Sunday, March 06, 2011

We have regime-changes over this

Unless you've been living in your parents basement without any connectivity to the Internet, you've at least had to skip over the stories and video about the on-going turmoil in the Middle East. The overthrow of despots in Tunisia, the forced resignation of Mubarak in Egypt, and the 'near' civil war in Libya (with its subsequent hit on oil and gas prices around the world) are all consequences, in part, to the drop-dead simple organizing ability of twitter and facebook combined with ubiquitous cell phone usage in those regions.

So powerful is that combination that despots in Egypt and Libya tried to shut down the web to minimize its effects. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has gone on record a number of times defending so-called "Internet freedom" and the ability to use social networking as an important tool for peaceful protesing.

Which leads us to a story published last Friday on ZDnet, where three seventh grade students attending Chapel Hill Middle School in Douglas County Ga. were harshly penalized (two suspended, one expelled) for publishing remarks critical to school teachers on facebook.

Yes, I know it's a long stretch between middle eastern populations oppressed for decades, and three kids in a middle school here in the good old US of A. However, after reading about the so-called facts of the matter I do have some opinions about the correctness of the situation.

  • I was born in Atlanta and grew up attending schools in Fulton and DeKalb counties (I graduated from SW DeKalb in 1972). In all the time I spent in school I never once encountered a situation as draconian as the one in Douglas County. If it had gone to that, my parents would have been all over the school board and the teachers who did something like this like the wrath of God. My parents (and many, many others) were involved with what we were doing and what was happening. The school board and the school administrations clearly knew what lines not to cross.

  • I've raised two children of my own in Orange County FL. Just like my parents before me (and my wife's parents), we were heavily involved from kindergarten forward until both girls graduated and headed off to college. Both girls were young enough to have Myspace, then Facebook, accounts. They were young enough to have cellphones and be a part of the early cellphone texting craze that first swept through their demographic. While the rules were fairly strict (they were in middle and high school magnet schools), we were prepared to defend our girls with whatever it took, including facts, if anything like what occurred in Douglas would have happened to them. Once again, as it was when I was in elementary and high school, Orange County clearly knew where the lines were.

  • There is a very clear line between what happens at school and what happens away from school. Facebook is what happens away from school and at home. Teachers forcing students to log into their accounts at the school library, having them read the postings, and then deleting them, is a gross intrusion into their personal and private lives away from school. Using force and coercion directly on students without having their parents available is an attack on both children and parents which must not go unanswered.

Raising children is a sacred trust. Anyone who attempts to get in the way of that sacred trust without cause[1] deserves to suffer from the full and complete wrath of angry parents. At the very least, the teachers and administration of Chapel Hill Middle School should be repremanded, and the teacher(s) who sanctioned the forced deletion of Facebook content on school property should be fired. If the school administration had felt there was a problem, then it should have worked immediately through the parents and with the parents present at all times. But the school board gave up the moral high ground in this situation with their unilateral actions aimed at the children.

I've read that the parents of at least two of the students are hiring attorneys to mount a legal fight. I hope they succeed, and I hope in the process they leave large swaths of legally scorched earth at the Douglas County school board. And possible bring about a much-needed regime change on the Douglas County school board.

[1] The only true cause to interfere is if the there is credible evidence that the children are in imminent danger, such as the result of child abuse, or worse, that the parent's actions will result in the death of their children.

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