Modern Terminology

I love new words, and this article about how the Internet is ruining our memories includes several very cool ones:

  • Nomophobia (fear of losing your mobile phone)
  • Technoference (when tech tools interfere with your personal relationships)
  • Fauxcellarm and ringxiety (thinking your phone is ringing when it’s not)
  • Cyberchondria (researching diseases online and then suspecting you have them)

Although I don’t suffer from the first four situations (my cell phone is a dumb phone that is usually left on the kitchen counter, and sometimes forgotten in a coat pocket), I will admit that I have suffered from cyberchondria more than once in recent years. I am also very thankful that the ability to research symptoms and illnesses on the Internet did not exist when my kids were young!

 

Pre-Teens, Internet Access and Attempted Murder

A tragedy just occurred in a town not far from here. Two 12-year-old girls played out a terrible fantasy based on a website they often visited that resulted in them luring their 12-year-old friend into the woods and stabbing her: she survived but is clinging to life.

The owner of the website denies that it’s anything but a literature site. But according to the two girls, it propelled them to do something very evil.

Some people are going to say that the website should be shut down. Others will say that it was never meant for children in the first place.

But the bottom line is that these girls had access to the site. Their parents may not have even known about the site, because thanks to today’s technology, anyone can have easy and private access to anything on the Web.

It seems so long ago that we had a computer set up in our dining room, where we could supervise Internet surfing and thus allowed our children limited access to the Internet. As they grew older, they could afford their own computers in their own rooms. At that point, we could no longer see what they were accessing, but they were nearly adults by then and we had to trust them.

Now, young children have total access to the Internet, and to the many good and bad things available on it. Kids are being bullied on Facebook and other social sites. Some have committed suicide because of that.

Once, it was considered entirely reasonable for parents to strictly limit their children’s intake of all forms of media, and even of books they considered inappropriate. But since the ascent of the Internet, it seems that most kids are allowed free access to anything they can find. And now we’re seeing the sad results of that policy.

When Kids Use the Internet for Research

When I was in college, one of the so-called advantages of the Greek (fraternity/sorority) system was that its members had access to the completed tests and essays of past members. Thus they could memorize test answers instead of learning what was presented in class, and re-type the essays of others instead of writing their own.

This saved those students all sorts of work; we who were not “Greek” felt it was an unfair advantage. But the bottom line was that these students didn’t learn anything because they didn’t have to read the assigned books, nor did they learn via the process of assembling information and giving it back to their professors in the form of essays.

I imagine that frat-house filing cabinets are collecting dust now that college students have access to the Internet. There are sites where they can go to find pre-written, high-graded essays that they can pass off as their own, thanks to the cut-and-paste function.

And for the times when they actually have to do their own research and writing, there are sites like Wikipedia. Savvy teachers probably check Wikipedia’s take on the assigned topic before they correct the essays so that they can tell who’s been playing cut-and-paste there. But this doesn’t solve the problem, which is that kids are wasting their time and not learning anything, at least not much that’s accurate.

Teachers will tell you that this also occurs in middle and high schools. One solution would be to require kids to write their essays while in the school library or classroom, using the books and materials available there, with no Internet access.

For homeschoolers, this is much simpler. We can supervise our kids more easily than a teacher can keep tabs on thirty kids. By requiring our kids to use only printed matter for research, they’ll learn the material and develop writing skills in the process, because we’ve removed the temptation of the Internet.

But printed matter can be dated, and we’ve become accustomed to the immediacy of the Internet. Isn’t there some way to take advantage of that immediacy?

The good news is that there is. By requiring our kids to use primary sources and reputable secondary sources, we can avoid the problems that occur when kids are allowed to use Wikipedia and other sites that have sometimes proven to be inaccurate.

On the Internet, primary sources are sites where the information is first generated. For example, for the activities of our president, kids can visit www.whitehouse.gov. Further government info can be found at www.usa.gov. For government statistics on employment and information on the labor market, go to www.bls.gov.

Secondary sources are trusted entities that access primary sources. A large city newspaper like The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune is considered a secondary source. Newspapers are not as trusted as they once were; recent cases of lying reporters have tarnished their image, and budget cuts have forced them to reduce the number of editors who check on the sources used by reporters. Still, quoting a large newspaper should be considered fairly accurate, and certainly much better than Wikipedia, where anyone can post information or change what’s there.

This is not to say that Wikipedia is not useful. I allowed my teen daughter to use it as a jumping-off point, as it gave her a quick briefing on a topic. But she was then required to back up what she found with research from trustworthy sources.

For younger children and preteens, there’s a wonderful website that teaches children to be careful about believing information they find on the Internet. It’s called “All About Explorers,” and it’s more than what it first appears to be.

The site was cleverly designed by a group of teachers. It includes pages about several famous explorers, including Christopher Columbus. Here’s an excerpt from the page about him:

Columbus knew he had to make this idea of sailing, using a western route, more popular. So, he produced and appeared on infomercials which aired four times daily. Finally, the King and Queen of Spain called his toll-free number and agreed to help Columbus.

