A recent article about students receiving suspensions as a result of comments on Facebook has caught my attention. I have been following a similar case in Connecticut, where Avery Doninger wrote criticism of her school administration using derogatory language in a Livejournal post. She was barred from running for re-election to class office and her case is now pending before the U.S. Second Circuit of Appeals in New York. You can read details about the case in the Connecticut section of my blog, Orient Lodge.
While I am particularly concerned about the issues of freedom of speech, due process and equal protection, I am also very concerned about the pedagogical interests and the teachable moments. The reaction of the school administration in Burlington, CT provide a great example of what, as a member of the board of education from a neighboring town describes as an illustration of “what administrators ought not to do”.
Unfortunately, the article that I read is lacking on details, so it may be that you are acting much better, or much worse than the Lewis S Mills school administration.
The article starts off by stating that “A video posted on Facebook of two high school students fighting at West Lafayette High School, Ind., prompted suspensions earlier this week.” Suspending students has always seemed to me to be a very harsh punishment, one that should only be used as a last resort. The article doesn’t detail what led up to the suspensions. Were the students spoken with about how inappropriate it was to post the video on Facebook? Were other measures attempted to take this and find a teachable moment, or did the administration move directly to punishment?
Defending a suspension where pedagogical approaches to the issue were attempted first and where the message online can be construed to support illegal activities, such as the fight may have been, is much easier than an arbitrary suspension that many see as an effort to curtail students free speech.
This gets even more complicated when you look at Caitlyn Casseday’s statement to the press. While obscenities are not normally the best method of furthering critical discourse, to use the words of Avery Doninger, there is a very big difference between what one ought to say, and what one is permitted to say, and, at least based on the newspaper reports, the school administrators at West Lafayette High School seem to have made a similar mistake as those at Lewis S Mills High School in Burlington, CT in differentiating between the two.
The article goes on to say that “A code of conduct, posted on the school district's Web site, does not directly address postings on the Internet, but does say existing rules about conduct apply both on and off school grounds.” Yet this seems to run counter to the famous Tinker v. Des Moines decision with the famous line, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school-house gate”
The article ends by noting that “Students are calling for this Friday to be ‘Free Speech Friday,’ and they are planning to wear white T-shirts in support of the suspended students.”
Part of the legal issues that the Lewis S. Mills school administration faces is their confiscation of T-shirts about free speech. Let us hope that the administration at West Lafayette High School doesn’t make a similar mistake.
A key standard in issues of students’ free speech revolve around whether the speech would substantially disrupt the pedagogical interests of the school. In the Lewis S Mills case, it appears as if it isn’t the students’ free speech that is substantially disrupting the pedagogical interests of the school, it is the reactions of the administrators. Let us hope that the administrators at West Lafayette High School can learn from the mistakes here in Connecticut.
So, if I were a school administrator in West Lafayette, what would I do? I would grab this teachable moment by the horns. I would have a school assembly where I addressed the issue head on. Ideally, I would schedule it for Friday and congratulate all the students that wore white T-shirts for struggling with what their rights really are.
I would bring in a constitutional lawyer to talk to the students about exactly what their rights are and make sure that they learn about cases like Tinker, Fraser, Hazelwood and Morse. I would also have someone trained in conflict resolution talk about how fighting is not a good way to resolve conflicts and putting a video of a fight online is not in the best interest of anyone. This could even set the stage for avoiding costly legal fights like we are seeing in Connecticut. I would have an English teacher speak about how to use language that is not offensive and even more effective in getting ones point across.
With all of that as groundwork, I would then invite the students to teach. It could be a valuable teachable moment. The other option, which also provides many valuable teachable moments, is watching the case spiral out of control as it works its way through our countries legal system.
I hope that you make wise decisions for your students.
We finally have a crisp clear autumnal day, and Fiona and I are both sick. If it weren’t so, perhaps she and I would be running around outside. Instead, she is watching some mindless television and I’m doing very simple tasks online.
Really, I should be working on job opportunities. I desperately need to get some cash coming in the door. I should also probably be writing a lot more. There is plenty going on in politics right now, most of it eclipsed by Gore’s Noble Peace Prize. There is plenty going on in Second Life, particularly in the financial services sector, as well as with the Streambase deal with Linden Labs. I also really need to promote the Poets and Writers for Avery event this coming Sunday.
But I have no energy. My mind is befuddled with a headache. I need something fun and simple to do. Last night, I spent a little time configuring my new phone for uploading text, pictures and videos to appropriate places online. I set up special new cellphone email and IM accounts. It kept me busy for a little bit.
This morning, I did something a bit more fun. I spent time tweaking my Zude! page. People are suggesting that Zude! could be the gold standard for next generation Social Network pages, the site that knocks off MySpace. MySpace has incredible inertia. Everyone is on it and it isn’t going anywhere. That is a plus on why it won’t go away anytime soon, but it is also a negative in why their time is ending.
MySpace is ugly. It is a pain to customize. Facebook is moving in the right direction with the Facebook Apps. Yahoo! Mash looks interesting, but hasn’t drawn me in the way Zude! has.
