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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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Some thoughts on schools banning Facebook

Banning Facebook is like banning the telephone. What people in authority don't realise is that it is just a tool. Any tool can be used or misused. What they should be focussed on is harnessing its potential not being paranoid about what people do with it.

Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. Yes learning what people had for breakfast - but also learning news, learning what works, learning what books are best to read, learning where to find the right bit of information.

It is particularly ironic when schools ban Facebook as they are the very ones who should be teaching effective use of this technology - not keeping their pupils stuck in some industrial, factory model of learning.

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    I’ve just been watching (rewatching actually) Euan Semple’s talk on the Price of Pomposity at Life 09 last June. The core argument is clear, that the old style command and control and the heirarchies built upon it  will find it increasingly...
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    [...]- The Obvious? - Some thoughts on schools banning Facebook[...]

Reader Comments (46)

totally agree. well said.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercyberdoyle

Succinctly and well put!

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersteven buckley

Schools need more people like you.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Muller

I totally agree with you. When I was at School we didn't have FaceBook but I would most certainly have been peeved if it got banned.
For some people these days its a primary means of communication.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTalk Fuse

When I was at school they banned speling.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Francis

As I don't have children, I don't really understand HOW a school could "ban" any aspect of social networking. Presumably the kids still use it at home?
My point is that, surely it's up to the parents to complain to the school about their ridiculous policy?
It's sobering to think that such small minded people are responsible for the development of our next generation!
Banning pencils can't prevent the kids from writing swear words :)

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Hall

Facebook can be dangerous. The girl who was murdered earlier this year by the man she contacted, the 14 year old who only this week ended up with 20,000 people threatening to gatecrash her party are just two examples of this. Consequently, children need to be taught how to use Facebook safely. They need to know what information they can and should make available to people. They need to learn how to set privacy levels. They need to be taught how to check out people who want to friend them.

This means that parents and teachers need to have their own accounts in order to know how it works, so that they can discuss it sensibly with the children. Anything else is a complete abrogation of their responsibilities.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Bradley

People can be dangerous - Facebook is just a thing. But otherwise totally agree Phil.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

When you're at school, you are there for learning. Learning the important stuff - and the even more important stuff about being social in the first place, by talking to friends, face to face.

Social sites don't help with this, which is why this ban (to which I can relate very well) is so interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/17/us-college-facebook-blackout

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristian Guthier

Guns are just things.
Porn is just pictures.
Crack is just a substance.

"Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. "
This statment strikes me as absurd and untrue.
Absorbing random bits of information piecemeal is actually the opposite of learning and is, as we are finding out, having a very negative impact on young minds's ability to function in reality.

Is information systhesised on facebook or twitter? Are worthwhile discussions ever had?

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhelen clattenberg

Huge assumptions being made there Helen and Christian. I wonder how much experience you have actually had of these tools or of the way people and kids use them?

Yes those things are just things and can be used for good or ill. Demonising the things without dealing with our issues ducks the issues.

Social tools enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things.

Otherwise what are we doing now and why did you leave a comment?

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Am not assuming anything, just reporting my direct experience (I work part-time with teenagers - outside the US) and I see that constant distraction and inundation with trivia from electronic impairs cognition (not just while the devices are being used).

Depth of consciouness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued.

The social environemnt has changed vastly and our teenagers now, will reap the whirlwind.

Of course Social Networks "enable" many positive things, but just because something is "enabled" it does not follow that it actually happens.

Like schools, nightclubs also "enable millions of us to meet, build relationships, and have better informed and enriching conversations about all sorts of things".

Should schools be converted to nightclubs so that the kids may enrich their minds. communicate, network, bond and "learn" dance moves, chat up routines etc etc?

You first assertion that social tools are about learning, gives a very skewed idea of what learning is.
(Assuming he is adolesent) its natural, that your son is more interested in learning social / romantic skills etc etc, rather than other skills that might be of value later on, but we as parenst, I think would serve his generation better, by demonstrating that not all learning has the same value no matter how cool and groovy.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhelen clattenberg

So you have assumed that I have a son, when in fact I have two daughters, that their approach to life is inherently superficial without my input, and that my input is to convey the impression that learning is cool and groovy.

Hmmm ....