Note that this is the third paragraph of the essay. The first two paragraphs did not include such obviously erroneous information. You’ll be able to tell very quickly if your child read the entire page or not by his reaction (or lack of one) to that third paragraph. Meanwhile, the child who merely lifted the essay from the site for pasting into their own essay is in for a surprise!

Also note that there’s a link at the bottom of the page which will lead your child to accurate information about the explorer in question (the teachers have already checked that information), plus printable activity pages and other features to aid in learning.

The All About Explorers site also includes a page with lesson plans for teaching kids about Internet research. This site is a great tool for busy homeschooling parents, and it will help children understand why they shouldn’t believe something just because they read it on a website. Once they understand that, their future research will be more accurate, and they’ll not only learn more, but be well-prepared for the writing involved if they go to college.

Control Freak Homeschooling Parents?

I recently read a comment on an online article that said something to the effect of “Homeschooling parents are control freaks who want to run their children’s lives.”

It bugged me, yet I realized that there’s some truth to that statement. While no one wants to be called a control freak, and most homeschooling parents’ goal is to raise their children to become independent young adults, the fact is that there are a lot of dangers in this world that we parents want to keep away from our children. Many of them are found in public schools, but there are also everyday dangers that we want to avoid; homeschooling allows us to avoid them.

For example, homeschooled children have more opportunities to get physical exercise than other children. They’re not stuck at a desk for many hours a day. They can run outside and play whenever the weather isn’t bad. They have plenty of free time to use in physical pursuits such as tree-climbing, basketball playing and walking the dog, because they’re not tied to a daily school schedule. So unless their parents make them do online school for eight hours a day, they’re getting more exercise than most children.

This helps them avoid the common danger of childhood obesity, which is worsening. In fact, a recent study found that today’s children actually have less physical strength and carry more fat than the children of the late 1990s. So when homeschooling parents “control their children’s environment,” they’re actually giving their children a healthier lifestyle than they would have if they went to school.

Another danger that many homeschooling parents avoid is allowing their children random and unsupervised Internet access before they’re old enough to handle it. When I was doing research for my new book, I was shocked to learn the extent to which cyberbullying has spread, and how much it has hurt children, to the point that some of them are committing suicide. Then there’s the potential for pedophiles to reach them through online contact—ugh.

Yet today’s schoolchildren often carry Internet access on their bodies in the form of iTouches and Smartphones. At home, they have unfettered access to the Internet. Their parents say they let them conduct their social lives on the Internet because they don’t want them to feel left out. Relatives with young children tell me that party invitations are now distributed online, so if you want your child to be included, you have to let them be on Facebook (which is now actively pursuing children under the age of 13).

This is another danger homeschooling parents can avoid. By not giving our kids unsupervised round-the-clock access to the Internet until they’re old enough to handle it, we can protect them from the dangers that lurk there. Some will call that being a control freak. I call it something else: parenting.

How about you? Do you encourage your children to run and play outside? Do you have full or partial restrictions on their Internet use? Do you mind being called a control freak homeschooling parent? I’d love to get your take on this.

Schools Step Out Onto the Slippery Slope of Educational Freedom

And so it begins…school districts are finding that they can keep their school year from being extended further into summer by allowing kids to learn online on snow days. And already they’ve discovered that kids like being free to learn online, and parents like seeing what the kids are learning. Isn’t this an interesting turn of events?

Personally, I think they’ve stepped out onto the slippery slope of (dare I say it?) educational freedom. Of course they think they don’t want to be there; note the comment of this parent:

“I think it’s a great tool to have,” said Cameron’s mother, Jane. “Obviously it’s not going to replace going to school. But for situations like this, I think it’s wonderful.”

I think it’s wonderful, too, because once people get a taste of freedom, they want more. I can picture kids being allowed to stay home on Veterans Day as long as they do an online history study assigned by their teacher. How about Valentine’s Day at home? They can exchange virtual valentines on Facebook while finishing their math homework online. I’m sure you can think of other ways kids can learn at home on school “holidays.”

Here’s where the slippery slope comes in: the more kids “do school” online, the more they’ll want to keep doing so. As for the school districts, they’ll soon find all sorts of reasons to let kids learn online because it will save money (most school districts are hurting financially these days) and teachers will be free to supervise from afar.

The increasing numbers of parents who either work from home, work part-time or are unemployed means there will be adult supervision during the day. Once regular days of “school at home” become more prevalent, and everyone gets comfortable with the concept, more families are going to take advantage of full-time virtual learning as offered by the public schools here in Wisconsin and other states. I can picture angry taxpayers eventually insisting that the schools consolidate their physical facilities to reflect the lower numbers of kids showing up, thus lowering costs. As for the kids who are too poor to have a computer or Internet access, the cost could be taken on by the school district for much less than the cost of keeping up all the buildings and staff.

And just think of the teens whose grades will go up because they can do school later in the day, after they’ve had enough sleep, instead of getting up at 6 am!

Yes, this turn of events has real possibilities.