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Should Teachers & Students Be Allowed To Interact On Facebook?

Submitted by on August 24, 2011 – 9:00 am2 Comments

At this point, just about everyone is on Facebook. And if you’re anything like us, you’re probably friends with just about all of them. From that guy who you barely knew back in high school to your pesky neighbor to your grandmother, there’s a pretty good chance that if you’ve got a Facebook account, you’re friends with them.

So it should come as no surprise to hear that there are plenty of students out there—particularly in high school and college—who are friends with their teachers on Facebook. In most instances, it’s a situation where a student and teacher become Facebook friends long after their student/teacher relationship is over. Believe it or not, teachers can actually be pretty decent people when they’re not chasing your around badgering you for your homework or telling you to keep it down in the back of the classroom.

However, there’s an interesting debate going on in Missouri right now stemming from Senate Bill 54, which has come to be known as the “Facebook Law.” Missouri Senator Jane Cunningham recently introduced a bill that, if passed, would make it illegal for teachers and students to have any contact on Facebook or other social media sites. The bill is a response to several instances in which teacher/student relationships on Facebook have resulted in sexual harassment. Senator Cunningham hopes that by passing this law, state government will be able to eliminate these types of interactions and keep students safe from teachers who have ill intentions when they sign onto their Facebook accounts and friend students. It’s a law that could change the way that all states treat the teacher/student relationship when it comes to social media.

Is it a good idea? Eh, that’s where the debate comes into play. On the surface, the Facebook Law makes a whole lot of sense. As Facebook has evolved, most students have seen absolutely no issue with friending a teacher on Facebook. Teachers also seem more than willing to use the social media site to keep in touch with students and to expand on their relationships with students. But, of course, there are some teachers—and some students, for that matter—who abuse this ability to keep in contact. As a result, there have been a number of stories involving teachers and students and sexual harassment. So, naturally, the easiest way to prevent these types of interactions from happening would be to ban them altogether.

The Missouri Student Teacher Association sees things a different way, though. They’ve argued that they want to see slight changes to the bill and that they don’t want the Facebook Law to have a negative effect on the student learning experience. They believe that if teachers and students want to use Facebook to interact about school-related matters, they should be able to do so. The Missouri National Education Association has also chimed in, saying that they want to make some changes to the Facebook Law that allows schools and not the Missouri state government to police the issue of teachers and students interacting on Facebook.

It’s definitely a slippery slope. While the Facebook Law has the best of intentions, it’s probably not the best idea to issue a complete ban on teachers and students friending one another on Facebook. Because while the law would limit the sexual harassment that’s going on due to teachers and students interacting on Facebook, it would also limit the positive effects that it has on the student learning experience. In other words, Missouri lawmakers shouldn’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch.

Instead, they should allow individual school districts to police the behavior of their teachers on Facebook. If they feel that teachers interacting with students on Facebook could possibly be detrimental to the students, they should be able to force them to stop doing it. However, if they can put in specific guidelines that permit some interaction between teachers and students, assuming the interaction ties directly to school-related matters, they should allow it.

But, above all, the Facebook Law should get people talking about how teachers and students interact. The first instinct of most people is probably going to be to ban it altogether. But as we move forward and Facebook and other forms of social media become more and more useful when it comes to the classroom, school districts need to think long and hard about this issue. Because with just about everyone on Facebook now, it’s only natural that more and more teachers and students will friend each other. And we need to make sure that they know their boundaries before they do it.

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