From today’s Newark Star-Ledger:
Corzine increases vigilance of Web
Gov. Jon Corzine moved yesterday to expand Internet safety programs in New Jersey, prompting praise from experts who said the initiative was overdue in an era of nearly universal Web access.
In a letter, Corzine called on Attorney General Anne Milgram and Education Commissioner Lucille Davy to help strengthen training for teachers and school administrators by the start of the new school year.
School officials would be expected to better educate students, parents and community groups about ways to recognize and avoid Internet threats from pedophiles and other predators.
“With all of the benefits that evolving technologies provide us, too many unfortunate opportunities exist for adults to exploit children through the use of the Internet or for children to otherwise experience dangerous situations as a result of the doors that technology has opened,” Corzine wrote.
Responding to the announcement, Bergen County lawyer Parry Aftab, developer of the online-protection group wiredsafety.org, said her group is eager to assist state officials in preparing training programs.
“We’re ready to help. It’s time. We have all the leading experts who can make this happen,” she said.
Lynn Maher, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Education Association, pledged her union’s cooperation. “We certainly do care very much about Internet safety, because it impacts the well-being of students,” she said.
The governor cited a study that found 71 percent of teens reported receiving messages online from someone they don’t know, and 14 percent met with people they first encountered online. State investigators so far have found that at least 248 New Jersey sex offenders were registered on MySpace.com, a Beverly Hills-based social networking Web site used widely by youngsters older than 13.
“We as a state have an important role to play in giving parents, educators and caregivers the information and tools that empower them to teach children the safe and healthy use of technology and the Internet,” Corzine said.
Aftab, who shut down her law practice 12 years ago to develop wiredsafety.org, the first group dedicated to safe use of the Internet by youngsters, said: “We can no longer say, ‘No Internet for you.’ We have to recognize our kids are using it. They have to know how to use it.”
Will Richardson, a former Flemington teacher and author of “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms,” said the state initiative may be an improvement over current “piecemeal” programs. But while the safety of children is highly important, he said, the response should not be so hysterical that schools end up stifling access to the World Wide Web.
He pointed to research that shows substantiated cases of child sexual abuse have are steadily declining, and that 95 percent of abuse cases involve family members, not strangers. The same research shows that among the offenses by non-family members, the Internet is involved in only a small percentage of cases.
“If it is just fear and doom and gloom and everybody be scared, that’s not the best way to do it. To me, that just leads to more blocking, more filtering, more reasons we can’t use Web technology in classrooms,” he said.
Education Commissioner Davy said state officials hope to build on existing programs and use schools to quickly get the latest advice on Internet safety to parents and students.
“I would hope in the fall, in PTA meetings and other school gatherings, these can be a topic of discussion,” she said.
Her own son, she noted, opened a page on the social networking site Facebook a few years ago when he enrolled in college.
“It is so important. This is scary stuff when you think of your own children, who can be a victim of a predator or someone else who doesn’t have their best interest at heart,” she said.
Joe Donohue may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 989-0208. Staff writer John Mooney contributed to this report.
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Mark Wagner says
Will, your tweet said “double oy” but this article’s not so bad. If my experience with the press is any indication, I’m sure they didn’t quote what you wished they would’ve – and I’m sure they got the wording wrong – but at least your voice is represented and this is something of a balanced story… even if it did end on the fear note. Way to get your message out of the echo chamber in any case. 🙂
The kids already use all the tech tools. We couldn’t stop it if we tried.
As I said to Mr. Chalk
when he commented on teachers claiming to be bullied by students, “I believe that “bullying” is the problem not ‘cyber-bullying’. It’s the behavior, not the tools, that needs to be addressed. Are they also going to ban paper (bullying notes), markers (bullying graffiti) and talking (bullying comments)?”
We need to educate students, not wall them in.
Barbara Doak says
I can understand why school systems, parents, and government officials are being cautious when it comes to our children using the Internet. There can be a lot of scary things happening on the Internet. My school system is implementing the i-Safe Program(www.i-safe.org). They have trained one person per school to take back GREAT information and introduce to staff and parents. The i-safe program also has training for students to become mentors in the secondary level. It is a wonderful program and I really think it is going open the eyes of our elementary parents and make them think twice about how their kids use the Internet and keeping them safe.
Julie McLeod says
Will, I am a doctoral student studying educational technology. My research partner and I have been trying to do a study about Internet safety. We had two families last year that didn’t consent to allowing their child to create web-based portfolios of their work even though there were no last names, no school identifier and it was password protected! Our concerns are similar to yours – that the fear factor is being exploited. We have attended a number of Internet safety talks hosted by a variety of people and the message is the same… “be afraid, be very afraid!” I just don’t think that is the best we can do for our children.
While we have been trying to get this research going for months now, we have really struggled to find people who want to tell us the other side of the story. We asked to interview the parents cited above, we asked to interview police/FBI detectives who conducted Internet safety meetings, all to no avail! If you have any suggestions for us or can offer some guidance/help, we would really appreciate it! Feel free to respond here or email me!
As a New Jersey school administrator, I am glad you said what you did. We have had the New Jersey State Police come to our district to do a presentation for parents, and it was great. They talked about cyber safety from a great perspective; learn what your kids are doing and don’t have them be online in a closed room without your supervision. Additionally, they also talked about online shopping safety, identity theft, spam avoidance, email etiquette, and several other important issues. If the governor’s plan becomes that kind of training, I’m all for it. If it becomes another state report that mandates “compliance” and has the consequence of placing more “walls” around kids and more unsubstantiated fear in non-cyber savvy teachers, then it will push back gains that we have made.
Gary Christenson says
Your response was good, Will, and needs to be heard. I’m continually amazed at the hysteria over children and Web safety. Of course, it’s a topic that’s easy for the local broadcast news outlets to trot out during Sweeps periods, and this fuels the largely unsubstantiated fears. Although my children are grown now, I was an early user of the Web in enhancing my college courses. I always told my media students that I’d rather have my children accidentally encounter a pedophile through the Web than at the mall. Still, I know many parents who don’t think twice of dropping their adolescents at the mall for several hours. I’m afraid that the online environs will continue to be the scapegoat for bad parenting for sometime.