For those of you with weak stomachs, you might want to sit down before you read this one. Chicago Public Schools have recently approved a district-wide policy that prohibits teachers from contacting students through cellphones, non-CPS email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs or any web site created off the district’s network. Here is the pdf of the policy. And here is a terrific blog post about this announcement, from Alexander Russo on the blog site, District 299.
I’m afraid that this sort of policy – banning all communications with students (or parents) using tools not sanctioned or controlled by the district (or the state) – is all too familiar. My guess is that lawyers were at work here, encouraging the district administration to enact rules to protect everyone from the small, inappropriate incidents that do happen. Unwittingly, of course, with a draconian policy like this, they end up cutting off any possible avenue for creative collaboration, participatory media, or using web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Everyone suffers over their fear of the few. It’s more than a shame, it’s tragically flawed thinking. It must be so discouraging to those teachers who are genuinely trying to innovate and take advantage of these new affordances. Imagine the teacher who wants to try blogging with her students, or the class that wants to post videos or photos they created to online sharing sites and discuss them in class, or the faculty member that has built a new study web site for his students that he is eager to share. I guess they’ll have to apply for jobs outside of Chicago if they want to do any of that.
Policies like this give students and teachers a clear message – the collaborative, inventive and creative world of participatory media has no place in the classroom.