Posted by: schooleducator | February 20, 2009

The Facebook Age and Schools

Schools are trapped in a Gordian knot with the onslaught of the Facebook age. The boundaries between home and school are so twisted that school administrators, parents, and students find themselves caught in the crosshairs. To untangle this knot, all three groups need to come together and communicate about fair use. The recent news of Katherine Evans and her lawsuit against Pembroke Pines Charter High School (New York Times, February 8, 2009) highlight the challenges of untying this knot. Suspended from school for creating a Facebook page aimed at venting frustration at the actions of her high school English teacher, the student, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has sounded the clarion call of first amendment violations. The school, on the other hand, crouches under the desk of its legal counsel. This problem will only grow worse, unless all parties can create an agreement for fair play at home and in school. Kids will not cease posting on Facebook and the faster schools and parents can grasp that reality, the healthier the lives of students will be.

The question centers on how to build a bridge for students, parents, and schools. The Common Sense Media schools program can serve as a starting point. Founded five years ago as a non-partisan organization committed to media safety for kids and families, CSM has recently launched its schools program, with over 1000 participating schools. Endorsed by President Obama, CSM has national reach and is one of the few organizations committed to wrestling online living to the ground for kids, families, and now schools. CSM offers practical resources and lesson ideas for educators and conducts workshops and presentations for schools. They even have a family media agreement, but have not yet crafted a more encompassing agreement to connect home and school.

School administrators struggle with transgressions after school hours and outside of school networks. While unhealthy online activity takes place in homes and on weekends, the after effects often ripple through schools and affect peer relationships on a daily basis. Schools can raise parental awareness through conversations and information sharing, but the trickier issue is whether to impose discipline on students for inappropriate and unsafe cyber actions outside of school. Now, with the Evans lawsuit looming, even more schools will cower at the prospect of disciplining student actions on Facebook and other social networking sites, for fear of reprisal.

Schools can put their heads in the sand and ignore the problem. They can draw a line in the sand, with zero tolerance rules written into school handbooks, or they can shift with the changing sands of social networking and seek solutions to incorporate social networking and utilize it as part of the educational program for students. We have reached the tipping point here and schools must address and embrace the prolific energy surrounding the Facebook age. President Obama knows this. He has retooled government’s approach to communication. Each week, he uploads his weekly address to YouTube, the White House web site invites viewer interaction and he even found a way to hold onto his BlackBerry. And, the President has enlisted a chief technology officer to rewire the government’s whole technology apparatus. As the recently released MacArthur Foundation study on digital youth stated: “they (kids) are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults […] to stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by digital media.”

It is time to unravel the knot of conflict between students and schools and disentangle the web of lawsuits that could easily overtake the better measure of capitalizing on the cooperation and communication that the Facebook age brings to educational settings.

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