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“Look at Egypt…”

Posted by Ammerah Saidi on Feb 12, 2011 - 10:29 PM

The statement on the board read, "The government should censor what is on the internet."

This instigated the 55 minute self-facilitated debate that got my 122 eighth graders so impassioned that they turned an organized 22 foot-wide circle into a 5 foot-wide huddle in under an hour. The huddled group of students were throwing out examples to support their positions that included Egypt's organization through the net, pornography, cyber bullying, digital justice, trust in one's government, internet addiction, wikileaks, freedom of speech, net neutrality, the origin of the net, necessary factors for a healthy democracy, fictional literary examples, historical examples, etc.

For 55 minutes, I sat in the back of the classroom and transcribed student speech (which was projected in real time using a document projector) and, as I had articulated to the class, I would not be allowed to speak until the clock ran the full 55 minutes. They had to self-facilitate, self-control, and self-reflect without the help of any adults.

Two parents happened to sit in on this lesson and both parents could not believe the skill-set demonstrated by the students' ability to clearly state their positions, synthesize to meaningful evidence, and evaluate the positions and evidence of their peers.

Here are some random excerpts from the transcripts:
T: Censorship may lead to a slippery slope in the wrong hands. It's a violation of the Constitution...the net is based on open perspectives.
D: It's already happening. One of my research articles says, "the government may block content without checks."
B: It's the parent's responsibility--not the government--to protect kids from pornography.
J: The more censoring, the less trust citizens could give to the government. Like, what might they hide from us? Take Area 51 for example...
A: Parents can't effectively censor everything out there---don't have the resources! It's not like a book; take Huckeberry Finn and how they took out the "N" word...
F: Look at Egypt...they just shut down the net because it was organizing the people...

The transcripts are then analyzed by the class (my highlights) for evidence of effective or ineffective debate skills.
The following week, students had to respond to this prompt (developed by both the social studies teacher and myself):
Dehumanization is a dangerous weapon of destruction that can lead to fatal consequences. If we could talk to the first European settlers of America, how would they justify their dehumanization of Native Americans and Africans? How would they defend their conquests while still believing in equality and freedom for “all” being essential to the growth and prosperity of the United States? Do you agree? Defend your responses with details and evidence.

It goes without saying, it's been one heck of a couple of weeks and the rest of the year is just going to get better. I love teaching, and more importantly, the youth are loving learning.

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