Monday, May 3, 2010

Banning is the Easy Way Out

In the field of education change and innovation are words that are often spoken, but rarely acted upon.  As our world evolves, technology has become increasingly prevalent in the lives of students.  They are now part of a digital generation that have incredible opportunities to create content, collaborate on a global scale, and follow a path of continuous, life-long learning that extends beyond the walls of a school.  It is an exciting time to be in education because of the plethora of exciting tools that are currently available to schools.  These tools can be successfully used when integrated effectively to readily engage students in the learning process.

With that being said, I was very taken back recently by multiple media outlets covering a story about a NJ Middle School Principal who had asked his parents to ban Facebook and other forms of social media at home.  Banning students from accessing social media will only push them to utilize these sites in secret, which will not provide a solution to cyberbullying.  Just look at the negative effect Prohibition had on adults!  I commend this Principal for truly exhibiting a genuine concern for the safety and well-being of his students, but remain perplexed about the path he has chosen to take.  As educators it is our task to teach students how to make responsible decisions, think critically, solve problems and communicate effectively in order to succeed in society.  Instead of rolling up our sleeves and tackling an issue such as cyberbullying head on, it is used as an excuse to prohibit students from potential meaningful learning experiences both in and outside of school.  

A few years ago I would have been leading the charge on banning all types of social media, both in and out of school. As a matter of fact, I was instrumental in getting sites like Facebook and YouTube banned at my school. So why the change? It’s simple, I became educated on the many positive ways in which these resources could be used to connect with students on their level and how I could leverage them for my own professional growth.  I finally opened my eyes, stopped making excuses, and decided to actually pursue innovative change.  In recent discussions with students at NMHS they revealed how much social media technology is a part of their lives and asked me to create a school Facebook page.   This page is now used as a model for students to see and learn how to properly use this resource.  Not only did I create the page, but I finally created a personal Facebook account after six years of resistance. I have even provided training to parents and students on how to use Twitter educationally.  

All school communities have issues with irresponsible social media use and mine in not exempt.  However, we can seize this opportunity by working with all stakeholders to actually teach a meaningful lesson on social responsibility.  I encourage school leaders to inform parents on how they can create environments at home that promote acceptable use, rewrite curriculum, model effective use, and include student perspectives on creating best social media practices.  In the 21st Century social media use will only continue to increase.  Communication, collaboration, and information are essential in decreasing cyberbullying, not banning.

P.S. Hopefully the media (i.e. CNN, CBS News, Huffington Post, FOX News, ABC News, etc.) doesn't take the easy way out as well and publishes stories on all of the many education benefits of social media. Wishful thinking right?


  1. Good job Eric. Your description sounds similar to our district. Although I can open YouTube for students when need, it really is a pain. I think we need to embrace change and show proper uses and benefits as you stated. Probably the only way to change perception is by the principal leading and having a support team. I know our edtech dept. supports your viewpoint. I guess its changing central office and parents mindset as well.

    Banning or blocking these sites does not work. Kids know ways around them. If you crank up the filtering to a high degree, you basically make your network unusable.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, reflections, and experiences. I especially am interested in your words because you admit that you were part of the early brigade to ban.

    Do you think that one of the reasons you 'saw the light' was because you use social media tools yourself for personal and professional reasons? In my experience, tools - no matter how dangerous they are perceived to be - are understood because one uses them oneself.

    Thanks for being a principal who blogs.

  3. Great post Eric, as always I appreciate your views. Safety is important, but sometimes overblown in its necessity. Most parents can't teach the kids, and teachers need to catch up to many of the kids in terms of use of social media tools.

  4. Great thoughts! I've always been a huge advocate for teaching appropriate use of various websites as well as the right time and place for these activities. In my experience, my students simply found proxy breakers to access sites that were blocked. When I did get some previously banned sites "opened" up for them, the novelty of being able to access them wore off after, like, 30 seconds!

  5. I wholeheartedly agree that banning social networking is NOT the solution. Also, staying off social networking sites because we are educators is not a solution either. Because I am on Facebook, a bullying situation in our city was documented, brought to the attention of the school, and the students involved were held accountable for their 'words' online in the same way they would be accountable if they had done it at school. They must have the opportunity to learn how to use these tools in ways that are appropriate while they are young.

    I teach in a school board that bans social media, personal email, cell phones, personal listening devices, etc. I am wondering when they will create a realistic policy regarding technology and social media.

  6. Thanks so much for your post! I stumbled upon your blog accidentally and was so glad that I did! I'm a librarian at a high school and feel I'm campaigning everyday as to why our students need to be taught of how to properly and effectively use Web 2.0 tools. Where as when the school blocks these sites, we give the impression these tools are not useful in a learning or work environment -- which is completely wrong and outdated!

  7. Great post Eric. This unknown technology vs education has been an issue for decades. I remember growing up and beepers came out. "Beepers are for drug dealers only" I was told. Then cell phones became more accesible. "Cell phones are for drug dealers only!" I was told. Being a techie kid I was getting kind of jealous of these drug dealers. :)

    I was an engineeer turn teacher and have been teaching technology (STEM) for the last 4 years. I created a student facebook account and have over 540 students (past, present and future). 99% of their walls are filled with nonsense. I post random facts and/or extra credit assignments that get done by not only my students, but ....wait for children that are not even my students OR in my school. Sometimes my students suggest I "friend" their cousins or friends in other states, because they think they too will enjoy the assignments.

  8. UNESCO Education Inclusion Policy Guidelines

  9. The Diffusion Simulation Game, about adopting an innovation in education