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Sunday, May 01, 2005

How do we allow our students to enjoy the benefits of the world while protecting them from harm?

A colleague in class presented me with a series of difficult questions. Here is my effort to answer them.



I thought I'd take a crack at offering answers to your questions... though I know you have hit on some big questions, bordering on universal, which will never be answered to the satisfaction of all.

How do we deal with the predators lurking on the web?

I think stiff penalties are entirely appropriate in this case... for the predators, not for the students. Still, it is difficult to find the predators. Yet, we have access to our students... and we can educate the students to protect them from predators that seek the students out.

The class you described is a good start is it enough?

I think a class just helps be sure there is a minimum level of awareness that all students have regardless of their upbringing... not unlike sex ed, health, and drivers ed classes already in schools. However, I think such lowest-common-denominator education can only be the beginning... talking with our students about the dangers (and decisions) they will face online, as in their face-to-face lives, should become part of our role as teachers (and responsible adults). After all, these issues, like health and sex ed, are only going to get more complicated as students mature.

Do we need to do more to detect and prosecute the predators at their end?

Perhaps. I don't know a lot about police work, though. Still I suspect criminals will always find new ways to evade investigators, and the surest way to minimize accidents (what you called "risk management") is to educate the students to protect themselves if and when they are threatened.

Also, how do we chaperone children on the net? If we take a class of children to the art museum, we are not going to make them close their eyes when they encounter, for example, nudes but on the same note we are not going to let them run free in the museum for their own safety.

This question gave me the most pause. As I mentioned in an early post, I often try to help teachers see behavior using a computer in terms of more traditional behaviors, and you've done a good job with this analogy. I'm not sure what the digital equivalent to chaperoning students might be. Perhaps it is simply monitoring... maybe with remote desktop monitoring software... and perhaps it requires chaperone software not unlike the filters we have been discussing. I'll spend some more time thinking about this.

How do we preserve the balance of free exposure to the benefits of the internet and World Wide Web and protect them from the negative elements?

This is the key question. How do we allow our students to enjoy the benefits of the world while protecting them from the negative elements? How do we let them slide down a snowy hill and keep them from crashing and hurting them selves? How do we let them go to the mall with their friends and protect them from getting kidnapped? I know this is not so much an answer as an effort to reframe the question from another perspective, but I think there comes a time when we have to trust that they will be ok (whether the basis for this trust is faith or statistics), and then deal with the consequences when something goes wrong. With any luck, grieving won't be a part of the process. But, ultimately, I don't know that adding a computer or the internet to the equation changes anything fundamental about this question.

I can imagine your responses, but composing this has been valuable to me.

-Mark

PS. Incidentally, I went searching for statistics on how many predators there are online, and how many students fall prey to them. I found this page. While some of these things may be shocking, the "Online Sexual Predators" section really only connects common media for solicitations to media commonly used by students. It does indicate statistics concerning how many students are solicited, but does not include statistics about what kinds of solicitation or how many actually fall prey to these schemes. It is also clear that there is a religious agenda involved, so I view this information with a good deal of scepticism. Still, digging elsewhere on theprotectkids.com site uncovered several good resources, such as the youth safety guide, including safety tips for kids and the family internet safety contract, documents that might form the basis of discussions with our students. This is clearly meant for younger students, but ought to be easily adapted to older students.

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