Build a Bigger Wall?

Do you know what happens when you build a huge wall in front of students and tell them that they can’t? Yup. They spend all of their time and energy trying to find ways over, under or around that wall.

flickr photo shared by Dani_vr under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

And what happens when students are no longer constrained by those walls, because they’ve graduated or gone to another school or just gone home for the day? What happens when they go out into the “real world” without the self-control or the management skills or the sense of instilled values because the huge wall kept them “safe” so they never needed to learn these things and we felt like we never needed to teach them?

Yes, of course I’m talking about filtering and articles like this one in eSchool News make me sad and angry. I understand there are a lot of strings attached to E-Rate dollars (I’m looking at you CIPA) that I have the luxury of not worrying about because I’m overseas. But technological solutions to behavioral problems are not a sustainable or scalable way forward. Students (and teachers) will always – yes, always – find away to circumvent filters. [Side note: I remember teaching in LA in the late 90s and we had Bessie the internet filter. How did I get around it? I created an AOL account and used the built-in web browser. I think one of my students told me how to do it…]

Instead of building a bigger wall to keep our students sheltered safe, why don’t we teach them the skills they need to make decisions that are good for them and give them the opportunity to make mistakes (and learn from them!) in the relative safety of the institutions charged with helping them learn???

3 thoughts on “Build a Bigger Wall?

  • November 16, 2015 at 9:50 pm


    Ahhh seems like just yesterday we were talking about this on good old Gullnet. I agree with you completely and think educators need to have a mind shift similar to yours. I love your quote, “But technological solutions to behavioral problems are not a sustainable or scalable way forward.”

    I think teaching the skills and awareness to make good decisions needs to start early–as in elementary school. Unfortunately in education many times we tend to be reactive rather than proactive, meaning students get to middle or high school and are faced with a new situation and have nothing to pull from (plus hormones and peer pressure!). We need to begin these discussions early and frontload students with information, skills, and opportunities before they are independently faced with a tough choice. We do it for sex ed, why not for technology?

    I also mentioned helping students learn from mistakes in a blogpost I wrote. I said we need to teach them how to be less judgmental and have grace with their peers. Honestly, it’s not just the students that need to be less judgmental, it is the teachers as well. Teachers can hold a grudge or not give students a clean slate after a bad choice that led to a digital mistake. Maybe our conversations need to be with teachers and students?

    Megan recently posted..Public is the New Default

  • November 19, 2015 at 9:23 am


    I’ve tried my best to block out the Gullnet experience… Thanks for dredging up those horrible memories! 🙂

    I like the comparison to sex ed in schools. Just because it might make the job of the teacher/parent/school easier or less uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it is the best course of action for our students. (And I would argue that there are still many schools, particularly in parts of the US, that are failing to prepare students through a comprehensive and reality-based sexual education/health program.)

    How is your school working with your ES teachers and students to teach them the skills and awareness to make good decisions?

  • April 5, 2016 at 3:05 pm


    I was having this conversation today with a school and while they are very forward thinking in the educational process of digital citizenship, the common concern is to at least be able to offer a solution for parents that insist on some sort of controls. Other than support from your administration on these ideals and an active discussion with your parent community, what do you think are the other options?

    One of our suggestions was to offer OpenDNS Umbrella subscriptions which also “provides an effective proactive layer of protection to prevent malware and botnet threats”. (full disclosure: our company resells this solution as a managed service for education) I know there are other major international schools using programs like Curbi for the younger age groups. Also, a new one hit my radar recently called Koala Safe. Where do you think we should end up?

    This opens up a number of questions to wrestle with:
    Is minimal filtering relevant for very young ages?
    Should it be opt-in with parents only after they’ve done a basic digital citizenship workshop with their children?
    Where do you see the lines being drawn to promote healthy self-management while answering to parents demands?
    Should filtering of malware, botnets, phishing attempts, etc be basic “filtering” protection for any network?


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