G (over at SerandEz) brings up a very interesting interview that Horizons Magazine had with Rabbi Yaacov Haber, the national director for education at the OU. In the interview, Rabbi Haber talks about some aspects of the state of Jewish education today. He champions (as I long have) the idea of education over banning. Here's his take on the matter:
The internet has proven to be capable of a great amount of damage to Jews of all ages. However, it is important to remember that the internet is a reality. There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when it will be impossible to pay a bill, bank, make a phone call or even turn on a light in your house without using the Internet. Instead of forbidding the Internet and non-kosher cell phones, it would seem to be more prudent to teach students how to interact with the Internet responsibly. If we were to forbid everything that we can use the wrong way we must include cars, mp3 players, and for that matter---women! We have to be very careful with internet technology---but forbidding it is not the answer in the long term.
The timing of this article is rather serendipitous for me. It was just this past week that Walter signed up for his first Facebook account. Eeees and I, as parents, allowed him the account, but with some restrictions. He knows that we are watching. He had to add Eeees and I as "friends." We can see what he posts on other people's walls and what they post on his wall. And, conversely, he can see how we use Facebook. Both Eeees and I are on Facebook (if you know who I am, feel free to send a friend request) and we both use it responsibly. We keep in touch with family, friends (both old and new) and classmates around the world. And this is how we hope he will use it. Sure we can give lectures about how it's to be used (and yes, we will be giving some instruction on responsible use), but more importantly, as we do in many other areas of life, we're hoping to teach by example. We realize that by acting responsibly ourselves, we deliver the strongest message that we can on the responsible use of technology.
Does that mean that it's impossible for something to go wrong? Of course not. There is always the possibility that something could go wrong in every aspect of life. Every time someone gets out of bed in the morning, there is some element of risk. But we can't live our lives by lying in bed all the time. We take the risks associated with going out of our houses each morning because we realize that the potential benefit of doing so (whether it's to go to work, school, the ballgame, etc.) exceeds the potential risk. The same applies to technology. As Rabbi Haber points out, there is going to come a time, in the not too distant future, where technology will be required to function in today's society. If we don't train our kids to use it responsibly we face one of three possibilities, none of them appealing:
1. We ban it outright. They accept the ban and choose to live life without the Internet. They are then marginalized by society. They will find it nearly impossible to go to college, get a decent job and function in daily life. In short, they will be marginalized in society.
2. We don't educate our kids and let them do as they will. Then they'll surely run into some of the seedier sides of the Internet and not be prepared to handle them.
3. We ban it outright. The kids don't accept it and sneak Internet usage behind our backs. Or, when they finally become adults and are no longer under our direct supervision, they move out and access the Internet in their own homes. Then scenario #2 (above) plays out.
Unless you're planning your children's adult lives (something no parent, IMHO, should do) and deciding that they should live a marginalized life (think of the Amish), the only responsible choice is to provide education on responsible internet usage. To do otherwise is akin to allowing your kid to using any other tool without basic training. You wouldn't allow your kid to use a circular saw without watching over him and making sure he knows the rules. The same applies here.
(Note: There were other parts of the interview that interested me as well. I think there may be another post in the future on this interview.)