Technology in the Schools: A Double-Edged Sword
Digital technology, in all its myriad forms, is revolutionizing K-12 education. Teachers and students now have access to quantities of information, educational tools, and communication resources unimaginable just a decade ago. In this rapidly-changing world, there is enormous potential for innovative educators to teach and to inspire.
All too often, however, the same technology that can be used to organize class projects or supervise students on a weekend field trip can be misused by predatory individuals. More than 90% of high school students carry cellphones, a device that can be used any time of the day or night, and in even the most private spaces in the student's home.
For cellphone-carrying students, texting and social media are the preferred means of communication, so it is no surprise that many teachers try to connect with them electronically. For young teachers just entering the workforce, those may be their preferred means of communication as well. But these inherently intimate types of communication raise the serious risk that an initially innocuous exchange ("what's the homework for tomorrow?") will segue, particularly later at night, into more personal and inappropriate topics. It is becoming painfully clear that text messages and social media can be powerful grooming tools.
Teacher misconduct stemming from text messages and social media is a rising problem in our schools. Parents should be vigilent about changes in behavior and conduct reasonable supervision of their children's communication devices. Parents should also check with their school district to determine what policies are in place regarding teacher-student communications. For instance, does the district permit teachers to text students directly, or should texts be directed to parents? Can teachers "friend" students on one or more social media networks? Does the district create social media pages so that it can monitor interactions? Every district should have a communication policy that addresses these types of issues, and one of the guiding principles should be that absent compelling circumstances, parents should be the primary contact.
If you learn that a child has been assaulted by a teacher, you should report it immediately to one or more of the following organizations, agencies, and individuals: 1) start with the local police [call 911], since such conduct is a crime; 2) your state's child protection services, who can advise you on further steps to aid the child; 3) the National Center for Missing and Exploited Childen [www.missingkids.org]; 4) the Superintendent of the school district; and 5) if it is your child, your attorney.
Frederick Lane is an author, attorney, educational consultant, expert witness, and lecturer who has appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, the BBC, and MSNBC. He has written seven books, including most recently "Cybertraps for the Young" (NTI Upstream, 2011). All of his books are available on Amazon.com or through his Web site.