Teachers who incorporate technology into their lesson plans will be the first to tell you that the students are often light years ahead of them when it comes to these wondrous new advancements.
When I was at The Carthage Press in the late 1990s, it was my young reporters who introduced me to the marvels of the internet. Not wanting to admit that I didn't know anything about it, I waited until one night when everyone had left the Press building, then figured out (after a number of failed efforts) how to get on the world wide web and how to use it. That night, I found information for three stories that wound up on page one of the next day's Press.
I thought this new technological marvel was going to supply me with an endless stream of stories (and so it has), but what I failed to take into consideration was that those stories had been out there for a long time and I quickly found that you didn't come up with three page-one stories every day.
Though I quickly picked up on the research possibilities of the internet, I was still far behind when it came to some of its other aspects. That was driven home to me during my last year teaching in the Diamond R-4 School District.
I had a number of talented students in my writing and reading classes and I suggested to two of my top eighth graders that they should keep a diary or journal of their high school years. With the enthusiasm of the young, they did not wait until they reached ninth grade. They started their journals that week (maybe even that night, I don't recall) and they were eager to tell me what they had done.
I pictured them sitting at a desk at home, opening their notebooks and slavishly writing away. I soon discovered how far out of date I was. That was when my two students introduced me to the world of blogging.
Their blogs were quite a mixture in those days. Some of the posts were insightful, extremely well-written and exactly what I had envisioned when I first suggested the journal idea.
Some of them, of course, were more juvenile in nature, and every once in a while there would be a bit of language that would make me cringe, but in taking the step to write every day they were improving their writing skills and helping them in every one of their classes.
It did not take long for these blogs to come under the scrutiny of the school officials. The blogs did not contain anything libelous or anything that should have made them targets, even for superintendents attempting to foster the fiction that everyone in the school was operating on the same wavelength.
At the time, I was operating a website for the school called Wildcat Central. To encourage those two students and others who had started writing blogs (though most of those quickly fell by the wayside when the student realized just how much work was involved in keeping blogs updated) I provided links to the blogs on the Links page of my school-oriented website Wildcat Central.
I have told this story before, but it bears repeating. I received an e-mail from the superintendent telling me that he had some concerns about the links since the district had no control over what was put on those sites. (Even though Wildcat Central was my personal website and I had never been paid a cent for it by the school district.) In the e-mail, he said something to the effect (it's in the Wildcat Central archives) that he knew I might have some First Amendment concerns, but he felt the links should be removed. (Of course, it was never mentioned that the superintendent had no control over the content of any of the other websites to which I linked, either.)
To my everlasting regret, I immediately removed the links. Even though I did so the same day, the superintendent sent a letter to the board president five days later telling him about the links, which no longer existed, making it appear that the links were still there. I fired off a letter saying I did not appreciate that (again, the content of those e-mails is available in the Wildcat Central archives) and that I did not appreciate the methods that the superintendent had used.
Shortly after that, though it was already mid-summer and I had a signed contract for the next school year, the superintendent convinced the board that the district was in dire financial straits and had to eliminate two jobs, one of them, of course, being mine, using a state law that permits school boards to reduce workforce for budget reasons, though it does not require the board to justify those reasons. (In fact, an MSTA report issued last year shows that the Diamond R-4 School District had a $1.1 million surplus that year, plenty enough to retain me and the elementary counselor who also lost her job.)
Things worked out extremely well for me. If the superintendent and the Diamond R-4 Board of Education had not taken the actions they did, I would still be struggling to make ends meet on a Diamond teacher's salary; this blog would not exist (for obvious reasons) and I would never have had the ability to write and promote "Small Town News."
Yes, things worked out well for me. Unfortunately, my former students, those same eighth graders whose discussions inspired my novel, and whose enthusiasm helped lead to this blog, remained in that district and their blogs have remained a target to this day.
Yesterday, after three years, one of those blogs apparently was written for the last time.
As I surfed the net last night, I came across this post. I will keep the name out of it since that is what this young woman has attempted to do for the past few months:
"The simple fact that this bit of personal expression exists, seems to be causing a little trouble for me.
"To make things easier for everyone who has a problem, I'll just take the thing down for you.
