This blog’s view of 21st century education is one that entails a very strong embrace of the internet as  a tool to empower our kids to be better investigators, better collaborators, better creators, better publishers.   Our students blog beginning in sixth grade; our students are on-line regularly as a part and parcel of their role as learners in the year 2009 (and soon, 2010!).    Of course we want our students to be safe on-line, and of course we counsel them to be careful, but we view the internet as much more an opportunity and a rich, deep, and wonderful resource than we view it as a predatory danger.   So it is great to read this very interesting, and very important, article from San Jose Mercury News, an article which itself is reporting on a ” watershed moment in the 16-year history of online safety education. ”

Magid is a very reputable guy, with a doctorate of education and as a member of the board of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  He is the director of an agency called Connect Safely: Smart Socializing Starts Here.  What he has to report is that the annual meeting this year of the Family Online Safety Institute, in Washington DC, represented a dramatic and overdue transformation in the conversation about kids online.    The event’s  title alone conveyed this importation transition: “Building a Culture of Responsibility: From Online Safety to Digital Citizenship.”

I think this article speaks for itself, and powerfully, and so I am choosing to quote at length, with full acknowledgement to the Mercury News; I have identified particularly key messages in bold:

The event, which drew participants from 15 countries, was different from previous years in that young people were viewed less as potential victims of online crimes and more as participants in a global online community.  That’s not to say that participants didn’t worry aloud about youth safety, but instead of focusing on real and imagined dangers, we focused on how adults can work with young people to encourage both ethical and self-protective behavior. It’s all about media literacy, digital citizenship and critical thinking.

This was a big change from just a couple of years ago, when Internet safety gatherings typically focused on ways adults could put up walls to protect children against predators, pornography and other dangers. While Internet porn continues to be an issue, the “predator panic” that was rampant a few years ago has largely been put to rest as safety experts and law enforcement studies from the Crimes Against Children Research Center and elsewhere show that, statistically, the odds of a prepubescent child being sexually molested by an online stranger is virtually zero and the odds of it happening to a teenager are very low, especially when compared with children who are harmed by family members and others they know from the real world.

When kids are harmed or annoyed online, the culprit is far more likely to be a fellow young person. Though exact numbers are hard to come by, about a third of teens report having been subjected to some type of cyberbullying or online harassment ranging from slightly nasty comments to cruel messages, impersonation or even stalking.

Magid explains that he himself has seen this transition and transformation, moving from a mode of protectiveness and anxiety to now becoming an advocate, like this blogger, of empowering kids to use the internet as a force for good.   “Years ago, I stopped giving out that type of advice [warning of internet dangers] but others continue to perpetuate myths about Internet dangers. What made me feel good about this conference is that all of the panic messages were off the table. What we talked about instead is how we can help adults better understand how kids actually use technology and how we can work with kids to better manage risk.”

He goes on to advocate, like I do, that schools seek to find ways to allow students to learn online and via internet tools like social media.  Too often, and I have found this too, schools filter to prevent facebook, twitter, and other powerful social networks from being accessed by our students.   Nobody wants kids to facebook during lessons, but we do all want them to be powerful on-line collaborators.    Magid, again:

Several speakers wondered why schools aren’t using social media as part of the educational process.  Anne Collier, my co-director at, suggested that we think of social media “as the new book.” These are interactive books, in a sense, where kids are both consumers and authors. Rather than banning them, schools should be channeling kids toward educational use of this technology.

I would say this article is among the most important I have read this year, and I am so grateful to have been directed to it (via Twitter, which is an amazing tool for keeping current on important trends, developments, and publications).