After making a bit o’ cash by moderating a conversation between Rick and Becky DuFour and their readers last month, I decided to splurge on a new computer.

Now—as I explained to my wife—I had a bunch of good reasons for the purchase:  My old computer, an HP that I bought something like 4 years ago, was a big, glitchy beast that I’d written two books, two chapters and thousands of pages of blog content on.

It had seen better days.

More importantly, I’ve got three pretty big presentations this summer, so reliability is a priority.  It would be pretty embarrassing to have computer meltdowns in front of audiences that I’m trying to impress.

Perhaps most importantly, though, my mom and dad have spent twelve years running a desktop with Windows 98 on it—and EVERY time that I’ve been home in the past three years, I’ve spent half my trip trying to make that thing work!

A new machine for me,” I explained to the Missus, “means a hand-me-down for ol’ Dad…and a hand-me-down for Dad means less headaches for me!”

In the process of overhauling my old computer for mom and dad, though, I learned something interesting about myself:  I knew almost NOTHING about safely disposing of old computers.

For example, my first thought was, “If I delete everything in the My Documents folder, it’ll be gone and the hard drive will be clean.”

Seems to make sense, doesn’t it?  “Delete” should mean “Delete” and “Empty Recycle Bin” should mean “Throw the trash out Mr. Windows Man.”

Turns out IT DOESN’T!

As I found out in this video on the PC World website, deleting files takes away visible references to them on your computer, making them difficult for digital rookies to find, but should your machine—or more specifically, your hard drive—fall into the hands of a skilled data hack lurking around the local dump, everything (think tax returns, banking records, love letters to your first girlfriend) can be retrieved without too much trouble.

Just what consequences might this have?

Considering that PC World picked up ten old hard drives from a dump and found sensitive personal and business data on all but ONE, I’d say the consequences are pretty great…especially if you’re a guy like me who has thrown away about a dozen computers in the past fifteen years!

Who KNOWS where those hard drives—and the personal data on ‘em—is today.  For all I know, some guy in Tajikistan could well be selling my love letters to the highest bidder on eBay!

So what’s a guy wanting to be sure that his personal information is protected to do?

Well, the super-tech savvy solution is to use a fancy program like Freeraser to delete individual files or Data Destroyer to completely obliterate everything on your old hard drive.

The more practical—and completely permanent—solution, though, is to destroy your old hard drive completely.  Literally pull the sucker out and pummel it!  For me, that meant getting the garden shears and giving it a few good clips.

And considering that a new hard drive cost me $60 bucks and 10 minutes of time to install (something I learned how to do on YouTube), it was the best solution to an all-too-common problem.

Now, I don’t need to worry about what happens to my old machine when Dad gets tired of it and gives it away a few years from now.  I know my data is safe and secure on my new machine and not floating around in a dump somewhere waiting to be found.

I’ll bet that some of you are wondering what exactly this lesson in digital security has to do with teaching and learning, right?  “Is Ferriter off his rocker?” you’re saying.  “His last post was on funding principal professional development programs and now he’s writing about erasing hard drives.”

The lesson, though, is a pretty simple one:  If a guy like me—who is completely consumed by technology—had no real idea about how to properly dispose of old machines, isn’t it likely that our kids are equally unprepared to protect their personal information as they move through their digital lives?

And my question to readers is relatively straightforward:  Is it the school’s responsibility to teach students about digital safety and protecting their personal information?  Are these kinds of topics covered somewhere in your state or district curricula guides?

More importantly, do you think the message is getting through?  If we were to ask the kids down at the local high school to describe the process of safely getting rid of an old computer, how would they answer?

I guess what I’m asking is who is teaching our kids about hard drives?!

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