You Really Think Blocking The Internet Is A Good Idea?

The number one reason to give everyone in a school unfettered access to the internet is that a positive community of children and adults can form around it. When you say that staff shouldn’t be friends with students on facebook, you’re wrong because:

  1. Societal norms are still forming around all of our new technology, and
  2. For goodness’ sake, I want some adults involved in the process!

Online bullying, pornography, blah blah blah.  Those are good reasons to be wary of the internet. Can anyone defend them as good reasons to separate our children from our adults, and send the kids off alone?  Does anyone else hear people saying, “we are worried about kids forming inappropriate online relationships, so we’re making sure they can’t have a relationship with the people who take care of them all day?” Am I the only one that hears the silent let’s-just-pretend-the-bad-people-will-follow-this-rule-too at the end of that sentence?

A Single Positive Example That Surely Applies To Everyone

About a year ago I was singing the praises of CPM, an excellent set of math courses. I didn’t teach this year, but a student (who shall remain anonymous because I have absolutely no idea who he/she is) just commented this post.  This student was very angry about his/her own experience with Algebra 2:

My terrible Algebra 2 teacher taught me with this equally terrible book: tell me, why is it that the Guided Practice section doesn’t help me ONE FUCKING BIT? And how exactly are we being “taught” when the first questions we get only give the final term, which is usually a 4th degree/5th degree polynomial with no other information? Long Division > Polybullshit x 10000000. Yeah, everyone using this book or even just this stupid method is fucked for life.

I went to twitter for advice, and got several responses, including:

@rileylark Ouch. It's a cry for help, albeit an inappropriate one. Help him with math. Help him discover a better way to ask for help.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad Favorite Retweet Reply

@rileylark don't think S is looking for anything. Just wanted to vent.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply

@rileylark Yikes! Do you know which student? My first reaction is a one on one sit down talk to figure out exactly what he doesn't get.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

@rileylark empathy and caring and validation, empathy and caring and validationless than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet Reply

@rileylark clearly a kid who is really frustrated with math right now.less than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply

A couple of people also left responses directly. I wrote to the student in an email,

Hi, and thanks for reading my blog. I’m responding privately to say that your outrage about your math education makes a lot of sense. I don’t know where you took Algebra 2 or anything about you, but I’ve seen enough classrooms (and been dragged through some bad ones myself) to know that your feelings are justified.

I also want you to know that I’ve connected with a few other teachers about your comment and I’m gathering my thoughts to respond more publicly.  I think I’ll probably end up writing about this experience, since that’s how I learn and process my learning.  You’re invited to keep reading and responding to everything, of course. I’m assuming that I was not your teacher (let me know if I was!), and I know that there are many adults who do not respect anyone younger than themselves, so I understand why you would start by disrespecting me. From now on, I will only accept comments from you written with the basic assumption that we’re all trying to figure out a better way to teach and learn.
What I’m trying to show is that there were six adults ready to respond with concern late at night.  Maybe some of us responded imperfectly, and I’m still worried that I shouldn’t be sharing the email I sent, but we’ve all got this students’ interests in mind.  We’re showing by example how we want interaction on the internet to happen.  We have our own supportive community of adults… for goodness’ sake, let’s bring our kids into it!

10 thoughts on “You Really Think Blocking The Internet Is A Good Idea?”

  1. You set up a couple of strawmen in your argument in favor of teachers’ becoming friends with their students on Facebook. While some societal norms may still be forming around these new technologies, the underderlying societal standards regarding teacher and student interaction should not change. Also, wanting some adults involved in the process does not necessarily make it our place to be that adult.

    I do not want to be “Facebook friends” with current students because Facebook is both too personal and too impersonal. I am a completely boring stay-at-home fuddy-duddy, but I would still find it awkward to know my students were reading my statuses. Likewise, I overhear enough of my students’ activities outside of class to be very leary of reading theirs.

    Students and teachers connecting in this way also opens up the very real perception of an “inner circle” type of relationship between teachers and those who are able to get online at home, leaving out those who are only able to access the internet at school.

    I would argue that your example makes the case against students and teachers connecting through social media. The student obviously did not feel comfortable sharing his/her feelings with the teacher involved (although did feel comfortable sharing it with essentially the rest of the known world), but through email, you were able to contact that student and start a potentially real dialogue. I believe this is a wonderful use of technology, but you yourself said that you were nervous about sharing the email you wrote. I think you were nervous because you realized that you were conversing with a child, and the rules are different.

