Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A misguided cry for freedom (or, guess who agrees with the New Jersey principal?)

Go into any room of techies and casually mention that there's a threat to freedom, and 99% of all techies will man the barricades.

Whoops, I'm a sexist pig. They'll person the barricades.

But sometimes they person the barricades without engaging their brains first. Take the title of this item from Internet Evolution:

School Principal Demands Ban on Social Networks

And Nicole Ferraro begins the actual article as follows.

When I was a kid, the "thing" that was going to destroy my generation was video games. We were all supposed to grow up and kill each other.

Every age has a culprit, and for the current generation of youngsters it's social networking.

Ferraro then talks about Anthony Orsini and his letter to parents, and how wild the letter was.

My main problem with this letter is the excessive use of exclamation points -- way to sound maniacal! I'm glad you're not teaching English!

The thing that stuck in Ferraro's craw was the following statement from Principal Orsini:

Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

This, naturally, drove Ferraro up a wall...even though she neglected to mention one entity that is entirely in agreement with Orsini's stand.

The social networking sites themselves.

You see, the one important factor that Ferraro buried in her article is that Orsini is the principal of a MIDDLE school. Now, how many middle school students would satisfy the following requirement?

5. You will not use Facebook if you are under 13.

Now I will grant that there are some 8th graders who are 13 years of age or over. But middle schools go all the way down to 6th grade, and if there is a 6th grader who's 13, perhaps the kid should be hitting the books rather than the Farmville anyway.

And Ferraro does agree with Orsini that there are dangers on the Internet; she just disagrees about the approach to take.

The main issue on which the principal and I disagree is that practicing safe social networking is futile. A less hysterical approach would be limiting time kids spend online, having open discussions about the Web's dark side and the negative effects of one's actions online, and making it clear that these students have somewhere to turn if they're being bullied, online or off.

Those of us who are parents realize that as our children get older, we need to give them more and more responsibility, commensurate with their physical and mental age. And things may be different for different kids - some kids may be comfortable watching R rated movies, while others may think that "Everybody Loves Raymond" is a racy, dangerous show. (True story.)

But there are some absolutes - if your contract with MySpace or Facebook or whatever states that you have to be 13 years old, you have to be 13 years old. You don't want to teach your kid the joys of breaking the law.
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