Consider the lobster. When it is in warm water, it frequently molts its shell. A new, very soft shell grows underneath its new one. When it is time, the lobster begins to literally shrink as it expels seawater and the old shell begins to split.
After going through this gruelling process, a lobster emerges with a new soft shell. With a soft shell, it must literally hid in its borough for one to two weeks or it will be easy prey for fish and other predators.
Growth and molting are an important part of the growth process of the lobster with even the eyes of the lobster shedding their covering. Without molting, the old shell would become the lobster's coffin.
Growth and change are part of life
Change is the only constant in our world. In America, in the warm waters of democracy and prosperity, things change rapidly.
It requires us to shed our old modes of thinking and to adopt new methodologies and paradigms in order to understand the new world. We must understand, act, and adapt to the changes. We must comprehend the changes so that we, as educators and parents, can teach our children morality and ethics in light of the new societal shift. To ignore and refuse to adapt to the societal shift results in lost opportunities and wasted resources.
Adapting in Congress
Congressmen and Senators are extremely aware of the "New" Internet and honestly I don't think they like it. When Trent Lott became the first Senate Majority Leader in history to resign under pressure, they became acutely aware of blogs.
Anything that takes the common person, like me, and gives them a voice, unnerves those who are in power and do not want to change and adapt. It also unnerves those who have chosen obsolescence as a mindset.
Social networking and Societal Shifts
In my parents' teenage years, they congregated at hamburger stands and drive in theaters. I remember them telling me that the parents used to complain about all of the problems there. My generation gathered at the mall or at local fast food restaurants after sporting events. Many liked to "drive around" in local spots. Again, parents complained.
Today's kid doesn't go to the mall or "drive around" as much as they congregate online. That is where they converse. When we "drove around", the parents responded by having more policemen put on duty at the places we congregated. They were a safety net. Kids who want to "drive around" are going to "drive around" and the police kept away the problem folks.
We should respond by creating visible presences of "online safety police" and reporting mechanisms for predatory behavior. We should respond by educating children and parents both at home and from school about the dangers. We should teach parents how to look up and monitor their children's myspace accounts.
Do not be afraid of social networking
Social networking is not to be feared, a recent Pew study found:
"Our evidence calls into question fears that social relationships — and community — are fading away in America. Instead of disappearing, people’s communities are transforming:Transformation is a process. Like the lobster, we can transform. We can molt and shed our old shell and create new methodologies of protection that work well with the online world.
The traditional human orientation to neighborhood- and village-based groups is moving towards communities that are oriented around geographically dispersed social networks.
People communicate and maneuver in these networks rather than being bound up in one solidary community. Yet people’s networks continue to have substantial numbers of relatives and neighbors — the traditional bases of community — as well as friends and workmates."
Harness Social Networking for Education
As an educator, I want to harness social networking to create online islands where teens share educational interests. History buffs, science prodigies, math talents, literature lovers! Students often rise to the level of those that surround them. If we want students to rise to new heights, we will create conduits for educational exchange.
I fear that DOPA will derail these efforts for at least several years if not longer, depending on how the law is enacted. And that is just it. No one can count the number of sites on the Internet, how is a commission going to sort through every one of them?
Regulate the people, don't cut off the conduit
Websites and the Internet are a conduit and must not be confused with the creeps harming our children!
Perhaps a telephone repairman should look at a bundle of fiber optic cabling and listen in on every phone call and cut the cables with offensive conversations? We wouldn't dream of it! It is not the cabling that is the enemy, it is the people on each end of the line.
This is not about shedding morals but rather taking morals into a new online world through education. Our country must change, shed old ways of doing things lest our old ways become our coffin in a new society bursting to be released from its shell.
Why isn't the IT industry screaming?
I think more IT folks are not screaming because I think this bill spells big dollar signs for them:
- More money for phone companies who will have to provide capacity to the centralized "content filtering database" that will ultimately be created at the Federal Trade Commission
- More money for in house servers to set up internal blogs and wikis
- Money to replace the online free services that schools use with internal servers, equipment, and manpower
- More money for consultants.
- More money to hire more bureaucrats.
And as a result we have students and parents who are no more educated about living in an online world than when this all started.
I have conceptualized my thoughts on how societal shifts occur and how we respond in my chart at the top of this post. I believe that we are bordering on becoming a non-adaptive society as Congress goes ahead with the DOPA act.
What we need to do to protect children:
- Yes, all schools must have filtration that protects children from obscene, pornographic, and dangerous material. It should be controlled locally so that it can adapt quickly to local teen issues and curriculum needs. (This could actually be verified remotely by audit by the FTC if it was needed. The technology exists today to do this!)
- Yes, all students must be supervised with school activities. Teachers should be allowed to supervise using RSS feeds from student created materials with the realization that when one deals with teenagers and technology that a "zero defects" result is unrealistic. Issues should be dealt with using an effective discipline ladder tailored to electronic issues. Discipline should include suspensions of student accounts, and alternative offline assignments.
- Parent education programs should be created to run parallel to student programs. (I offered a course in 1997-1999 at our school that parents and students took together and ended with a parent/student contract for online safety. I am updating it and bringing it back this fall.)
- Students should be educated about information literacy, online safety, and online privacy and should be monitored by parents and teachers to make sure they are following such procedures.
- A mechanism for reporting online predatory behavior must be created with law enforcement dedicated to policing such behavior.
- Yes, all schools should fully disclose the Internet activities that children are doing at school. (I post them on our school website and invite parent comments.)
- Yes, we must teach children responsible, ethical use of new Internet tools in a way that will best allow students to succeed when moving to the real world.
- I would propose that all ISP's be required to provide free content filtration for parents as well as a summary printout to parents of websites that their children go to. This could be done and provided for school and for home. I do not think a child should use the Internet without some sort of filtration in place. Now, that is something that would help the problem!
In fact, ignorance is far more dangerous than supervised education. We must learn to adapt to the fundamental societal shift that has occurred as we begin to live online in ways that will protect our children today and their future success tomorrow.
For now, we refuse to change
Fighting change for the lobster means death. Fighting change for us means being out of touch with the things we can that can really help our kids and keep them safe!
As for now, I think the shell is tightening.
This quote has been floating around the net:
Filter a website and protect a child for a day.
Teach them online safety in a near-real world environment and protect them for a lifetime.
Boase, Jeffrey, John B. Horrigan, Barry Wellman, and Lee Rainie. "The Strength of Internet Ties." Pew Internet and American Life Project 25 JAN 2006 27 JUL 2006.