Student Communication: Cure Worse than the Disease?
By Kendall Haney
You are in a class connect, and you want to reach out to another student that seems to share the same interests that you do. But you know if you do, someone is going to tell you not to share your personal information because it is against school rules. But is that the real reason that teachers are advocating for students to be cautious?
“The truth is, cyberbullying is a real thing,” said one teacher who wished to remain anonymous. “If our students share their personal information, and something goes wrong, not only could a child get hurt but the entire school could be held liable for not safeguarding their privacy and their experiences at school. I’m sorry. But as a teacher, I have to say no. I don’t want to get fired, or be held responsible for something bad happening to someone else.”
Hence out of an abundance of caution students at K12 International Academy are typically not able to make friends as students might in a brick and mortar environment. The rules are very clear and are announced at the beginning of every live class connect. Do not share telephone numbers, specific locations, discord account information, skype account information, or any other manner where students could meet online and talk outside of a classroom. And, the kids have gotten the message not to talk. However, what are the consequences for the student if he or she cannot make friends at the “virtual” place where they spend six hours a day studying just as a brick or mortar school-ed student spends his or her day? What does a child who spends six hours a day not talking to anyone turn out to be? Is that even healthy? And furthermore, is there no happy medium between an absolute moratorium on kids getting to make friends where they are educated, and all out chaos? Is the cure—no communication whatsoever—worse than the disease of cyberbullying?
“I think, if moderated in some way by a teacher, students could probably learn a lot from online socialization,” wrote Brent Haney when asked. “I mean people can get pretty mean on Twitter. Don’t you think we ought to be teaching at school not to be mean online? Shouldn’t we catch people who think being mean is cool as children before they grow up to be mean adults? Then maybe we wouldn’t have so many mean adults saying whatever comes to their mind on Facebook and other social media.”
Many students and parents agree. In small sample surveys, parents and students alike typically responded that they would like to see more interaction online. Clubs in particular were of particular interest to parents who actually signed up for K12 International Academy specifically because of the possibility of enriched learning through sidebar conversations in safe club environments. One parent thought an opt-in student directory was a positive, especially for high schoolers who would benefit from potentially studying together when courses get tough.
And what if someone were cyberbullied? Isn’t it important for that person to learn how to manage a negative situation? The rules should be clear up front—if someone makes you uncomfortable take a screen shot and go straight to an adult. If students never learn how to navigate negative social settings, how will they know what to do when they are older, in college or at work, and bullying happens to them then?
By outlawing communication, an argument could be made that educators are taking the most extreme yet easiest road. If they don’t have to deal with potentially negative interactions between students, then they don’t have to teach what would have been appropriate behavior. It is one less hassle for them. One less thing to do.
Maybe the cure of taking away the very normal activity of talking to one another is worse than the disease of talking to each other badly. We can correct bad behavior, can’t we? Is it possible we even have a moral obligation to teach what is right when engaging with each other?
Teaching the lesson of how to be a good friend—a good person—is the one lesson our society should be ensuring kids understand the most. In the opinion of this author, and many more, I would hate to live in a world where lessons of kindness were put at the bottom of the list of what we think people ought to grow up to be