Dear Fellow WWWEDUers,
I thought I'd share a letter I sent to "The Today Show" this morning:
Dear Today Show,
I am a professional educator with over 15 years experience. In 1997 I worked at Richmond High in California (of "Coach Carter" fame) and managed to get my underachieving students published internationally using a 386 without windows or harddrive. Students were finally excited about learning and we did several other Internet projects using this one computer. Did this make the mainstream news? No (although if you'd like to read about it please visit http://snurl.com/netc1). Was this news? In my opinion yes, but it wasn't something that would readily make itself apparent to news services, unless I had actively tried to promote myself to the news services and get coverage, which I did not at the time.
Several years ago I worked with Congressman Wu's office regarding kid friendly sites and Internet porn. I had developed an educational site with over 2000 links for teachers and students (it still exists at http://www.mybookmarks.com/public/coops). When showing this site to professors one day it turns out that one of my links went to a porn site. I was obviously embarassed and appalled, and didn't know how that could possibly happen. It turns out that the site I originally linked to had lapsed, and the porn industry had a proclivity for bying up used domains that had a large number of hits and placing their pornography there. For six months I talked with Congressman Wu's aid about this and about two years ago Congress passed a law outlawing this practice by the porn industry. I feel happy that I could take a little personal credit in making the Internet safer for kids.
Today, "The Today Show" did yet another story on Internet predators regarding a child who was coerced online to perform sexual acts. Although this is a horrific story I believe that mainstream media is actually doing a *disservice* by constantly inundating us with stories of this sort. The child's attorney likened webcams to having a loaded gun in the house, unnecessary and dangerous. I feel this greatly overstates the danger related to webcams, but more important it reflects mainstream media's obsession with negative reporting on anything and everything that happens on the Internet. Dateline did an entire expose and sting operation on child predators. There are websites such as iSafe (http://www.isafe.org) and others that have hours of media showing how dangerous the Internet is. I agree that the Internet can be extremely dangerous. Indeed, in my talks with Congressman Wu's office I urged Congress to pass a law creating .xxx and .sex domains where porn
could be and have it filtered easily by parents and schools alike. Unfortunately Congress felt that they would run into free speech rights issues and this did not make it into the final bill. This omission also did not make it into the media.
My point is that mainstream media needs to focus on stories that aren't readily apparent. It's easy for you to sensationalize stories such as the one of the boy this morning. Indeed this is what mainstream media seems to do *constantly*. The nightly news has become nothing but one big infotainment crime blotter. However, there are many *good* things that happen online and yet no story is ever forthcoming. Global project based learning, educators and students collaborating with each other online, and other positive stories never see the light of day. I understand that "negative sells" but don't you think it's about time that mainstream media took a different approach to what news really is? Constant repetition of murders, etc. isn't news but showing the positive possibilities would be, because these stories go completely unreported. It would require more journalistic effort than listening to the daily police scanners, but it would be news well worth reporting.
If you feel that negative reporting is necessary, and you want stories regarding education and the Net then I suggest you take a much deeper look at what the No Child Left Behind act has done to technology and curriculum in schools. People have a very naive belief that schools have safe access to the Internet because schools use Net filters. These filters are not 100% and of course there are stories where students access porn from school. Again, to me, this isn't the main story. What is much more severe and insidious is the fact that students *don't use the Net for scholastic purposes except for an extremely small fraction of the day*. Most schools use computers for testing purposes and not online research or educational website viewing. The Net is probably the most significant *potential* tool for education in the 21st Century and could completely revolutionize education. The fact that it is massively underutlized is caused by several factors (high stakes
testing uses most of the computer time, educators aren't tech savvy enough to use it, support positions don't exist or have been cut in districts, there isn't enough hardware etc. in schools). All of these issues are important and should be considered newsworthy. However, you don't see media stories of little Johnny connecting with a student in Pune India via a webcam. I think it's time we started.
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