Category Archives: free speech

Canadian Copyright Law

The Canadian Government has tabled a law which addresses the new environment for information sharing.  It is unfortunately not a very good one according to many accounts, M. Geist, Digital Copyright Canada, James Bow.

So although I am simply a citizen.  I have written my MP and the PM and Mr. Prentice to state my views.

Dear Mr. Harper,
I feel it is necessary to let you know how I feel about the new Copyright Law.  I fear your government has not hit the right balance between  the freedom of the individual and the rights of the producer.  I am particularly concerned about the restriction which this law imposes on the ability of educators to help students learn to use and work with multimedia.  In the school setting, it is important to be able to have students quote from materials which are meaningful to them.  In a sense, copying from a small piece of a video or music cd which is already owned by the student, is allowing them to quote from that source.  I would expect my students to give references and to make sure the works of authors, musicians, actors etc are appropriately given credit but also that they should be able to make these quotes without breaking the law.  I have worked hard in the past years to use materials following the guidelines of Access Copyright, to make use of copyleft and Creative Commons materials and to teach students about their responsibilities to give credit, to pay for and to adhere to the law of the land.  This law will make that job much more difficult and the work we wish to do to prepare students to be prosumers (producer/consumers) in the online world is inhibited.  I must admit my understanding of the details of this new law are limited but according to Prof. M. Geist and other respected persons within the online community, I must make my opinion known.  Canada needs a new Copyright Law but our new law needs to reflect the need for the common good of Canadians and Canadian artists and producers of media.  Please make known the wishes of Canadians to the Cabinet and ask for revisions in the new law.  We need a Canadian Copyright not a Multicorp Copyright.
Thank you.
Susan Funk

I encourage you to do likewise.  I am ever hopeful that the Canadian governing system works and each voice counts.  I often don’t get my way but I still let them know what I’m thinking.  It gives me complaining rights at the very least.

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Filed under free speech, social justice

James gets all the fun!

My husband is a teacher and quite a fine one at that. He is energetic and funny and fair. He is well-liked by his students. Today he found out that there is a Facebook site discussing exclusively him. A student ‘leaked’ its existence to him today and we went over for a look. Crazy! There are 37 members, past and present students and a picture of him from the yearbook. We were debating whether he joins the group or simply keeps an eye on it. It got me thinking about the teacher , that Donna mentioned.

The students talked about sharing information from tests and getting help from each other. One chided another for correcting spelling in a wall posting. So the question remains, start a group for homework? I think it would be brilliant. The other question is, how many sites are there for discussion on teachers? It took a little digging to find this one. (James and Funk usually call up James Brown tribute sites.) Not all of the teacher discussion sites will be positive. Who polices? Do you police for yourself? How do you find out what is out there about you?  Is it slander when it is negative?  Worth keeping an eye on.

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Censorship? Part Two

Through Indian Eyes is a book which attempts to stem the tide of racism against North American aboriginal peoples.  It contains books, poetry and book reviews on children’s literature.  As I read it, I am caught between my wish to build a collection which is supportive and positive about North American aboriginal peoples and my wish to maintain a varied wide-ranging collection.  These need not be mutually exclusive goals but they do run into each other.  I thought about this some yesterday.  I can’t seem to pull from the shelves the Little House books or Outsiders for that matter.  I wouldn’t recommend them as read alouds for any classroom – at least not as a whole.  I find the threshing pieces useful when studying settler life but I would not read the sections about Indian savages.  But should I read those parts and then talk about them.  How do I talk about them in a way which invites discussion and openness rather than fear, silliness, anger?  If I can’t think about ways to trouble the images, should I keep the book?  I’m not sure.  I find it easier to make the case with non-fiction.  If the material is wrong, racist, misleading, hateful, then it is removed in favour of material that is correct, accepting, accurate, peace-building.

Part of me wants to say but that’s the way it was, no one talks like that now, no ones believes that now.  But I know it’s not true.  Racism against aboriginal peoples in North America is alive and well.  I am thankful for the opportunity to read books which counter the stereotype.  I am happy to remove books like “White Feather” or “Danny and the Dinosaur” from the collection.

I wonder about removing books by Byrd Baylor despite the inaccuracies, I think the images and ideas are positive about the Hopi people.  Respectful even if they aren’t perfect.  Yes I want more books by aboriginal authors, respectfully drawn and accurate depictions of aboriginal peoples.  Yes I will look for them deliberately and share them with both white and aboriginal students.  But I don’t want to be building a bland collection or eliminating books which will make for thoughtful discussion.

