A school district in southern Mississippi [a state which, let's face it, has never been considered a leader in education...] recently adopted a new policy prohibiting teachers from texting students or communicating with students through social networking sites like Myspace or Facebook. What I found intriguing about the policy as reported here were the statements:
No incident led to the policy, which was enacted at the suggestion of the school board attorney. The board has yet to set penalties for violating the policy.
OK. So they’re trying to be proactive, getting a policy in place before a problem develops. I can’t really fault them for that. [Especially in light of the recent spate of reports of sexual misconduct between teachers and students.] But prohibiting communication? …I’ll come back to this.
How stupid is it to have such a policy without clearly stated consequences? [Just wait till your principal gets home....] Supremely so. Maybe that lawyer really didn’t have enough to do [as suggested in the comments to the article] and is expecting an avalanche of challenges from teachers, parents, and students.
Another [important] point not addressed in the article [but asked in the comments] is how they plan to enforce the policy. [It's only wrong if you get caught....] Furthermore, while the nature of teacher-student communication must always be professional, do they really have the authority to control the form of that communication outside of regular school hours and off school property?
Besides, don’t they know that those electronic communications can easily be copied and backed up so there is a record of exactly what was said by whom and when? [Probably not] Wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage documenting all exchanges with students?
Unfortunately, it’s typical of school systems all over and not entirely their fault. Large bureaucracies like public schools tend to be slow to change. Add hysterical media reports of online predators and legislation [like COPA which tried to restrict online access by minors and a more recent proposal to block social networking sites in libraries] and prohibition becomes the de facto course of action. Even when it runs contrary to other goals.
The district where I teach has [among others] these Technology Standards for Students:
- Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
- Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.
And yet they routinely block access to blogs, wikis, webmail, social networking, and interactive media sites. Some standards are more challenging to achieve than others….
Prohibiting text messages from teachers to students eliminates legitimate uses of the technology too: verifying homework assignments, for example. Shouldn’t we be trying to reach students through technologies they are comfortable with and are therefore likely to use? More importantly, shouldn’t we be teaching students how to use technology safely and appropriately?