Schools shouldn't block social network sites.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Dec. 27 2009 10:38 AM

Fifth Period Is Facebook

Why schools should stop blocking social network sites.

(Continued from Page 1)

Schools could also find students like the ones who made the stairwell dance videos and get them to produce a school-sanctioned video with a better subject—the re-enactment of a literary or historical scene, for example. This isn't as simple as a teacher saying, "Why don't you write a poem about your frustration, rap it on video, and put it on YouTube?" Instead, a teacher could assign students the task of filming a scene from The Scarlet Letter in the stairwell, identifying the dynamic of shaming in the novel, and writing about how it might be playing out in their Facebook news feeds. In math class, students could develop statistical models and graphs of the patterns of information flow in their social networks. To understand how advertising works, students from different backgrounds and with different online habits could compare what's being hawked to them. And for a school journalism project, teams of students could aggregate other students' narratives from blogs, Facebook, and Twitter and compile a real-time collective analysis of the state of their educational union.

In the process, teachers could also gain technical skills and be in a better position to head off future online trouble. Consider this recent MySpace post from Washington, D.C.: "I swear man when I see Martin and Kris on the bus they going to get it, Trina u a snitch, me and Bobby going to beat the shit out of them" (names changed). A school psychologist who knew about it could talk to the kids involved in hopes of preventing a real-world fight.

Schools also stand to gain from harnessing students' budding tech expertise. Rather than relying on private companies like Blackboard for expensive software, schools can get students who are taking computer programming to develop social media tools, apps, and platforms for creating and sharing class projects. These projects could then go on a school's Web site, in an iTunes-style store. Moodle, Ck12.org, and Sakai are great examples of how schools are using this new kind of open, cost-effective learning.

Advertisement

Some teachers and administrators might object that such proposals inadvertently reward students for online misbehavior. But there are ways to discipline students other than through the typical punishment of suspension. Editing videos is slow and painstaking; a student could be made to stay after school or miss a free period to work on it.

Another objection is that proposals like these break down the distinction between the schoolyard and the classroom, and could allow mean and anonymous student gossip to further invade children's lives. To be sure, the classroom does serve as a sanctuary, sometimes, from petty concerns and conflicts. But slamming the classroom door on social media just makes the virtual world more of a waste land. A hundred years ago, John Dewey warned that when teachers suppress children's natural interests in the classroom, they "substitute the adult for the child, and so weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, suppress initiative, and deaden interest." By locking social networking out of school, teachers and principals are making exactly that error. Instead, they should meet kids where they live: online.

Become a fan of Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.