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Filed under children's lit, curriculum, free speech, library, literacy

Childhood – appropriateness and censorship

What do we let children read? When do we let them read it? I am a regular censor of the materials I let my own child read and particularly watch on T.V. I have done this censoring deliberately to frame the world for my child in the ways I believe will make the world a better place. We don’t watch violent movies and that word ‘violent’ is fairly broadly drawn. On the other hand, I gladly read “Heather has Two Mommies” to my son and “Tango makes Three“. Within my own family, I make my own choices and develop the reading repertoire of my son, my own way. How do I take that to school?

At school, I choose books to read aloud to my students, would I choose “Heather has Two Mommies” or Tango makes Three” or for that matter later “Stitches“? I would include them in my collection if I was choosing, but would I use them in the classroom? I don’t know. I would talk to my principal first and I would analyze my reasons. I do think the same values that I hold up for my son as important are ones which would benefit my students but do I want to open that can of worms? I feel weak in my convictions and I wonder what my division would do if push came to shove. Would I be required to make an apology if I offended parents or community members? I have no idea. I have never made that kind of controversial decision.

Can kids handle it? I believe that they can. In fact, I think my son has a more open understanding now than perhaps he will as a pre-teen. In my unscientific observations, children in Kindergarten and Grade One are more open than students in Grades Three to Eight and then it seems to start to reverse again. Generalizations I know. Right now my son is willing to say that families can have a mom and a dad, a mom, a dad, two moms, two dads, or any other variation on ‘normal’. I don’t know whether that will stick or not.

There are taboos in public education and it certainly affects the literature that we use in school. Spirituality and religion are a big no-no these days. I know I tread carefully around the idea of God and different religions. Students will ask if I go to church. I will say yes. I try to deliberately expand the religious calendar to include less dominant events (in this part of Canada) such as Diwali, Ramadan, Hannukah… I am not very good at it yet. I am not sure how far down the road I can go before it offends someone.

In our neighbouring school division the taboos are different. It is a Catholic division. They have to tow the line on homosexuality, birth control, family structures… I don’t know if I would trade them. We each have to walk around our own eggshells.

Each of the school divisions have had to face some of the challenges brought on by Harry Potter. Can the children handle the books? Do we need to protect them from books with unusual content? At what point do we let the children decide and then simply discuss the content with them. These are certainly questions I will face as a parent and as a teacher. It is easier with my own kids. I am allowed my own bias with my own kids. When my son starts to want to see the films that everyone else is seeing, we will need to make that choice. I remember wanting to see Grease in 1978. I was eight, my sister was ten. The answer was NO. I saw the movie later at about 16. I confirmed their choice. It had not been appropriate for me at eight, I thought. Now I wonder. Would it have harmed me to see the values which would not and still don’t match my own?

How do you choose?  What do we prevent kids from seeing?  Do we need to?

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Filed under children's lit, curriculum, education, free speech, library, literacy, responsibility, social justice

Copyright, plagiarism and school

It is interesting how copyright, free speech and plagiarism are connected. I don’t think I had thought about them as being in a package before. I am trying to make a diagram of it in my mind. I keep thinking back to Lawrence Lessig’s presentation that I’ve mentioned before. How do we balance free speech and free culture in an over copyrighted world? I think one our the cultural responses that we are seeing is that of less respect for copyright materials. People can readily download, cut and paste, manipulate and mash and re-broadcast materials. I had a teen tell me that she regularly views her favourite shows as a “fansub” on YouTube before they are released into the US market. I suspect that she is not aware that a “fansub” is in fact an illegal copy of the show. Is this a lack of respect or ignorance? I’ve read on my feed lately that the legal arm of the music companies are trying to pressure universities to take responsibility for the music being file shared through the univeristies’ computer systems. Yet Lessig mentions that file sharing is not actually taking much of a piece from the overall sales of the music industry. He seems to say that we need to rethink copyright. What implications does this have in school?

I teach in elementary schools. I have heard teachers say “Don’t ask me where I got it,” with regards to music used in assemblies or for phys.ed. As a potential teacher librarian, I feel I want to support the teachers’ use of materials in legal ways. I want us to be able to download and pay for the songs we want to use in class. But I also then wish to be able to use them in an assembly or class. From what I have read, using the song in an assembly is a public broadcast not covered under ‘fair use’ in Canada. This is ridiculous. How can I then say to teachers – I will help you get a legal copy of that music and then I will support you using it in an illegal fashion? If the rules are going to be that complicated and inappropriate,why buy the music to use in the first place if the end result is an illegal act anyway! It is frustrating. This is where I believe that Lessig is correct in asserting that the unregulated uses of material have been taken away. Playing music that I have purchased for a small school audience is great advertising for the music. Playing a song in school should be an acceptable, unregulated use of the material.

