“What if someone gets DRUNK?”

1 Feb

I just read Tom Whitby’s newest post on “My Island View” and had started to leave a comment when something hit me and I realized I needed to get out of there-fast. You know that feeling, right?

It’s kind of like when your two year old is about to have a melt-down in the check-out line and you know that the count down is on? 10-9-8-“Paper or plastic?” “Paper”-7-6 -“Cash or charge?” “Debit-sh-sh-we’re almost done”- 5-4-3- “I know, I know, sh-sh-sh” -2-1… And you don’t even stick around to hear the “Thank you, have a nice day” because there’s not a second to spare before the meltdown? Well, this wasn’t quite that bad, but it was close.

There’s a lot going on in Tom’s “The Old West and I encourage you to read it for some interesting perspectives that I’m not going to touch on here. Historical reference, current issues and literary device all play nicely in his piece. But there was a specific-some-thing in the article really struck a nerve for me.

There has been a thought playing around in the back of my mind for some time now that came screaming front and center as I started to reply. While Tom may not have minded, some may have considered it bad form to write a comment that is nearly as long as his original post!

Here’s what got me: Tom compares the school policy of taking students’ cell phones to Wyatt Earp’s taking men’s guns before allowing them into town. Can you smell the gun smoke?

The conversation about what is technologically blocked or “forbidden” in schools almost always focuses on the value of the material or tool versus the risk of abuse or possible threat to safety. Tom touched on something that is every bit as important, yet rarely discussed: the message that both students and staff internalize when faced with these blocks and restrictions. That message is, “You can’t be trusted”.

All policies that aim to control behaviors rather than teach and enlist them give the message that the powers that be don’t trust people to make the right choices… that the risk of trusting is too great. In some cases, that may be a valid position for leaders to take. Certainly Wyatt Earp had some pretty valid reasons for mandating a “gun-free zone”. I do not believe that the case for blocking, restricting or confiscating technology could pass the same test.

But in order to either enlist or teach a behavior, there has to be something valid to understand – something that makes sense, that people will buy into and support. By this definition, enlisting the voluntary surrender of cell phones and other technology would be an awfully tough feat.  Who are the “real” people who actually support these restrictions on the grounds that letting kids have access to a broader range of materials (and especially streaming video and social networks) poses too big of a risk to be worth the potential gain? Who honestly believes that promoting coercion and teaching compliance is more beneficial than promoting accountability and teaching good citizenship? No one who really understands the issues would even try to make that case.

Meanwhile, in schools across the country, students and teachers are receiving a relentless, high-profile message that “you can’t be trusted” and “we aren’t willing to take the risk”. Lock it up and shut it down. Intentional or not, that is what’s real and no explanations related to prioritizing student safety can undo the damage that does to the way students see themselves, each other and the adults in their lives.

In my role, I am constantly challenging staff to find ways to entrust students with more freedom and responsibility, and some staff really struggle with that. I work with Teachers and Youth Development Professionals who are tasked with sending kids out into the “real world”, ready to work. These staff are incredibly dedicated. They will happily cheer at graduations and often write students glowing recommendations so they can secure those jobs…But let them run the school store? By themselves? Are you CRAZY?

The truth is that wether we are talking about running a project, keeping a cellphone in class, or accessing media-rich websites, the restrictions aren’t really about risk and safety. They are in large part, about things that are much more basic- trust and resource management.

Here’s a related example. Administrators are going to have more anxiety about a cross-country field trip than the trip to the local park. “Will the staff be able to handle the group? What if someone gets sick? What if someone gets DRUNK? I don’t think so… maybe next year.” And so another group of students from somewhere in Arkansas graduates from high school having never seen the ocean.

The same concept applies to use of technology and for many school leaders, there are far more “unknowns” in the computer lab than on a field trip, however far reaching. The richer the online platform, the more bogged down the network becomes when everyone uses it at once. Downloads can create problems on shared networks and computers when users don’t know what they are doing.”Will the IT staff be able to handle all the questions that will come up? Will teachers be able to monitor the group? What if someone gets stuck? What if someone gets DRUNK? I don’t think so… maybe next year.” And so another group graduates from a high school in New York City having never gotten to podcast, blog or video chat with kids from India, China, Africa or Arkansas.

Most schools aren’t in a position to send their students on a cross country trip right now. Such a trip has never been planned or budgeted and there are a lot of variables to consider, including whether students and staff are ready for that level of responsibility. Likewise, in most schools, the infrastructure (wiring, budgeting, equipment, memory space etc) wasn’t planned to support the use of technology that is now possible in classrooms.

The more complicated the student engagement, online and in life, the greater the responsibility adults have to prepare and guide them through it. But we live in a complicated world and it’s not going to get any easier. Shouldn’t we be exposing our students to every experience, every tool, every opportunity that we can imagine to better prepare them to live, or better yet, to thrive in it?

Let’s stop “regulating”, stop moaning about “regulations” and start including students and staff in intelligent discourse about how to garner ALL of our resources and get to the “yes”. Let’s engage them in projects to generate and manage resources responsibly, let’s help them plan BIG adventures on their wikis, and use their Wall Wishers and Twitter feeds to keep us posted along the way, let’s let them know we trust and expect them to make good choices, and for goodness sake, let’s let them see the ocean… and blog about it.

Thanks to Tom, for making me think, and thanks too, for reading:o)


5 Responses to ““What if someone gets DRUNK?””

  1. ktenkely February 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Absolutely! The no’s can be so discouraging and many give up on hearing them. Our students deserve better, they deserve the “yes”. It is up to us to stand up for them and keep working to get the yes.

    • thenewtag February 1, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Kelly! I saw all of the work you did for the alliance tonight and so appreciate your efforts! I’m so excited to be a part of your network and really enjoy your writing.

  2. jefuse February 1, 2010 at 11:13 pm #

    Doesn’t this whole situation fall under the category of “The good have to suffer for the bad?” Perhaps we need a new category, Things We Cannot Control So Let’s Outlaw It All! Administrators need to accept the fact that we cannot control everything students do, nor have we ever been able to control everything students do. And so we continue on the path of denying opportunities to the majority of students because of fears of whant a small minority MIGHT do in the future.

    If you have any ideas to solving this problem, please share!!!

    • thenewtag February 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm #

      Great observation. As for a solution, I think the first start is really for us to consciously change the dialogue. As long as we continue to debate the pros and cons of blocking (as an example), we stay stuck. I have found that I get better results when I view obstacles as… temporary. I am going to really challenge myself and others to answer the question, “How can we get to the yes?” As opposed to giving so much attention to the fact that currently, the answer is no.


  1. Resources for New Teachers…and the rest of us. « - September 20, 2010

    […] “What if someone gets DRUNK?” […]

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