Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Students, Sexting, and the threat to Ed Tech

By on April 19, 2009

Thanks to Scott McLeod for Twittering the following article from The Washington Post.  It describes a terrible ordeal that an administrator went through battling charges of “failure to report suspected child abuse” and potential child pornography after students were caught sexting on their cell phones.  

Long story short, due to the premature lynching of the sheriff’s department and the over-eager condemnation of the media, an earnest educator lost time, money, and a dose of educational enthusiasm before being released and dropped of all charges.  

But there are a few points this article brings up that are also of concern, perhaps not to the administrator who is breathing a sigh of relief, but possibly to those of us who must reflect on these incidences and learn from them.

There were a few beats in the article, for instance, that seemed to follow the theme of “educator who was behind the tech times.”  Like this excerpt:

Being unfamiliar with camera features on cell phones…The student then said that he could text the picture to my cell phone. That left the problem of getting it to my computer, whereupon the boy said that I could send the picture to my school e-mail address.  In hindsight, of course, he could have sent it directly to my computer himself.  

The cell phone and the pornographic picture of a minor that was subsequently sent to it, begin the investigation that is at the heart of my concerns.  

We cannot afford to be behind in our awareness of technology. I know, I know, this comment it going to bite me in the arse someday, because we can’t possibly keep up with everything that gets updated, developed, and designed.  But I think schools have some level of culpability here; and we can’t just hold schools responsible without allowing them the tools to teach responsible online and tech usage. 

I don’t know how we as educators can keep up with it all.  I don’t know how common sense seems to have evolved into pro-active, progressive thinking.  How could teachers who entered the profession 25, 30 years ago ever have anticipated the worlds that schools have become?  How can I predict the skills that I will need to know 20 years from now?  

Is it fair to expect educators to learn more and be accountable for even more than we are now?  I mean, in 20 years, I know that my job will be very different then the one I signed up for.  And yet, the one I signed up for was to teach kids.  So perhaps it will be the same, after all. 

In a perfect world, we would magically keep up with the “young’ins” at their pace.  In a perfect world, there would be this list of skills that magically updated year to year of tech elements we would need to keep up.  

But in the very least, given that we don’t live in a perfect world, I do expect that policy makers, administrators, and even fellow teachers don’t get in the way of our own professional development.  Keeping up with technology means unblocking sites so that we learn how to use them.  It means allowing teachers to use what exists, to learn how to use sites and tools safely, in order to keep up with the kids we teach.  If we don’t allow teachers this freedom, how can we expect them to learn and grow in their own knowledge so that they can be the advisor and guide for students? 

With every tool that we are not allowed to use in school, we as educators lose opportunities to teach how to use these tools responsibly.  And our own achievement gap gets wider with every decision to block or forbid a tool’s usage.  

While this type of news article freaks out some educators to the point of banning all cell phones from schools, I hesitate to ban what is a given in life.  We claim that we want to prepare them for “the real world,” but many educators want schools to be free of anything real.  

We need to teach literacy.  We need to teach how transparent technology is.  We need to teach netiquette.  And we need to keep up ourselves.  And we need to teach the teachers not to fear the changing climate and the ever-evolving tools.  

In the very least, we cannot allow tech tentative educators to dictate the pace that schools are moving in regards to the use of technology.  Remember, it is our job to teach kids.  And that means teaching them the tools for their future, thus making them the tools for ours.



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  1. Mike Albert
    April 21, 2009

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    I’m not sure that is a tech story at all. Kids have been sharing dirty pictures for a long time. What I see are very loose policies concerning the investigation of potential child abuse. I don’t know about other districts or other states, but our district policy is that teachers and administrators never investigate alleged or suspected child abuse — our obligation is to immediately report. If that had been the case with this Virginia administrator, it would have been handled away from the school and all of the influences that go with that, not to mention handled by law enforcement professionals, who are just as likely to not know how to download cell phone pics.

  2. heather
    April 21, 2009

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    Hey Mike!
    Good to hear from you. I agree. I say this often to ed tech anit-forces. All of the threats that we fear have been there before. They worry that kids will Tweet a cuss word. But I have a desk in the back of my room from the year alef with the word f%^$#k on it from the guy who came before me. We just don’t have the extra desks to replace it. Also, texting, sexting, whatever, is just inflammatory note-passing much like the ones that I’ve confiscated throughout my career. It’s scary, we must put things in place to combat it, but not enough to censor the tools.
    Thanks for the comment.

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