Banning student-teacher Facebook interaction smart

Learning environments need to be kept public

With yesterday’s announcement, the Ontario College of Teachers is likely trying to prevent as much social media abuse from both students and teachers as possible.

While most teachers’ first reaction is “duh” to the news that they shouldn’t “friend” their students in Facebook or follow them on Twitter, in reality this rule now exists because some teachers don’t share that same reaction.

Most teachers, and even most students, recognize that becoming Facebook or Twitter friends with a teacher presents a host of uncomfortable — and potentially damaging — situations. That’s why even university professors like Leslie Chan have strict rules governing online interaction with current students.

But in what is widely being described as a prudent advisory to set the appropriate tone for all teachers, the College is making sure the rule is hereby carved in stone. And it’s a good thing, too.

All learning should take place in public where the opportunity for teachers and students to take advantage of each other is next to nothing. Engaging with students in any unregulated online capacity — whether it’s Facebook, email or instant messaging — effectively closes the door on any checks and balances that currently exist in the school system.

It’s the same logic that keeps parents from letting their children spend time alone with a teacher in an uncontrolled environment. Even teachers with the best of intentions can get caught in some very hot water.

This is where abuse happens. Just yesterday a teacher in Idaho pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a junior high school student. The teacher was suspended by the school district after he was accused of impersonating a teenage boy and engaging in sexual conduct online with a 14-year-old student. He is now facing up to 25 years in jail and a $50,000 fine.

Students and teachers are a bit like church and state: They should be inherently separate. But just as in the separation of church and state, sometimes people try to blur the lines of division and must be reigned in. It’s inappropriate — and often criminal — when it happens, and we all shake our heads. But we have to recognize that it does happen and it makes rules like this one all the more necessary.