Steve Cohen sent me a link to this story at North Jersey.com that captures the incredibly messy stage we’re in regarding schools and blogs and students and Web publishing. Pretty much seems like schools are in reaction mode instead of proaction mode, and to me it’s only going to get worse until schools start understanding the shifts that are occurring. This is a very different landscape, one where, to some extent, I think resistance is futile. The old paradigms of trying to manage or control the information flow pretty much goes out the window when everyone has a platform.
What can schools in general do? Well, here are some pretty straightforward ideas, I think.

1. Schools need to start blogging and inviting the community into conversations about what’s going on. We need to tell parents and students and community members that we will entertain and respond to any comment or idea they contribute provided they do so in a way that respects the civil exchange of ideas and the people involved. We do not need to stand for insults, but we do need to provide a space to discuss ideas because if we don’t, someone else will. And we need to offer the space because we are the educators and this is all about education.

2. We need to in-service teachers, hold courses and community nights for parents, and teach every student the acceptable uses of these new technologies, and we need to model their appropriate use. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but half the problem is that kids are making the rules up as they go along. I love this quote from the story:

As students flock to such sites, teachers worry that without the guidance they would get at a traditional school paper, kids will learn all the bad habits of editorializing and sloppy reporting.

What guidance have students every really gotten in this regard unless they took a journalism class or worked on the school paper? How about this: a course in citizen journalism and Web literacy should be MANDATORY for every student (and teacher, and parent and administrator.)

3. Stop blocking, start teaching. I’ve been exchanging comments about this on Aaron Campbell’s site and he says:

And I agree with you that we should embrace our confrontation with nudity, sex, drugs, violence, and spam in an institutional context as a positive thing, an opportunity to teach and learn and grow. The more we avoid dealing with these issues, the more we give up sharing our experience and wisdom (?) with young people about them. These are part of their world, so they should likewise be issues in the classroom.

That’s not to say that we don’t continue to filter out the worst of it, and that we take every measure to protect our kids from the ne’er do wells of the world. But instead of denying access to a ton of good content that’s coming out of blogs and wikis and other sources, let’s teach kids how to deal with this new world. We do our students a disservice if we don’t teach them that spamming and file sharing is unethical and illegal, that pornography (and half of the magazine covers at the local convenience store) demeans and degrades and objectifies women in ways that should not and cannot be tolerated. That everyone has an agenda, and they need to be able to see beyond the message to the overall subtext. Why aren’t we talking about this in our schools? Better yet, why aren’t we joining with parents to do this? And what happens when we don’t have these conversations and our kids graduate? Who talks to them about it then?

More questions than answers, I know, but we need to start addressing them before not after the ugliness starts.