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.

12 comments:

Joan S. said...

Great points! Perhaps it would be helpful to hold an informational meeting and demonstrate to parents just what MySpace is and how it functions, along with some examples of what can be found there. The intent would be to raise awareness rather than to alarm and help parents make informed decisions about keeping track of what their children may be doing.

Lynn said...

I think you make some really good points and as a teacher (and parent of teenagers that Blog and use MySpace), I agree that perhaps some of these teachers are acting a little over concerned. You learn not to go crazy every time you hear something when you have teenagers. It’s a really weird time in their lives and they will emerge normal adults! It’s happening right before my very eyes in my home! Perhaps this group you were listening too, did not have children. It makes a huge difference in how you initially react, believe me. I think it is a good thing for teachers to have conversations with their students about protecting their privacy while on the Internet. Perhaps it should go along with their classroom conversations on Copyright Law, Cyber bullying and other important tech related discussions. Talking with students and sharing information is key. But I have a real problem with the school snooping around in my child's private life. That is my job and I don’t want the school to tell me what my child can or cannot do. The Internet is here. Blogging is here. Teenagers have this need to express themselves in ways that I don’t necessary understand, but can appreciate. Calling parents to tell on their students seems to go beyond "protecting their students" and just feels wrong to me (at least at this point in time). If many children are truly putting themselves in danger, and it can be proven, then perhaps my views on MySpace or other similar website, will change. I have learned from my own personal experience that much of the posting that goes on in Myspace is pretty harmless and shouldn't be taken too seriously. (Scary as it is!) Do we really way to try and read into every posting made by a teenager? I personally can't image why these kids seem to want to open their most personal thoughts to the world...but clearly the need is there.

Bill Geraci said...

Birth 'em; raise 'em as best as ya can; send 'em out. You can't sit with kids all day every day, and, if you could, it would be wrong and bad for both of you. I mean, before *electricity*, did parents *really know* where kids were going and what they were doing? Didn't kids get in trouble or not get in trouble then, too?

That said, for parents who don't know about this sort of thing, a letter home pointing out places *like* myspace.com would be in good, order, methinks. And, of course, a session each year on What and Why You Should't Say Stuff Like This on the Internet would be a good.

McSquared said...

Hi.
I, too, felt that the conversations I had with people passing through the Atrium were as much of a learning experience as the workshops themselves.

I believe all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, should not be left unsupervised for even a minute (oops, I meant second) until they are 21 years old. I am not at all surprised at what they will do when left unattended. But for some, it is neither healthy nor safe.

The first time my daughter put her picture on a site in the Internet, I had nightmares about strangers calling her name pretending to be friends of such and such to abduct her. That was over eight years ago. I didn’t even have an e-mail address but I needed to know what they were doing and I became techno literate as a result.

As a parent/CIA agent, I never revealed my sources. As a teacher, however, there is a limit to my involvement into my students’ personal lives, a boundary that I try with all my might not to cross.

My student's parents need to know the dangers and the opportunities technology has for their children. But I also believe that technology just illuminates the bigger issue of the overall lack of supervision of children in this society. Many parents are negligent in their duties in general for many reasons, some valid, some not.

Unfortunately, teachers, instead of parents, are often blamed for student failure. Teachers become too involved in students lives by default.

Darlyne said...

In my 11th grade ITGS (Information Technology and the Global Society - IB) class, the students and I have discussed the ethical implications of sites such as myspace. Many of them are just as appalled as the teachers you mentioned at the conference about what is being posted on these sites. Of course, they have read current news articles both as a part of my class and outside of it which spoke of the stalkings and abductions of teenagers as a result of naive (and not so naive) posting of identifying information on the net, so they're a little more savvy to both the benefits and dangers of the myspace sites. One of the worst things about sites such as myspace, though, is not that high school age/young adults are using these sites, it's that kids as young as 8 and 10 years old are misrepresenting themselves and their ages to create their own pages and that very little is being done in terms of controlling this (parentally or otherwise) and/or informing them of the responsibilities and dangers of this practice. A few of my students are so bothered by this that for their IT project, they are developping ways to inform younsters about the myspace landmines.
Of course, kids will be kids and it ultimately comes down to a combination of parenting, informing and development of ethical foundations that will either help to keep them safe or abandon them to the web's wild west.

SR said...

Schools should be careful about how they choose to extend their policing functions outside of the school building...

Rita D said...

Unfortunately; teachers and not parents are often blamed for student failure, I think teachers should have conversations with their students about protecting their privacy while on the Internet. It fits right in there with Cyber bullying and Copyright Law. Technology enriched discussion/conversation in the classroom are good for teacher and student.
Parents should be kept advised of sites like myspace.com but I feel schools should be careful about how they choose to extend their policing functions outside of the school building

Tajuana Patterson said...

I think these are all great points...However, I believe it needs to be addressed at school and at home. So sending letters home informing parents in detail what is there and peaking their interest will help them understand the severity of it and hopefully they will reinforce what the school is doing to get the point across. Though it may seem extremely daunting to the students it is truly for their benefit. There are plenty people who are up to no good in our world today and you can never be too careful!

LaNice Hamilton said...

Hi Craig, I had no idea that myspace even existed so I checked it out. I am afraid for the children as well. I agree that the pricipal should inform all the parents and not just those whose children are on myspace. The things that I saw (for the two minutes that I was there) really angered me because whoever host is knows that there are children posting to this site and they are not being monitered like other site are. They are bing exposed to porn and and are allowed to post porn. This is really disturbing to me. As responsible adults, what can we do to change this?

Freedman said...

My friend, and local Middle School technology teacher, ran into a problem with her students and MySpace. She received flack from both the administration and parents for “prying” into her students personal lives. When in actuality she was trying to education parents as to what their child was doing on-line and to protect them from engaging in risky behavior. To read more about her expertise with this, visit her blog: at:http://www.iteachyoucomputers.blogspot.com/

Kate said...

I found this blog when looking for poz personals and I think it is very nice.
Regards, Kate @ Top Adult Personals

Kurt A. Tasche said...

Great editor myspace info on your blog. Check out our new editor myspace site!!