s coming from to know why he doesn’t like school. I questioned him a bit. “What is it about school that you don’t like?” (Now I thinking of about a 100 different ways I could have phrased that differently instead of making it a like/don’t like choice, but too late now.)

To paraphrase the conversation….other students chimed in with their opinions…my kids are dissatisfied with the fact that they all have to take the same classes as everyone else. They don’t see the point. They want to learn about what they want to learn about. (duh!)

I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do…or if it was the wrong thing…maybe both…but I told the class, “I have a video that sort of addresses what you guys are saying. I’m not sure if I should show it to you or not. You may not like it. You may not understand it all. But, I’ll show it if you want to watch it.”

They said they’d give it a shot so I hooked up the projector and speakers and brought up Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk. (Thanks for sharing it, Jack. It’s a game changer for me.)

To be completely honest, I didn’t think they’d watch the whole thing. I totally love it and geek out over it, but I didn’t expect a class of high schoolers to stick with it. But, they did. And they did it without talking. They were mesmerized. (I was shocked.) We had a good discussion afterward about what they saw/heard and their thoughts.

What I took away from sharing that video with my students was this: they care about their education. (Yes, earth shattering, isn’t it?) I think a lot of times kids are classified as lazy and apathetic when they’re really just bored. They want meaning. They want choice. We’re not giving it to them. We’re giving them a one size fits all education that doesn’t work. The more I think about, the more angry I get. I get angry for my students and I get angry for my own children. We’re failing them by not accepting the fact that they have different needs and different talents. FAILING THEM!

Disclaimer: I’m not promoting complete and total anarchy in the education system. I don’t think we need to toss out everything that’s good and everything that works in the name of transformation. But, we need to figure out if what’s good and what works is really working for our students or is it working for us?

We did eventually get to the lesson plan for the day, but I’m glad we took our little side trip into ed talk. My kids needed it. They need to feel like they have a voice and that someone is listening. ..even if it’s “just” me. But, in talking to them I realize there has to be a revolution. We can’t keep doing this thinking it’s right. It’s not.