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."