When this is our culture, cut and paste; download and view; copy and share, how do we reinforce the need to protect people’s intellectual property? In my class on Information Technologies for Learning, we are talking about plagiarism and its impact on schools. This may seem unrelated to the copyright and free speech discussion but they are woven together for me. I think the confusion on a societal level about unregulated uses, fair uses and copyright has contributed to the level of plagiarism that we see in our classrooms. If students see or participate in file sharing, regularly watch ‘fansubs’ and otherwise manipulate digital media in their ‘real’ lives, they will have difficulty seeing the problem with doing that for a school assignment.

We need to be planning projects and assignments which are difficult or impossible to cut and paste. There are many teachers and media specialists and teacher librarians working to make a change in what their students are doing and how they are doing it. I believe that when we begin to do things differently, we will see students who know how to show off their own intellectual property and credit the work of others. Clarence Fisher has talked about how teaching is changing for teachers working with digital tools. We aren’t just doing things differently; we are in fact doing different things. I think plagiarism and copyright and intellectual property are ideas which need to come home to schools. Just as I have taught my toddler that when she uses someone else’s toy she needs to ask first and then say thank you, I need to teach my students that when they use something on the internet for a source they need to check first and then if they have permission, say thank you by giving credit. When the process of giving credit becomes natural and easy, people will do it. If more students become aware of copyright, copyleft, creative commons and open source, then we will be on our way to freeing our society. I believe it is our job as educators to start to change society. Teaching students to share their work, give credit where credit is due and be creative with their assignments, hmmm, not a bad solution to plagiarism.

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Filed under education, free speech, literacy, responsibility, teacher training

Heroes, aspirations and sleep

I should be on my way to bed but I have to write about some of what I read on my feeds today or by tomorrow’s news will overwhelm todays and I will have missed recording these interesting bits.

Joyce Valenza – one of the heros – was writing on powerpoint, copyright and copyleft today. I was intriged with some of her thoughts but it was one of the people she introduced me to that has my mind whirling. She mentioned the work of Lawrence Lessig – hero number two – forgive me I had never heard of him. I don’t always read the links in the blogs I read but I have been working on some powerpoints lately and she mentioned the ‘zen’ quality of this one. I am amazed by the simplicity, the power, the intellect shown in this piece of work. I was inspired. I wanted to get to work on my presentation. I haven’t got to that yet, it won’t be on today’s agenda but I will be aspiring to this quality of work.

It reminds me of something Madeline L’Engle once said about her own experiences. As a young girl, she used to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After an afternoon viewing the Master’s, she’d want to run home and paint. She wondered if that bespoke of arrogance and on reflection concluded that the act of viewing something beautiful impels the viewer to produce something of beauty.

And so I feel today inspired, impelled to produce something beautiful, striking, compelling. Hmm. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Bridezilla and the Economy of Attention

In my reading of this last year, I ran across the idea of the attention economy. My memory is faulty but I am pretty sure if was in a book by Colin Lankshear but is not an idea that has it’s origin with him. The gist of it is that we are no longer in an economy dictated by supply and deman as the supply of possible things to consume far out strips the demand for these things, but now it is an economy of attention. The one (company, individual) who gets the most attention wins (succeeds, makes the most money, has the most influence).

The idea of the attention economy struck with full force as I listened to CBC radio this evening. The program dealt with the YouTube video “Bride wigs out”. The video was posted on Youtube and within weeks (days?) had had milllions of hits. The video it turns out was a ‘short’, a video produced by Unilever with the specific purpose of setting the meme “wig out” into the public consciousness. The radio show debated its effectiveness and its morality. One of the commentators said that it was an old-fashioned idea that there is a difference between private, personal space and public economic or commerical space. He mentioned that for young people in MySpace, the world is a mash of items – some cultural, some commercial, some personal and the dividing lines are blurred.

I believe he is right and I am frightened by it. We are losing or have lost, public non-commercial spaces. The public bus is splattered with advertising inside and out, personal vehicles sport the advertising of radio stations and small business, public easments can be rented for large signs built of flowers or painted on the grasses. Where do we get to go to be unsolicited as consumers?

I am a person. I am not a consumer or producer above all else. I want to take a stand for slogan free spaces. I see a real need here for advocacy and education. Can we as a society say no to ‘guerilla advertising’? Can we say no to overt advertising? Every concert hall, every sport arena is a sponsored place. My Luddite is screaming here. How do we teach about this?

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