Editorial: Technology and a culture of disrespectfulness do not mix

(File Photo)

News that several T.C. Williams students are accused of sneaking “upskirt” photos of unsuspecting female teachers will probably elicit the usual mix of reactions: outrage in some quarters, and snickers and yawns in others. With schools facing problems like lagging academic achievement, drugs and teenage pregnancy, it would be easy to dismiss this as a low-priority issue.

They were just having some fun, right? After all, kids will be kids.

But if you are tempted to brand this episode as harmless high school high jinks, think again. This actually is a microcosm of two larger issues.

The first is a lack of respect for authority, particularly for female authority. The second is the misuse of technology.

Respect for authority figures has eroded in all facets of life. This is evident in our popular culture, where TV has been filled with shows about mouthy children-in-charge for years. Respect for parents, teachers, policemen and even the office of the presidency has eroded in the Honey Boo Boo-ization of America. Meanwhile, our airwaves are filled with misogynistic songs that degrade women.

Against that backdrop, it’s not even slightly surprising that local high school students would use technology in an offensive manner toward their female teachers.

Whether our popular culture shapes attitudes or merely reflects them is a debate for another day. What is clear is that instilling in children a respect for others, particularly our society’s authority figures, as well as setting boundaries on the use of technology, has to take place at home and in school.

Parents are the first line of defense, monitoring how much time their children spend watching television and using their phones, tablets and computers.

It’s also vital for parents to spend time teaching their children values, and explaining how those values match up with — and differ from — the messages they receive from the radio, television, Internet and movies. There are many teachable moments in each day — parents just have to make the effort, or summon the energy, to take advantage of them.

Schools have their own set of behavioral expectations, which hopefully mirror what children are learning at home.

Respect for teachers must top the list.
Educators need to be able to control the use of phones, tablets and computers in the schoolhouse. In many schools, students are barred from carrying phones with them during the school day, particularly in class. Instead, phones are stored in lockers and students can check them, in their lockers, if they need to make logistical arrangements.

Alexandria City Public Schools should consider instituting such a policy. It would go far toward preventing phones from being a distraction in class. If a student brings a phone to class in violation of the policy, the school holds the phone for a set period of time.

Controlling tablets and computers is a more difficult task, as they are used in classwork. However, many schools require students to sign “acceptable use of technology” agreements at the beginning of each school year. Violations of these agreements should be linked to a corresponding loss of tablet and computer privileges.

Teaching our children to treat authority figures with respect and controlling technology use are daunting tasks. But they are goals worthy of the effort.

“Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all is safe.”

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