Knowprose and I were talking the other day about different ways people make money online. One site that he recommended was Zazzle. It is similar to CafePress and looks pretty nice. You can see Knowprose’s Zazzle page here.
(Remember, join the Facebook group, contribute here, and be sure to come to Poets and Writers for Avery this coming Sunday in Litchfield).
Kim pointed me to the Parenting for Peace Blog. Worth a visit.
I also stumbled across Dylan Messaging. Absolutely brilliant. I had to give them my name, email address and website, but it’s worth it.
Finally, I stumbled across Slide.Com’s guestbook.
Enough for now...
Depending on who you ask and how they are counting, the average American now sees more than 400 advertisements a day. It often seems like I get more than 400 email messages a day and as many instant messages as well. I often pay about as much attention to many of them as I do to advertisements, and while I may receive more emails or instant messages each day than the average American, I suspect my response isn't that far out of the norm.
This leads us to the question of how, in this world of constant partial attention, can you get anyone to pay attention and respond to your message. It seemed as if many of the advertising folks at OMMA focused on online advertising as just another place to put up an non-interactive billboard or thirty second spot and I wondered how different the banner ads or the search ads were really from those other advertisements.
This isn't to say that such advertising isn't effective. In fact, I believe it is fairly effective, not in a click through sort of way,but in terms of forming a digital palimpsest; shaping associations with products and norms of expected behavior. People sending emails might want to think about their emails in how they help form such associations or expected behaivors.
Yet, so many of the political emails I receive are aimed at eliciting a contribution. At OMMA, people spoke about email campaigns as needing to give as much to the email receipient as they expect to receive in return. Emails that provide useful information or a sense of community are much more effective than the simple asks. Yet it seems like, in the political sphere, so many of the emails don't really give me anything and as a result, I don't pay very close attention to them, let alone clickthrough to their signup, volunteer or donate pages.
This is perhaps even more notable in Twitter. As I write this, Barack Obama is following 5,199 people on Twitter. Somehow, I don't imagine he, or his staffers pay attention to that many twitters. In return, 4,910 people are following Barack Obama. I can easily imagine that many people wanting to get short quick updates from the Obama campaign. Yet it is worth noting that only 34 updates have been sent. It is similar with the Edwards campaign. Sen. Edwards is following 3,884 twitterers. In return, 3,574 are following him. He's posted 84 updates, although some of them start off with (from staff). Sen. Edwards has even favorited one Twitter message and has used twitter to encourage people to send in questions.
Neither have used Twitter in any conversational manner, the way many people start twitter messages with an at sign and a twitter id to indicate that the message is directed and, and usually in reply to a different twitter message.
So, in this world of excessive messages, in advertisements, emails, twitters, instant messages and so on, how do you get people to pay attention, to become engaged? A few people have sent me emails about projects they are working on that they think might help. I'll write up some of these a bit later, but if you have thoughts, please add them here, or send me an email, an instant message or a message via twitter. If you're lucky and I'm not overwhelmed by all the other messages, I just might see it and pay attention.
On a mailing list of Group Psychotherapists, there has recently been a discussion about two teenage girls in Australia "who'd posted their fixation with suicide and self-harm on their My Space sites, and on sites of devotees of the 'emo' subculture...[and] hung themselves in the mountains outside of Melbourne."
People wrote to ask, "What was the effect on that MySpace "group"?...Did any members injure (or kill) themselves after this?...Could this have been prevented?"
The following is my response:
Actually, it is all my fault. ;-|
I spend time visiting MySpace. I have my own MySpace page. I've even written on band pages and have a MySpace post about being emo, particularly as it related to the 2006 U.S. Senate race in Connecticut. (But that's another long story.)
But isn't that the reaction that most people have to a suicide, or some horrible shootings somewhere, or other times when people act irrationally and hurt themselves or people around them?
And isn't it much easier to blame it on the culture? Suicides in MySpace are due to the 'emo' culture. Columbine, as we will all recall, was due to heavy metal music, and I'm sure that 'emo' is just the MySpace manifestation of too much heavy metal music.
Nonetheless, we do always come back to what could have been done, and I guess that is a good thing. We should always be looking for ways we can reach out and help those around us a little better. That, I suspect is the real core of the human condition.
31 years ago, this month, I was a freshman in college. I had skipped my senior year of high school, so all my old classmates were seniors back in high school. I received a letter from home where my mother wrote that, by the way, Rocky is missing. Rocky was a girl I had been fond of before heading off to college. Panicked, I called home to get details. She had been walking to the library one evening and never showed up. Over the following month, there were reports of people who thought they had seen her one place or another.
At the end of the month they found her body in a ravine a few towns away. No one ever figured out why this happened. I heard this, from newspaper clippings my mother sent me. They came after the funeral, so I never got my chance to say goodbye.
The day I got the news, I wandered, in shock into my Hebrew class. There was a pop quiz, and at the bottom of the quiz I wrote the Hebrew word for "Why?" The professor, either answering the question of why we have pop quizzes, or coming back with a good Talmudic response to existentialism changed the last letter to become "To Learn".
So, I think about Rocky, and I think about Stephanie and Jodie and I all I can do is hope that I can learn a little and find my chance to help someone around me.