This morning while scanning over the headlines on MSN, this caught my attention; “Ont. girl charged for online threats”. Earlier this week I went for an interview for an LTO position and during the interview we got on the topic of using social media in the classroom. As an example of the connections I make with students outside of class time, I mentioned that I have used class websites (recently Tumblr) as well as facebook and twitter as a means to stay connected to students. This semester past I was teaching an LTO and used twitter to send reminders to students. Some students would use the twitter to let me know if they were going to be late for class and when I explained this the interviewer was curious to know how I managed using social media while in class, assuming that I was communicating with the students before and during class. This is a pretty valid question to ask and one that I think is the kind of root cause of the problems we’re facing in the schools with cellphones and social media…
Here is the thing, and boy am I going to sound old fashion saying this. 10 years ago (which I realize is eons on the technology timeline) students didn’t have cellphones and if they did it was unimaginable that they would use it in class. Please do not get me wrong, I love technology and embrace it as a teacher. I recognize that my students function in a very different world that I did as a teenager and as a teacher I need to find the best ways to convey information to my students that will allow them to a better understanding and way of communicating what it is they have learned.
There is a time and a place. I really enjoy looking at the world from a deconstructionist view point. The reality is that we create our reality, nothing has meaning until we decide to recognize it and name it. My favourite way of explaining this to my students is through gender. Why do girls get dressed in pink and boys in blue? Why are girls encouraged to play house and boys encouraged to play with cars? Little girls are not born with pink bows attached, and boys don’t come with blue bow ties… so why? Girls have the same capabilities to be physically aggressive or mechanically inclined as boys the same way boys have the same capabilities to be nurturing and domestic as girls… gross “domestic”. Where do these ideas come from? When were they “constructed”? Usually I don’t get an answer, just more questions and anecdotal stories. Why are we not asking the same questions of our students about technology and communication? As a teacher, it is a constant battle to have students put their cellphones away. Usually we are told as teachers we have the right to take the cellphones if students do not comply with the “no cellphones in class” rule. This is new territory for us. Who is liable should the cellphone go missing while in our watch? I don’t think taking the cellphones is the solution, I feel we need to teach respect and appropriate behaviour and it’s going to have to be a school wide initiative. I have heard from employers and workplace trainers of youth they have encountered who are texting or playing games on their phone during interviews or during safety training. Clearly the problem is one of boredom in the classroom, but a lack of respect and appropriateness with the technology.
As teachers we have a lot to contend with when it comes to cellphones. I constantly have parents texting and calling their student while they are in class. One day I had a student come to me to let me know that her mom was at the school to pick her up for a doctors appointment. Really? Go into the school and sign your child out; which is what I told my student. She was not to leave class until I was given instructions by the office. To make things worse, as an adult, I have seen administrators and other adults in positions of authority using their cellphones to text and check emails at times that they themselves would not want a student doing the same. Hello! What are we teaching them? That its ok, thats what!
During the interview I explained that I do not have my cellphone in class (unless I am using it as an ipod) and would never let a student use twitter as a way to justify lateness because, well, I told Ms Marr. Unless students are looking up information to support their learning, I don’t want to see their cellphones. Mostly, because I know what they are texting and tweeting, and it is certainly not questions to their friends about last nights homework. The things I have seen on twitter are shocking… shocking! Which brings into light a whole new issue… what are the students rights in terms of privacy? And as a teacher, when is it my responsibility to step in and address what is being tweeted? These things need to be addressed. Is it our responsibility to not to read what students post or is it their responsibility not to post anything they don’t want seen. The answer seems obvious, if you don’t want people to read your private thoughts, don’t post them online. But it’s not that simple, if it were we wouldn’t have 14 year old girls being charged for making death threats. The technology keeps expanding and changing but we never teach students how to use the technology so they figure it out for themselves and then the schools have to deal with the repercussions of bullying on sites like Formsprings.com , Facebook.com and Twitter.com.
Last year I did a Forum Theatre project with a group of senior drama students about bullying in their school. One group simulated what happens when people post hurtful things online. One student stood center stage, while the others covered her with post-it notes, each with some insult or rumour. The other students disappeared but the one girl remained crying on stage and covered from head to toe in sticky notes. You can delete the posts the same way a post-it can be removed, but that post-it still exists somewhere and so do the words posted online.
There have always been bullies and victims, but the internet has added a new component to the harassment that has ballooned bullying into a new monster capable of ruining someones life and I don’t just mean the victim. Where is the girl from Windsor going to end up after being charged with uttering death threats? I can tell you that youth who spend time in juvenile centers do not come out reformed, instead they are released with new survival tools and I don’t mean for camping in the wild. It’s common knowledge that youth live and learn through their sense of immortality, but at what point is enough, enough? Bullying has become part of mainstream media, but its not really getting better because we as adults are not doing much that is tangible to teach respect and understanding. In a world of global connection through the internet and new technology, there has been little to address how to communicate appropriately or use the millions of new pieces of information shared over the internet on a daily basis. In a world with little to no boundaries, how do we teach children and youth to find their own personal and moral boundaries? How can we teach our children and youth to respect themselves and in turn to respect others?
… I’m working on it. Any suggestions?
05/07/2012 5:33:00 PM
The Canadian Press
WINDSOR, Ont. – A 14-year-old Windsor girl is facing charges after threats were posted on another girl’s Facebook page.
Police allege the girl threatened to kill a 14-year-old girl she knew in posts on the victim’s Facebook page.
Investigators arrested the girl Wednesday night and have charged her with conveying threats to cause death.
A police spokesman said he could not reveal the exact nature of the threats because the incident is still under investigation.
Police are reminding parents and teenagers that threats posted on social media are subject to charges.
(CKLW, The Canadian Press)