Without skipping school, kids from California to Montana used the Net to question witnesses in a congressional hearing about Internet access today.
Through democracy.net, a site that hosts live politically-oriented cybercasts, the children were patched into the Internet Caucus' field hearing, "Making Access Easier," which explored the value of online government resources and federally supported Net connections.
Students listened to the event at the Library of Congress's National Digital Libraries facility in Washington, D.C.; in East Palo Alto, California; Bainbridge Island, Washington; and Missoula, Montana.
Youngsters asked members of Congress questions by email--such as "what's online?" and "how do I find the Declaration of Independence?"--which were answered by the experts who were giving testimony.
"The hearing was done to draw attention to how the Internet is being used to expand citizen access to government and expand participation," said Jonah Seiger of Democracy.net.
A panel of witnesses from libraries, the online community, and Internet companies talked about the importance of expanding government resources on the Net.
"There is an information gap between those who have Net access and those who do not," said Christopher Hedrick, senior program manager for Libraries Online. "Without access, we believe we are in danger of being a divided society."
For example, Hedrick said when Libraries Online started in Brooklyn, New York, that kids used to play basketball outside of the library, using the building as a backboard. Now that the library is wired to the Net, he added, those same kids come in side to do homework, practice computer applications, and, of course, check out the NBA Web site.
The Internet Caucus was established to educate Congress about the electronic network. The schools that participated today are based in the districts of Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California), Rep. Rick White (R-Washington), and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana), who ran the hearing along with Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Michigan).