Laptops issued to students by the Portland, Maine school boards will come with censorware that watches all their clicks and attempts to prevent them from visiting social media sites, even when working from home or other non-school premises, and even after school hours. Tom Bell's article in the Kennebec Journal quotes Peter Eglinton, chief operating officer, stating that this is a legal requirement. He's almost certainly incorrect; the law in question states that school networks must be filtered as a condition of receiving federal funding, but doesn't explicitly extend this to school-issued laptops used on non-school networks.
By taking this aggressive approach to censorship and surveillance of its student body, I fear that the Portland school board is compromising its students' network and media literacy, ensuring that they can't be supervised and mentored through positive use of the Internet services most widely used by their cohort. I also believe that close, continuous surveillance of students' network activity, with the concomitant prohibition on the use of privacy tools, sends absolutely the wrong message about how to manage your private information online. How can students learn to use technology to prevent their personal information from leaking out online if we spy on everything they do and punish them if they try to stop us?
There is debate nationally about whether schools should integrate social media in the classrooms, said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs for Common Sense Media, based in San Francisco. She said she is not aware of any school district that has blocked access to social media sites from school computers that are used at home.
She said the debate over filtering policies can be summed up into two approaches: the "walled playground" or the "open sandbox."
Her organization advocates the latter approach, allowing broad access and teaching children how to safely navigate the Internet.
"Simply shielding students from social media is not going to stop them from seeing it," she said, because teenagers will have access to unfiltered Internet on home computers and other devices, such as smartphones and tablets. "We have a saying: 'You can't always cover kids' eyes. You have to teach them how to see it.' "
While federal law requires school districts to take measures like creating an Internet safety policy and blocking sexually explicit content, there is no requirement that social media sites be blocked, said Doug Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Maryland.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.