Most initiatives aimed at improving student performance promote greater contact between students and teachers: lengthening and adding school days were two of the most recent under consideration in Alexandria; they fall in the category of traditional initiatives. Then there are the technological advances in the last 20 years that have produced many previously inconceivable opportunities for new ways of learning and interacting. Portable computers, educational websites, e-mail, Facebook, academic feedback portals, etc. have changed many educational processes.
Unfortunately, new technologies have also made it easier for students and teachers to interact with each other in ways that can result in sexual harassment, sexual abuse and other inappropriate relationships. While the technology is not innately harmful, there is no denying that the Internet creates new opportunities for people with bad intentions.
We can argue endlessly about whether access to this technology is primarily to blame for inappropriate relationships. The argument is similar to the gun conundrum: is it the availability of guns or other cultural forces that are mainly to blame for so many American gunshot deaths? Common sense would seem to scream BOTH.
In response to an increase in inappropriate student / teacher relationships facilitated at least in part by private electronic conversations, Virginias board of education has drafted guidelines to help local school districts avert sexual misconduct. These guidelines go too far.
The more extreme changes would ban teachers and staff from interacting with students using cell phones and social media platforms. This seems like a gross overreaction that would regress rather than advance educational achievement. Alexandria City Councilman Rob Krupicka, who is a member of the board, agrees the guidelines as written will do more harm than good.
I dont think we should put in place restrictions on a teachers ability to reach kids, he said.
We agree with Councilman Krupicka that teachers should be able to use a variety of means to connect with students and encourage their learning. At the same time, reasonable steps should be taken to prevent abuses either by students or teachers.
The solution seems to be clearly defined and publicized standards of conduct, with straightforward penalties for abuses. The state education board should also provide local districts with flexibility, as many technologies are evolving so quickly that guidelines may quickly become outdated.
The safety of children in public schools must be a top priority of both state and local government. But both need to resist the temptation to regulate by anecdote: a few publicized abuses are not an excuse to overreact and compromise learning. The use of cutting-edge technology in schools is too dangerous to leave unregulated, and too important to ban.