Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

Teaching and Electronic Media

September 1, 2011

Earlier this month, the Missouri legislature passed Missouri Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, and the governor signed it. Last week, a judge placed an injunction on the law after the Missouri State Teachers Association filed a law suit against the governor and the attorney general. So, why, you ask, am I talking about it? The 35 page law addresses many aspects of student-school relations. But, on page 15, the law prohibits private “oral or nonverbal communication” using a non-work social networking sites, especially those that are “exclusive access.” In other words, teachers beware! You cannot use a social networking site to break the law, or you will be breaking another law!

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the misguided attempt to protect our children from sexual predators, even if those predators are teachers. There are, of course, already laws that prohibit such behavior, and most school districts have policies that supplement those laws. Personally, I believe that people who prey on children, teens and young adults should be punished severely. Our children are our greatest asset and we should protect that asset.

So, what will this one do and why do I care? First, what does it prohibit? I am not entirely sure about this. I consulted with some lawyer friends (whom I will not name in case I misunderstood them) who said the written word is referred to as “verbal” communication. So, given the law prohibits “oral or nonverbal communication,” I think it literally prohibits Skype use and emoticons on Facebook, texting and other internet sites. Clearly what the legislature thought it was prohibiting was the use of chat or messaging using a social networking site. Why, then, didn’t they include email? I know the high school students think that is pretty archaic, but if the goal is to protect the student, shouldn’t they have a broad definition of technology? Email is pretty exclusive and is certainly problematic if in the wrong hands. The technology of tomorrow is likely to be exclusive as well.

This law is only useful as a threat, or as a way of catching someone whom they cannot catch in other ways. It is like using the tax laws to catch Al Capone. If, in fact, the communication is exclusive, then it will not be obvious until a problem has already been identified. This e-trail will be used as evidence and as another way to punish the inappropriate behavior. Teachers can still talk to the students outside of class, call them and other potentially inappropriate behaviors.

Again, why do I care? I think teaching teenagers must be a terribly difficult thing. Teens are transforming between children and adults, which is difficult, and their raging hormones is making it even more so. Getting their attention for academic work can be challenging. What we know is that if you want them to hear you, you must talk to them in the channels in which they are already listening. The horrible thing that this law does is to take away tools a teacher can use to be on the right wave length to communicate with their students. You might argue that everyone should use the school-based tool. OK, but that only works if the students are “there.” It is extra work for the teacher to go to the social networking site to help the students. Sometimes you want to give hints or reminders that are private – perhaps so other students won’t know who is having trouble. This law prohibits that kind of one-on-one help that many of our students so dearly need.

Also, and perhaps worse, this takes away the teacher as an adult from whom a student who is having problems can turn for help. Many students have problems of abuse and neglect at home. They often turn to a trusted teacher to help them address those problems. Similarly, some students are more likely to turn to a trusted teacher with addictions, unwanted pregnancy or other personal problems. But, they are not going to do that if everything must be communicated in public. What this law will do is to make quiet communication and mentoring more difficult.

I wonder why this law was enacted. Is there evidence of misappropriate discussions through electronic means? Is there evidence that children are being abused by teachers because of their discussions through electronic means? If so, I haven’t seen it (but, in fairness, I haven’t looked either). Or, is this just a “Mom and Apple Pie” kind of law to get voters to think our legislature is working to protect our kids? I encourage the legislature to get some data and analyze the data before we add another unenforceable law to the books. And, in the meanwhile, let’s stay out of the way of the teachers trying to prepare our children for the future.

If you are interested, the law can be found at http://www.senate.mo.gov/11info/pdf-bill/tat/SB54.pdf. A story by CNN is available at http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/01/missouri-law-bans-some-teacher-student-contact-on-facebook-other-sites/?iref=allsearch and a story about the injunction is available at http://chesterfield.patch.com/articles/teachers-sue-missouri-over-facebook-ban-in-new-move. There certainly are other stories and blogs that you might also consider reading.