Miguel, Wes, Andy and others, I’m sure, are engaged in an interesting and important discussion about how we should be responding to what appears to be more and more widespread efforts on the part of school districts to block certain content from coming through their Internet lines. (Before going any further, I think it’s crucial that we begin identifying exactly how widespread this is…to that end, I just slapped together a wiki where people can add specific instances of what’s being blocked and where. If anyone wants to jump on the idea, feel free.) While certainly not the only example, Andy and Miguel cite the fact that some districts are banning not just MySpace the site but “my space” the word. (Guess they won’t be reading this.) Miguel even suggests that we all start putting the words “myspace.com” on every page that we create to bring attention to the issue.

I hope that by doing so, the outcry against banning words–not just URLs–will be so great as to cause education leaders to reconsider their decision to censor words, not URLs.

And I think Andy asks legitimate questions regarding the effects of all of this:

The filtering software used to supposedly protect children is preventing educators from taking an active role in understanding and discussing the complexities of Internet use in the classroom. Schools may claim “in loco parentis” when describing filters used to protect children. But what are they trying to protect teachers from? Being better users of technology? Being responsible, informed educators?

Even Stephen (whose blogging I especially miss after being out of the country for 11 days) chimes in with a pretty strong response to Miguel’s post:

There is more at stake here than just this particular issue. If we can be silenced here, we can be silenced anywhere – and will be.

But while there is no question that these issues are serious, I have serious questions about the best way to deal with them (and not many answers.) And I think my concerns go back to the larger discussion of how best to extend these conversations to those outside of our own online community. For the most part, we’re preaching to the choir…it’s highly dubious whether any more than a handful of the administrators or tech directors who need to be engaged in this discussion even know it’s occuring. In fact, they have no reason to become engaged. MySpace is the perfect vehicle for schools to exercise control over a phenomenon that they don’t yet understand or appreciate in any way. And as I’ve said many times before, this is less about safety than it is about control. Schools don’t own content any longer. Schools can’t control content any longer in a world where all of their kids have access to more stuff than the system could ever have imagined. But instead of seeing that as an asset, instead of seeing opportunity, instead of rethinking teacher and student roles in the classroom because of this, the culture dictates that we do whatever we can to resist the change.

There are at best, what, 50? 100? 500? 1000? educators tuned into this conversation in a sea of hundreds of thousands. How many have posted? And how many of the tens of millions of parents are there out there who are demanding that we educate rather than block? And why is that?

In this respect, I think David Warlick, as usual, has it pretty much right when he’s focusing on extending the conversations. To be honest, I haven’t bought into the whole “new stories” meme very hard, maybe because the old new stories haven’t seemed to work to any great degree in terms of effecting change. And because I think the new stories need to resonate more with people outside of schools. In that respect, think David takes an important step forward by focusing on the different constituents in terms of community members and parents, teachers and faculty, and administrative leaders and board members. It’s that first group, I think, that needs more of our attention. It reminds me of the point that Larry Cuban makes in Oversold and Underused, that technology will never reform schools in any meaningful way (or, in fact, that school reform in general will never work) until we first change the very foundations and expectations of the larger society:

The answers to these questions, as I have argued, are in the minds and hands not only of teachers but of policymakers, public officials, corporate elites, and parents who set the educational agenda…And without a broader vision of the social and civic role that schools perform in a democratic society, our current excessive focus on tehcnology use in schools runs the danger of trivializing our nation’s core ideals (197).

But Cuban also clearly frames this current discussion:

Yet technology will not go away, and educators have to come to terms with it as an educational tool. Understanding technology and the social practices that accompany it as a potent force in society is incumbent on both students and adults (194).

There is no question that the Read/Write Web, which has taken hold after Cuban’s writing, makes that struggle even more acute. That is what we are witnessing now. As Stephen says, the stakes are high, and this promises to be a long, long, long debate that will not easily be won. I think one way to win it, however, is to continue to model the effectiveness of the tools, to champion the creative and innovative ways that teachers are using them, and, more importantly, to take every opportunity to educate and share and collaborate with audiences beyond our own millieu. It may mean spending less time blogging and more time writing for print beyond the usual list of publications where the ideas may find a different audience. And it may mean being subversive. But I think it’s crucial that we think hard about ways of bringing these ideas to the people who exert the most control over what happens in our classrooms, and that’s not always the people inside the school building.