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.