September 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterEuan

It seems to me that for nigh on 15 years parents and schools have been abrogating responsibility. Preparing our youngsters for using the internet just isn't given priority. Parents think it's the school's task and the school expects parents to play a part. It's just too haphazard. There isn't just a gap in provision of sound IT education there's a chasm. The ability of teachers to teach IT intelligently and safely is hit or miss: some are definitely not equipped to undertake this crucial task. Some parents are terrified of computers and IT. Therefore many 10s of thousands of youngsters are falling into that chasm.

I believe we should all take a part in teaching the next generation safe use of the internet so that our youngsters benefit from all its wondrous knowledge and fun. Safety has to be inculcated from a very young age, ideally from first exposure to computers, by experts in the field, and then reinforced by family members.

Parents should take on board the need to firmly implant sensible and safe use of IT - that means the computer should reside in a main living room and should NOT be tucked away in the child's bedroom. All to often it's location is used to guarantee the parent's own quiet time: the parent has 'rid' of the child while the child is surfing the net or using social media in their bedroom, and the parent is happy for the peace and quiet it affords.

I speak with some authority on this matter having spent a long time working in the education sector. One of the reasons I left teaching in the Secondary Education sector to move to Further Education was because of the sentiment of the Headteacher, and he was not alone, he believed that IT was a vocational subject and should NOT be taught in schools. I'm glad to say that nowadays IT is being taught in Primary Education however most teachers are ill-equipped because they have had it foisted on them. Some actually hate teaching IT almost as much as they hate kids!!


R Griffiths

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLadyBizBiz

Spot on! Thanks for dropping by Rhianne

September 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterEuan

I heard recently that a school near us Sheffield banned facebook because older kids had photos of themselves on a night out and semi-clad and that displaying such images where they could be seen by younger kids triggered (or at least reinforced) the notion that accessing facebook at school is inappropriate.

I, like you, don't agree with this approach and believe that the behaviour should be addressed not the tool.

I have also heard that teachers are being told not to join facebook to avoid social fraternization with pupils.

Again, I don't see how a teacher is supposed to give considered advice to pupils if they don't have any experience of the tools.

I have just spent the morning in a workshop at the Picnic conference in Amsterdam on imagining the school of the future with students from a local high school. They use social media and the Internet in general for learning all the time and definitely want to be taught differently.

I think education should revolve around collaboratively researching, synthesizing and summarizing knowledge. I believe pupils will come to appreciate the value of depth, but they need to understand *why* they are required to learn what they are.

I could go on and on.

(I am not an education professional but I have two very young boys and I want them to have a better educational experience than I did.)

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Dymond

Great debate Euan. I do want to also pick up on some points rasied by Helen and Chistian (thanks for stoking this conversation both)

"The social environment has changed raidly". Ageed and if we don't help to equip our childen to learn and thrive in that envronment then both we and our schools are abdicating all responsibility as educators for their future well-being. If we don't teach our children how to use all available resources safely and efficiently - for their own good and the good of wider society - then we set them and society up to fail in what is becoming a true knowledge intensive "attention economy"

"Depth of consciouness and patience are learned attributes. Most of us older folk grew up in environments where that was instilled and valued". These are still learned and valued attributes. If ever we needed to help our hildren learn the power of mindful attention an patience then this is the age. But we must teach them within, not without, the social environment in which they will live otherwise it won't stick. It is interesting to me that some of the most powerful and joyous advocates of "social technology" are those who are already deeply conscious and mindful. Simply because it provides opportunity for a growing awareness of our infinite and inherent "interdependence" as Ethan Nichtern calls . Check out Bhuddist Geeks or 21Awake/The Here and Now Project for what is a much more mature and evolved consideration on this: it is a necessary invitation and opportunity to explore what it means to be conscious and patient the 21st Century. The aspiraton is still the same but our children are growng up in a different time so it must a slightly different question.

"All learning is not equal" but why do we persist in suggestng that we - any of us - know what learning is most relevent and to whom. Even the way we study is being challenged as we learn for example that (as musicians already know) repitition of a single discipline/area of study in discrete chunks does not work well for sustaining retention and cognitive development. Rather, regular short bursts of a range of subjects/tasks/disciplines in one sitting yields much more. Even the recognition that so much of our best learning is social is underpinned by science. But back to my original point - not all learning is equal/as important as other learning. Agreed, but who is best placed to decide that? We continue to prepare so many of our students for a world we appear not to have noticed is changing in front of our very eyes. The capability to source, discern, synthesise and connect to both information and people (in a mindful and patient manner) are aong the key skills we will need for the future. As Steven Johnson says: "chance favors the conected world". But it also favors the conected (and skilled) person therein.