    While I like the idea of being friends with my students, I always have to keep in mind that my highest priority is their education. They have lots of friends, but they don’t have that many people who want to teach them Geometry. I am not (always) their friend; I am not their parent; I am their teacher.

    (And yes, I think you are the only one who hears that at the end of the sentence. I think it’s more of let’s-keep-our-liability-as-low-as-possible-in-case-someone-tries-to-sue.)

    1. Hi Sandra. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful response! I think we might disagree in a couple of key areas. I think, unfortunately, that “friend” as in “pal” and “friend” as in “I get status messages from you on facebook” are being confused in our conversation. Undoubtedly facebook’s intention, at this point!

      Thanks for mentioning the simultaneous personal and impersonal nature of facebook relationships. I agree that that makes them especially hard to know how to deal with. But this is what I’m talking about! I want adults there helping to figure out how to manage a personal and impersonal relationship. Never before in the history of our species has such a relationship existed, really! I mean, I guess there’s always been gossip, which is kind of the same, but the magnitude of facebook makes it seem fundamentally different.

      I don’t understand you when you say that my example makes the case against students and teachers connecting through social media. This student connected to me through social media (my blog), and I could leverage the adults in my social network to try to help him. In the end, I don’t know if it worked – the student never responded to me, so who knows – but wouldn’t it be better if we all had more of a community… with kids involved?

      Finally, you got me: I am totally the guy that says, “sucks to your liability, what about the kids!” I have a stubborn naivete that forces me to risk lawsuits instead of agreeing to leave kids alone online, and causes me to hear sarcastic voices after concerned insurance representatives say anything. I understand that my stance is not very practical, and I don’t hold it against people who are more practical… TOO much. 😉

      1. While I agree generally with your premise that giving students unrestricted access to the Internet and social media is a sound educational decision, I am not so sure about the question of whether it is appropriate for students and teachers to friend each other on Facebook, for a few reasons:

        1) I think that because of the nature of Facebook’s construction, establishing a “friend” relationship with someone creates at least a mild understanding of privacy and confidentiality that may be inappropriate between teachers and students. When I post something on my wall, I know that only my trusted friends can see it. But what if I am a student and something appears on my wall that would require an administrative response from the teacher if it happened in real life? What does the friended teacher do in that case?

        2) Following on Point #1, if a teacher is friends with a student, then they will see not just content created by that student, but possibly actionable content created by the friends of that student, even if the teacher has no relationship with those other students. I would dread the day that I saw a post like, “Jane was tagged in the photo album ‘&^%#^faced in Vegas'” and then have to decide what to do about it.

        3) In a larger sense, this discussion is really just a proxy for the discussion about whether teachers should establish friendships with their students. I don’t know that we can settle that debate. One of my friends told me when I thought about getting into teaching that his rule was, “It’s OK for you to be their friend, but it’s not OK for them to be your friend.” That’s a pretty good rule to follow, but it doesn’t gibe with Facebook, which creates an equal bilateral relationship.

        4) The arguments about inappropriate behavior seem like red herrings to me. Technology is really just a catalyst anyway — predators are going to find ways to victimize kids with or without Facebook to help them do it.

        My personal rule of thumb is that I wouldn’t want to friend a student on Facebook until at least they graduate; I’m thinking of extending that out even a little further than that. Maybe that means I’m abdicating some of my in loco parentis responsibility — I dunno.

        1. Wow, these are really great points. Thanks for leaving them!

          You said that facebook creates an equal bilateral relationship, but I disagree. It’s true that adults aren’t given some tool (like grades, detention, superior height) to wield against children, but… we’re still the adults. I think this really gets to my point – we can’t be afraid to go on there with them because we don’t have any power; I think we need to be part of the process that creates whatever culture is coming out of this mess!

          I hadn’t considered your points 1 and 2 before. Whew… what a dilemma.

          1. Facebookfriend is reflexive, symmetric, and is as transitive as you will let it be. That crosses too many lines between student and teacher.

            An alternative to being “friends” with the students is to avoid the equivalence relation of “friend” and create a Teacher page that students become fans of. This relation is not symmetric, nor transitive. I do not gain access to viewing their walls or photos (unless they are public already) nor do I see friends of friends stuff.


