Tim Berners-Lee envisioned the Internet as a collaborative medium where we can all meet, read, and write. At first that was difficult because people had to know the programming language HTML. But as applications were developed that enabled people to publish without programming knowledge the medium expanded. In 2004 Howard Dean caused extraordinary changes to the face of politics with his Blog for America. At the end of the 2004 election all the candidates had a web presence. Today during the 2008 election Senator Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, not only has an extensive web site, his campaign also participates in social networks such as twitter. The presumptive Republican nominee, Senator McCain, has considerably less presence on the Internet. He is even admitted to not knowing how to work the computer.
During tsunami of 2004, and Katrina and Rita hurricanes of 2005 blogs including digital photographs provided a raw look at what was happening not filtered by the media or government censors. Bloggers have also corrected the National Media. For example on the TV shows 60 Minutes the Dan Rather showed copies of President George W. Bush military records. Bloggers quickly pointed out that the records were forgeries. CBS had to issue a retraction, and six months later Dan Rather retired.
We talk a lot about authentic audiences for students’ writing. The web provides an authentic audience. Massive filtering is sheltering students from the web is not going to protect them in the long run. Students need to be taught how to protect themselves by using proper search terms, looking information in searches before clicking, looking at the authorship and deciding how much credibility to give the author. This argument reminds me of the peanut ban argument.
Some people think that if a child is allergic to peanuts the best way to protect them is to never allow anyone to have peanuts around them ever. But what happens when the child goes away to university or their first job in suddenly people around them are eating peanuts. This person does not know how to protect him/herself, instead s/he may have and entitled attitude that says eliminate all peanuts around me.
My parents took a totally different approach. The first word I was formally taught to read was peanuts. I was taught to read every label and have an adult double check the label when I was still an elementary school. I was taught to politely declining any unsafe food and not give in to pressure about eating it. I was taught to politely inform people that I was deathly allergic to peanuts and please be careful not to touch me after eating them. In places where peanuts are expected like football stadiums and airplanes, I always wear close toed shoes, long pants, and a very lightweight over sized wind breaker. From a very young age I was taught how to give my medical history. By the time I was seven or eight I can rattle whole thing off to an ER Doc. He was completely and totally blown way. When I went away to university, I was prepared to deal with all aspects of my health. Good thing too –because this was during that no cholesterol up before the no fat craze. Peanut oil was the thing to use in restaurants.
If we wrap kids in cotton wool and pretend there’s nothing bad out there, at some point there going to be dropped into the middle of an unfiltered life and a be completely unprepared to deal with it. As far as permission I’m glad my district has decided the standard media release form can be used for Internet publishing. Now decide to figure out how to get the information from the front office.