An Educational Technology Bill of Rights Targets Censorship in Schools

Teachers and students are fed up with bans on social media and smartphones.

Widespread public outrage over SOPA rallied Americans against the threat of internet censorship. But though the bill may be dead, there's plenty of censorship happening every day in our nation's public schools. Schools ban students from accessing websites from National Geographic to YouTube and Wikipedia, and all too often choose to confiscate smartphones and tablets instead of turning them into learning devices.

The bans are usually motivated by a fear of lawsuits—no district wants to be sued a parent whose child inadvertently accesses inappropriate images online—or distractions, but banning technology isn't the answer. Late last year, the teacher-generated Twitter hashtag #pencilchat cleverly mocked schools' technophobia. Now, teachers tired of trying to hack their way around firewalls or convince administrators to allow them to use Twitter to engage shy students in the classroom are taking a stand against such censorship.

Brad Flickinger, a Google-certified technology educator with more than 20 years of classroom experience, has drafted a 10-point "Educational Technology Bill of Rights for Students." Flickinger’s list, which is featured at the Digital Learning Environment blog, covers a range of issues—everything from Wikipedia citations to cyberbullying—from a student’s perspective. It starts off asserting that "I have the right to use my own technology at school," saying students shouldn't be forced to leave their new gadgets at home when schools frequently have old, out-of-date devices—if they have hardware at all.

Schools also need to stop blaming a lack of access to campus WiFi on "bandwidth, security or whatever else," Flickinger writes. If students can get online at McDonalds, they "should be able to get online at school." He argues that if teachers and schools really want to boost student engagement, they should take advantage of social media and use it to "post announcements and assignments."

Perhaps the most important demand, though, is that students "have the right to be taught by teachers who know how to manage and use technology in their classrooms." Flickinger says teachers should be highly skilled in the latest technology, teach students how to "use technology responsibly and safely," and model "when to use technology and when to put it away."

Given the needs of the 21st-century economy, schools are doing students a disservice by not teaching them how to use internet resources and technology. As schools move toward digital textbooks and incorporating gaming into the classroom, they'll probably be forced to change some of the more draconian policies. Let's hope tech-savvy educators are able to pressure school districts to stop throwing "the techno-baby out with the bathwater," in Flickinger's words.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user flickingerbrad

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