Wednesday, September 24, 2008

School systems need to provide Internet safety and legal education, to protect "free entry" long term

One of the most urgent needs in public schools is to provide students, especially by ninth or tenth grades when they are likely to be using the Internet, some basic knowledge of the underlying safety and liability issues of Internet use.

This body of knowledge would incorporate several areas. One obviously involves intellectual property: understanding what copyright means, and why the law sometimes punishes infringement quite severely.

Another would involve “reputation” problems, which are more nebulous and unsettling, and which I’ve taken up before on this blog. A major component of this problem is that one can injure another’s reputation with postings in various ways, some of which are just now getting reported in the media.

Of course, still another big area is security, with many issues, for the entire family and school.

Sometime back, on my Internet Safety blog (see my Profile), on Aug. 21, I covered the movement for an “Internet driver’s license”. The concept may be well intended.

Think again about how it was in the past, before the days of the Web and P2P. Book and periodical publishers carefully vetted materials (they call it “due diligence”) before releasing them to the wild. Often material was reviewed by lawyers. It sounds like bureaucracy and red tape, and perhaps it was. It was costly and inefficient. But it tended to provide some “regulation.”

Now, we allow anyone with almost no financial commitment or accountability to reach the entire planet, with some minimum age restrictions, to be sure. We require people to pass tests to drive a car. And we used to require legal review and approval for anything that “got published” (at least outside of the world of supermarket tabloids). Of course, doing so presented a prohibitive “barrier to entry” for the individual to be heard outside of participation in organizations (hello – that means special interests and lobbyists). Nevertheless, people are creating unquantifiable risks for themselves and downstream for others (which is why a lot of insurance companies don’t want to touch media perils or amateur bloggers). It seems reasonable to require people to pass a quiz on copyright, defamation, and security (and that might include how to use anti-virus products) before allowing such global reach.

But the important thing here is for school systems to develop curricula to present to kids. Teachers have tended to live in a set-off world, somewhat isolated from the “real world” or work, commerce and media. School systems need to get beyond their bureaucracies (often imposed by state education departments which themselves are set up by legislatures) and communicate with business (especially the software and Internet media industries) to develop curricula for responsible Internet usage by teens. It’s in the best interest of companies like Google, Microsoft, IBM and the like to help them do this. People “retired” from information technology and who may not want to deal with classroom management problems all the time could certainly be employed as contractors or consultants in helping school systems do this.

In these days where suddenly we hear a lot of talk about the need for “regulation” to prevent the next unpleasant surprise coming out of asymmetric opportunities for individuals, such attention from school systems may be an important strategy in protecting the “free entry” setup for Internet use for individuals, as we have come to take for granted. The set-up that we have now is not necessarily sustainable without more thought to education in the responsibility that goes with the access.

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