DOPA: From book burning to blog burning, why it needs another look!

Should the DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) (click here for PDF) pass, all access in public schools to ’social networking’ sites on the Internet would be banned.

Newsweek says:

The campaign to crowd out predators from MySpace.com is gathering steam in Washington. House of Representatives lawmakers proposed a bill on May 9 that would block access to social networks and Internet chat rooms in most federally funded schools and libraries.


I’m taken back to the early 1990’s when I offered adult training classes on the Internet. A well meaning “little old lady” in town gave me her thoughts on my class:

“How can you call yourself a Christian and teach about the Internet? It is just terrible!”

My answer to her was, “Mam, how can you call yourself a Christian and go to Atlanta, there are prostitutes in Atlanta and people get killed there too?”

I proceeded to explain to her that there is not a difference between the two. Both are places. A place as big as Atlanta or the Internet is not inherently good or bad necessarily, however there are good and bad things that happen there.

Her mentality is the same one that now says, “How can you love children and give them access to myspace?”

Predators and the dishonest always congregate to places where there is not a lot of regulation.

With the birth of any new technology, a gray area of pseudo-non-regulation is born that attracts those who wish to hover below the surface of legality.

Additionally, predators and pedophiles congregate where teenagers congregate unsupervised. Period. (Whether it is the mall or myspace!)

When we have concerns about students getting assaulted, we teach them self defense, we would never dream of tying them to their beds! (Assault and tying to the bed are both considered abuse.) Likewise, we should teach Internet “self-defense” and not flagrantly restrict access to an environment they need for their future.

We must not mistake the content with the communications channel.
If you have a cell phone, you can use it to call an older person and cheer them up or you can use it to play mean-spirited prank phone calls. Same channel, two very different things.

It is easy to cast stones at a communications channel like “chats” “wikis” “cell phones” “text messaging” “blogs” because then it is easy to regulate. It becomes a proverbial on off switch. It is also something that will not hurt many adults and is very misunderstood at this point.

Ban paper!
Perhaps we should ban paper. Many bad things are printed on paper!

Why can we not use content filters and let them do their job?

Wikis and blogs are incredibly wonderful, engaging tools that really breathe life into the educational experience in the hands of a good teacher.

They are a vital communications medium that they need to understand and know about. We are supposed to be creating global citizens who can work in a global workplace, and we are not going to educate students on the tools that will let them cooperate with their counterparts around the world?

I am quite floored at this well intentioned but uneducated effort at protecting kids on myspace.

Wikis have transformed my classroom into a more engaging, more effective place. Blogs have restored a love for writing and made it more relevant for many students!

Its also about personal things being done on personal time.

Yes, kids should not be myspacing at school. But myspace could be blocked. Facebook can be blocked. It is similar to the difference between work and personal. Businesses frown on personal work being done on company time. Likewise, students should be discouraged from “personal things being done on school time.”

However, I think to completely block the medium is short sighted.
Last week I actually unblocked myspace for a day so students could print out their blogs from myspace for their computer science portfolio. They had some good entries and I was glad I got to read them.

Bookburning to Blog Burning?
You would think that we could learn from book burning that the medium is not the problem.

Through such shortsighted broad brush practices in the Dark Ages, we lost many great works of literature and history.

If we are concerned about content, then let’s put in a rating system and filter for content. I think people misunderstand that because it is called social software does not mean that the software is being used for socializing. (Perhaps we educators should rename it collaborative educational software if lawmakers cannot get past semantics.)

This debate of the “evil of technology” has been around since scientists were called heretics for having new discoveries that contracticted modern thought of their era. It is easier to condemn something and get rid of it than to understand it.

Parents should be involved in myspace

I will say that I’m disgusted at some of the myspace websites of my students. I’ve called some parents to make them aware of what their students are doing. I guess I’m most disgusted that parents allow their children to operate unsupervised in an online world. It is the disinvolvement or perhaps just the “technology gap” between parents and their children that has caused some truly tragic happenings in myspace.

