Monday, March 06, 2006
Loving teachers who love too much
Last week I attended the Illinois Technology Conference for Educators (IL-TCE), an annual event that, for me, is primarily an opportunity to spend time with old and new colleagues and see what the vendors are trying to sell to the schools. Sometimes I attend a session that offers an interesting and novel approach to using technology in the classroom, although most of the sessions are more mainstream, reflecting the "dissemination" phases of a new technology rather than innovation.
Oftentimes, I am more struck by what is being discussed in the hallways and lunchtables at the conference. This year, my ears perked up as I was walking from the exhibit area to the lunch area. I passed a group of veteran female teachers talking animatedly with each other. I paused briefly to take in a bit of their conversation. One teacher was saying to the others "and so, by going to her page and following the links, I was able to find out who her friends are and what they are doing as well." It didn't take long before I realized they were talking about myspace.com, an Internet site that allows anyone to post a personal "home page" with links to friends, photos, music, and various other stuff too eclectic to be described.
As the conversation proceeded, the theme that emerged was that these teachers have come to realize that myspace.com offers them unprecedented access to the private lives and private thoughts of their students, and they are APPALLED. I mean appalled at the things that some of their teenage students are thinking about and doing (parties, drinking, sex, drugs...). It amazes them that their students aren't even embarrassed to admit to these things on myspace, and that in fact their students seem proud of their exploits (or, in many cases, their desired exploits). "Don't they know that anyone can read this stuff on the Internet?" exclaimed one anxious teacher?
The other thing that emerged from the conversation (I was looking at the program, appearing not to be paying too much attention) was that these teachers really are anxious for their students, especially their female students, and their protective, teacherly instincts are kicking in. Several of the teachers described new efforts in their school districts to systematically explore the myspace pages of their students and to either confront the students with the idiocy of putting this stuff out there for the public or even informing their parents. Many of the teachers believe that they have a public duty (as the most technologically savvy of the caring adults in their communities) to act to protect their students.
While I applaud this impulse and believe it to be a manifestation of the eternal moral duty of teachers to guide and protect the young, I also find it a little disturbing, that the teachers feel so adamantly that it is their duty not only to counsel the students but, perhaps, to inform their parents. I think I would take a somewhat less activist approach, and instead send home a letter from the principal to all the parents letting them know about this new form of PDA (public display of affection....er, um, whatever it is) and urging the parents to talk to their students about the advisability of putting certain kinds of information out into public.
Without a doubt, every parent of a youngster, age 10 to 20, who has regular access to the Internet, ought to be wondering how his or her child is responding to the opportunities and challenges of this new information age. Any parent who doesn't know what his or her teenager is posting on myspace or elsewhere is abdicating his or her duty to protect and counsel them. Teachers who are similarly informed are, perhaps, going beyond the call of their duty, but you've got to love 'em for it.