Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

Bikinis and Homemade Chalk: Why we need to teach Web 2.0 Ethics

Stuck at home on a snow day? Need a “boredom buster” or other fun kid activity? Social media and Web 2.0 offer unprecedented access to the publishing and sharing of neato at-home projects. To be a player in this arena, all you need is a computer and some photo skills. But what if the information shared is misleading or even dangerous? 

The Case of Homemade Sidewalk Chalk has neat recipe for sidewalk chalk. The pictures are cute. One of the main ingredients in this recipe is Plaster of Paris. Although it is a commonly used material in art and construction, most of us do not know about its hazards or proper use. For example Alison, the post author and one of the site founders, claims to have had her kids mixing this at home in their PJs. Too bad they really should have had goggles, dusts masks, and gloves. 

Pshaw you say? Here is a link to one school district’s info sheet on the material. Although it’s no longer allowed in its schools, there’s a lot of info about hazards and proper use. Although I have not verified these images, page 2 reports shows these images of classroom art project injuries from the material. In case you think that maybe Alison (or the site) doesn’t know about the hazards of Plaster of Paris, one reader (4 years ago!) commented on the recipe, quoting the manufacturer’s warning:

WARNING! May cause eye, skin, nose and throat irritation. Do not get in eyes. Do not get on skin or clothing. Do not breathe dust. Harmful if inhaled. Handle with care. When mixed with water, this material hardens and then slowly becomes hot. DO NOT attempt to make a cast enclosing any part of the body using this material. Failure to follow these instructions may cause severe burns that may require surgical removal of affected tissues. When mixing or sanding, dust may cause irritation to eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Prolonged inhalation of excessive amounts of dust will have adverse pulmonary and respiratory effects. Over exposure may cause lung damage. Contains crystaline silica which can cause cancer. Thank you.

Pinterest and Bikinis: The Case for Web 2.0 Ethics

I aim to be neither alarmist nor sensationalist. I’m sure that Alison and her kids made this chalk without resulting injury, respiratory problems, or cancer. Although I believe that we need to let kids experiment and have fun, let’s not ignore teaching about good judgement or safety.

By the way, in looking up Plaster of Paris, I saw a lot of Yahoo Question style Q&A about its safety (for pregnant belly molds). Yikes.

Yes, authors might be more ethical by reading warning labels and providing cautions, but there are also larger issues at stake. As a society, we’ve been quick to turn to the internet for ideas advice, but have yet to teach our kids (and adults) ethical, reflective ways to share and evaluate information from the internet. This isn’t just about art projects. It’s about news and other media, too. 

Here is something to muse over. Are Pinterest projects analogous to photo-shopped women in bikinis? In other words, do they create unrealistic or unhealthy ideas about what “ought” to be in our homes or about ourselves? [Aside: Here is a sad-but-true review of “totally NAILED” Pinterest projects.] Probably not (skills can be honed). But it’s worth teaching kids to assess their skills and what effort, training, or practice might best help them toward their goals (whether for the afternoon or for life).

Note: Alison attributes her recipe to, which also lacks safety recs. 


13 comments on “Bikinis and Homemade Chalk: Why we need to teach Web 2.0 Ethics

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