John M. Eger

WANTED: Schools Wired for Safety

Many years ago, John Gage, then chief science officer for Sun Microsystems, had an idea. The idea was "NetDay," a grassroots campaign to wire U.S. schools.

Gage, like so many others today, was frustrated that our schools were not getting connected to the Internet fast enough and that a whole generation of young people would suffer. The NetDay concept has grown, and the campaign to wire our schools led to the concept of "smart schools," schools fully equipped with a computer on every desktop and broadband access to the Internet.

So much for the history of the smart school. Less clear is how safe even our smartest schools are in light of recurring school violence, a national epidemic, really. The entire nation is now searching for solutions.

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and author of Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture, argues that the U.S. high school is obsolete; that it has become "the breeding ground for violence, for drug and alcohol abuse, vulgarity and a totally thoughtless, rampant expression of sexuality." Botstein would totally restructure education from kindergarten through high school, and give students power to help redesign their own school.

It's pretty obvious, given the education bureaucracy, that Botstein's suggestions for radical relief will be slow coming. However, at the heart of Botstein's concern is a belief that our young people are not afforded the opportunity to take a more responsible role in their own education or their own safety.

We can do something today to empower our students, their parents, and make our schools safer.

There is probably not any one recommendation to curb violence in the schools, but one idea may be deploying technologies to empower students and parents in a way that hasn't been done before.

Technologies exist that would allow someone to make a phone call, deploying voice-to-text technology, and protect the caller's identity. A form of "disappearing ink" or safe schools portal is also available that allows someone to send an electronic message that cannot be traced.

The idea of providing such a tip line has less chance of success unless anonymity can be ensured. The greatest fear of being a tipster is exposing oneself to physical harm, verbal abuse, bullying, or being rejected by ones peers.

Another good use of advanced technology would be to increase parental involvement in activities at their children's school. In most families where there is only one parent, or where two parents are working, they are less available to participate in school activities, PTA meetings, or other school events. A regularly updated broadcast system to apps for cell phones, a website, and e-mail from teachers and administrators (for those parents who have e-mail) would also certainly help create a greater bond between families and their schools. Such systems should also allow parents to follow their children's assignments, track their progress, and provide easy communication with administrators and teachers.

This could be the start of a broader movement to knit the school and its communities together again.

Technology can play a crucial role in providing safer schools, and we need to get the industry involved in this effort together with parents, teachers, administrators, and students to develop the right systems to cement the bond between schools and communities.

John M. Eger is the Lionel Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communication and Public Policy and director of the Creative Economy Initiative at San Diego State University. He is also author and lecturer on the subjects of creativity and innovation, education, and economic development. He teaches in the School of Journalism and Media Studies, and the Honors Program at San Diego State University.

A former advisor to two U.S. presidents and director of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy, Eger helped spearhead the restructuring of America's telecom industry and was senior vice president of CBS responsible for worldwide enterprises, which opened China to commercial television. More recently he served as the chair of the California governor's first Commission on Information Technology; chair of the Governor's Committee on Education and Technology; and chair of San Diego mayor's "City of the Future" Commission.

Eger is the author of more than 100 articles, books, and book chapters. Recently he authored the seminal Guidebook for Smart Communities, a how-to for communities struggling to compete in the age of the Internet; The Creative Community: Linking Art, Culture, Commerce and Community (PDF), a call to action to reinvent our communities for the Creative Age; and Arts Education and the Innovation Economy: Ensuring America's Success in the 21st Century.

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