Cultural anthropologists are not known as a particularly radical bunch, so when they rally to the defence of a non-academic cause, it behoves us to take notice.
I am referring to the banning of MySpace from American schools, by Congress. The aim is laudable enough, to protect children from online sexual predation by banning not only MySpace, but any social networking service, from both schools and libraries.
The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was almost unanimously (410-15) passed last week. Understandably, few politicians wish to be painted as being pro-sexual predators, but that does not make it a good law.
In most of the UK schools I’ve visited of late, MySpace, Bebo et al are already banned, so is this a non-issue here? Or simply too late? For me, it has re-opened the debate.
My own view: teenagers are going to use social networks anyway. The decision you as a teacher have to make is whether you are going to refuse to monitor and mentor this behaviour. Young people need support to move from the controlled and directed world of childhood to the self-directed adult world. This is a super context in which to provide that mentoring, and an opportunity not to be passed up.
Enough of me; here are some more cogent arguments from the very erudite Prof. Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT.
Statistically speaking, children are more at risk from sexual predators at a church picnic or Boy Scout camping trip than they are when they go onto MySpace. The greatest risk of sexual abuse comes from people the kid already knows — a family member or someone who the family knows and trusts and not from a total stranger.
…so let’s ban church picnics…
Social networking skills are key competencies which are going to be increasingly central to the professional life of adults.
…and let’s face it. Creating a MySpace page is far more compelling than one of those “you have to create a poster for..” tasks…
[A ban] would lock out low income kids from whom schools and public libraries are their only point of access to the online world
…so banning by social networks from school we actively reinforce class distinctions…
Let’s for the moment imagine that we think MySpace is a really dangerous place where kids are at risk. Wouldn’t you think young people would be safer if teachers and librarians taught them about the responsible use of this technology and offered them some minimal supervision and advice rather than locking the door and leaving kids to confront social network sites on their own.