After trying to destroy teachers like Christine Rubino and Patricia Dawson over perfectly innocuous Facebook comments, New York City’s Department of Education has finally unveiled its social media policy. The lack of policy allowed these two great teachers to be brought up on frivolous charges. Now that a policy is in place, nothing will change.
To summarize, teachers cannot friend students on Facebook or communicate with them via their private Facebook accounts. But, teachers can set up class pages where students can get help with work. All that is needed is approval from an administrator as well as written permission from parents. Essentially, they have made establishing professional Facebook pages so burdensome that it is unlikely any thinking teacher would go through the trouble to create one at all.
The most chilling part of the policy is that teachers should have no expectation of privacy on their personal Facebook pages. Administrators will be on the lookout for inappropriate (what a great word) comments from teachers. Something is inappropriate on Facebook if it would be considered inappropriate in the classroom or a professional work environment.
The leader of the administrator’s union is on record as saying that this requires administrators to police teachers’ private Facebook pages, a liberty many principals have already been taking. Our esteemed union leader, Michael Mulgrew, is on record as saying that the policy discourages teachers from using social media in any capacity whatsoever, private or professional.
During a lesson on ancient Greece, telling my students what I did on Friday night could be deemed inappropriate. My Friday nights usually consist of quiet reading and feeding my cat, yet it is not something that should be shared with one’s class. Do I get investigated if I share what I did on Friday night on Facebook? It would be inappropriate if my best friend, who is not a DOE employee, came walking into my classroom to joke with me. Do I get investigated if he posts something on my Facebook page now?
The policy is wide enough to drive a truck through, or at least wide enough to drive a maniacal administrator’s ego through.
This touches on serious issues of freedom of speech not just for teachers, but for all workers. Ostensibly, the First Amendment protects our freedom of speech from being denied by the government. We have taken this to mean that employers, whether public or private, are free to discipline their workers for things that they say out of the workplace. It is the reason why Ozzie Guillen can be suspended by the Miami Marlins for things he said about Fidel Castro. It is the reason why the DOE can make a social media policy this broad. Neither the Marlins nor the DOE are, strictly speaking, the government and, therefore, they have the power to abridge the freedom of speech of the people on their payrolls.
It seems there is a conflict here: individual freedom of speech versus the freedom of employers to discipline their workers for that speech. The employers are winning.
During the Civil Rights era, protestors conducted boycotts and sit-ins of businesses that practiced segregation. While the 14th Amendment provides that everyone in all states should be protected by the Bill of Rights, people who got the short end of segregation were having their rights violated. This segregation was enshrined in southern Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 not only did away with those Jim Crow laws, but required businesses to not segregate their customers or employees. Since that time, all types of federal agencies have ensured that businesses follow some sort of guideline of equal opportunity in who they serve and/or employ, although not as vigorously as they used to.
Libertarians like Rand Paul have criticized the Civil Rights Act because it tells businesses against whom they can discriminate (i.e.: nobody). They see it as a violation of the rights of American businesses. After all, they are businesses. If they want to discriminate, let them discriminate. The 14th Amendment merely guarantees that government, both state and federal, will not discriminate against people. Businesses are not the government, therefore they should be free to discriminate if they so choose.
It is this type of logic that allows employers to lay down guidelines about what their employees say outside of work hours. An employee always represents their place of business, the thinking goes, and should be mindful of that fact when they go about his or her life.
And it is this type of thinking that has been responsible for the curtailment of our freedoms. The Founding Fathers wrote the Bill of Rights in an age when people owned and farmed land. They did not have to worry about representing a company or employer like we do now. Allowing employers to regulate their workers, even when they are not on the clock, has been a backdoor way to controlling what we can and cannot say. Our speech is increasingly being defined by who signs our checks. The rights of employers have been trumping the rights of citizens. As citizens, this should be of grave concern.
In my opinion, First Amendment rights should be absolute. There should be a 28th Amendment that expands on the 14th (how numerically appropriate would that be?) that guarantees that neither government nor employers can infringe upon our Constitutional rights. I suppose I am alone in thinking this.
The other issue with the DOE’s social media policy is seen in the way the New York Times covered the story. The title of the article is “Social Media Rules Limit New York Student-Teacher Contact”, yet the article seems much more concerned with the “student-teacher contact” portion. It highlights several cases where teachers had sent sexually explicit or inappropriate messages to students via the internet or telephone. The Times’ point is crystal clear: we need a social media, as well as a cell phone policy, because teachers are perverts who sexually harass students every chance they get.
While I do not have students on my personal Facebook page, I never assumed that teachers that did were perverts. I never assumed that it was a front so that these teachers could carry on inappropriate relationships. This is because I am an adult who does not have a childish fear that molesters are everywhere in our school system, not to mention society in general. I have worked with hundreds of teachers during my career. The times I have ran across true blue child molesters are notable because they are rare, rare enough to count on less than one hand.
More than just the regular old teacher bashing in which the media partakes daily, this article shows very clearly the media’s role in creating fear in our society. The local news is filled with stories of people being robbed and murdered. For the past few days, the news here in New York City has been obsessed with a tragedy involving 7 members of the same family plunging to their deaths on the Bronx River Parkway. It has been sandwiched between all of the warnings that terrorists might try something on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, not to mention reminders of how close Times Square came to blowing up at this time last year. I guess it is time to move the terror level to red. Start stocking up on batteries and bottled water.
So the media-generated epidemic of pedophile teachers fits in well with the overall crusade of the media to make us all afraid of everything all of the time. We have enshrined children behind so many laws that adults are scared to death to come near them. Teachers fear tutoring children in their classrooms lest one of their fearful colleagues gets the wrong idea. Education deformers, not to mention the general saccharine clichés, idealize children as “our future” and set them up with this image of being Rousseau’s noble savages.
Yet, we cannot close their schools fast enough. We cannot cut their art, music and humanities programs with enough speed. We cannot wait to throw another high-stakes exam in their way. At the same time, we cannot bombard our children’s eyes with enough advertising nor can we force feed our teenagers enough sexually charged popular culture. All of us: teachers, parents and society at large must keep our distance from children. We must keep our distance so that the corporate class can have their own way with them, whether it is through education deform or mass media.