| || |
Hey, school in New Hampshire: You're doing it wrong.
May 19, 2011 - Scott Muska
A 13-year-old girl in New Hampshire was recently suspended from school for five days because she posted a Facebook status that said she wished Osama Bin Laden would kill her Math teacher.
I'm not sure if it's a good thing schools are attempting to take action in regard to student Facebook activity. It definitely brings up many First Amendment questions, and there are few rights I value more than being able to legally say your teacher blows or to go out on your porch every morning and scream "IT'S MY MONEY, AND I NEED IT NOW" for no reason other than wanting to express your admiration for JG Wentworth advertisements and loans with affordable interest rates. But, let's be honest. Schools have been tramping on students' First Amendment rights for years (I believe there was a point when in fourth grade when we weren't allowed to even TALK about Giga Pets), sure as the separation of church and state is frequently something you can point and laugh at if you look at it objectively. It'll keep happening no matter what you or I say, because it's much easier to just shake your head and sigh than to make it a legal proceeding.
I feel strongly, though, that if school administrations are going to get involved with what children are doing out of school settings on their computers, it should be done right. The suspensions shouldn't be handed out for someone writing a status expressing hope that a man who is already dead will murder their least-favorite teacher. It's pretty easy, I think, to realize that is a joke and not any real, plausible threat to the teacher. You know, because Bin Laden is dead. If I put a Facebook status up that said I wished Dave Thomas would come back to life and grill me up a Baconator, would you take me seriously?
(NOTE: When reading through this, I looked at the above paragraph and played Devil's Advocate like Keanu. If I was looking for a weakness in my argument, I'd say something about how well what if this girl was serious and legitimately did want her teacher dead? Well, a five day suspension probably wouldn't dissuade a sociopath if that was her true desire and she had plans to do it herself. I don't think this girl is, because she is now too afraid to go back to the class. She's said this is because she doesn't want to face her teacher. I also realized my analogy is terrible, because I really do want a Baconator now.)
Kids are committing much more serious acts online than making statements like that one.
And I'm not talking about looking at porn. I'm talking about cyberbullying.
Maybe something like what that girl posted warrants some kind of slap on the wrist, but five days out of school is pretty over the top. I mean, kids talk about hating teachers, especially teachers of the subjects they hate. If you have to learn about something you'd rather not have to learn about, you're going to take some of your distaste for that out on the person attempting to teach it to you. It's part of life for most people, as unjust as that is. If I didn't like lima beans and somebody tried to force me to eat them 180 days a year, I probably wouldn't like that person too much. Even if they promised the benefits of eating lima beans would pay off for years to come. If I was a teacher and some kid told me they wished a deceased terrorist would off me, I'd just say, "Yeah, well I don't have to work during the summer ever in my life, and you better learn how to do math adequately or you'll end up wearing a calculator watch when you're 23 like that kid Scott who writes the stupid blog." Then I'd shrug it off and continue talking about the Pythagorean Theorem.
Cyberbullying, though, is a horrific thing. It hurts a lot of people in much more serious and damaging ways than you might think. While I was a reporter for the Mirror, I wrote a story all about it (linked to your right). I spent a lot of time researching it, and in doing so spoke with a lot of parents and kids who had been affected by it. There have been numerous occasions where someone has injured or killed themselves due at least partially to cyberbullying. Google cannot find me any documented instances where a teacher has killed his or herself because of an insult that came from an adolescent student.
Cyberbullying is an entity that has in many cases become much worse than traditional bullying, because it allows cowards to be astonishingly effective. You can say anything about anybody in a forum where the insulted person and many of your friends and acquaintances can also see it. But, you don't have to see the person you're ripping on react to it, something that may sometimes scale back your hostility. This girl would've never have said what she wrote to her teacher's face, and she almost definitely had no intention of her ever seeing it, just like 95 percent of the negative comments students whisper about their teachers regularly when faculty is out of earshot.
This school in New Hampshire is doing it wrong, and I hope other schools don't follow that precedent. It's more important to take measures to keep your students comfortable than your grown-up teachers.
When I was in school, I had a math teacher I didn't like. I was vocal about it, too, but she was able to take it. Probably because she was a grown woman who was their to teach, not to make friends with some kids and didn't care one iota what I thought of her. (The older I get, the more I realize how important that mindset is. I definitely learned the least from some of my favorite teachers in school, but you don 't think about that until you're out of college and trying to remember what a past participle is.) Turns out, she wasn't a bad lady at all. I was just struggling through her class and took it out on her, kind of like how my former girlfriend used to like to channel her rage at me when the wind was blowing too hard or something. I've run into this teacher a bunch of times since then, and it's always nice. We've had some good conversations, and even hugged it out once.
She probably doesn't even remember the times I used to get frustrated and confront her about her teaching style during class. I bet she's gone with the "shrug it off and take summer off, too" approach. Kids, though, remember when they're made fun of or confronted or bullied. I remember things peers did to me in my preteen years, and vividly, too. They might have somehow shaped some part of me, and I had it way easy, to the point I feel like an idiot saying I was ever mistreated because it pales so much in comparison with many others I know. Others who happen to be much better people than myself in adulthood by a long shot.
When I think about that teacher -- which happens sometimes at work when I'm writing about fiscal budgets and attempting to make some sort of sense of the numbers -- I think about how I'd sit in her classroom staring at a book and cursing her existence. I also think about the kids who sat in that same room and made fun of a kid who had a speech impediment.
I'm pretty sure if she knew about both, the latter would've upset her more than the former.