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.
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