Schools overreact to student blogs

This is just one of several stories I have seen recently about K12 students who have their own blogs and get censured by K12 school officials. Student blogs are now common, and school systems have failed to adapt to the new reality. It clearly unnerves some school administrators that students now have a public forum completely independent of the school system. In the old days, students with a bent for writing worked on the school paper, which was monitored by a faculty member.

But today, students have blogs on MySpace, Xanga, and hundreds of other blog services. To be fair, parents have not always kept up with the times either; students are often posting too much personal information on their blogs, making them vulnerable to stalkers, sex offenders, or just other kids with a grudge. But the problem the schools have is actually just a free speech issue. Kids are writing about their dissatisfaction with a teacher or administrator, and schools are overreacting by labeling such writing as "threats" and punishing the student by suspension or expulsion.

Often the writing seems relatively innocuous, as it does in the case I linked to above--a Chicago area student who felt harrassed about having a blog. The school system is now trying to expel him. However puerile the writing may be, school officials have little control over what students do outside of school hours. The tactic most schools seem to be using is to call the writing a "threat" to school safety, but in the absence of something specific, it is not a threat just to express one's dissatisfaction with school officials. These overreactions often end up as free speech lawsuits, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars, with the schools usually on the losing end. School administrators need to take a deep breath and think outside the box a little.

My suggestion: Integrate blogging into English and writing classes. Teach kids what is appropriate, teach them good blogging writing styles, and encourage kids to write using these new tools. How about your school system? Have they used blog tools to help teach writing?

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