Should states ban student-teacher interactions on Facebook?

Yesterday’s Washington Post had an editorial about a misguided trend among state legislatures to ban communication between students and teachers through sites like Facebook and Twitter:

However, in some places, new laws and proposed measures are impeding teacher communication with students outside of school-sanctioned e-mail systems. The most recent practitioner of educational technophobia is Missouri, which last month adopted legislation intended to ban direct communication between teachers and students via Facebook.

The law is so broad it could effectively also bar student-teacher contact via Gmail or other non-school e-mail services. “No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a nonwork-related Internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student,” the law reads.

The Post editorial board makes a good case against laws like this. I agree that these laws seem overly broad. I think are they well-intentioned as ways to prevent inappropriate relationships between students and teachers, but that banning Facebook messages is overkill. Facebook is just another means of communication, a platform more than 10 percent of the people in the world use.

Banning Facebook interactions seems analogous to prohibiting telephone contact between students and teachers. A private Facebook message can be sent even between users who don’t have a friend relationship, just as telephone conversations can happen between anyone via cell or land line. Should there be laws against phone calls too?

What do you think about these laws banning Facebook messaging in the schools?

 

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3 Comments

  1. Chris Young
    Posted August 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Lee, I’ve actually been in the ear of Missouri legislators since learning of this law passing. It’s so broad that teachers that have used Google Docs to distribute lesson plans, notes, etc, can no longer do so. Did you notice that the law doesn’t even add the stipulation of “… to contact a student”? It simply says teachers can’t use a site if it has the capacity to allow exclusive access with a current or former student”. Imagine the depth of this… And the Missouri State Teachers Association has, of course, sued the state over this. The law was designed to protect kids from predator teachers, but I’m convinced more now than ever that those that were voting on it didn’t understand the ramifications of the law. To a great extent, this was because they didn’t understand the technology that it was trying to legislate. A member of the Missouri House of Reps said this to me directly.

    There are at least a handful of ways to limit actual teacher-student contact instead of banning tools that have the potential to be misused. If it weren’t for the term “Internet site”, the same reasoning here could be applied to telephones, again to protect students from predatory teachers . Imagine if a law was enacted that read, “no teacher may shall establish, maintain, or use a nonwork-related telephone service which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.” Any telephone would theoretically allow such access, and therefore, teachers could not use it… for anything!

    It will be interesting to see if any of the legislators I’ve spoken with directly (or via email) about this step up to work on a correction. I hold out hope that they will.

    • Posted August 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Wow…thanks for the insight, Chris. I hope the legislators in Missouri will give this another look. I think the main problem is as you said, treating Internet sites as a radically discontinuous means of communication. Laws like this should address the content of the communication, not the means of communication, if the concern is predatory teachers.

  2. Posted August 30, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I can understand why it’s been done though! As usual, the acts of a very small minority can affect the majority.
    Misuse of Facebook connection and the like is easy, and all too often misunderstandings and abuse of the system abound. If it moves to email and phone calls then that’s a step too far, but the social media platform; fair enough.

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