Monday, December 23, 2013

Crossing a Line?

Anybody who knows me knows the following things about me:

1. I am a heavy social media user.
2. I am an advocate for kids being taught how to use social media safely and appropriately.
3. I am passionate about teaching kids about how to handle cyberbullying.

I read this article this morning about whether or not schools should monitor students' activity on social media, especially in light of cyberbullying and the devastating effects it can have on students, driving some children to suicide.  I have been outspoken about the school's roles and responsibilities when it comes to cyberbullying.  I wrote a blog post once (read it here), and a revised version of that post was published by ISTE in their "Point/Counterpoint" feature (read it here).  However, I think schools actually monitoring students' social media use crosses a line from responsibility into invasion of privacy.

Kids who use social media ned to be taught how to use it properly and appropriately, and ultimately, that job falls on the shoulders of the parents.  Sadly, far too many parents don't bother to teach their kids how to use social media properly, nor do they monitor their own children's behavior online, and that includes however the kid goes online -- via computer or laptop, tablet, or cell phone.  There's a difference between parents monitoring their children's social media activity and a school monitoring that activity.  Parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their children, and that includes the online arena.  Schools can supplement what they are taught at home, as my district does with its technology safety and cyberbullying lessons and presentations (and I'm proud to say we were doing it before it was mandated by the state).  I also acknowledge that for some kids, the instruction they receive at school isn't a supplement -- it's all the guidance they get.  Yet that isn't reason enough for a school to creep around its students' social media pages.  It takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the parents and it makes kids continue to see adults as the "enemy", and they will continue to find better ways to hide their online behavior.  Adults -- parents and school personnel -- need to find ways to coexist peacefully on social media rather than have kids feel like they are being spied on.  What the kids perceive as snooping will only continue to encourage improper social media use.

That doesn't mean that schools can wash their hands of cyberbullying.  Schools need to encourage students and parents alike to understand what exactly cyberbullying is and teach them how to preserve evidence and then share it with the proper authorities -- whether that means a school principal, a dean, a school counselor, or even law enforcement if necessary.  Schools can act on it when they are alerted to it by someone who has a concern, but they should not actively seek it out by monitoring students' social media pages - even if it is voluntary, even if it does by a machine.  It takes the responsibility of teaching proper social media use off the shoulders of the parents where it belongs; it can make students feel resentful that "big brother" is always watching them; and it puts a school at increased risk of fault-finding if the algorithm used to monitor activity fails to identify a case of cyberbullying that ends in tragedy.  This a bad idea all around.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Best That Money Can Buy

I just read this article in Education Week highlighting the widening gap between students in families with financial means to enhance their child's education and students in families who are not financially established enough to keep up.  For some reason, it really struck me, the difference in time and money and experience these two groups of kids have.

My daughter didn't necessarily grow up in a rich family -- we are pretty much your typical middle class family.  But here are the things my daughter got to experience between the ages of 4 and 12 beyond her regular school day:

  • A parent who was home with her during school breaks and the summer.
  • Trips to the library with family.
  • Trips to museums with family.
  • Preschool.
  • Summer camp.
  • Vacations to numerous places, including Disney World, Disney Land, King's Island, Washington, D.C., Houston, Galveston, Minnesota, Key West, and Cancun.
  • Week long summer camp at Sea World in San Antonio.
  • Bowling lessons.
  • Soccer.
  • Dance classes.
  • Tumbling and gymnastics classes.
  • Karate lessons.
  • Being on a poms team and a cheerleading squad.
  • Participating in track and field.
And I am sure this list is nowhere near exhaustive.  To me, she seemed to have a pretty typical childhood, with a few extra nice things thrown in.  She had parents whose schedules allowed for her to participate in activities beyond her school day, and parents who were willing to outlay cash for those experiences.  Some of those things were funded by other family members in whole or in part, but all of the activities listed above gave my daughter a huge wealth of experiences to draw from.  Clearly her social and academic skills were helped by all the things she got to do in those few very important years.

Then I think about kids who are in families where parents are out of jobs, or where parents earn particularly low salaries, or where there might be only one parent at home, or where a student might be a "latch-key kid" who comes home to an empty house, or a child whose parent(s) work nights, or a kid who has to help with household responsibilities like cook, clean, do laundry, or babysit for the family.  How many of the things listed above are going to be readily and easily accessible to these kids?  It requires great effort and sacrifice by parents who are already having to put forth great effort and sacrifice to maintain the basics.

If you are like me (or in an even better situation financially), stop and think about the experiences your own kid has had thus far in life.  Now think how many of them would still be there if you were a single parent working a custodian job from 3 - 11 PM.   I can tell you that almost every one of those things would be off the table for my own child if that were me.

It's no wonder that gap exists and widens so deeply.  I guess to me, that means it's that much more important for schools to do what they can to help bridge that gap.  And I'm not just talking academically, but finding ways to enrich the lives of students.  Just making sure kids can read, write, and do math is not enough.  They need to experience things that give context to their learning, that make then enjoy living, that give them ideas for the future.

I don't know why that gap never made sense to me before, but it does now.