Student Facebook pages were much in the news yesterday. One student was suspended from an Illinois school for posting a list of girls at his high school ranked by appearance and sexual proclivities, while another school, Uniondale High, contacted authorities in Nassau County who prevailed upon Facebook to take down a similar page posting provocative comments about high school girls in various area high schools. Uniondale says it has a “no tolerance” policy toward cyber-bullying.
When did schools suddenly acquire disciplinary control over what students do when they aren’t at school? There is no question that the websites involved were inappropriate, disrespectful, cruel and hurtful, just as the rumors and insults included in high school graffiti were, in those glorious days before the internet. Students so abused need to complain to parents, and parents need to talk to the parents of the offending students, and if they can’t or won’t address the problem, then the courts or law enforcement may need to become involved.
But the schools? By what theory is it their responsibility to police the personal lives of their students? Unless I am missing something, the theory is that the media and parents unjustly and lazily blame school administrators for not “seeing the signs” of cyber-bullying and other off-campus school grounds misconduct, and the schools, being terrified of conflict and liability by nature, capitulate by abusing their power.
A school has no more justification for suspending a student based on what he or she posts on a Facebook page than it has to punish a student for an insult he shouts at a fellow student in his back yard. Yet apparently no one sees anything wrong with this trend. Integrity question: where is the American Civil Liberties Union? Will it really just sit on the sidelines as government funded schools start shutting down Facebook sites and suspending students based on what they type in their own homes?
Does anyone hear alarms going off when a school decides to exercise “no tolerance” over “cyber-bullying”, whatever they are defining that as at the moment? When will a student who calls another student “a geek” on line be punished as a bully? Schools punish kids for drawing pictures of guns, based on “no-tolerance”; do we really trust them to decide what is acceptable discourse over the internet?
Schools have a role in teaching students the social skills and ethical values that will help them see what is wrong with slandering others on-line. But school administrators across the country show wretched judgment dealing with the problems in their own realm; I don’t want them meddling in mine, or the life of my child when he’s not in class. Do you?
Schools needs to know their place and function. When they take over the role of parents, no matter how serious the problem they are trying to address, they merely provide incentive for lazy, inept parents to duck their responsibilities, and make it more difficult for diligent, competent parents to perform theirs.. The Facebook pages are bad, but the long term consequences of allowing schools to have power over our children 24 hours a day will be worse. This is misplaced responsibility, wrongly assumed accountability, and an abuse of power and common sense.
Parents need to do their jobs. Schools need to try to do what they have always been responsible for—educate, a whole lot better. They have no business extending their power outside the school grounds when they have so much trouble using it properly where it truly belongs.