            Students see my posts in their news feed. Students see posts that they make on my wall. But, there is a digital line between the Teacher page and my personal account

            I do facebookfriend students on my personal account once they graduate, if they initiate contact.

            With that limited view into the high school facebook sphere, I can see it can be a dangerous place: online bullying, carelessness with identity and privacy, and even videos of school fights. I agree that they need some adult presence. But my personal account is not the right tool.

            The teacher page works great for interacting with kids online.

            A second account may be needed to go any farther.

  2. Hi Riley, some very thought-provoking ideas. I agree completely that adults and yougn people should be working together on creating social-networking norms. I also think that bullying, porn, and manipulative relationships are equally an issue online/offline, and therefore are not a good reason to vilify social networks. I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions:

    – if the goal is to participate in the formation of positive community norms, is friending students on Facebook the only way? What other ways should we be trying? On what grounds should we evaluate them? Which one(s) move us closer to our goal?

    – Like Sandra, I concluded from your premises that entire communities need to get involved here. Is there potential for some outreach, building relationships and online fluency with other youth-serving organizations, parent-groups, etc? What are the effects of choosing a community approach, and what are the effects of not choosing it?

    – What’s the relationship between student-teacher connections outside of school that happen online vs. offline? For example, I volunteer at a drop-in program for queer kids, in a small-town/rural area. One of these years, I’ll run into a student there, or a student’s partner or sibling. and that’s something I’m prepared to navigate. How do teachers get involved in non-school-sponsored community activities (4H? Art/theatre programs? Environmental or political orgs?), and can that help us learn something here?

    – Finally, is friending students on Facebook enough? What else should we be doing to contribute to a cohesive, sustainable community (both online and offline) that extends beyond our school walls?

    I’m in the luxurious position of teaching in a voc/tech school, so it’s entirely my choice whether to friend students on Facebook. I have no fear of being persecuted for any reasonable online behaviour, and there are no restrictions on Internet content at the school. I realize that many teachers are battling for some basic concessions. I hope you don’t think it’s disrespectful of those struggles to want to expand the dialogue, but let me know if you do. I just worry that there are a lot of questions not getting asked.

    1. I hope schools are spending time on questions like these, Mylene. I’m getting ready to do two weeks of training with twenty 17-20 year olds, who’ll be taking care of 9-14 year olds, so this is an especially relevant topic for us – imagine a 20-year-old interacting with a 14-year-old on facebook, and the complicated issues that might arise.

      Thanks for raising these questions – I think we’ll definitely be using them for camp this summer. This is already too big for the comments of this blog… I hope you’ll pick a subset and write an article so we can keep talking about them 🙂 This has been an important reminder of how deep the issue is – I’m sorry to be so flip!

  3. It has come to our attention that our students are spending huge amounts of time in the forest nearby the school. In the forest, there are many dangerous adults and our students are sometimes dangerous to each other when they are in the forest.

    New school policy regarding the nearby forest #1:

    It is now against school policy to be anywhere near our students when they are in the forest because, if any teachers are dangerous adults and harm our students in the forest that would look bad for the school because we allowed them to be in the forest together.


    New school policy regarding the nearby forest #2:

    While we encourage staff to be in the forest with our students, it is very important be mindful that when you are in the forest there are always students around and that even when you are in the forest on your own time and taking steps to avoid them, students are around and will likely see what you do there. Assume that everything you do in the forest will be seen by students, parents, administrators, and school board members and conduct yourselves accordingly.

    Please get to know the forest very well. Our students are spending a large percentage of their time there. Sometimes adults can find it kind of scary, but it actually has a lot to offer. The more good adults there are in the forest, the safer it will be for everyone. Much of the fear will go away once you get to know the place.

    It can actually be a useful resource for your classes. We will offer staff development to help you learn ways you can use the forest.

    If there are many teachers and other positive adults in the forest, it will be much more difficult for teachers who are actually dangerous adults to get away with being bad.

    Please help to make the forest safer for everyone.

  4. I don’t have anything that meaningful to say, I just want to say that it was refreshing to read a blog post from an adult that takes the ideas of a teenager seriously. I am so impressed that you took this comment in the way that you did. I think that it shows a level of respect that not all adults have for teenagers. I should read your blog more often.

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