(How) should we tackle pornography in schools

Disclaimer: all opinion in this post, and indeed all my posts, is nothing whatsoever to do with my employers, past, present or future. It is, however, safe to read at work (SFW).

Source: http://bit.ly/1tP8U19

Hardcore pornography is readily accessible by anyone with an internet device. Pornography has been one of the catalysts of the Internet and web content. Check out this infographic published last year showing USA stats on porn. And a more balanced examination of such stats from the BBC, as well as this article exploring research about the harm that porn can do, which includes an analogy of porn to alcohol, saying that for some it’s a problem and for others it’s a pleasure. [NB: schools do educate about alcohol]

So, should we be doing anything in school about pornography? And, if so, what should we be doing? I have been discussing this question with colleagues and the answer is not clear. It’s not an easy subject to talk about. Imagine the potential outrage as students hurry home to discover what all the fuss was about? Those not exposed to such material may venture to satisfy their curiosity and the school will ultimately have led them there. Unacceptable, right? So what might we be able to do about this without leading our cohorts to the content we are advising them to avoid?

Should we do anything at all? This New Statesman article argues that there are ten more important sex education issues to deal with than porn:

  1. Where and how to get contraception
  2. How to use that contraception
  3. Consent
  4. Basic anatomy
  5. How to put it in
  6. ‘When a man and a woman don’t love each other very much…’
  7. Sex positions
  8. Orgasms
  9. The Morning After Pill and Abortion
  10. The sexual double standard

You may agree with them or not. Although it is just an opinion piece, it is prioritising the importance of practical facts, sort of. A young persons (mans? womans? boys? girls? childrens?) relationship to pornography is a complex one, and there will undoubtedly be many people better qualified and experienced than me to explain this in more detail. I find that it is similar to the body image issue which I often feel lacks sufficient complexity when presented to young people because it never explains how you – and I and them and us and we – are in the game. The impact of media-distorted body image (both self and others) is so entwined in our thoughts that effectively disentangling ourselves from admiring the beautiful (desired?), and superficially judging the occupant as an object, is much harder than it seems. Brangelina are the perfect couple, aren’t they? In an attempt to do this without doing it, I teach a unit of work called ‘Digital Media Decoding’ whereby the pupils use graphics packages to alter photographs. But, might it be necessary for schools simply not to get involved? Maybe this stuff is so wrapped up in the double binds of life that each of us must unravel these for ourselves; is it not this that defines who we are? Bob Dylan, discussing songwriting, says:

First of all, there’s two kinds of thoughts in your mind: there’s good thoughts and evil thoughts. Both come through your mind. Some people are more loaded down with one than another. Nevertheless, they come through. Source: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/05/21/bob-dylan-songwriters-on-songwriting-interview/

So, how can we dictate, or even determine, how thoughts (and the potentially distorted thoughts that an individual may have after subjecting themselves to pornographic material) might manifest in the intimate relationships our children are having or will have? Will these thoughts change actions? Will the absence of hands gently finding each other in streamed online media actually mean our young people will not work this tenderness out for themselves? Do we really think that they will not understand that our/their media-distorted expectations are irrelevant, and that the physical embodiment of connection between two people is so much more valuable, more beautiful, than what they watched online? Will there be a Generation XXX?

Well I’m not certain about what to do, but my research on the matter led me to this video which is the best thing I have seen so far (NB: if you know of anything suitable, please get in touch?). The video is a TEDx talk by Ran Gavrieli from Israel: ‘Why I stopped watching porn’. I recommend you watch this young(ish) man explain his experience. He is earnest and humorous and sensitive.

 

 

Tablets 4 Schools 2013 Twitter notes on Storify

I didn’t attend this event. I was lucky enough to receive a personal invite but had already committed myself to another tablet event (much smaller scale) with a company called Jigsaw24 who have some innovative ideas on how to roll out iPad in schools. On the train home I read through the tweets and found Tony Parkin had impartially documented the gist of what was presented. I was going to write up the notes (they’re in my notebook) but time is against me, so here is a storify of the key tweets. All are worth reading from beginning to end, but it is long so I’ll say goodbye here… comments at the bottom should you feel the need!

PS: remember to click *Read next page* link at bottom of storify embed.

 

ETRU logo

EdTechRoundUp Hanging Out Again

Do you remember ETRU? It was a weekly podcast I co-hosted with Doug Belshaw and others. We *ceased trading* two years ago because the conversations had, at that point, run dry.

ETRU logo

But it’s back! Should you want to get involved in this community (on Google Plus) then please do request an invite. The conversation is all about education technology and the usual suspects participants are UK educators (teachers of all sectors and independent consultants). We have met twice so far, the output of which is stored on YouTube.

