I’m a little behind on the news, but this Wall Street Journal article caught my eye last week. Missouri is poised to become the first state to ban “friending” between teachers and students. The law (called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act), which takes effect later this month,
restricts private online communication between a teacher and a student and may make it illegal for teachers to have students as friends on Facebook.
I agree that friending students on Facebook is not a good idea. Just too many awkward situations can result, and no one is really sure what legal rights both teachers and students have on Facebook or anywhere else online. Can a teacher bust a student for posting pictures of a party where underage drinking occurred? What happens when a teacher posts a political statement that offends students or members of the community? Better to avoid all of this, in my opinion, by using Ning, perhaps Google Plus (I know I said it would die), Edumodo, or another service.
But trying to outlaw teacher/student friending is senseless posturing that shows just how behind-the-times the MO legislature really is. To begin, I’m not sure if legislating is the right way of preventing untoward teacher/student relationships, which seems to be the goal of the law. What about educating teachers about online etiquette? To my mind, this means illustrating how powerful social networking can be in an educational context, rather than scaring teachers about the dangers of Facebook. They are probably scared enough already.
What is also strange here is how late to the party this law seems. Facebook and Twitter have become engrained into culture–not just in America, but internationally. Nearly all students and most teachers are already using it, and have been using it for years now. Yes, there is potential for bad judgment on the part of teachers and students, but placing the blame on “private online communications” in 2011 seems a little like outlawing telephone calls in 1985. We are living in an interconnected, widely networked culture. Teachers should be shown how to situate learning within this culture.