Monday, November 14, 2005

Going Too Far?

I read an interesting article last week about a recent Pew Internet survey, which notes that 57 percent of all teenagers onilne create sort of digital content--be it photo sharing, digital remixing or blogs. It's a good article on its own merit, as it examines how these so-called "screenagers" are transforming the traditional relationship between producers and consumers of media.

But, needless to say, many adults aren't warming to this new digital world. This paragraph in particular caught my eye:
Last week, Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, N.J., announced that students who posted on or similar sites faced possible suspension from school, citing concerns that students were unwittingly revealing too much information about themselves to potential cyberpredators.
Wait a minute---they're going to get suspended for blogging? On their own time? I can understand if the school wants to limit or prohibit things like that during school hours, but can they really reach that far into a student's home life? Sure, the scholastic arm can extend past school grounds when it comes to illegal behavior (like benching students from extracurricular activities if they're caught drinking, even off-campus), but the last time I checked, blogging was legal. They've overstepped their bounds on this one.

(It should go without saying that I don't necessarily agree with even an on-campus blogging ban; heck, I used to update The Musings whenever I was stuck at a school during a down period, until my district blocked access to Blogger last school year. If the student is finished with his or her work, there are plenty of idle-time activities that are worse than blogging; ask Dingus about his high-school classmate who used to download cartoon porn.)

Am I all wet here? Does anyone think this school is being reasonable? Rather than fear the new technology (which plenty of older folks don't understand themselves), use this situation as a teachable moment: Tell the kids that they can blog all they want to, but use common sense--don't put your address or phone number on the Web, and maybe not even your last name. And remind them that anything they write does in fact go out over the World Wide Web, so one might want to use discretion when, say, writing bad things about people by name.

Besides, the online revolution is here to stay; it's not like the genie can be put back in the bottle. As the article notes,
[T]he Pew survey seems to suggest that the concern over the dangers of adolescent activity online - while perhaps well placed - is a mere cul-de-sac in a larger landscape where a new generation, armed to the teeth with digital sophistication, is redefining media on its own terms.
They sure are, and count me in as one adult who's very enthusiastic about all this stuff...not to mention a little jealous that it wasn't around when I was a kid.

(Hat tip: Althouse, who received some good comments to her own post on the subject.)

The ministry of silly animal names: Monty Python's John Cleese was the recipient of an unusual honor, as a new species of lemur was recently named after him.


Gary P. said...

I too think the school is overreaching, but as a private school (I'm guessing a Catholic school with a name like Pope John XXIII) they're probably free to make whatever rules they see fit.

I, for one, am glad the internet did not exist in its current form while I was in college. I wasted enough time as it was with primitive computer games and other diversions. With a T1 to my dorm room, I'd have probably been sent packing after my first year with an 0.65 GPA.

Ms. Worley said...

I've got to say I understand where the school is coming from. However, I think they need to zero in a little more on their specific concerns (as you mentioned, posted addresses, phone numbers, even specific schedules can be a dangerous thing) rather than punishing any student for any post at all.
Schools have a hard time realizing that at a certain point, students go home and are no longer the responsibility of the school. The reason schools have a hard time realizing this is because when it comes to litigation, some parents forget this important fact.
An example of what the school is (obviously) trying to prevent:
If one of my choir students, on their blog/xanga/myspace, etc. mentions our MS Choir is going to Six Flags on a given day or some other public event, this may have the same ultimate effect as posting one's address. This allows whatever twisted predator we're talking about to find that student on that day, especially if there's a picture, or if the student give additional details such as arrival or departure time, uniform, etc. If the predator were to abduct, molest, or otherwise harm the child during the outing, rest assured the school would see a lot of the blame coming their way.

Now, my actual opinion is that kids are in as much danger now as they were before, and the school is responsible for all school trips being chaperoned appropriately, etc. and a child predator doesn't need a blog to find its prey. Our job is to make kids smarter, not to vacuum pack them in our district's favorite version of reality.

The other potential issue I see is the online harassment thing, which is the female species' preferred method of bullying. (There was a TIME article with a lot of interesting points on this some months ago) If a student is blogging consistently derogatory things about a classmate, this can sometimes serve as the escalation that leads to an eventual blow-up in a face-to-face situation. Teachers are usually able to notice if two boys are teasing each other too much, etc. and address it before it escalates to a fight or other dangerous level. With girls, much of the initial teasing and harassment now takes place online, and the blow-up moment happens on campus, with surprisingly few warning signs to teachers and administrators.

All this being said, I'm currently writing all of this from my desk at school, so color me guilty.

Eric Grubbs said...

I think younger people, even though they are often seen as "not knowing any better" by older people, are pretty smart. Even on some of the most personal blogs I've read, maybe an e-mail address is listed. The anonymity of the Internet is in the hands of the person behind the profile.

Under this ban on blogging, how can someone really track a student's use of MySpace or a blog at home? Or is this some sort of smoke-and-mirrors scare tactic? I think it is.

Shawn said...

My high school blocks basically everything. To do a research topic on something is hard because you end up running into the firewall with anything, including my research project on Perfect Pitch, PERFECT PITCH!!! Apparently, it's also some porn innuendo.

Anyways, xanga is blocked... and kids from our school are very specific and it can be bad, but I try to maintain an anomaly. Blogger isn't blocked because no one knows about it I guess, or not enough kids are getting on it like xanga. MySpace and other bloggers aren't blocked from what I know of.

Kev said...

Gary: I actually wish we'd had the current Internet stuff when I was in college. Sure, I would have wasted as much time as I did anyway, but I would've kept up more with old friends and watched way less bad TV.

Ms. W: Yeah, there's no doubt that lawyers run way too much of the world, especially when it comes to schools. I never would have thought of there being a security issue with someone Xanga-ing an impending choir trip (or blogging as a female bullying generator, for that matter).

"Our job is to make kids smarter, not to vacuum pack them in our district's favorite version of reality."

This quote belongs on the wall somewhere, preferably as close to a principal's office as possible.

I've noted in the past that many administrators simply need to "get out more"--in other words, to interact with people who aren't other administrators. By planning for every possible worst-case scenario, their perception of things becomes quite skewed, and they need a reality check every now and then. (I think this dovetails nicely with my administrators-must-teach post from a few weeks ago.)

Eric: I would hope that no administrator has enough free time to find out who among the students is blogging...

Shawn: Perfect Pitch has been co-opted by the porn industry? Greeeeeeat...I could just see someone trying to pick up a music major that way: "Hey, baby, I have perfect pitch."