Sunday, November 26, 2006

Is Internet Access Necessary in Public Schools?

After reading this post about internet restriction for preteens and being the mother of a nearly-teen I am throwing in my two cents.


Northern Lights ABC Elementary is a wonderful school--last year they were a nationally recognized "Blue Ribbon" school--I say this not to brag but to give you a context when I say that even in a school awarded for its excellence in education and sought after for its emphasis of a basic, traditional curriculum I have been frustrated and puzzled by their continuous replacement of reading, writing, science and math skills with the latest in electronic media, an issue I seem to be returning to frequently.

With an abundance of involved and professional parents it's no surprise the school has a state of the art computer lab. Last year during her sixth grade year Grace had a teacher who prided herself on cutting edge computer skills and took it upon herself to teach the children how to use the internet. Now given what I'm now doing this very second, I'm obviously not opposed to new technology, but, realistically, how did you learn to use the internet? Did you need a teacher or a high-tech lab to teach you about email and yahoo?

Learning to use the internet, even for someone as old as I am was merely a matter of jumping in and figuring it out, reading a few articles and then trial and error, so I can imagine children Grace's age who've grown up with computers running their lives would have little trouble teaching themselves how to navigate the web. Spending an hour a week to teach pre-teens how to use the internet is akin to teaching them how to program a VCR or use a remote control--it's mostly about entertainment and they already have it down.

And what did Grace do with all her newly acquired internet knowledge? Was she researching her science fair project? Studying the depletion of the rain forests? Supplementing her class lessons with tutorials? Not quite. The teacher encouraged the kids to open email and itunes accounts to be used during once a week lab time, because if school isn't about the latest CD and notes to your friends, what's it for? Soon Grace brought home word that her teacher suggested carrying a jump drive for transporting all this high culture to and from school.

When we pinned Grace down about what she wanted to download onto her newly-required necessity she said she'd found "A really funny commercial" that she wanted to bring home to show us. The students were never graded, never tested, never quizzed on anything learned as far as I could tell, it was nothing more than glorified play time without a Mom or Dad looking over their shoulder to make sure they weren't going anywhere nasty.

And the ultimate irony is that this is the school that banned Wall Ball on the playground because it was considered too dangerous. The administrators and noon-duties are so busy running around strapping bike helmets on the kids that they don't notice where the real danger is. Nowadays, allowing children access to the internet--either restricted or unrestricted--is the moral equivalent of letting them play in the street. Even with fancy filters and software the danger is real and ubiquitous without real, personal, caring supervision. Whether it's pedophiles, sexual predators, or pornography, it's out there and it's looking for them, it's just a matter of time before they get hit.

I'm not suggesting that a child should never be allowed on the internet, I'm saying that the restrictions the school district places on access are to few to be effective--that the only one capable of protecting my child is me because I'm the one requiring that they use my laptop at the kitchen table rather than in their bedroom where I can see exactly where they're going, I'm the one checking the history of sites visited and I'm the one who cares if something doesn't feel quite right. Because of its inherent danger I should be the one teaching my child how to safely navigate cyberspace.

But if you still have faith in the school district's filters, just last month the Matanuska-Susitna School District blocked student access to all internet sites not ending in gov or edu because of problems with students downloading pornographic material. As Bob Doyle, the Chief School Administrator said, "computer savvy students figure out ways to bypass firewalls and filtering systems," and "what is blocked today is accessed tomorrow through a different door."

But let's say, hypothetically, that the filters do work, that access to the nasty stuff is blocked. What then? Still the internet holds little value for the public education system. "Research" is usually the argument most frequently used, that in our tech-based world children must learn to do internet research. True, but again, how long does it take to figure out how to google? I would be willing to bet that most American pre-teens are masters.

It's simply a matter of priority. When American children are graduating with sub-standard reading, writing, math and science skills, why on earth is there such a frenzy to get computers into the classroom? Children don't need more screen time, they need more teacher and study time.


Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I just had a letter home from my daughter's 4 year old kindergarten (your pre-K) asking parents their opinion on the use of computers in kindy. "NOT NECESSARY" was my response.

My son started school not knowing how to use a "mouse" and certain people thought this was a problem! Good gracious, I learnt to use a mouse in minutes at the ripe old age of 26. It isn't that hard, so why introduce it to 5 year olds when it can be learnt so quickly and easily later on?

I guess there are children who wouldn't otherwise have computer access if they didn't have the opportunity to go online at school ... but surely it can wait until they are a little older.

Liz said...

Local school heads here have just banned inter-school matches in case parents who volunteer to drive the children to the other school don't have the right insurance or have a criminal record.

The world is going mad.

Our church runs a youth cafe with internet access and there are strict rules about sites that can be visited and there is to be no messsaging. The computers are in a very open location and youth workers are around all the time and if rules aren't adhered to then it's off and out. But that's for teens out of school time.

Most toddlers are computer-literate but how many can add up in their head - or just using their fingers?

Mommy off the Record said...

I tend to agree with you. Someone would have to convince me that the computer time had some added value, other than being a form of "playtime" for the kids like what you described. That seems ludicrious.

I liked your metaphor of allowing children access to the internet being like letting them play in the street. This is a nice way to put it. And, I think, entirely true when they are not monitored.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. My 5th & 6th graders thought they would croak with my archaic views of handwriting and research methods. But they actually learned to appreciate it. I didn't allow them to type their papers, but wanted them to practice using beautiful penmanship. They learned it was possible. And when it was time to research people like Isaac Newton and Oliver Cromwell, we dusted off some ancient encyclopedias. They actually had fun, and learned a great deal more than today's watered-down wikipedia-type sites. Plus, they all had to admit that my not allowing computers in the classroom or homework didn't harm their computer literacy one iota. They were still far great experts at their young ages of 10-12 than I will ever be. It's sad when teachers lose their focus, and substitute modernity for tried and true depth. I mean, really, how many other moments would an adult have a chance to have a child sit down with a real, live book? Sounds like those teachers are missing the point. Plus, if I had a child in that school, I think I'd be pretty upset that I didn't get to oversee their internet use. That's pretty major, in my view.

Anonymous said...

That last paragraph really sums it up, doesn't it?

In my former life I was an English teacher, and I can honestly say that the lack of basic communication skills among my students was frightening.

Heth said...

I completely agree.
And I say bring on the Wall Ball.

Shoshana said...

I agree. The public libraries have internet access, the school do not need to do it. They're for learning. Unless they're going to be figuring out some computer language like C++ and javascript, they should leave well enough alone.

Most homes have computers too, it should be up to the parents to decide if they want their kids trolling on google, opening accounts on itunes, and stuff like that.

Sure, I let my kids log in to, but that's after homework, and maintaining an "A" average.

Computer class in school should be about learning. Why not learn EXCEL and balancing numbers on it? Those "fun" internet" stuff can be learned later on, preferably, much, much later!

Penny said...

I am appauled.

I am just appauled.

In University, we had fifteen minutes of internet training to show us how to most effectively use a search engine and how to look for evidence that what we were reading was a peer-reviewed journal from which we could quote, if we chose to.

That's it.

Music? Email?

You might as well keep your children at home if that's the kind of education sending them out gets them.


Izzy said...

I agree with you. While learning to use a computer is important, learning to use the internet should be last priority. Is there some reason why the library is no longer suitable for "research"?

And iTunes and email? How is that relevant to their education?

My husband works at a school and believe me, I hear all kinds of stories about how kids try to circumvent the controls and filters they have set up.

If they aren't going to properly monitor the usage, they shouldn't have it for students.

Anonymous said...

In France, kids have access to computers at age 4. Ridiculous.

