Addendum: What about CIPA?

US educators may wonder if schools can adopt the model I’m proposing above and still be compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Here’s my answer:

If you’re asking “What about CIPA?”, you’re probably a school administrator or district official in the US, and it’s a good question. In order for US schools (and libraries) to receive federal “e-rate” discounts for Internet connectivity, they must certify that they’re in compliance with CIPA.

Of course you’ll need to consult with an attorney, but adopting what I propose – to include so-called “Internet safety” topics in their offline risk-prevention counterparts and to teach social and digital-media literacy in the core curriculum – does not in any way conflict with the law’s requirements. CIPA mainly concerns what a school “Internet safety policy” must address and blocking inappropriate content. [For a summary, see this page at FCC.gov; the Federal Communications Commission administers the e-rate funding.]

The only reference to what children must be taught in e-rate-funded schools in CIPA is the new requirement introduced by the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act, which says that schools “must provide for educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and cyberbullying awareness and response.”

That requirement can be covered in a number of ways: in bullying prevention education that addresses social cruelty online as well as offline, in social-emotional learning that covers social interaction wherever it occurs, and in teaching, modeling and messaging about citizenship and appropriate behavior in school environments – whether they’re hallways, lunchrooms, sports fields, classrooms or digital environments used in classrooms.

Under CIPA, schools themselves certify that they’re compliant, which gives schools and districts the freedom to comply thoughtfully, in accord with current research (see above) and in ways that support, not block, students’ developing digital, media, and social literacy.

Even as written, the law does not restrict intelligent compliance by schools. But clearly, we all, including lawmakers, need to understand that…

  • “Online behavior” is not a separate category of human behavior
  • We are no less human or ourselves when online or on digital devices, and social/digital/media literacy includes that understanding
  • Our individual values and social norms are just as protective online as offline
  • “Digital citizenship” is not a unique or separate category of citizenship; by definition, it can’t really be taught or dictated; it’s a global learning process, as citizens of all ages are learning – working out together – what now constitutes citizenship online and offline in a networked world
  • As legitimate as it is to seek the free-speech protection of anonymity sometimes afforded on the Net, it’s more important than ever – now, as expression and behavior have moved online – to understand what our constitutional and human rights mean for ourselves and others when we exercise those rights in digital and physical spaces.

Please think about this – it’s about unblocking your students’ opportunities to grow in the digital, media and social literacy they need for safe, effective participation in today’s media environment.

[Thanks to Nancy Willard at Embrace Civility in the Digital Age for suggesting I address this question.]

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