by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
culture, safety, schools

Common Sense For School Internet Safety Policies

from the less-irrational-fear,-more-education dept

We talk quite a bit here about the growing pains of various institutions when faced with upstarts like the internet and social media. The usual suspects like the recording industry and newpapers come to mind first, but one of our oldest institutions continues to painfully stumble its way into the future: the educational system.

The institution's deep-seated mistrust of the most used encyclopedia in the world is already well known. But as email has given way to texting and social networks have expanded past the confines of the schoolyard, those seeking to somehow control the seeming chaos have worked steadily to bang out reactionary policies and ever-tightening guidelines. Rather than temper their actions with some common sense or a bit of perspective, educators (and some parent groups) have often decided to deploy terrible "zero tolerance" policies or overly-broad "guidelines," relying on a variety of tech-related boogiemen (online predators, cyberbullying, sexting, porn... um... Wikipedia vandals?) to keep questions to a minimum.

Fortunately, someone is actually attempting to inject some common sense into school internet safety policies, tackling many of the issues that seem to go hand-in-hand with attempting to provide analog guidance in a digital era. Via Bruce Schneier comes "26 Internet Safety Talking Points," compiled by Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant.

McLeod, founder of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), runs through the whole alphabet (and adds a few corollaries) detailing talking points he uses when discussing internet safety with principals and superintendents. The entire piece is definitely worth reading. Here's a few selections from McLeod's list.

First off, bad things will happen. But it's not the tool being used. It's the user.
C. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy.
In addition to school administrators, members of our government and various security agencies should be presented with a copy of this talking point.
F. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.
Another thing our government and its affiliated agencies do well: use fear to acquire and maintain control.
G. The ‘online predators will prey on your schoolchildren’ argument is a false bogeyman, a scare tactic that is fed to us by the media, politicians, law enforcement, and computer security vendors. The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero.
There's a lot of buck-passing and "our hands are tied" gestures made when these policies are questioned. Often, it's simply not true.
H. Federal laws do not require your draconian filtering. You can’t point the finger somewhere else. You have to own it yourself.
This should be obvious. You're educators, after all.
K. There’s a difference between a teachable moment and a punishable moment. Lean toward the former as much as possible.
What is the rationale behind policies like this? That if it's online, it's automatically inappropriate? It's such an obvious double standard and yet, it's deployed so often.
N. If you’re prohibiting teachers from being ‘friends’ with students online, are you also prohibiting them from being ‘friends’ with students in neighborhoods, at church, in volunteer organizations, at the mall, and in other non-school settings?
S. Unless you like losing lawsuits, remember that students and staff have speech and privacy rights, particularly off-campus. Remember that any dumb decision you make is Internet fodder and has a good chance of going viral online. Do you really want to be the next stupid administrator story on The Huffington Post?
The more you block, the more energy gets expended by attempts at circumvention. Wouldn't you rather focus this energy on something positive, rather than trying to extinguish every flame you see? 
Z. Educating is always, always more powerful than blocking.
This the correct way to "think about the children." A list like this is a handy thing to keep close at hand for the inevitable moment when school adminstrators declare "something must be done. " Tossing a little common sense cold water on heated, reactionary plans is always a good idea.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2012 @ 8:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Here's my point. Normally Reddit should be blocked at public schools. Or would you love the school to be sued and your taxes to go sky high because little Johnny was checking out /r/spaceclop, /r/transex, etc on the school's computer? Now obviously during the Barack Obama AMA, I would lift the filter so that teachers can allow their kids to post questions, and read Obama's answers. This isn't Rocket Science or fear mongering, it's common sense.

    It's not like I think kids shouldn't friend their teachers on FB and use social networking, but that should be done at home. If there is bullying or harassment, we already have laws that cover those actions and the parents/teachers should take that up with law enforcement.

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