In yet another example of ridiculous government over-reach, the governor of my previous state of Missouri signed into law a bill banning public school students and teachers from communicating and being "friends" on Facebook. Here are some article excerpts:
"'Teachers cannot establish, maintain or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian or legal guardian,' the law states. Teachers also cannot have a non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. The law is not limited to Facebook and applies to any social networking site. Although Facebook fan pages will still be allowed, direct communicaton between teachers and students on the site will be banned."
"Although some critics have said the concept sounds positive on the surface, they worry it may imply that teachers may not be trusted on the site without legal intervention. Others worry that restricting sites such as Facebook could hinder the educational process in the future."
"In 2010, Lee County school district in Florida advised teachers not to friend students on social networking sites, claiming that teacher-student communication through this medium is 'inappropriate.' This was the first school district in the state of Florida, possibly even the country, to issue teacher-protocol guidelines for social media."
I have a hard time believing this last paragraph. 2010? Seriously? In 2008, my administration at Westminster Christian Academy, knowing that I used social media and was "friends" with several of my high school students, asked me to draft a document that later was adopted as part of the school's social media policy. Here's what I submitted:
- Never initiate the friend, wall-to-wall, inbox, birthday, or other functions; always be a responder to students, but even then, refrain from excess posting on their pages.
- Unless you have a pre-determined set of relationship criteria (i.e. males only, females only, etc.), do not discriminate among friend requests; accept all or accept none.
- Always maintain a degree of formality despite the informal medium; keep titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss) and try to relate with as similar a classroom tone as possible.
- Realize that conversations you may have in other networks may be privy to those in your network unless you set up different access levels. Use discretion, as you are exposing students to your college/post-college discussions and topics, which may or may not be helpful to your students.
- Use good punctuation and grammar whenever possible; avoid slang and model excellence as an educator in your communication.
- Do not post pictures of yourself that are questionable, sensual, or ridiculous; if other friends include you in such pictures on their profiles, ask to remove them or untag yourself from them.
- Do not delete inbox or wall-to-wall conversations; always keep a record.
These guidelines were helpful as I related to students online. Some teachers were more reticent than I was to be online "friends" with their students; others not so much. The school did not take a hard and fast stance on the issue; the point was that all of us were encouraged to think about what we were doing and to use common sense concerning our online interactions with students.
The problem, of course, is that common sense is not so common, and the American response to the ills of the few has increasingly become a legislative knee-jerk against the good of the many. Maybe I've just been fortunate enough to know and work with too many caring, dedicated teachers, but I don't know anyone (public or private school) who has abused or been accused of misusing Facebook with his or her students. (Actually, I've read a whole lot more in the past six months about congressmen sexting pictures of themselves to interns. Where's the "no social media" law against them?)
I'm sad for my public school teacher friends in Missouri who just lost a way to be an invested, influential voice among the milieu of madness that is a teenager's online world. And, I'm a little nervous where this kind of thing might go for my private school teacher friends, as some fearful parents, school boards, or administrations may over-react with their own knee-jerk policies in the wake of the new law.
Just today I got a Facebook message from one of my first students (now a college sophomore at Ball State University in Indiana) with whom I've been "friends" since his freshman year of high school. In reading his words, walking through high school with Daniel – even from a distance via Facebook as I was only his teacher for one year – obviously meant something to him.
I'm just glad I moved to Oklahoma so he could tell me.