First introductory meeting (20/10/13):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekFjkCXA8s0

And yesterday (02/11/13) to discuss the transition of ICT to Computing in the UK:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyoq6H0YWMk

The agenda is driven by those that attend. Anyone is welcome to contribute or just watch/listen to the conversation. Google Hangouts are limited to 15 participants, so first come is first served. For me, the reason I do this is so I know I have somewhere I can ask questions, reflect on practice, hear other peoples thoughts and learn from their experience. The people who attend are all tweeters and all lovely people. Bonza! What’s not to like?

Twitter for teachers: CPD

I just sent the text below as an email to all teachers at my school. I feel rather stupid doing it, like I’m blowing my own trumpet or whatever. I wonder if anyone will want to attend? May the farce be with me…

#cleareyesfullheartscan’tlose

tweet tweet

————————————————

Dear all,

I write a little nervously… #bearwith

During the year some of you have expressed an interest in how I use twitter and blogging. Those of you who have had the misfortune to endure my ICT induction session when you arrived at the school will have first-hand knowledge of my unshakable belief that twitter is the best CPD any teacher can have at any level. Why? From my experience it can connect you to teachers all over the world specialising in your subject or discussing teaching and learning and sharing their experiences. I have developed a genuinely valuable network of educators from all over the place. From headteachers to NQTs, professors to consultants, multinationals to entrepreneurs. Twitter is the great levelling playing field upon which many educators, just like you and me, can share and learn.

So, here I take my timid nature in hand, and, on Monday at 16:20, I will be presenting twitter for teachers as I see it (NB: this is not the definitive way because there are many mystical methods to this madness). Venue is ICT2 unless numbers require an alternative, which I very much doubt, but one or two of you might be interested. Please reply to let me know you are coming.

The aim of the session will be to give an overview of what I have done with twitter, answer your questions about twitter, and to try to unveil how you might get started with a twitter account. It is not compulsory. In fact I think we shall call it an unmeeting (I just made that up – it means you can say whatever you like whenever you like and decorum will be maintained by mutual trust).

#suchfun

#nocelebritymediarubbish

Dai

Update: it seems unmeeting is not my creation… http://torchtech.law.nyu.edu/events/it-unmeeting/

Restrict Screen Time: Dr Aric Sigman comes to school

Yesterday, 12/06/13, Dr Aric Sigman came to our school to talk to pupils, staff and parents about various issues, prompted by some difficulties presented by the partially anonymous social media website ask.fm. Sigman specialises in presenting his published work around the world including school talks for PSHEEC covering alcohol, body image, electronic media (screen time), parenting and more. For our school he had been asked to cover all or most of these in a whistle-stop tour of his research. I warn you there may be inaccuracies in this post but I have omitted areas I felt unsure about. It presents a flavour of the overall presentation.

Dr Sigman at school

Dr Sigman at school

Dr Sigman is an articulate and charismatic speaker and all our audiences enjoyed his presentations and many felt inspired, or at least had their interest piqued, by what he had to say. The over-arching message he left was that, for young people (<19), recreational screen time (gaming, videos, social media) is averagely at 6.1 hours per day and should be limited to 2 hours. The argument is presented with a research evidence-base about the chemicals that are released in our brains from specific activities and that too much passive screen time that does not stimulate good brain development. In fact, it is very possible it is bad for you when your body is going through important growth stages. Among the examples of actual impact that were cited was France banning any television media aimed at <3 year olds; screen time for very young people should be kept to an absolute minimum.

I photographed many of Sigman’s slides but he challenged someone filming him to make sure it was for private use only. His concern was because, if publicly distributed, it may cause a backlash from organisations that want us to be using screens or alcohol more, not less. This made me a little suspicious. If research is robust it can withstand scrutiny and counter-research. Enter Dr Ben Goldacre (props to @simfin for the pointer) who authors badscience.net and was recently invited by the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP to examine how schools might improve the use of evidence to inform practice. Goldacre appears in a Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman and Aric Sigman in 2009 where the latter’s report is challenged because it led to Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, then head of the Royal Institution, making claims that led to the Daily Mail headline: ‘Social websites harm children’s brains‘. The interview is embedded below:

Goldacre grinds his research evidence standards axe regularly. This is partly how he earns his crust, so, take from it what you will.

I was concerned that there was going to be a distorted message being given to my school community. My concern was not unfounded. Sigman clearly enjoyed the fact his work is perceived by many as contentious, and he let the audience know he was being invited by governments and the like to address important people around the world. And that some audiences are more receptive than others because they serve a specific agenda.

