Safety net for classroom Internet Unsuitable information: Educators responsible for monitoring electronic research.

March 26, 1996

EDUCATORS, politicians and technology firms are optimistic about a pilot program to install 100 computers in Logan Elementary School in Dundalk and to give free computers to third-graders.

The aim of this pioneer project in Maryland schools is to show that widely available computers and reference resources can raise academic performance and test scores, a goal achieved in a similar trial in New Jersey.

With these expanded resources, however, teachers and parents must assume a greater responsibility, particularly Logan's plan for in-school computers to be wired to the Internet.

That worldwide uncensored compilation of information and opinion contains a lot of shocking and offensive material that does not belong in the hands of young children. If classroom computers are on the 'Net, there had better be ways to screen unwanted electronic documents.

These are not theoretical problems. Recently, fourth-graders at another Baltimore County school downloaded Internet files on illegal drugs from the library computer for a health report. One of these innocuously titled articles contained glowing descriptions of the ecstasy of cocaine use and advocated its use during euthanasia. Officials promised closer scrutiny after getting complaints from parents.

The problem festers in the adult world, as governments ban certain Internet services or attempt to impose censorship on these uncontrolled transmissions and electronic postings. This free-speech battle in some cases involves the unregulated Internet computer availability of pornography and other offensive material to children, underlining the difficulty of adult supervisory control even in the home.

For public schools, however, there is a clear obligation to review the suitability of material provided to its students. Educators review texts and library books, teacher plans and outside speakers. Teachings about sex, religion, drugs and other sensitive topics receive strict screening. That same concern should extend to the expanded world of information being made available to students via the Internet.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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