Congress opts for educating students over blocking Web sites and social networks

Score one for common sense and local control.

Rather than ordering educators to censor student Internet access, which had been proposed, a little-noticed provision of recently passed broadband legislation simply requires school districts receiving e-Rate discounts to do what they're trained to do: teach -- in this case teach students about online safety and cyber-bullying

A bill filed in 2006 called the Deleting Online Predators Act would have mandated that schools and libraries prohibit access to the likes of MySpace and Facebook.

From a story in eSchool News:

As time ticked down on the 110th Congress, many people believed (a) web-safety bill, the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, would fail to see any final action. Stevens is on trial for allegedly failing to report gifts.

(His bill) included language, supported by several educational technology advocacy groups, requiring schools receiving e-Rate funds to teach students about appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room web sites, as well as the dangers of cyber bullying.

The Senate Commerce Committee merged the language in Stevens' bill into the Broadband Data Improvement Act, which focuses on establishing new studies to track the penetration of U.S. broadband internet access.

The bill still needs to be signed by President Bush.

As for reaction:

"We recognize that students need to learn how to avoid inappropriate content and unwanted contacts from strangers while online," said representatives from the Consortium for School Networking and the International Society for Technology in Education in a joint statement. ... "Educating students on how to keep themselves safe while online is the best line of defense, because no technological silver bullet has yet been devised that will guarantee that students are effectively protected. Therefore, we embrace wholeheartedly the thoughtful approach that (this legislation) takes, particularly the flexibility that it affords districts on determining how best to educate students about staying safe online."

Of course, many school districts already provide that type of education. And many school districts already limit access to certain sites and certain types of sites -- which will continue. The difference being, however, that in these cases you have local educators making their best judgments and being held accountable by local school boards and local voters ... instead of Congress. 

And it should go without saying that all the education in the world won't be a panacea for the myriad troubles that young people may encounter online (no more so than for those they encounter in the real world). It's merely the better of the two alternatives.

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