But I think that there’s something more important that these journals can be useful for in schools. But not all schools — only those schools that are interested in students as human beings instead of products to be completed or vessels to be filled.
Can you imagine the power of a school counselor getting an update or status check on a hundred students via a single mouse click? For those counselors willing to pay attention, and those students willing to share, online journals can be a valuable tool for assessing the well-being of students.
That’s a provocative scenario, one that for some reason I feel myself resisting to some degree. The question I’m struggling with is why the resistance? Bud makes a good point in terms of being able to peer more clearly, perhaps, into the souls of our students, to assess their well-being. It would seem on the surface to make sense to use that information.
I believe that the more we think about this issue, the more comfortable we’ll become with using the information students are giving us about their lives through these journals. On the surface it is easy to slip into saying to students “what you post on the internet is public,” yet at the same time, feeling like it is polite for the adults who know these kids to avert our eyes from their public postings. This is a contradictory position that doesn’t really help anyone. We’re not going to teach kids and our peers that on the web, public is public is public, if we don’t behave consistently.
I agree with that too, for the most part. In fact I think that may be where we’re failing our students the most when it comes to online publishing, helping them understand all that it means to write in public. If, as my students told me last Friday, over half of the kids at my 3,000 or so student school are creating Myspace.com or Xanga sites, that’s a pretty swift and serious plunge into some basically uncharted territory as few if any have shared their lives with largely anonymous public audience. (Note: I spent some time on Myspace over the weekend and found about 700 references to our school. Wow.)
I know that as educators and counselors, we have a responsibility to watch out for our students, to make sure they are safe. If reading their online journals is a way to do that, so be it, I guess. I wish, however, the parents were taking the lead, though I know that’s asking a lot. So I’m guessing that angst I’m feeling is rooted more in the content of what I’ve been reading at Myspace than anything else. It’s such a mixture of innocent and angry, silly and serious that it makes me wonder how we’d navigate the information we find there. How much of it is adolescent posing? How much of it is peer induced braggadocio? How much of it can we trust?
But in the end, does any of that really matter? Tom’s right. It’s out there. It’s information. And we need to start thinking about ways to give teachers and counselors ways to put it to good use.