The One Percent Doctrine

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Reilly’s excellent post
should be required reading for school administrators
worried about online safety issues. I’ve blogged about this issue before,
notably here
and here.
As Pete states, the actual intersections of online predators with schoolchildren
are exceedingly low.

On a similar note, David Warlick recognizes that middle class parents are afraid to let
their children roam their ‘seemingly safe’ neighborhoods

All of this fear, most of it unfounded (at least statistically), has led many
(most?) parents and administrators to operate from what author Ron Suskind calls
the ‘One
Percent Doctrine
.’ Suskind uses this phrase to describe Vice President Dick
Cheney’s (and others’) thoughts about the war on terrorism:

If there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a
weapon of mass destruction — and there has been a small probability of such an
occurrence for some time — the United States must now act as if it were a

This seems to capture the beliefs of school administrators, school
communities, and parents pretty well: if there is even a 1 percent chance of
something bad happening online, we need to act as if it were a certainty. Of
course the concurrent question that administrators and parents should be asking
is What do we lose when we operate using the One Percent Doctrine?
I’m afraid that too many schools spend too little time
asking themselves this question
, but I am encouraged that at least some
schools are thinking hard about this issue

Thanks, Dean
, for linking me to Pete’s post!

3 Responses to “The One Percent Doctrine”

  1. I don’t think the One Percent chance of weapons and One Percent of my students being molested by a predator are comparable. At my school one percent would equal 6 students during the school year, which is completely unacceptable. If you read in the paper about one school where 6 students were targeted by a predator you would see huge media coverage about what the school was doing wrong and why the school was being targeted.

    Administrators need to do what the public tells them is necessary to keeping students safe. If the District Council Committee feels this the district needs the filtering then we do the filtering. What you need is a reliable system by which teachers can have websites they need for class reviewed, then unblocked. Quick turnaround (one or two days) is very necessary for this because teachers don’t go looking for sites they’ll use in the future that often, they want it now.

    Taking the security of students using the Internet does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. If you have a workable reliable way to request specific sites to be unblocked, your teachers truly report objectionable site to the system administrator, and students are taught how to use site properly and what to do if problems occur then the security will act as a blanket not a noose.

  2. Hi Floyd,

    Thanks. I appreciate both your perspective as a current K-12 educator and your willingness to think critically about (and contest) my blather!

    I think the point that I’m trying to make in this post and past posts is that when we operate from the One Percent Principle, we often give up more than we gain. We still may decide to do it, but we should at least think critically about it first, weighing the actual (not perceived) risk, our responsibilities to provide appropriate and safe instruction, and our responsibilities to not unnecessarily trammel on students’ rights or interests. I think we have a lot of anecdotal and other evidence that these critical conversations are not occurring in many school systems.

    I agree with you that filtering systems should have robust, effective, efficient mechanisms for blocking and unblocking. I’m not sure I agree that a 1- or 2-day turnaround satisfies that criteria. I’d rather see teachers with the ability to instantly and selectively block or unblock for short periods of time (e.g., a day or two, or even an hour or two). However, that’s just my personal preference and may be unworkable given current filtering systems (I don’t know ’cause I’m at a university where we don’t filter anything because of deeply-held beliefs about freedom of information).

    I don’t want my local schools wasting time, energy, or money on low-risk issues when more prevalent, higher-cost issues aren’t being addressed adequately. For example, which ultimately is causing more harm to schools/society – the few kids that get contacted by online predators during school time or the massive numbers of high school dropouts that we have? I would argue that we should spend less time, money, and energy on the former and more on the latter (and, incidentally, so would Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear).

  3. I like the idea of being able to immediately unblock site for my students for short periods of time. Alas, it isn’t that easy.

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