A few years ago, a piece of popular legislation made its way past Illinois lawmakers (including Barack Obama, who voted in favor of it, as well as teacher unions, public health officials, etc.) offering comprehensive education to school children that, among other things, would have taught them to identify and avoid online predators. Online safety education is long overdue; when we're providing fire safety, DARE, and "stay away from strangers" talks, it only makes sense to teach kids to be thoughtful about what they do and who they encounter online. Virginia has already instituted such a curriculum and I'm hopeful we'll see a lot more of this as kids increasingly spend their time in online communities and immersive worlds (more on that in my next post).
That being said, I have to point out that President Bush signed a seriously stupid piece of legislation into law today. While most regular readers know that I fall somewhere in a weird continuum between tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing liberal and laissez-faire Libertarian, I also tend to avoid too much in the way of politics on this blog. It generally isn't the place and tends to irritate the occasional social conservative who happens to wander into education. However, this little law certainly affects kids, what they do online, and how we as educators can help keep them safe.
It also happens to have been written by John McCain who, by his own admission, is not exactly the world's most computer savvy fella. The law, called the "Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act of 2008"
shall require that each sex offender provide to the sex offender registry those Internet identifiers the sex offender uses or will use of any type that the Attorney General determines to be appropriate under that Act.
Oh. OK. The whole law can be downloaded here, by the way. The long and the short of it, though, is that sex offenders are supposed to report their email addresses. Then, places like MySpace can check a list of emails when they let people sign up instead of developing new detection tools and employing moderators and schools don't need to teach kids to be safe online since the government is protecting them so well. It's probably worth noting (my last political note of the night) that McCain railed against the Illinois legislation noted above, calling it "'comprehensive sex education' for kindergarten students".
Of course, I guess no one expected the sex offenders to simply create a different anonymous email account from the one they report to the registry. Because, after all, it's pretty hard to get a Gmail account. Ah, for the good ol' days when you needed an invitation, right?
As Wired puts it,
In other words, to McCain, teaching children to avoid predators is as bad as teaching sexually active teenagers about contraception. But setting up an e-mail database that relies on pedophiles being honest and respectful of the law — well, we can all live with that.
I think I'll still be keeping a close eye on my kids' online habits and I won't be striking Internet safety from our tech curriculum anytime soon.