Tuesday, January 17, 2006

When Students And Blogs Intersect

Both public and private school administrators are taking note of student blogs, writes Tara Bahrampour and Lori Aratani of the Washington Post:
No one under 18 would be surprised to hear that teenagers like to post their intimate thoughts and photographs online -- they've done it for years. But school administrators have begun to take notice, and some are warning students that their online activities may affect not only their safety, but also their academic and professional lives.

In recent weeks, several Washington area schools have taken action against the use of blog sites, in particular Facebook.com but also the sites MySpace.com and Xanga.com, which allow teenagers -- and sometimes younger children -- to post details of their lives for all to see.

Besides the most obvious danger -- adult stalkers enticing teenagers into face-to-face meetings -- Cole warned that personal information posted online can also be read by college admissions officers and future employers.

"We are trying to figure out how do our school rules relate to this type of behavior," Cole said.

Some colleges have expelled teenagers for violating codes of conduct after discovering photos of underage students posing in front of kegs or writing about drinking binges, and employers often look up job candidates on the sites, said Parry Aftab, an Internet lawyer and the executive director of Wiredsafety.org.

Blogs abound with seductive poses and confessions of love, hate and everything in between.

A girl at a private Washington school who got drunk reports that "the buzz is fun as hell, but if you 'accidentally' go to far, you'll end up having a very nice chat with that burger you ate earlier floating in the bottom of the toilet." An Alexandria girl with an abusive mother confides that she wants to have a baby, even though it would "most likely make everything 5,000 times harder." A girl from a Fairfax County school posts photos of herself in a bikini, inviting boys to comment.

Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that the sites pose new quandaries for educators, including cyberabuse. He cited a recent case in which three middle-school students in the Chicago area were suspended after posting obscene and threatening remarks about a teacher on a Web log. The school community was split over the action.

"It's an open question, because students have been writing these sorts of things for years but have been doing it in their notebooks, where nobody would have ever stumbled across it," he said. "With blogs, it's a sign of things to come -- we're sort of testing the notions regarding free speech."

In November, after a student at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring posted derogatory comments about black students on a blog, printouts of the comments were circulated on campus. The student eventually left; administrators would not say whether disciplinary action was taken.
There is much more to read in the whole piece.

Private schools can more easily influence what type of internet activities that students engage in off-campus. Public schools, on the other hand, have little or no ability to affect what students post on the internet unless the published material threatens physical injury to another person or can be held to be legally libelous in nature.

In our own household, internet access is doled out to our 14-year-old daughter (the TeenWonk) warily, in small quantities, and under supervision.

Involved parents are the strongest defense that our children have against online predators.
Entries to this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education are due tonight. Get details right here, see our latest posts over there.