This powerful and thought provoking editorial by Cathy de Moll
from Online Class was published shortly after the New York disaster.
It is reproduced with her permission. She invites New Zealand
teachers to visit the Online Class site. Cathy describes the horror
of September 11 as "a unique opportunity to observe and discuss
the new 21st Century realities about terrorism, the Internet and
Cathy de Moll
President: Online Class
Within minutes of the first tragic events, the Internet was so
jammed that it was difficult to use for school work or for keeping
up with the latest news. Popular Web sites such as National Public
Radio were forced to create new text-only pages so there was even
a hope that access could keep up with demand. Still, many of us
were frustrated by the slower speeds of communication and access
to information. We are spoiled already.
Equally quickly, the best and the worst human instincts were
displayed on the World Wide Web Web sites for lost New Yorkers,
lists of hospital rosters, aid stations, grief counseling, relevant
and instantaneous news, discussion groups, videos and transcripts
of speeches and communications, messages of peace and solidarity
from around the world, pieces of the rubble up for auction, scam
sites collecting "donations," pictures of people falling to their
deaths, messages of hate and division.
As the crisis continued, the media's analysis and discussion
turned to the root cause and effect of the violence we witnessed
together. Pundits were quick to point out the power and culpability
of the Internet - its ability to network terrorist cells, allowing
coordinate, aid and plot destruction; its capacity to promote
violence to our world's children and to expose them to sights
sounds and information unfit for any human to experience. In the
past few years and months, politically motivated hackers have
used their skills to disrupt government and business services
as a tool of protest and a statement of invisible power.
Now we're told to expect much worse - to anticipate human and
physical destruction aided and perpetrated through computer technology.
We are afraid. And in fear, we are sometimes likely to recoil
from the technology we perceive to bring us closer to danger.
But we must remember that the causes of terrorism are complex
and human - anger, fear, frustration, hatred, ignorance, hopelessness.
Terrorism is not caused by machines. The fact that disenfranchised
and malevolent people have access to better tools of communications
is something we have to deal with. However, the tools belong to
us as well. They allow the intelligence community to track and
trace suspects at incredible speeds, they share information that
leads to quick response to the greatest crises, and yes, they
contribute tremendously to the human community which is our only
chance for defeating the roots of terrorism in a complex, crowded
Certainly, there are hundreds of examples of how much the Internet
has helped law enforcement, rescuers and the directly affected
families in this time of crisis. We now see American citizens
using the Internet to communicate to decision makers in unprecedented
numbers as the country debates the nature of our response to this
I was struck particularly with how the Internet was used within
the teaching community. If you have participated on teacher newsgroups
and listservs this week, you have been exposed to the best and
the resources, lesson plans, expert advice on coping with grief,
etc. An indication of how the Internet has come to serve and connect
the teaching community could be found in the more informal e-mail
communications and collaborations that spread across the country.
Schools looking for ways they could raise money for victims were
given sound advice and contact information by other schools; teachers
needing to vent and cope with their own grief found forums and
discussion partners; advice was traded on what to say and do in
the classroom; messages of hope and prayer were passed along;
resources on ethnic and religious tolerance were offered.
Just as the news media talked about the worldwide "community"
that had risen from the smouldering ashes and the commercial run
on flags across the country, our own educational network grew
into a community online. Just as our worst fears of
the dangers of the Internet were realized and exploited, our
greatest hopes also became reality -- we have learned how to make
best use of this tool.
My point is not to extoll the virtues and wax poetic about the
Internet's ability to change the world. We have to do that. Rather,
my message is simpler. This moment of terrorism and crisis has
proven what we already knew but were perhaps unwilling to acknowledge
the Internet is once and for all an integral part of our lives.
It is here to stay. In its unprecedented ability to foster communications,
it will be used for good and it will be used for destruction.
But it will never go away.
In recognition, our responsibilities as educators lie in three
- We must teach our children respect for this tool's power
- We must help them understand how to discern, evaluate and
digest the many kinds of information that will bombard them
throughout their lives.
- We must show them how to find and use the very best in
resources, and to use responsibly their instantaneous access
to global decisions and events; we must show them how the tools
help them to participate in the world that grows more complex
and unfamiliar all the time.
- We must set an example ourselves. We must use the Internet
responsibly to access credible and vital information; we must
communicate with integrity; and we must use it to reach out
to help and learn from others.
If we turn our backs on the Internet as a tool too dangerous
for children, it will become just that -- a wasteland fraught
with misinformation, hatred and means of destruction. We must
balance all that, making it also a tool of hope. Never has there
been a better (or more scary) time to learn what the Internet
has to offer our schools and our children. Never have we been
in such need to learn about the world and people who are different
than we are... to learn, in fact, more about ourselves.
The events on the east coast have galvanized our patriotism and
our immediate sense of service to others. Now we must use all
of our best resources to create a lasting community in this country
and beyond our boundaries, one that will combat the greatest threats
to the civilization to which we, as teachers, dedicate our lives.
And those threats are hatred, bigotry, ignorance, and violence
- in ourselves and in the world that comes ever closer.