"Appropriate Uses of Modern Technology" is a topic

that every teacher in a public school–whether beginner or veteran–needs to understand as the school year begins in his/her district.

“Appropriate Uses of Modern Technology” is also the name of the latest American Federation of Teacher‘s “Classroom Tips” brochures that will be distributed freely to the union’s hundreds of thousands of teachers and school support staff as the school year begins again in August. Along with complementary calendars, pens, and rulers, education workers in AFT schools will take home with them this prudent advice regarding Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter:

The best way to prevent a problem arising from a social networking site is to simply not have one.

But Aristotle was right. We are political (social) animals. We are wired for and exist in a perpetual network of inter-relatedness. To ask creatures predisposed to act sociably to withdraw from social functioning seems ill-advised. So fair enough: what if a teacher has a Facebook page already? The AFT suggests

  1. posting no material “that others may consider offensive”
  2. not “friend” ing students
  3. consider using an alternate username
  4. regularly checking to see if information has been posted and checking its accuracy if so
  5. not making “disciplinary decisions about a student regarding an Internet posting if the teacher is the target of the speech”
  6. making the Facebook account private (hiding it from public searches)

In the old days, in the town square or forum, when individuals stood and spoke, they did so in the light of day and within earshot of their listeners. Physically surrounded by an audience, a citizen would get immediate feedback for their opinions. The same feedback happens in talk radio and on letters to the editor pages.

In online forums though, private citizens used to the old norms of public discourse may need reminders to communicate discretely. Socially-mediated speakers have an audience that is not physically present, and may not be for years (this town square has a broken clock in its bell tower). So I commend the AFT for handing out these prudent reminders and instructions to staff who may not be sophisticated users of social media.

Whether I am an education worker, house painter, pedicab operator, or dog trainer in the 21st century community, I am unable to keep separate my private life from my public one. Online or no, we are all socially-mediated. Like Bill Clinton, we discover that it’s impossible to neatly apportion existence into separate, stand-alone “box”es. If someone wishes to scrutinize us, public or private, he may. Information and surveillance in our society is that cheap.

And so, AFT, to be precise, it’s not the use “modern technology” that should concern us, but rather the social relationships that technology serves. Are our relationships inappropriate? Do I hang out with criminals, suspected terrorists, or send amorous texts to my intern? These are what would seem to need propriety, no?

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