I was on IRC earlier today, in the #Sugar channel, when somebody asked whether there was a channel for children using XOs where he and his son could talk to other users, and the children could join their Sugar activities together. There is not, because governments do not allow schoolchildren unrestricted access to the Internet to chat with just anybody. But we have Jabber servers set up specifically for connecting XOs and other computers running Sugar, so we have the technical capability to let parents and children do that.
This, then, is a request for information and assistance. Are there any public Jabber servers that parents and children can get to? There are some listed in the OLPC Wiki that say anybody can join, but it looks like they mean any adult. What are the issues in setting up a server for parents and children? Would somebody like to do it?
It is obvious that we cannot let children have unrestricted access to the Internet. After all, that would let them find out everything that so-called grownups get up to. Even more worrying is the fact that some of the grownups would find out what children are up to, and try to horn in to do nasty things to them, ranging from obviously criminal acts down to telling them all sorts of lies about what education is supposed to be, or about how the world is supposed to work.
You know, lies like, um, Darwinism, Global Warming, Keynesian economics, religious toleration, gay rights (pardon me, the Gay Agenda), the equality of all of humankind in God’s eyes (or some other Deity or Pantheon, or Nobody), or the historical fact that such notable Virginians as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee, slaveowners all, detested slavery. Or the other way around, holding that all of these things are true, as the Antichrist teaches.
On the other hand, this means that parents are not supposed to talk to children other than their own, for fear of…Well, I don’t know. Whatever people are afraid of, I guess. Crimes? Lies? Armageddon? Cooties?
I just read today that some parents check out the parents of other children in the neighborhood on beenverified.com, which I find to be quite a sleazy operation. For example, there appears to be no way of finding out on the Web site what their fees are, other than signing up for the service and waiting for a bill to come in. Well, you can get a single report for $20. Same price if you want to see what records they have on you. I can tell you that they or their data sources got my name wrong, and my wife’s, but I’m not spending any money to get further into it with them.
But that isn’t what we’re here for today. I want millions of children, eventually a billion or more, to be able to connect with each other, and I want parents to be able to see what their children are accomplishing, in school and out of it, and have a chance to talk about their children’s educations and futures.
Why do I want that? Because making such connections is worth at least as much as getting to use good educational software and content, and having access to much of the Internet. I have made this point before. Children need the chance to make friends, to learn about each other and their histories and cultures, to learn and practice languages, and to form associations that will lead later on to opportunities in business, civil society, government, the arts, religions, and whatever else the children find worth doing together.
So I don’t care how hard it is to keep the children safe from possible predators online if we let them connect to each other. I don’t care how hard it is to protect children from pernicious ideas (whichever you think those might be). We cannot say that it impossible to do, because it is worth any cost to do it, and to do it right.