Stupid is as Stupid Does. Or, the Decline of Common Sense in Education

This post is not about Charlottesville real estate. It’s about education, politics, social media, the decline of common sense and rise of ignorance.

And it’s a bit of a rant.

Let’s start with this:

@paulawhite @Eduflack What a stupid proposal. How about we teach responsibility and the importance of good decisions? The stupidity hurts.

Rather than seeking to educate people – kids, teachers, parents – about the potential dangers of inappropriate student/teacher interaction, the Virginia Board of Education is seeking to prevent all non-official digital communication:

Model policy for electronic communications with students
• Teachers and other school board employees must restrict electronic communications with students to accounts, systems and platforms provided by the school division.
• Teachers and other employees may not use personal wireless communications devices to “text” students and are prohibited from interacting with students through online social-networking sites. Teachers and other school board employees must decline or disregard invitations from students to interact through texting and social-networking sites.
• Teachers and other school board employees may not knowingly engage in online gaming with students.
• School board policy on electronic communications with students also applies to teachers and other employees of virtual school programs and other vendors providing instructional services to students.

There is a generational shift in the way people communicate.

What about teachers’ home phones? What about communicating on snow days? What about common sense? Restrict communication to only within the walls of school? You’re going to ban Twitter? Really?

So, bans/prohibitions/rules against sexual misconduct between students and teachers is not sufficient; we** must ban communication methods as well? This isn’t solely about banning behavior, it’s about banning communication. Texting is how kids communicate. Period. If teachers can communicate more effectively with them that way, so be it.

Teach responsibility. Teach common sense. Teach the importance of good decisions. Teach. Don’t ban.

Newsflash: Social media is here to stay. So is texting. So is facebook. Embrace and educate. Taking the easy road sets the wrong example.

One place you can comment on this proposal is here.

Eduflack sums this up well:

Used correctly, texting (and to a lesser degree, social media) can be a powerful instructional tool. We should be looking at ways to maximize the resources available and better engage students in their preferable mediums. Virginia, there has to be another way to protect teachers and students, share information, and offer a more transparent communication than shutting down that which is new.

You’re educators. Educate. Yourselves and your students.

Rather than encourage “security theater” and draconian, ignorant* responses that aim to make people “feel” safer, focus on actually being safer.

Officers say there are plenty of reasons to keep squads moving. “It’s actually putting officers out there on the streets so we can make the people of Albemarle feel more safe,” said Albemarle County Sgt. Darrell Byers.

“When the principals conduct their investigations, what typically is fleshed out is the true intent,” he told the paper. “Bottom line is: We want to ensure every child feels safe on our campus.”

Given the choice between having my clients feel like they are making good decisions, and having them actually make good decisions based on facts, analysis and common sense, I will choose common sense 8 days a week. I’d like to apply the same common sense in the education world.

* Ignorant – definition #1 not stupid.

** This is a situation of “we” – if we don’t seek to influence our politicians, we are to blame.

Update: The Newsplex has a story today about this.

UPDATE 29 August 2011: In a related ruling on a similarly stupid law, the Missouri Supreme Court has blocked a law against private messages between teachers and kids.

h/t: Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of the First Amendment.

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  1. Tina Merritt December 30, 2010 at 09:25

    UGH!!!!!! This policy is written by a few technologically ignorant buffoons who have chosen to pass their illiteracy in technology onto an entire school system. Once again, the Virginia Department of Education has chosen to turn around and run away rather than face the future. The task of teaching my son to embrace technology in his life is completely, 100% up to me.

  2. Dave December 30, 2010 at 09:27

    Nicely summed. Reminds me of the recent attempt by the SEC to ban similar media from football games which ended in a black eye for the conference:

    “Last month, the Southeastern Conference, a powerhouse in college athletics, announced a wide-ranging policy that would have banned fans coming into stadiums from using Twitter, Facebook or texting.

    That policy generated a storm of criticism and, after further review, the SEC quickly issued a revision that OK’d the use of social networks for everything except posting videos of game action.

    An SEC spokesman said the conference’s intent all along was to protect its lucrative new TV and online streaming contracts with CBS and ESPN.

    The original SEC policy was “clearly unenforceable,” said Jeffrey Modisett, an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP. “Are you going to ban all cell phones from the stadium? What are you going to do when you catch people on a social network site?”

