As much as the topic has been in the news, I’m still only semi-surprised by the many educators who have heard of blogs but really don’t have a clue what’s going on.
A couple of weeks ago I was talking about blogging to a curriculum specialist for our overly large school district and her first reaction was to bring up the "nasty" writing in Xanga and MySpaces. She’s not alone. Administrators in many of our schools have elected to block these sites.
You can say what you want about the diaries kids maintain at these sites (I agree with Will – most of this is not blogging), but news outlets like USA Today don’t help to explain the actual concept of blogging to the general public with their scary tales of teenage journals.
There have been cases where predators have found kids who posted too much information about themselves. And parents those who actually know what their kids are doing online are "freaked," says Parry Aftab, executive director of online child safety site WiredSafety.
"Parents look at this and see the kids are talking about how they got drunk last weekend, how they had sex last weekend, and using language that’s unbelievable."
And school administrators don’t do themselves any favors by blocking the sites or, even worse, trying to force students to take them down.
A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove their online diaries from the Internet, citing a threat from cyberpredators.
McHugh [the principal] told them in an assembly earlier this month to remove any personal journals they might have or risk suspension. Websites popular with teens include myspace.com and xanga.com.
Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. No one has been disciplined yet, said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman.
I guess if you go to a private or parochial school, you give up your First Amendment rights.
But the bottom line here is that Xanga and similar sites are nothing more than the digital version of spiral bound journals or slam books circulating around schools during the last decade. Except that now the world gets to read instead of the just the members of the clique.
Rather than trying to fight these diaries (and losing), educators and parents should be working to channel the kids’ desire to express themselves by helping them learn how to do it responsibly. Too few students understand the power of publishing to the web and most will not learn on their own.
Blogs could be great tools for helping students improve their writing skills, along with learning to use research tools and understanding the ethical issues that come with communicating with the world. But first educators must develop an understanding of blogging and how the diary sites just are not the same thing.