Washington University School of Law brings innovative privacy education to middle school​

Class launched at The St. Michael School of Clayton this semester; will expand to other schools in the spring

Washington University in St. Louis law students have begun offering privacy and Internet safety education to local middle school students.

Law students Matthew Cin and Ujjayini Bose, under the supervision of Neil Richards, JD, professor of law, are adapting an original middle school curriculum for privacy education developed by Fordham University School of Law’s Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP).

“Raising digitally aware and responsible children is one the greatest challenges facing parents and teachers today,” Richards said.

“As parents of young children, my wife and I struggle with how to teach our children how to take advantage of the benefits of digital technologies while avoiding their perils. Our Privacy Education Program is an attempt to help local schools address these problems in the middle school years, when children start to fully embrace these technologies as essential parts of their lives.”

WUSTL is one of about a dozen law schools set to teach the program in schools across the country starting this semester. The law students have launched the program with The St. Michael School of Clayton, a small independent school near the law school that uses technology extensively as part of its curriculum.

“Working with the students has been fascinating. It is astonishing to see how integral technology has become to their development, and how insightful their views are on topics such as privacy, technology and social media,” said Bose, a second-year law student. Bose added, “Not only is Professor Richards one of the leading voices in privacy law, but he is also a wonderful mentor to both Matt and me. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him.”

The program features a set of hour-long sessions covering topics such as:

  • privacy basics;
  • how to deal with passwords and behavioral ads;
  • navigating social media and tricky situations;
  • understanding mobile, WiFi and facial recognition; and
  • managing a digital reputation.

“As technologies become more and more embedded into all aspects of our lives, it’s increasingly important to equip teens, in particular, with the knowledge to protect themselves from the potential risks associated with these new tools,” explained Cin, a third-year law student.

Recent reports from the Pew Research Center illustrate the need for this type of education. The reports found that: 93 percent of youth ages 12-17 go online; 53 percent of teens post their email address online; 20 percent post their cellphone number; and 33 percent are connected online to people they have never met personally.

“As online technologies become a key feature in young teens’ lives, parents and educators must teach teens about the privacy and safety implications of these technologies,” said Joel Reidenberg, JD, Fordham law professor and founding director of CLIP.

The law school’s program at St. Michael’s has been highly successful.

“Using cutting-edge technology is part of our school culture. It is our job to teach responsibility, respect and safety in this global community, and we’re delighted to be working with Washington University to tackle this critically important educational issue,” said Elizabeth T. Mosher, head of The St. Michael School.

Richards and his students will bring the program to John Burroughs School in the spring and continue to look for additional partners.