Education Without Fear

Last week, the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee held their 10th State of the Net Conference. C-SPAN has available on their website a recording of one of the panel discussions entitled “Child Safety on Web 2.0: Who Should Protect Our Kids?” The panel was extremely interesting and although much of the discussion centered on child pornography it was extremely well-reasoned and covered other topics with insight and wisdom.

The panelists included:

  • Anne Collier, Co-director of BlogSafety.com
  • Chuck Cosson, Microsoft’s Public Policy Counsel
  • Tim Lordan, Executive Director of the Internet Education Foundation & panel moderator
  • Mark McCarthy, Visa’s Senior Vice President for Public Policy
  • Margaret Moran, UK Member of Parliament (Labour)
  • Adam Thierer, Director of the Progress & Freedom Center’s Center for Digital Media

As often seems to be the case, the questions from the audience seemed to draw together many of the threads discussed throughout the panel. Allow me to summarize the responses to one particular question to give you a flavor for the discussions: How would you grade congress and administration on their Internet child safety efforts? Adam replied that he would give them a C or D as their efforts are not about education and parental empowerment. Chuck, however, noted that Microsoft is happy when lawmakers even think of this issue. Some federal bills have been good and states have significant opportunities (Virginia was mentioned a few times throughout the panel as particularly good in these areas). Margaret reiterated her main point that legislation must be accompanied, preceded, or even co-opted by governmental collaboration with industry and NGOs. This is apparently an effort she has led in the UK. Mark agreed with Margaret about industry collaboration being key but added that legislation is not always needed but legislative interest is extremely important.

Between the lengthy opening remarks, discussion, and question-and-answer session, many of the major topics in this area were covered: ISP and OS vendor efforts, parental responsibilities, government and industry collaboration, and the ethics and legalities of monitoring Internet users and children. A few of the highlights included:

  • A few of the panelists referenced Youth, Pornography, and the Internet,” a 2000 publication by the Committee to Study Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content of the National Research Council. In particular, the following idea (paraphrased here and attributed to Dick Thornburgh) was discussed and presented as a model: Although we can erect fences and put up gates around swimming pools, the best way we can protect children from drowning is to teach them how to swim. Adam quickly linked this notion of “teaching our children how to swim” with media literacy and how it is or is not being taught to children. This is a current topic of discussion among some educators and the focus of current research.
  • A panelist (our guest from the UK, I think) said that we must puruse “education without fear.” That is precisely the concept I believe we must promote in higher education as we try to educate one another and our students about Internet issues such as social networking, privacy, ethics, and online interactions. Although the particular phrase “education without fear” seems to be related to an educational movement to eliminate corporal punishment in schools we should hold it in our minds and hearts as I believe it applies directly to these educational efforts.

Those ideas, arming one another and our students with knowledge without sensationalizing or overblowing the potential dangers, are precisely the ones we should be pursuing in higher education. I would recommend anyone interested in these ideas, Internet safety, and the interplay between government and industry watch this video. I was very impressed with each of the panelists and their interactions. Further, many of their ideas are spot on and ones from which we can learn and on which we can build.