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Social Media: Block It or Teach Around It?

Should schools block access to social media or teach students to use it responsibly? Tweet this

Is there a healthy middle ground?

Abigail Walthausen is a writer and high school English teacher who recently published an article in The Atlantic that made us curious to know what you think:

Should schools continue to block the parts of the Internet that are deemed distracting, or should they teach students to work effectively amidst those possible disruptions?

Walthausen’s article encourages schools and teachers to embrace the “many-headed hydra that is social media”, and to give students “guidance in becoming productive citizens of the web”.

Citing psychologist Larry Rosen and writer Amanda Ripley, Walthausen encourages educators to teach students how to actively manage internet-based interruptions, and to think of social media not just as a distraction, but as something that can be integrated meaningfully into daily life. The logic? That later on, these young people will be more valuable as employees if they’re able to balance focused work and social interaction (in real life or online).

Walthausen’s primary criticism of the way most schools handle Internet-based distractions is that they use content-blocking software that is clunky and broad. Instead of filtering content in a nuanced way (protecting students from dangerous content, while leaving access to harmless content), most of the filtering software used in schools blocks entire websites or types of websites from students. Walthausen calls this “brute-force technology”.

“Brute-force technology” filtering means that many students and classrooms are blocked from entire categories of websites, such as all blogging software or all of YouTube. “These broad filters aren’t actually very helpful,’ says Walthausen, “because we need much more nuanced filtering”.

Walthausen’s bottom line is that filtering in schools isn’t inherently a bad thing, but that filters are less important than teaching students to manage Internet distractions. According to Walthausen, schools should teach students to “live responsibly and productively on the Internet”.

What Do You Think?
Do you think that schools should use Internet filters at all grade levels, or is there an age or grade level at which the focus should shift from filtering content to teaching students to work productively in its midst? Should educators push for more nuanced filtering software so that the worst content is filtered while non-dangerous content is made available to students?

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