Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Illinois Kids to Administrators: Get Out of My Space!

The latest story involving the continuing uneasy relationship between education and online technology concerns an Illinois school district's plan to monitor the content of student blogs:
High school students are going to be held accountable for what they post on blogs and on social-networking Web sites such as MySpace.com.

The board of Community High School District 128 voted unanimously on Monday to require that all students participating in extracurricular activities sign a pledge agreeing that evidence of "illegal or inappropriate" behavior posted on the Internet could be grounds for disciplinary action.

The rule will take effect at the start of the next school year, officials said.

District officials won't regularly search students' sites, but will monitor them if they get a worrisome tip from another student, a parent or a community member.
Needless to say, as an advocate of blogging, and a frequent critic of the actions of school administrators, this bothers me for a number of reasons, and it raises a few questions as well:
  • Who gets to decide what's inappropriate? While illegal behavior is pretty cut-and-dried in most states, appropriateness is in the eye of the beholder. Someone who threatens their teacher should be disciplined, but how about someone who simply insults the teacher, or says that he/she is mean, unfair, etc.? Yet does anyone doubt that both hypothetical people would likely be punished under this regulation?

  • Do we really want to pay attention to people who have time to monitor students' sites? I'm relieved to read that there won't be a district employee assigned specifically to this task. There are far too many resources wasted on bureaucracy as it is; nobody needs an Associate Vice Superintendent for Student Content Monitoring in their district. So who would be the ones to do it, then? According to the story, it would be "another student, a parent or a community member." I see the potential for a lot of abuse of this: Students trying to get other students in trouble (or even makng fake MySpace pages in the name of another student whom they want to get in trouble), parents upset with other students who beat their own kids at some competition....you get the idea. And as for "a community member"--you mean someone who's not a parent or teacher who's just reading kids' blogs for kicks? Such a person obviously has way too much time on his/her hands and needs to get a hobby that involves not telling others how to live their lives (ooh, there goes that libertarian streak again).

  • Why is this only required for students in extracurricular activities? The district really blew it by including this provision, in my opinion. Why place the kids who are actually involved in school activities (who tend to be better kids anyway) under closer scrutiny than those who aren't involved in anything (and may well need said scrutiny)? Just put it in the "student code of conduct" that everyone has to sign, and be done with it.

    (Granted, I was in band from sixth grade on, so I can't even imagine being "just a student." In fact, that's the first thing I ask my students who quit band: What activity will you be pursuing in its place? You really need to be doing something...)

  • This is another way for the district to act like a parent, and that's not the district's job. One of the parents in Libertyville said it best: "I don't think they need to police what students are doing online. That's my job."

    Sure, an associate superintendent did make the obvious point that blogs and MySpace are part of the World Wide Web, and people do need to use discretion when they post things online. (The kids who got busted for setting fires after they bragged about it on MySpace would be a good example of a lack of such discretion. And it's interesting to note that the kids got arrested because someone went straight to police, not to their school, when they saw the MySpace.) But again, shouldn't this be up to the parents? And if the parents aren't involved (or if a Columbine-style threat is issued), then the district should step in, but I for one don't trust them to be the everyday Web Police.
School districts have enough to do during the school day without trying to play parent or check up on the students outside of school hours. What's the solution here? Bring back the methodology to deal with the truly bad kids (expulsions that stick--without some meddling ACLU lawyer getting in the way--might help, as would the return of the "Board of Education"), and stop treating the good ones like suspects all the time. Oh, and administrators must teach; I can't plug that idea enough, even though I'm not sure that anyone has the guts to try it.

A really loose definition of "emergency": If you lost your TV remote, saw somebody running around in a too-skimpy bikini, or your neighborhood was "terrorized" by a loitering duck, you wouldn't call 911, would you? Evidently, some people do. (And, as Dave Barry might say, Loitering Duck would be a good name for a rock band.)


Eric Grubbs said...

Sorry to ask the same question again, but has Ernie Brown addressed this on his show? I'm sure he'd have some really good thought-out things to say on this matter. Plus, he won't yell these thoughts at the top of his lungs . . .

Kev said...

I'm not sure; this week, since public schools are out, I haven't been near a radio (i.e. in the car) nearly so much during the time he's on, and the one time I was (yesterday), he was pre-empted by a baseball game.

Anonymous said...

ha, my school's administration finally found out about myspace and got a lot of kids in trouble for it. It's ridiculous, it was really funny cause they called a whole bunch of senior parents along with the students into a meeting (including the valedictorian) because they had pictures of drinking on their myspace. Basically the plan backfired and all the parents trashed the administration and made our dean of students cry for wasting their time and trying to be their parent. It was amazing

Anonymous said...