Albert Gonzalez was hacking in high school...where were the safety nets?

We talk a lot in education about the idea of safety nets. These are support systems that we put into place to figuratively catch kids who might otherwise not be successful.

We talk a lot in education about the idea of safety nets. These are support systems that we put into place to figuratively catch kids who might otherwise not be successful. They can be as simple as extra time after school for help or involve more significant remediation programs.

Safety nets aren't just for kids who struggle or have learning disabilities, however. They can be for gifted students whose talents would otherwise go untapped, unnoticed, or undeveloped. Albert Gonzalez, now charged with stealing 130 million credit card numbers (the largest such fraud in history), was precisely one of the kids whose incredible skill should have been identified and channeled in school.

As the Miami Herald reports, the Miami native showed remarkable talent early on:

Years before his arrest in the nation's largest credit card heist, Albert Gonzalez launched a bold plan from a computer in his high school library: hack into the government network of India.

By the time FBI agents descended on South Miami Senior High School, the quiet 17-year-old senior had already shattered the security systems and left his mark: offensive notes on government message boards.

The consequence? Gonzalez was told to stay away from computers for 6 months. How much differently would this have turned out if a gifted program could have put him in touch with a mentor at a security company or put him to work doing some serious programming? He breezed through computer classes at school, but where was the connection to local universities or businesses?

A friend of Gonzalez is quoted as saying,

the accused hacker is 'very remorseful as to what has happened. He's put himself in a very tough situation. He feels sorry for what he has done.'''

I know as well as anyone that safety nets cost money which is all too hard to find in public education. Safety nets require individual attention which is just as hard to come by in overcrowded public schools.

I also know that not every bored smart kid in high school will turn into a notorious cybercriminal. Lots of them just end up writing blogs for ZDNet. However, how many really bright kids slip on through without meeting their full potential? And how many, without the right direction and modeling, end up on the wrong side of the law?

Most schools provide quite a bit of support to the kids who are obviously having trouble. If the Gonzalez case doesn't teach us anything else, though, we need to take away the importance of safety nets for kids who don't have any trouble at all.

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