"I apologize if ".ck." from the "United States" and the personal writings of ".ck." have cast an unflattering shadow on a certain school district that has never been and still remains be identified.
"There were posts made from the school's computers, but nothing negative about the school or its personnel was stated, nor anything personally identifying the author.
"Technology Use Agreement: On-line Safety and Electronic Mail:
"1. Students are prohibited from using district technology resources to send or to receive electronic mail unless authorized by the district. Student authorized to use electronic mail for a specific purpose must limit their use to only that purpose.
"Guilty here as charged; I received an email from the biology teacher concerning links to an on-line assignment. I also used my email account to email a draft of an essay for my college english class to myself, as I thought this was preferrable to using a floppy disc and potentially infecting the system with a virus.
"2. Student users are prohibited from sharing personal information about themselves or others over the Internet, unless authorized by the district.
"Alas--I go to school, live in a town that has a Gringo's, Subway, Wal-mart, hospital, and gym, and read Camus. Everyone who didn't know me, knows me now, thanks to the information I posted while at school.
"I disagree with the way the situation was handled, but for this past week I have had significantly larger things on my mind.
"Nothing I've done before, be it a blog or email has distracted from my education; I would go so far as to say it supplements it. Being in an online English class, a business tech class, and a heavily research-based dual credit biology class and being told I'm not allowed access to any technology, on the other hand, has been a bit of a distraction.
"At any rate, the point of the "blog" is to let a handful of friends that I don't always talk to about everything know how my life's going along, to remember things as they happen, and to sometimes get the input of the close friends. The privacy settings are as high as they can be--you can't find it by googling my real name or even the blog URL. My real name is not used, my location is nowhere to be found, and the photo that was up there for awhile was taken down just to be consistent with the anonymity.
"My apologies to the principal/teachers/system admin and whoever else I've inadvertently caused grief to.
"Hopefully, now, 220.127.116.11 will stop checking in twice a day." (That is the IP address for a school adminisrator, by the way.)
CK's blog (and those are not her real initials) is not the only Diamond student blog that has been erased from existence. Another student, who had just started blogging, and who had not written anything that could remotely be considered offensive, has shut down her blog after being pressured by school officials and after having the same punishment, deprivation of the school's technology resources for a month.
While there may be other student blogs that were affected by this crackdown, I know of only three; two of them, two young voices that have attempted to say something, have been silenced.
I am sure that school officials will point to the numerous articles about the dangers of student blogging. And yes, there are dangers. According to articles in USA Today, the Washington Post, and other newspapers, there are teen bloggers, as young as 13 or 14, who are posting revealing photos of themselves for everyone on the Internet to see. Some are making libelous comments; spreading poisonous gossip, and revealing information that could make them targets for the insidious snakes who prowl the world wide web.
Don't let school officials tell you that's what this was about. Two of the three bloggers that I read have criticized the current school administration, though not recently. Usually, it was over the lack of challenging class offerings for intelligent students who want to make something of themselves. That would appear to be a topic that would be protected by the First Amendment. These young women were not only exercising their freedom of expression, but they were doing so in a responsible fashion.
Only one of those blogs remains intact, Michelle Nickolaisen's, which I wrote about earlier this week. No one is saying that these girls should not be punished if they violated the technology agreement, though that agreement appears to be written with such elasticity that it can mean anything the administration wants it to mean.
Depriving them of the means of keeping up with their class, when their sole offense appears to be that they have spoken and written critically about the administration in the past, appears to be an attempt by an insecure administrator to send the message "If you say anything bad about me, you will be crushed."
Students like Michelle Nickolaisen and the two whose blogs no longer exist should be cherished, not punished. These young women are writing and reading when other students are hypnotized by television and video games.
When some students' major concern is where the next party is going to be held, these are the students who are devouring 500-page books, praying for a school in which they can learn Latin and take other upper-level classes, and begging for a curriculum that will enable them to spread their wings and fly. These are all topics the girls have broached on their blogs.
Don't let this story be turned into school officials who are protecting children from the dangers of the Internet; that is not what this is about. Plain and simple; this is school officials who are protecting school officials from student dissent.
And these are the people who should be teaching our students about the values of living in a free society.