This article was first published by Education Technology Solutions.
A hundred smelly students are huddled together in the hall, the younger ones terrified, the older ones bored, as an angry senior constable paces past the few brazen enough to raise their hands to the question, “Who here’s on Facebook?”.
He points his finger at freckled Tommy. “How old are you, son?”
“11”, replies Tommy.
“You’re a liar!” The police officer repeats this charade ad nauseum as those with their hands up try to pull them down without raising his ire. “You’re not thirteen. You had to say you were thirteen when you signed up to Facebook. You’re a liar. You’re breaking the laaaw!”
Another half hour of graphic stories pass by sprinkled with a dash of sensible online practise. The bell rings, the kids head to lunch, the senior constable shakes the principals hand, and the teachers tick off the box labelled cybersafety on their programs. Job well done. The kids are safe.
Except they are not. Lessons in fear are quickly forgotten. The students that feel threatened shift into survival mode and the learning stops. Those that do not, either think they know better or have learnt little more than a plan for abstinence from the internet. Principals, teachers and police are seeing more issues happening online than ever before, and the numbers tell us that what we are doing is not working.
Your local neighbourhood is probably quite safe. The online world is one giant neighbourhood, except you live next door to everyone. The best and worst of society are only a few clicks away and while a young person might be hanging out in parts of the online community that resemble Disneyland, a simple Google search can see them end up in the digital equivalent of the seediest parts of Las Vegas or worse.
So, it is little wonder that fear for our children’s wellbeing is where we have started. This may be the most pressing matter in education today. But as educators, it is high time we moved the conversation forward beyond a paradigm of fear and avoidance. Current solutions to the ‘problem’ of the internet are to create more rules and policies, ban students for poor behaviour, and block access to any parts of the internet that are not mandated, while doing little to support children in the bulk of their online time outside of school.