REVIEW: "Internet and Computer Ethics for Kids", Winn Schwartau
- BKINCMEK.RVW 20010815
"Internet and Computer Ethics for Kids", Winn Schwartau, 2001,
%A Winn Schwartau www.nicekids.net winns@...
%C 11511 Pine St. N., Seminole, FL 33772
%I Inter.Pact Press
%O U$15.95/C$24.95 727-393-6600 fax: 727-393-6361
%P ~150 p.
%T "Internet and Computer Ethics for Kids"
Computer ethics can be a very frustrating field. Professional
organizations appear to have abandoned the area: they seem to have
given up on the idea of "codes of ethics" and now prefer to write
"codes of conduct." "Values education" has progressed very little in
the last thirty years. All of us seem to be the disciples of
Kohlberg, and assume that by sitting around discussing ethics, moral
dilemmas, and scenarios, we will all somehow become moral individuals.
And that's for the adults.
For kids, the task is even more important, and much more difficult.
Maybe it's impossible. But it is good to see that someone has at
least given it a try. I don't agree with everything Winn has done,
but he has produced a valuable and helpful tool. I hope that a great
many people try it out, and, if it needs tuning, feed ideas back to
This volume is a tool, and must be seen as such to be valued.
Schwartau has, probably wisely, not attempted to provide a full
examination of ethical theories or systems. The chapters are all very
short: they are introductions, not expositions. (As Blaise Pascal
famously noted, it takes much longer, and much more work, to write a
short piece than a long one.) The text is generally possible for the
sixth grade reader, and is backed up with a short section on relevant
ideas from the law, topics to think about and discuss, and resources
for further study and research.
Unfortunately, the work starts out weakly. The introduction is vague.
Seemingly the book is addressed to everyone. The preface also states
that the book has questions, but no answers. A second introduction is
more personal, but no clearer as to the intent of the text.
Chapter one states that there are no rules, and then lays out some
rules. Aside from the contradiction, which may be too subtle for the
younger end of the audience, but which will probably be picked up by
the later teens, relativism makes it difficult to discuss ethics at
all. To the question of what ethics are, chapter two has little
explanation except to say that they are the "little voices." A brief
Internet history is probably supposed to point out that the Internet
has grown too fast for formal regulation, in chapter three. Chapter
four starts out by raging against stereotypes of all kinds, and then
stereotypes the media. The text also tersely outlines various types
of hackers. Chapter five is a scenario, a rather simplistic story of
a young person who is very clearly dealt with unfairly by "the
Establishment," whose only possible recourse is to make unauthorized
alteration of data on a computer.
The material starts to get stronger as it becomes more specific.
Passwords, and the needs for strong ones, are discussed in chapter
six. Graffiti is equated with web page defacement in chapter seven.
Phone phreaking, war dialling, and anonymity are defined in eight to
ten. Malware, viruses and trojan horse programs, are covered in
chapters eleven and twelve. Chapters thirteen and fourteen deal with
spoofing and spam. Chapter fifteen points out that you have no idea
whether what is said on the net is true, which leads to discussions of
scams, online business, and rumours in sixteen to eighteen. Stealing,
in chapter nineteen, leads to examinations of software piracy and
Chapters twenty two to twenty five look at the more ambiguous topics
of social engineering, flaming, meeting people, and stalking.
Technical subjects, digital special effects and eavesdropping, get a
brief look in chapters twenty six and twenty seven.
The topics get harder as chapter twenty eight deals with pornography,
then two chapters on privacy, another on monitoring, and ratting on
Although the topics could be presented in various sequences, it might
have been better to place chapter thirty three, discussing ethics and
the law, closer to chapter two. But it is also a good lead-in to
civil disobedience and hacktivism, in chapter thirty four.
The review of personal responsibility, in chapter thirty five, is very
good. "Computer Police," in thirty six, deals mostly with law
enforcement concerns, with a brief mention of vigilantism. An
interesting juxtaposition with chapter thirty seven, on getting
Chapter thirty eight, asks who makes the rules, but deals primarily
with the home and who is in charge. Again, making ethical decisions,
in thirty nine, is good, but should be related to two and thirty
Although it finishes off the book, chapter forty, and cyber-parenting,
is the introduction for parents and teachers. It is quite realistic
A final set of pages is probably an important part of the book. A set
of lined pages, they are important exercises for self-examination,
headed with "My Personal CyberEthics," "My Family's CyberRules," "My
Friends' CyberEthics," "CyberRules at My Friends' House," "CyberRules
at School," "What My Parents Need to Learn," "What My Teachers Need to
Learn," "My Company's CyberEthics and Rules," and "What I think I Need
I won't give this book to my grandchildren, even though the oldest
would probably be able to read a good part of it. But I will give it
to their mothers.
Not being a marketroid, I will not say that this book is a "must have"
for anyone with kids. Unlike many other books, and like many computer
technologies, it must be used to be of any value. Parents can't
simply present it to their children and forget it: to do so would be
to teach that ethics are not important. If you want to get anything
out of this work, you will have to read it with your kids, or give it
to them to read, and discuss it with them. It can be read in an
afternoon, but shouldn't be. The material should be taken a chapter
at a time, perhaps once a week, perhaps at even longer intervals. It
may take years to finish this slim volume (by which time all the URLs
may be 404). As the adult you will have to be patient, and accept
that the discussions may not proceed in straight lines, as you think
The end result, though, should be worth it. You'll have ethical kids.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2001 BKINCMEK.RVW 20010815
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