29 March, 2010

My reply

Seems most folk want to reply to me privately on this issue, rather than add any support for me via blog post or on the original e-list.

I wonder why?

Anyway, this was my reply. It took me a while, and is as considered as any of my opinions ever is. And perhaps more thought out than most.

I paste it here unedited.

OK,
I am going to take the rope you have given me and use it to hang myself.

Yes, it is a non-issue, I made that statement and I stand by it. It is part of a modern day version of reds under the bed driven by a media who either does not understand the issue or deliberately misrepresents it to the public. This is not trivialising the issue. And I am sorry if it appears that way, however I take the issue very seriously. But no matter how I look at it I just come out with a different conclusion to some of you. Or perhaps it is just because I have looked at the statistics and read the studies, rather than relying on the investigative journalism of Today Tonight for all my fearmongering needs.
Why is it a non-issue?

Because it is part of our current societal belief that we can make the world safe by eliminating risk and danger.
Because it is so statistically unlikely that the fear we put in these kids is more problematic that the danger.
Because the worst case scenario should not be the driving force in all our decisions.

You have personalised the debate, so allow me to personalise it myself. When I was about 13 a very good friend of mine was killed while cycling out to a river for a swim. I often cycled with him, that day I didn't. However, cycling was not to blame. Nor were rivers. It was an unfortunate confluence of events which lead to his death.

What the hell am I talking about? I am talking about the fact that a week or so after his death I cycled the exact same road on my way to the exact same river or a swim. Yet somehow I did not die.

Likewise with your student, there is a horrible confluence of events which no doubt lead to her situation. Yet does that mean that we need to ban metaphorical bicycles? No, it doesn't. It means we do need to teach kids a few things about personal safety but these lessons will be laughed out of the classroom by almost all of our students if they are presented in the paranoid and overly simplistic fashion that some on here have demonstrated.

The idea that a school photo existing online has any parallel with the death of your student would be laughable if it wasn't so often the way the debate is directed. By creating this paranoid fear we are doing damage to our children, this is not just true of online paranoia but of the way children are taught 'stranger danger' or the way I meet so many kids who are too scared to climb a tree or the number of my 8 year old's friends whose parents are too scared to let them ride bikes or walk to school and as such these kids grow up thinking that anything which scares you slightly should be avoided.

There is a line between risk management and risk avoidance, and too many people today seem to have forgotten that kids need to be taught to manage risk rather than have us round off the corners of the world and send them around wrapped in cotton wool.

But enough of me riding my hobby horse. What are the facts? http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV194.pdf
http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/factsheet_1in7.html Sure, these are American statistics, but they are the best figures available that I am aware of. Anyone here want to claim that Australian kids are less safe online than American ones?

To those of you who have watched me destroy my professional reputation on here today while sending me quiet messages of support off-list, here are a couple of things worth reading on the topic of over protective parents (which I think we can apply to school librarians).
http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2009/05/04/free_range_kids/
http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/
http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids.html

and, how to talk to kids about the issue (the sane way)
http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/safety_ed.html

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks John,

For your honest and insightful opinion. I am encouraged by the discussion of teaching our students and children about assessing danger but also to be free to make independent decisions. Terrible things will happen no matter what. Making someone discerning will give them a skill for life.

When I was young in the 1970's I took the train and cross a park to get home. A friend always come with me. This particular day a middle age man spoke to us and told us he was a doctor and was going to come a check everyone at our school and give a bike to the healthiest. My antennas pricked inmmediatelly and told my friend that we will wait till next day at school ( He actually wanted us to go with him)She could not understand in the dangerous position we were. I was scared but kept my wits and pulled my friend away at the last minute, run home and told mum. If I was not there my friend would have been abused. What saved us was dicernment.

Rebeca Bovey Mendez
rebeca.bovey@det.nsw.edu.au

Asaryu said...

I replied to the previous post before reading your response. I must say it's fantastic.

I talk to my mother again now, and I still get the "you'll be raped by someone hiding in the bushes in quiet suburbia if you leave the house after 8pm" treatment, but I quietly ignore her. I think most young people will develop this strategy to deal with authorities that they feel are over-protective and paranoid.