March 23, 2005

Why blogs should be encouraged in schools

From Baldilocks comes an emerging new perception of the benefits of blogging (via Instapundit):

I was kind of thrilled to find out that I could research and write a 600-word paper in three hours. Blogging is like weightlifting for bloviators.

Sisu runs with this idea:

Here's a thought. Journalism schools* -- and other writing programs -- should have students maintain a blog as part of their training in good writing (probably some already do). As our best English teachers always said, the way to become a good writer is to read good writing and write, write, write...

Let me run with it even more. The quality of writing skills produced by our K-12 public school system is obviously a concern, and the recent essay additions to both the SAT and ACT are reflections of that. Surely I wasn't the only one who noticed that some criticisms about the new SAT writing section were of the type, "How could we possibly expect students who are college-bound to write a concise essay in only 25 minutes?"

I got news for those critics - even if we grant them the argument that college-bound students shouldn't be expected to do this (and I don't), I bet that if those students were blogging, they'd be able to get a decent essay up in that time, perhaps in even less time if the topic was hot and they wanted to be the first one out with it. Oh sure, I bet the younger the blogger, the more likely you'd see "creative" grammar, spelling, punctuation, debate styles, etc going unchecked on the page. But when it comes right down to it, that blogger would still be learning the power of the written word for communication, even if they do spell their name "cRi$tOpHeR." With reader feedback, they'd be learning how to improve their communication too, once they realized that they'd misstated or misspelled or mis-conveyed something one time too often.

I will admit that I am one of the more optimistic folks when it comes to youngsters and blogging. I do have one more argument for why kids in school should blog, though, that has nothing to do with learning to write, and everything to do with understanding the rights granted to them by the First Amendment. The cases that you see in the news where schoolchildren are punished for thoughts written online and off (of which this and this and this and this are only a few examples) are horrifying.

Bloggers write what they know. Students in our public school system know their public school system, and they should be perfectly free to write positively or negatively about their experiences (should they lie about those experiences, well, it's never too early for aspiring writers to learn about U.S. libel laws, either). If schools really want to get more students interested in writing, they can start by reminding them of their First Amendment rights, and stop implementing zero-tolerance rules that snare every diarist and blogger who's had a bad day.

Update: From Mike M. comes this tale of a student who got in trouble for telling the truth online:

It all began when [Central High School student Eliazar] Velasquez, who is 17, set out to photograph [Principal Elaine] Almagno taking a smoke on school property. State law says no one can smoke within 25 feet of a school building. A friend tipped him off about her favorite spot -- in the parking lot. Armed with a digital camera, Velasquez caught her smoking beside an open door on March 7, around 4 p.m...A few days later, he posted the pictures on his Web site, centralscoop.tripod.com...

"This is a principal we're talking about. She is a leader. And here we caught her smoking on school grounds; breaking the law. . . . We feel that Ms. Almagno is not suited to be principal of Central High School. Don't take my word for it. I have pictures!"

Last Friday, Velasquez was called to the principal's office. He says Almagno began grilling him: "Tell me, who helped you design the Web site?" Velasquez said Almagno called in the school police officer, then searched his book bag. There, she found the fliers, which said, "Wanna see Mrs. Almagno take part in some illegal activities? Wanna see her breaking the law on school property? Go to centralscoop.tripod.com"...

That same day, Harold Metts, the assistant principal and also a Democratic state representative, told Velasquez he was suspended.

Um, Almagno was the one breaking the law here, right? Is it against the law to take photographs on school property? Is it against the law for a 17-year-old to have a website? Is it against the law to publish non-pornographic photos on that website?

It's not against the law to be a pest, and Velasquez seems to have a talent for it:

In a letter to Velasquez's parents, Metts wrote that the teenager was being punished for harassing and slandering the principal and the dean of students, John Hunt. Velasquez had taken a memo written by Hunt, circled a couple of grammatical errors, then posted copies of the memo around the school.

So let me get this straight. Almagno can break state law with impunity, and the dean of students doesn't know the difference between "they're" and "their" - yet Velasquez and his website are somehow the problem? Do you think any student would have the guts to post anything remotely negative about Central High School on a personal website now, after what's happened here?

And let's not even get into the paranoia and condescension that would lead a high school principal to insist that a 17-year-old isn't capable of building a website on his own.

Now for some good news. In the comments, journalist Linda Seebach describes how her son Peter benefited greatly from Usenet in middle school. Now he's a professional writer with his own blog; here he talks about the importance of learning to write quickly and automatically.

Posted by kswygert at March 23, 2005 12:54 PM
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