I've told my children in no uncertain terms that video games will never be a reality in our household. I could care less about educational games and all that malarky. The only education game they really need is the development of their own imaginations.

The imagination of an entire generation is being siphoned into the computer screen and I find that horrifying.

They'll have their entire lives to be enslaved to the computer and if push comes to shove (as it inevitably will due to the rate of technological advances), everything they are shown now will be of no use later.


Haley-O said...

Gosh...All the things to think about....I think, in a controlled setting, internet access at school is okay. That's about it, though. I haven't thought much about this. But, you've given me a lot to consider. It's a tough call. And, gosh, us parents have our work cut out for us these days, don't we....

edj said...

Preach it girl! I totally agree with you. I am amazed at the blindness that would stop Wall Ball and allow unlimited internet. What could they be thinking?
I think schools should teach kids how to type. Kids need to know how to type in today's world. Beyond that? Leave it to the parents.

tracy m said...

I'd be furious if my kid came home needing a flash drive so he could spend time on the internet at school. Every point you make is totally valid.

We will decide when and how he learns about using the internet. Grrr.

Bring back Wall Ball and cut the kids some kid time.

J said...

Amen, sister. Our school allows the kids to use the internet to go to a few research type sites, but that's it. Why the heck is there such a rush to have kids throw down their books and pick up a mouse?

My daughter (10 1/2) has an email account, which goes to my husband's email. He checks it for her, and if he deems it appropriate, tells her about it. Mostly it's horrid chain mail stuff from a friend, about how you'll die if you don't forward it on in 13 seconds, that kind of stuff. He just deletes it. But with the kind of NASTY spam I get on my email accounts, both at home and at work, I don't think she needs to have ANY email that we aren't filtering.

And amen also on the computer not in the bedroom. I applaud you for that, and we have the same policy. She says, Don't you trust me? I say, I do trust you. It's some of the folks out there I don't trust.

Steve said...

Sounds like a filler class, where the teacher gets a break while the students surf.

Melissa said...

A hundred bucks says most schools don't stop the students using google. And I can say that almost every time I have use google to find an image I needed, a pornographic picture has showen up. I have used MSN search many times and never ever had a problem, but almost every time I have used google image search I have either seen a completly bare chested woman or a nearly bare-all show. And several time they have been one of the first pictures to pop up.
So the schools think that they are allowing the kids to learn about the internet in a safe envirment, but unless an adult is able to watch every screen then they are sadly mistaken.
So as a warning to schools and adults, bad things are closer then you thinking and knowing that the schools are making it a little easier for children to stubble across this kind of stuff is sad and irresponsible.

Molly said...

hmmm i'm going to have to agree and disagree here. i don't think supervised computer access can start soon enough. my parents got my brother and i computer when i was about 10, and i even had one of those old green-screen deals when i was about 4 (i remember it!)

the fact that i have excellent computer skills have given me endless opportunities.

HOWEVER- the teacher you encountered who is showing kids itunes and yahoo needs to re-evaluate her objectives. teaching research methods and discerning credible sites from bogus ones- that should be the focus for children, not social networking.

Anjali said...

Oh I couldn't agree with you more. I think it's appalling that "media centers" (which used to be known as libraries when I was growing up because they had only books in them) are the newest rages in schools. I think it's good to learn your way around a keyboard to type papers, but otherwise, I'd prefer that kids learn how to research the old fashioned way.

Liz said...

Great post - our school system sent home release forms with the kids (they attend three different schools, at the moment) for parents to sign. The internet has become a very large part of my kids' day, as well as mine. They are supposed to use it to research reports, which are now done in school rather than at home (yay!) and group projects, especially helpful for those kids who do NOT have internet access at home.

To my knowledge, this time is supposed to be supervised and I will certainly check into that - don't want my 3rd grader Googling where he shouldn't be - but, a teacher requiring purchases and internet accounts is certainly crossing some sort of privacy line, yes?