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The Firewall of Fear

In his reflection on the speakers from the first day at the Building Learning Communities conference, Jeff articulates beautifully a major stumbling block we have in American education: fear.

In this case, fear of allowing too much of the outside world into the classroom, and especially the fear of allowing almost anything from inside out.

“There’s no way my district will ever let us use any of these social tools, they’re scared.”

I’m sure many of you have either said this or have heard someone who has said this.

Alan November kicked off the conference today with one simple message:  We need to break down the Firewall fear

The same country that believes in free speech and the freedom of the press is the same country with some of the most restrictive filtering systems in its schools.

In our overly-large school district, for what seems like decades, we’ve been working on “internet safety” rules/regulations/curriculums to go with the web filtering system, all in the name of protecting kids from… well, no one can articulate exactly what.*

But, as Jeff points out, protection is something we can’t give them.

We need to break through this culture of fear, we need to empower students to make decisions, to analyze and evaluate good content and learn how to avoid the bad stuff. We need to empower students to protect themselves.

At the same time our politicians and administrators also talk about teaching “21st century skills” (like communication and collaboration), and about how students must be “globally aware” citizens of the world.

Making that happen is impossible when there is no direct interaction with that world.  When all feedback on what students do in school comes exclusively from within that closed environment.

And it certainly won’t happen when we teach kids (not to mention the adults in their lives – parents and teachers) that the web is something to be feared, instead of helping them understand how to deal with it, the good, bad, and ugly.

Jeff is exactly right that “Creativity and fear do not mix.”

Creative people, something else we say we want our students to be, take risks.  They learn how to deal with failure.  They learn from and respond to their critics.

The last thing creative people do is hide behind a firewall.

*Maybe to protect us from the lawyers? Often it seems that’s the overriding concern.


  1. Thomas Coolidge

    Everything above is so true. I think many people understand these things as I hear them all echoed in one form or another at various conferences I have attended.
    My question is “So what do we do? ”
    How do we bring about the changes we all know would make such a difference to students?
    Many admins give lip service to 21st Century Learning concepts but in reality things dont’ change. They are simply repackaged in politically correct terms to give the appearance of change.

  2. Lyndall Owbridge

    Within our state-wide education authority, it is recognized that teachers and students are all learning how to communicate and collaborate online and to find creative solutions to digital education. Within a highly supported, well resourced state-wide digital community, teachers and students are learning to use social networking, blogs and a range of Web 2.0 tools in creative ways, within a filtered, password-protected environment.

    Because of the filter, inappropiate materials send alerts to the school and the author dealt with.
    There is an expectation that all teachers move forward with digital pedagogy, including modeling and providing instruction on safety and ethical use.

    Every district has teachers who mentor their peers as they make these changes to ways of working.

    With age specific controls in place, both teachers and students have some freedom to create, innovate, communicate and collaborate state wide, as well as globally if the teacher sets it up.

    Is this arrangement not only appropriate but desirable for p-12?

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