Illustration of a Web pointer arrow in a cage.

I think it is so important to listen to student voices when we consider 21st century education.  This was one of my key premises in my “good high school project” last fall- listening to students, and experiencing the student perspective, as I visited 21 21st century high schools, shadowing a student at each, and liveblogging my observations.    But at some schools, my ability to use the internet, and upload to my blog, was deeply compromised by the internet filtering at that school site.   I think that is the wrong way to go.

A recent edutopia column authored by a high school student Jon-Michael Poff is entitled “stop blocking online content.”   In it, he wages a passionate and compelling argument that we cannot teach and empower our students with 21st century digital tools if we block them from those very tools:

Not only is this blockade frustrating, it’s also hindering our prospects as college- and work-ready students. In a multimedia world, it is essential that students leave high school with a deep knowledge of digital tools. Blogs are not only a cool way to publish your opinions, they are also the future of social and business networking.

I am please to report that at St. Gregory we do not black access to any sites for students. (we occasionally have to limit heavy bandwidth use sites such as youtube and pandora, just to protect access, but that should end when we complete a project to tentuple our bandwidth).   Yes, I know students can be distracted by some online content, and I know that some is inappropriate for them. But we can keep a close eye on them as they use the net on site, and we can, and should hold them accountable for their results, rather than micromanaging their access.

To return to Poff’s fine, fine essay:

Think back to when your parents first let you start driving. In the back of their minds was the knowledge that you might ding a door, hit a pole, or even smash into another car. However, they eventually realized they couldn’t hold your hand forever; they had to let you drive by yourself. In the same way, districts must loosen the reins and let students “drive” by themselves. And, just as parents teach their teens how to make a left turn on a busy street, schools must mentor students so that they learn to navigate the information superhighway for themselves.

How much longer will schools compromise students’ education? To those who have the responsibility to make a change, hear our cry: Tear down that wall.