Old Wine in New Bottles: Ethics and the Internet

August 1, 1999

CCT Director Margaret Honey takes a critical look at the fears and concerns that underlie our deliberating about ethical issues, the Internet, and other new technologies.

She believes that these concerns are not new. Rather, there's something about the Internet-its speed, the power it places in the hands of individual users, and kids' facility with it- that we as adults and educators find particularly threatening and that pushes us to revisit these long-standing questions with new, and perhaps exaggerated, urgency.

Even as we acknowledge widespread concerns about ethics and the Internet, we also know that the growth of the Internet and the development of the World Wide Web have the potential to do so much to support and advance education. I am deeply invested in seeing this new resource, these new tools, which are still very much in their infancy, reach their full capacity as integral supports and extensions of the educational experience for children and teachers nationwide. Rather than censoring and controlling students, in relation to the Internet or to any source of information, she advocates thinking about empowering students and helping them to make responsible and judicious decisions as they go about using these new technological tools.

Margaret discusses the hyperbole surrounding the Internet and how coverage in the media trip emotional triggers for the public and those in the school system. She also describes the five areas of pragmatic concerns that schools tend to translate these tensions into:

  • Accessing Inappropriate Content
  • Protecting Students' Privacy
  • Appropriate Use of Email
  • Plagiarism and Authenticity of Authorship
  • Expressive Content

In each of these cases, she asks readers to consider what it is we are really worried about, and whether these are new issues that we are dealing with or old concerns revisited in the form of new technologies.

Rather than thinking about restricting access or limiting the scope of what students can do, Margaret says, we need to ask ourselves how we can educate each other, as well as the students we are responsible for, so that we all acquire the skills and knowledge that will allow us to make judicious and constructive uses of the new technologies.

Four types of literacy are required (they are described in greater detail in her presentation paper):

  • Technological Literacy
  • Information Literacy
  • Communications Literacy
  • Media Literacy

We need to learn, along with our students, how to make sense of the capacities of the Internet in ways that make sense for us, Margaret contends, rather than hiding ourselves and our children away and handing the responsibility for shaping this new domain of communications over to people who do not share our concerns, or our vision of how the Internet can contribute to improving the lives of children and the educators who work with them.


Margaret Honey