What hurts more kids, tobacco or myspace?

Since I’m waxing rhetorical here, I’m also disgusted that some of my students also smoke. When we learned of the dangers of tobacco, did the government ban all tobacco? No, we raised the age for tobacco purchase and we put a lot of money into educating the public. How many more students are killed by tobacco than myspace?

The world didn’t end with Y2K!

There is also a lot of fearmongering going on in the media as the newssharks smell a story. Anyone remember how the world was going to end with Y2k?

What websites would be banned?
According to a great article over at SEGA Tech, the following websites would be banned if this bill were to pass:

  • JASON Project Online: This amazing hands-on science website allows students to chat in real-time with scientists out in the field, discuss issues they are having with data and experiements, post their work, and ask questions to experts via chats, live broadcasts, and forums.
  • Blogger & WordPress: These are the two largest blog-hosting companies on the web, and provide teachers and students with easy access to blogging – allowing them to engage in online discussions, post work, and speak to a real audience. More and more teachers are moving to blogs as their class website solutions.
    (Hey folks, that would mean that you could no longer read the coolcatteacher blog!)
  • Google Pages: teachers with Google accounts can create websites for free – easily and quickly, without software downloads.
  • WebCT, BlackBoard, or Moodle: these services offer email, forums, and chat to class participants
  • Many Educational Blogs, such as SEGA Tech, 2 Cents Worth, and Weblogg-ed. These allow visitors to register, share ideas, and collaborate. (And coolcatteacher!)
  • Google Talk, Trillian, Yahoo Messenger, etc: These chat programs often allow teachers to quickly communicate with each other in the building, or discuss issues with experts in thier county (such as tech support, admins, etc). Students can use these to chat with experts in the real world or work collaboratively in different parts of the school.
  • Many aspects of Google Earth, such as the Online Community, Sketchup’s 3D warehouse, and sites like Google Earth Blog and Google Hacks.
  • Wikipedia (any wiki for that matter): one of the most extensive and reliable encyclopedias out there. (Wikispaces, PBwiki)
  • Heck, even Georgia Virtual School would be banned, as it makes extensive use of chat and video conference tools.

What do industry experts say?

David Warlick says:

I have asked Class Blogmeister users (almost 2,800 teachers & 27,000 students) to try to find some time and write about the learning experiences that their children are having, and to be specific about what their students are learning, that they weren’t learning before. I will blog these stories as they come in, but would also be willing to make them available for other campaigns to tell this new story about teaching and learning in the 21st century.

I’ve just started a new blog, Online Community Works, where I’ll post the stories as they arrive.

Will Richardson says.

First and foremost, we have to teach. Not our kids, but our teachers…It’s the perfect opportunity to try to contextualize what’s happening “out there” and try to help them understand why they should be thinking about this stuff and asking these questions. And we should all look at this as an opportunity to move these discussions into wider circles, because, as I’ve said before, this is less an education issue as much as it is a cultural/societal issue.

Will has created a dopa wiki for us to edit and work together to create a letter to legislators. Doug Johnson prints a copy of his own letter. He makes three points that are worth repeating.

Children are best protected by:

  • Having adult supervision during all online activities.
  • Engaging in effective training programs for children, parents and educators that stress safe and ethical behaviors
  • Developing life-long strategies for insuring personal privacy.

Telling the story has never been more important. It is vital to share the successes and excitement of students who are being exposed to blogs and wikis. It is important that adults, educators, and lawmakers know that there are viable, important uses of these technologies.

Otherwise, we are about to enter the new Dark Ages when blogs are burned instead of books. Tell the story, it is more important than ever!

I love students! Best teacher blog winner * Mom * Speaker * author * HOST 10-Minute Teacher Show * @Mashable Top Teacher on Twitter * top #edtech Twitterer

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

9 thoughts on “DOPA: From book burning to blog burning, why it needs another look!