If that's not among the "important stuff" then I worry for our young minds. The Battle of Hastings and long division will only get us so far.

I'm fully behind Euan on this. How we learn/teach should reflect how we understand our young people to live. Without that much learning can (and will) feel redundant and stifling. Like everything else, Facebook isn't bad, but there are bad users of Facebook. Apparently some of our schools are among them.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShane Carmichael

I love it when comments are way better than my post! :-)

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Very interesting debate you've nurtured here . . . thank you.

Having worked in the education sector for close to 20 years, albeit primarily with adults, my observation is that educators need to take full advantage of whatever tools and opportunities for learning that present themselves.

So while I wouldn't take issue with teachers managing the timing and manner in which students utilize social networking tools, I believe that an outright ban is a misguided overreaction.

The factory jobs that my generation has watched disappear since we joined the workforce will not be returning. Schools today have a responsibility for preparing children to enter a very different post-industrial information based economy. FaceBook and subsequent generations of social media tools will be part of that world.

Manage inappropriate usage by all means, but don't miss the opportunity to enrich learning by integrating emergent tools, such as social media, into the mix.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob Macdonald

"So you have assumed that I have a son, when in fact I have two daughters, that their approach to life is inherently superficial without my input, and that my input is to convey the impression that learning is cool and groovy.

I got here from Smartpei where Rob P wrote: "A friend of Euan son was banned -here is Euan's response. "
He wrote that you have a son, I assumed you have a son. Not unreasonable.

"Facebook, like so many social tools, is actually primarily about learning. "

I just see very little learning of value happening on facebook.

( Strange Zuckerberg didn't call it Educationaltoolbook or Mindbook or Stimulatingdebatebook )

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhelen clattenberg

Try reading it as "the son of a friend of Euan".

September 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterEuan

Christian - social interaction is much more than simply face to face and will increasingly include interaction via social networking sites. Social networking sites encourage interaction and it's vital that children learn how to use them safely.

Helen - I have lots of very useful, interesting and valuable discussions on both Facebook and Twitter. In fact, I'd say that Twitter is now the primary way in which I engage with other information professionals. Far from the information being 'random' it can be highly focussed and tailored. The idea that content and contact via the net is *not* reality is what's absurd and untrue. You're also missing a huge point - or are unaware of the fact that Facebook is becoming a search resource in its own right. It's not at the point of challenging Google yet, nor will it for some while, but it's certainly becoming a useful tool. Just because you don't see much by the way of learning happening on Facebook doesn't mean that it's not happening - perhaps you're just looking in the wrong place.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Bradley

'Is information systhesised on facebook or twitter? Are worthwhile discussions ever had?'

I'd like to say that worthwhile discussions are had on FB. Remember Cadbury going Fairtrade last summer?


Facebook was one of the places that focused the groundswell movement that caused that to occur, and helped put the right people in touch with each other:


Moving the huge operation that is Cadbury away from the Ghanian slave trade to setting an international example of Fairtrade, is pretty worthwhile in my opinion.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCaalie

It is a strage fact that people who don't quite understand what a tool is credit it with superhuman powers and responsibilities. We all need to learn good and bad use of social media, not simply ban them. It's the human beings who achieve good or bad results as much as the technology, out of who they are.

I'm reminded of the slightly crude story of the man who came out of the chemists with a box of Tampax. "Whatever did you buy that for?" asked the wife. "Well," he said, "I want to be able to swim, and ride, and play tennis..."

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBishop Alan Wilson

@helen “constant distraction and inundation with trivia from electronic impairs cognition” feels like a very old school and somewhat tainted perspective.

I used to go to the library to read books in solitude and silence and my train of thought would be stopped dead in its tracks by a chair scraping on the other side of the room.

Now I watch my teenage kids and marvel at their ability to multi task and absorb intelligence concurrently from multiple cues and triggers all around them. They all talk over each other. They read whilst listening to loud music. They watch TV while chatting on Facebook with their right hand and on the phone with their left. And yet they never miss a trick.

They are outperforming their poor old one-dimensional dad at school and I have no doubt that their future employers will be the grateful beneficiaries of their multi-tasking capabilities.

September 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon Weedon

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