"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Do You Know Which Teachers have "Friended" Your Child? Soon The School District Will

In case you missed it (this being summer and all), Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation last week, sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, aimed at providing important safeguards that will help to protect students from sexual misconduct by school employees. For instance, part of the legislation prevents school districts from unknowingly hiring someone with a history of substantiated sex abuse allegations by requiring school districts to disclose that information about a former employee if contacted for a reference. The legislation also requires annual background checks for teachers, bars registered sex offenders from serving on school boards and creates a new task force of lawmakers and state child welfare officials to focus on sexual abuse of children that and complete a study by 2013.

Another piece of the legislation requires school districts to develop policies by 2012 for communication between teachers and students that includes text messages, social networking websites and other electronic devices. Those polices are to restrict teachers from interacting with students on websites or in ways that are not also accessible to others, including school administrators and parents.

Being a parent today has challenges that did not exist even 15 years ago. Responsible parents now must, in addition to checking out their children's friends and their friends' parents, make time to monitor their children's on-line contacts. While this legislation appears to put the onus for the latter on the school district, it does give parents a legitimate reason to complain if they find questionable communication between their child and a school official in those mediums.

I personally resist much of the social networking being pushed today. Matthew Schaffer wrote the best rationale for this resistance in his recent National Review article Ages Apart in which he first referred to C. S. Lewis’s vision of Hell in The Great Divorce.

In Lewis's Hell, the damned suffer not a fire, or any physical torment or confinement, but absolute dominion and inalienable rights: the liberty to roam an infinite and borderless land, and to freely and instantaneously build castles wherever they like. Lewis’s damned enjoy this freedom by abandoning locations and acquaintances the moment they become inconvenient. So after a few years’ stay in Hell, each of the damned is thousands of miles away from any other, pacing solitarily in his castle.

Of course the end result is eternal isolation and loneliness which the individual has created.

The political moral is that unchosen obligations, restraints, and dependencies are the things that push people together, despite our irritableness and our inconvenience to each other. Our limitations and inadequacies counter our selfish bent, and become a foundation for community.
Given this point of view, Facebook can easily be seen as the road to Hell, paved with good intentions.

Facebook is the acme of modernized society, allowing us unrestrained control over our relationships — we literally choose the face that others see, and can start or end a friendship by tapping a finger. These friendships never become inconvenient, because no obligation can impose itself through the digital medium. The irony of Facebook, and of modernity’s expansion of social autonomy generally, is that total, unlimited cosmopolitanism in the end produces more parochialism, homogenization, and even chauvinism than geographical confinement does: I can now commune with people all over the world of all nationalities and tongues and races who are just like me.

The legislation specifically recognizes teachers' use of social networking sites, like Facebook, as a means of communication with students. In searching for a rationale why any teacher would need to communicate with a student through a site like FB or MS, I am forced to admit that there are some students who are addicted to these sites and seem to only be reachable through that medium (parents, if this describes your child, please read all of Matthew Shaffer's article). A teacher down in Joplin MO defended the use of social networking sites noting, "teachers used social networking websites to confirm their students were OK after a deadly tornado struck the southwestern Missouri city in May. He said the restrictions in the legislation would have made that same process far more difficult."

That is one extreme example, but I am hard pressed to come up with another more common reason why teachers need to contact students other than through official school channels. If anything, it should be students trying to contact teachers for missing assignments and the like, in which case it might do their overall organizational strategy some good to lose that crutch. Teacher websites and e-mail allow today's students' concentration to wander because they can always get the information later. School districts will have to come up with policies regarding text messages, social networking websites and other electronic devices. Should be a simple policy, "Don't use them."


  1. WOW! More government intervention into the personal lives of all Missourians. Most articles on this blog have been to inform parents about government trying to control what our children learn; national standards, cradle to grave education, etc. Now the writer of this article supports government intervention into social networking and advises teachers not to use facebook or other social network when communicating with students! Which is it? Government intervention are not?

  2. My personal policy is that I'm not "friends" with current students, only with former students. Government should stay out of our personal business and as adults we need to be responsible and not cross over any boundaries. Most of my former students are also friends with their parents. I'm "friends" with several of my schools FB pages and they monitor me from there if they wish. I'm certain they would not have problem with my conversations with my former students.

  3. Perhaps my comment at the end was a little too vague. If a policy can be summed up in three words, did we really need legislation to develop it? Common sense should have prevailed. I know that if a teacher sent inappropriate comments to our daughter my husband would have addressed it swiftly and personally and would not wait for a school to do something. That said, the portion of the legislation that requires schools to notify other districts about former employees with sexual misconduct records corrects previous ruling which required schools to essentially hide that information. That put our children at risk and needed to be addressed. Government intervention is still not desirable, but not all legislation is bad.


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