AG’s office apologizes for a school Net safety preso

There was good news and bad news in a story coming out of Pennsylvania last week, and the good news is a clear sign of progress. The bad news happened first: As part of Pennsylvania’s attorney general’s “Operation Safe Surf” program, 4th and 5th graders at Merion Elementary School, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, were “warned of serial killers, sex offenders and Al-Qaida,” WPVI-TV reported. “The presenter told kids their homework assignment was to look up sex offenders in their neighborhood on the state’s Megan’s law website. Then, while explaining how to use cell phones for emergencies, the presenter’s joke about being kidnapped by Al-Qaida fell flat. He also warned a serial killer could be at the other end of the online video games kids play.” The good news – and real progress – reflected in this story was that teachers at the school challenged the presenter’s approach, and the AG’s office apologized. But the presenter reportedly wasn’t sanctioned in any way. He’s only getting “counseled on his delivery.”

The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office is way behind even the Internet safety education criticized in a major study on the subject (see this). Even Net safety curricula that don’t use scare tactics “fail to incorporate critical elements of effective prevention education, including: 1) research-based messages; 2) skill-based learning objectives; 3) opportunities for youth to practice new skills; and 4) sufficient time for learning.” One-shot school assemblies – especially if they deliver fear and misinformation – don’t work and do our children a tremendous disservice. So the apology’s great, but it’s time for the attorney general’s office to revamp its school presentations – or, even better, leave education to educators and risk-prevention experts. [Thanks to my friend Kevin Jarrett, a K-4 teacher in New Jersey, for pointing this story out.]

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