I am not in a position to scrutinise the validity of Sigman’s claims, but I wanted to try and make sure that his message was clear. When he says ‘recreational screen time’ maybe people hear ‘screen time’ without the qualifying distinction. I felt obliged to seek clarification in the Q&A sessions. Was he only talking about screen time spent on recreational activities? He was, and added that he only meant passive screen time; Wii games employing physical actions like bowling did not count. It was important to me to make sure that the audience were very clear that screen time for learning does not contribute to this process. Sigman aligned reading a book to stimulating imagination about sensory perception in the mind. This was a complex process deemed healthy for the brain, and, therefore, ‘kindles’ (for which I think yo can substitute ‘reading on any device’ since the introduction of kindle fire). The chemical release can be stimulated from reading on a computer or working on research or an essay. Obviously, there are a lot of grey areas here (some research is watching YouTube etc.) and Sigman stipulated that recreation meant gaming, youtube and social media. He also asked the audience to imagine hunting and similar activities that caused stress hormones and cortisone to be released back in the early days of our development. Our bodies are designed to release these chemicals during physical exertion but playing the adrenaline inducing first-person shoot ‘em up will cause the same chemical release whilst the recipient is relatively motionless.

Is this pseudo-science? Well I don’t really know. Sigman substantiated his claims with research. He did not permit his slides to be published but I can publish all the sources I managed to capture. This is the last of what I have to say on the matter other than a couple of Year 9 boys approached me today to let me know their Mum’s had removed their gadgets as soon as they got home. We all have to learn how to manage our screen time. I’m not convinced Dr Sigman has all the facts in his presentation. I hope he has not set fear alight in our parents and teachers. I guess a passionate and urgent message is always a danger with showmanship spotlight research presentations. My feeling is that we need more dispassionate research to unravel this evidence base, similar to that Goldacre has bothered to assemble on his website. Maybe we may see another analysis of Sigman’s work by Goldacre. After all, it seems to be a hobby of his.

Below is a sample of his quotes that I managed to note; many are missing.

————————————-

Salivary Cortisol in Relation to the Use of ICT in School-Aged Children. Wallenius (?), M., et al (2010) Psychology, 2010, 1, 88-95. ‘Adolescents rarely describe gaming and surfing in the Internet as stressing activities but, instead, as a way of passing time, getting experiences, and social communication.’

The World Unplugged, (2011) University of Maryland. 1000 students in 10 countries on 5 continents. Study to give up tech for 24 hours. ‘A clear majority in every country failed.’ ‘many students employed the rhetoric of addiction, dependency and depression when self-reporting their reactions to going unplugged for 24 hours… many students also reported both mental and physical symptoms of distress.’ ‘they physically craved the actual devices themselves.’

American Journal of Drug Alcohol Abuse (2010) 10.5% change in dopamine release ‘in the caudate after playing a motorbike riding computer game.’ ‘Computer game playing may lead to long-term changes in the reward circuitry that resemble the effects of substance dependence.’

Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder (2011). ‘multiple structural changes’ deep within the brain. ‘several small regions in the brain were smaller, in some cases as much as 10 to 20 percent.’ Surface-level brain matter appears to shrink according to how long you’ve had ‘internet addiction’.

American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2009). Surfing internet – areas of the brain associated with empathy showed virtually NO increase in stimulation. ‘Young people are growing up immersed in this technology and their brains are more malleable, more plastic and changing. As the brain evolves and shifts its focus towards new technological skills, it drifts away from fundamental social skills.’

Mirroring Others’ Emotions Relates to Empathy and Interpersonal Competence in Children. Pfeiffer et al. Neuroimage (2008). ‘stimulated by face-to-face interaction.”stimulation related directly to children’s: level of empathy; social skills.’

Meta-analysis of 72 studies 1979-2009 by University of Michigan, May 2010. ‘College kids today are about 40% lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago’ ‘We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000… 1) The increase in exposure to media during this time… 2) Recent rise in social media.’

Couldn’t see the source of this but here it is anyway, discussing mental health: ‘Children’s Screen Viewing is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity: ‘Children who spent [more than] 2 hours per day watching television or using a computer were at increased risk of high levels of psychological difficulties and this risk increased if the children also failed to meet physical activity guidelines. … Limiting computer use and television viewing may be important for optimal well-being for young people.’

Facebook Depression, American Academy of Pediatrics (2011) Guidance for the Clinician: The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families: ‘Facebook depression … develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.’

Increase in Loneliness, Children Talking to Childline about Loneliness report by NSPCC (2010): ‘Among boys: 500% increase in calls about loneliness from five years ago.’

Computers in Human Behaviour, Kirschner & Karpinski (2010): ‘Three-quarters of the Facebook users said they didn’t believe spending time on the site affected their academic performance….’ But Facebook users’ grades were 20% lower.

Harvard Medical School (2012) did a systematic review of parental interventions on screen time: 29 studies ‘achieved significant reductions in TV viewing or screen-media use.