  1. I find that when the impune the motives of others that we begin to overstep bounds. From what I’ve read, although some accuse those proposing the bill to be doing this for political capital, there are many parents who have a very real fear of myspace and online predators as caused by recent TV shows. Accordingly, the proverbial knee is jerking but not necessarily in a correct way as folks rush out to protect children from “dirty old men.” The fact is that children have been abused and “snatched” since the beginning of time, but many do not understand this new medium. This is an area we must educate our children. I think the reason there is a problem is because children and their parents are not educated. This law will just delay that education for a longer period of time and perhaps cause more problems.

  2. Vicki —

    I started a post this evening discussing the Eduwonks’ question of the day — “Teaching — is it an art or is it a science”… and by the time I ended the blog (making multiple connections between art, technology, science, and history)… I wound up somewhere in the Rennaissance discussing the impact of the development of the printing press and the development of paper produced from wood pulp… which of course ended with a comparison of the Church’s attempts to burn books critical of papal authority and the current attempts to legislate bans on internet access…

    Maybe I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine before I started blgging this evening?!

    On a serious note — I think you are right on target with your post here. Banning these sites is very similar to book banning — and it all stems from a fear of the unknown. You are correct — the internet is no dangerous than the street in front of our homes… in fact, it can be safer than the street if we teach children how to use it safely. Knee jerk reactions get us nowhere — and if we pay attention to history we realize than those efforts are ultimately fruitless in the long run anyway.

  3. You go, girl! I can see that this is an issue that has really got to you – and with good reason. You are exactly the sort of person who needs to speak out against this kind or knee jerk reaction – you are living proof of the other side of the coin.

    Is there any way to get you to address the senate (or whoever will be considering this move – sorry, my knowledge of American politics is almost zero)?

  4. I agree completely with your post!! This is typical over-reaction. It starts with the media getting a hold of a few isolated incidents. They find out how electrifying the idea is and blow it completely out of proportion. Then the public reacts (sexual predators around every corner) and the government gets involved. Look what happened after Columbine.

    It does not help with shows like Dateline doing their “we caught the older guy in the act” show every couple of weeks. The truth is kids are smart, most do not accept myspace requests from people they do not know. There has been far more media coverage then actual child abuse from myspace or related sites.

    The truth is parents and schools need to teach children how to be safe online rather then bury it. It worked in the 80’s & 90’s with the campaigns to teach kids not to get into cars with strangers. They did not ban students from being picked up from school. Online blogging, forums, etc are here to stay and we need to teach kids asap how to use them responsibility. Otherwise, they are going to end up in College posting drunken beer pictures that get them kicked out.

    I also agree that this would take away a great resource for teacher and students. As a perspective teacher, I am interested in online forums and postings for students, and it sounds like this bill will destroy that idea. Myspace and related sites should be limited in schools, but that does not mean all forums everywhere should be banned. Before Myspace it was Yahoo, and we have not blocked Yahoo from schools (yet).

    Hopefully the public will shift its attention someplace else and the government will lose interest. Because I doubt the voice of reason will be heard in the current outcry.

  5. Amen! (And I don’t even go to church!) It’s all about education. My students wanted to know if they were in trouble for what they had posted on thier myspace accounts. I told them they needed an education. You make some excellent points. Communication is not a bad thing. It opens our minds.

  6. Hey Vicki,
    you are very welcome and thank you for posting a comment to my blog. My professor discussed book burning in our last class and wanted to see what we thought it would look like without books-through online burning. I came across your blog and absolutely love all of them.

    I agree that freedom of speech is very important and I don’t know what we would do without blogs. It is definately essential to keep people informed and quickly too.

    For my class we have different readings and then he has us blog about different topics. I didn’t really blog a lot before, but I am really liking it. I added you to my google reader-so I look forward to more good reads=] Have a great one,
    Anna

    P.S.-Please forgive me for putting he instead of she on my blog. It is corrected now! I am sorry. I had an Anna moment lol. Anyways, have a nice day, take care.

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