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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Is the real world too scary for kids?

To what extent do fifth-graders need to be protected from the so-called “real world”? At The Saturday Course I teach a cryptology class to public-school fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who have been identified as gifted and talented. There is some concern that the fictional premise behind this class — called “Codes, Criminals, and Spies” — may actually be too real, that the kids’ parents may consider it too scary for tender young minds. Here’s the premise:
You are an FBI Special Agent assigned to a new group set up jointly with the National Security Agency (NSA). The group is called the K Gang Task Force.

The NSA has been intercepting secret telephone calls and email messages that they believe are being sent between members of the K Gang. Your job is to investigate and decode them. These criminals and spies are suspected of committing the following six acts over and over again:

  1. Taking drugs out of Afghanistan.
  2. Smuggling them into the United States.
  3. Selling them here.
  4. Using the profits to buy important documents from dishonest low-level officials in various government departments.
  5. Selling those documents to Al Qaeda.
  6. Using the profits to buy more drugs.
And so on...

I originally designed the course back in July. When one of the the first batch of students (in September) asked me whether the NSA would need a warrant to intercept phone calls and email messages, I assured them that of course it would.

I guess that’s why the story is fiction.

But the question is whether I should replace Afghanistan with Freedonia, and Al Qaeda with some other made-up name. What do you think?

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