The Trust Gap

It’s been quite a week in the educational blogosphere…

A lot of the chatter (or rather, twitter) has been focussed on the sudden forced closure of Al Upton’s classroom blog by his Year 3 students.  The closure was requested by DECS, the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services in response to a parent who was concerned about their kid being exposed to the dangers of the Internet.  Al’s kids, well known on the web as the “miniLegends”, have been blogging successfully for the last few years, and were just starting a new project where their blogging was being mentored by other teachers around the world. In theory, it sounds like a great idea… kids with a passion for writing being connected with other educators all over the world willing to help these kids with their writing, offering critique, advice, suggestions, support and generally acting as a volunteer tutoring service at no charge.

Their blogging came to a screeching halt last Friday however, when Al received a cease and desist notice from the Department, who clearly have their heads in a very dark place.  It’s a bit of a long story, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve been part of several very late Skype chats this week with a number of high profile Australian teacher-bloggers who were close to the real story and keen to talk about the situation and what it means for education. Al is being quietly philosophical about the whole thing, but is also quietly annoyed.

The story of why the blog was shut down is well documented elsewhere, so I won’t delve into it in depth here.  Just suffice to say that the South Australian education department has not done a great job of handling the public relations fallout as a result of this.

Here we have a situation of a world class educator willing to lead his students in an authentic, real-world writing task, developing their passion for learning and writing, along the way observing every required protocol for getting the appropriate permissions and authorities from parents, and then finding that the whole shebang can be shut down by one paranoid complaint from someone who clearly doesn’t get it…   Either way, the kids were punished for no good reason, Al was made to endure scrutiny that he ought not have had to, and a great project has been marred.  To get a feel for how the world responded, have a browse through the nearly 200 comments on what currently remains of the MiniLegends blog…

Apparently the big problem was that the miniLegends were going to be in contact with (over the Internet) other adult educators.  The paranoia that surrounds this idea that kids should not have contact with adults like this is, quite frankly, insulting to the adults. It insinuates that adults cannot be trusted, that danger is everywhere, that children should trust nobody.  The psychological mistrust and fear such an attitude engenders far outweighs the real risk.

It’s especially ridiculous because while all this was happening here in Australia, the TED conference was taking place in Monterey, California, where one of the speakers was Dave Eggers.  Eggers presented a talk about an amazing project where he has been connecting school kids with professional writers who volunteer their services for free to help kids with tutoring.  The project, called Once Upon a School, is absolutely awe inspiring and has spread to a number of other states now wanting to develop similar grassroots programs.

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What I find so paradoxical, is that while Al Upton is getting shut down here in Australia for wanting to connect his students to willing adults eager to help the kids write better, Dave Eggers is on the other side of the world getting a standing ovation, winning a TED prize, and starting a grassroots movement to help kids by doing more or less the same thing.

It’s a funny old world.

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Trust Gap by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

8 Replies to “The Trust Gap”

  1. Go Australia!

    And I was telling my American friends last month that I thought Oz was a leader the world in online education! D’oh – guess I should be taking that one back.

    This event is as depressing as kids failing their exams for setting up a study group in facebook 🙁

    Boo hoo – is my Online Education masters in vain?
    – B

  2. I agree with you, it is all quite insane. There is so much fear surrounding the Internet and children. I think the risks have been way overblown. There is a lot of ignorance, too. People will say “blogs– those are bad.” When I question this further, it is clear that the person making the statement doesn’t really know what a blog is. They just heard somewhere that blogging was “BAD.” I know that this is all part of change and growth. In a few years, this closure of blogs will seem ridiculous, like the dark ages. At least that is what I believe. I loved your comment on Al’s blog; to me that comment really said it all.

  3. I just watched this TED talk and was so motivated! What an inspirational idea! I had not made the connection to the minilegends until you blogged it. I must admit I did think about the fact that all those volunteers would have to be police vetted as they were working with the kids. But the minilegends are doing the same thing virtually, surely that reduces the risk! Would be interesting to float the minilegend idea on the webite developed ( for the TED wish and see the support it garnered.

  4. Chris, I want you to know that those of us who have a life really appreciate your ability to collect our thoughts and publish them for us!!!!

    You actually do it much better than I could!

    Great article, I will be passing it around to a few who should know about it (so the won’t have the same knee-jerk when some of our teachers get going!!)

  5. Wow, thanks Mick. That’s a very nice thing for you to say. When you bolg regularly it’s easy to feel like you’re just becoming part of the “echo chamber” of the edublogosphere, and end up merely restating things that others have already said (much better than I could).

    One of the great aspects of being exposed to these big discussions that takes place online is the multiplicity of viewpoints that we get exposed to… just take a browse through the comments on Al’s blog for example to see just how many points of view exist about this incident. Sure, many of them are the same, offering support and sympathy for Al and the kids, but there are insights there and angles for looking at what happened that I never would have thought of. This is the really powerful part of “the conversation”… having your own outlook pushed and pulled and reshaped by the ideas of others. It certainly helps me make connections betwenen ideas I would never have thought of.

    Thanks again for the feedback.

  6. Hey Uncle Chris…

    since I haven’t seen you in a while I just thought I’d post in a comment on here to let you know I’m starting work for a Webhosting Company as a Customer Service Tech working on Plesk + Cpanel CentOS Linux Servers down in Canberra


  7. I am struggling to keep my expletives in check, but I promise I’ll try.

    I get extremely annoyed at the current attitude shown by educational bodies towards digital information. While I certainly agree that the safety of our students should always be a priority, this metod of sticking our collective heads in the sand and hoping it will go away is just plain ludicrous.

    Many schools currently block valuable e-learning tools like YouTube and forum based sites stating child net safety as a core reason. Yet it is a known fact the YouTube is used by nearly all web enabled students and their parents the moment they get home. Rather than hiding our eyes in the dirt, should we not be releasing these tools back to our teachers and students and focusing on the pastoral as well as curriculum based education we now provide in blended environments. Teach the students how to ignore links and foul comments in comments. Tech them what is appropriate or not to upload. Engage them and educate them on the correct and powerful uses of these tools instead of just hoping they pass us by.

    I guess much of the mentality with the bureaucracies is also this need to pander to the minorities for fear of litigation. For that I have no answer. 🙁 But I do hope that education and IT related managers can start seeing past the issues and to the core of what we should be doing. Engaging and Educating our students while enabling them to be safe and aware online.

    I could rant on for ages. Maybe Ill turn this into a post on my own blog later. Thanks Chris however for making myself and others more aware of the issue.

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