    “All of these entities that are thinking of banning social networking sites need to learn how to adapt instead of just reflexively banning the technology,” Modisett said. “You can’t ban Facebook and Twitter any more than you can ban the post office.”

    Read more:

    There are several educators who have already adopted the use of these new tools FOR the classroom with great success. What of them? What of emergency situations where ANY and all forms of communication are necessary? Regardless, any ban will only be temporary – because there is just no way to enforce it. Still, aggravating in the meantime.

  3. Soccer Mom December 30, 2010 at 09:32

    Can I give an AMEN?!?!? I hate when these people who obviously don’t use social media for any reason, especially not while communication/educating students, make up these policies. They hurt students, prevent nothing bad from happening and still there are teachers who will have sex with their students–texting and other social media have nothing to do with it. Idiots.

  4. UVa Dean J December 30, 2010 at 09:32

    Since I woke up this morning, I have answered three questions from applicants via Facebook, posted nine times in the UVa forum on the College Confidential message board, and fired up my Twitter client to see if there are questions to tackle there.

    My phone hasn’t rung in the hour that I’ve been at my desk and I haven’t had a voice mail message since before Christmas. Looking at my emails, I haven’t gotten one from a student in the last two weeks.

    Parents and counselors email or call with their questions. Students use my blog, the message board, and Facebook to get answers to theirs. Many students are very open about the fact that they don’t check their email regularly.

    I used to be of the mindset that Facebook was a realm from which we should stay far away. In 2008, when a few companies moved in and started marketing to college-bound students in a fraudulent way via Facebook (google Facebookgate to read about the event that changed my mind), I stepped up my presence there as well. We routinely get feedback (both informal and through surveys) that our willingness to let students communicate with us in the way that they feel most comfortable is appreciated. I would hope that other educators would see the benefit in being accessible to students through social media.

  5. Paul Erb December 30, 2010 at 17:17

    The school where I work has just had the same discussion. The problem is, mainly, that the available network of social relations does not allow for control. We came to the same conclusion as UVA DeanJ…that a channel is a channel is a channel, and behaviors are the same, so bring it on, and hold everybody accountable.

    But we also acknowledged there’s a difference from the old ways when the communications are snippets, and the channels are fragmented: the work of holding people accountable adds to the administrative cost of the schooling. Easy to say, Jim, to hold the teachers and kids accountable–and very costly for a school system that’s cutting programs, meanwhile, to implement that accountability. More discussions will follow on this topic…but old solutions will not apply, and as a consequence, schooling will never be the same.

    Can you say Jericho?

    1. Jim Duncan December 31, 2010 at 02:43

      Why not ban all contact between teachers and students? Then there would be no risk at all of improper relationships/contact/interaction?

      The behavior, the actions are the issue rather than the method of communication, right?

      1. Just A Father January 4, 2011 at 23:28

        Excellent point! We live in a society that has created a culture to place blame on someone or something rather than accepting personal responsibility. It is “never our fault” anymore!

      2. Elizabeth Kuhns January 18, 2011 at 20:47

        Exactly! Why don’t we just install video cameras in all teachers’ homes and let the students watch us teach?

  6. Sharon Elin December 30, 2010 at 17:54

    Thank you for adding a link to this “rant” on the collaborative google doc that is being written by those of us who care about educational 21st Century relevance. The comments here are compelling and I hope the writers will be willing to post their opinions on the google doc where we are compiling a response. This will be sent to VDOE, directly to the person who is in charge of the deliberations.

    1. Jim Duncan December 31, 2010 at 02:43

      You are quite welcome. Thank you for stopping by.

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  8. Tom Panarese December 31, 2010 at 15:15

    As a teacher, I wholeheartedly agree and thank you for this post. The Dept. of Ed seems to think that I lack the ability to be professional, which is both sad and offensive. I left a comment on the Google Doc myself and hope that your voice and the others on there is enough to get them to reconsider.

    1. Jim Duncan January 3, 2011 at 13:49

      Tom – Thanks for the comment and the story. It’s disheartening to see how such ignorance has risen to that high of an administrative level. Hopefully we can change their minds.

  9. Just A Father January 5, 2011 at 00:13

    This is absurd and as Tom mentioned absolutely offensive not to have faith in the professionalism of the educators in which they employ. Is this really what the Dept of Ed administrators are focusing their time and money on? Are there not more pressing education issues that are much more deserving – not to mention more important?


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