Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, May 6, 2010

If you're reading this blog, are you out of middle school?

Toward the end of Monday’s Board of Ed meeting, I raised a topic during “other business” that I would describe as having been “hot” over the past week or so. That would be the issue of technology and our students’ access to it. Perhaps you saw the letter that BF Middle School Principal Tony Orsini sent to parents, where he urged them to block their children’s access to all social networking sites, such as Facebook. Or maybe you received GW Middle School Principal Katie Kashmanian’s email in (semi) response, where she took a slightly different approach to internet safety for tweens and teens. Or maybe you saw one of the sound bites online or in the newspaper, since, in the space of 2-3 days, Mr. Orsini was interviewed or quoted by CBS News, Good Morning America, CNN, ABC Radio, Bergen Record, BBC Fox News…and was quoted, re-quoted, tweeted and retweeted among bloggers and others online around the country.

Obviously, Mr. Orsini’s email struck a chord. It’s gotten a lot of attention, and started people talking, which is (mostly) a good thing. It’s definitely gratifying to know that Ridgewood Public Schools have staff that truly care about our students – care enough to reach out to parents and go out on a limb with an important message.

As I said, a conversation has been sparked, and it’s a conversation we clearly need to have in Ridgewood.

To start with, it’s definitely not the school district’s job to tell people how to parent their children. At the same time, we can all recognize that the fallout from some online activities – bullying, harassment, gossip – comes into the schools and can affect both our teachers’ ability to educate and our students’ ability to learn. According to Mr. Orsini and one of the BF guidance counselors who was interviewed, they have been spending an inordinate – and growing – amount of time helping kids who are upset by online bullying, etc. The counselor said on CBS News that recently she has been spending 75% of her time on issues related to Facebook! That’s amazing! I can certainly see how that would prompt Mr. Orsini to act. I do understand his intent – to protect kids.

On the other hand, I don’t want Ridgewood to be the district that’s afraid of technology. Technology such as social networking is here to stay. It has taken hold. It has a lot of benefits and some risk, too. But, in my opinion, circling the wagons and locking the doors is not the answer.

What interests me more, right now, is how this incident has brought out into the light some issues...some mixed messages...and many opportunities for improvement.

Some questions I think we need to consider:

What is our “technology belief system?” What are our “guiding principles?” What is our vision?

How do we reconcile the different approaches of Mr. Orsini, who wants to limit (ban) students’ access to Facebook (for example) and Dr. Kashmanian, who has her own Facebook profile and a “Principals’ Blog” on the GW website?

How do we as a district balance the principles of Alan November, whom the District brought in last Fall, and who advocates teaching students to use technology wisely, with an educator's statement that seems to devalue technology because “90% of student homework doesn’t require going online?”

How do we as a community keep our children safe, protect them from bullies, stop aggressive online behavior, manage anonymous environments and help our kids to be good digital citizens?

How can schools partner with parents to address these issues and together...to create a vision for technology in our children’s lives?

I think these are good, legitimate questions…the basis for a conversation I’d love to have – and have it with gusto.

Hopefully in the coming weeks we can strike while the issue is hot.

I’d love to hear what you think.


Anonymous said...

This topic is probably too big for a blog response. Why not propose a meeting with those interested parties to discuss this issue? Ask for responses so you know whether you should meet at Starbucks over coffee or in the BF Auditorium. I'd attend and participate.

Laurie said...

You're absolutely right. Working on setting up just such a conversation. Will keep you posted.

Rob Lyons said...

This topic was discussed extensively this past fall when Alan November spoke at BF. It's a shame it was so poorly attended considering all that has transpired over the past few months.

Laurie said...

Hi, Rob. I am hoping to get the topic discussed in a more formal way, with a variety of inputs. You are right, the turnout for Alan November's evening presentation was low. He also gave a session to staff during the day that was better attended. And the District has 24 teachers currently participating in training that Mr. November is involved with, on Virtual Learning Communities. I hope to join them for their culminating event at the end of this month, to see what they will be bringing back to the district.

In my opinion recent events have sort of clarified the issues -- or at least clarified the need to talk and create some consistencies. I will definitely let you know when something is scheduled.

Rob Lyons said...

Just read on twitter via @shareski: I tell parents that 35% of kids are bullied online and they flip out. I tell them that 35% of kids are bullied offline and they don't flinch.

It's not so much a digital issue but a bullying issue, with the online ramifications being quite obvious. However it's no wonder many of our kids behave the way they do online. The amount of negative "anonymous" slander that litters the ridgewood blog, northjersey.com, etc is staggering. As parents it is imperative that we act as responsible 21st century citizens.

I am glad that this issue is out in the open. Though my children are still young this will soon be their reality. I don't agree with the assertion that our kids should not be participating in social networks, as that closes the door to a world of endless opportunity for constructive learning to occur. Our schools need to operate in loco parentis (in place of the parents) not in place of parenting and mom and dad need to rise to the occasion. Quite honestly it's only fair for our kids.

Thank you for transparently sharing and I look forward to participating in this discussion in the future.