In the name of "digital citizenship," students are encouraged to engage in social networking and develop an online personna that will serve them well in life.
"Keep your comments nice," we warn them.
"Make sure to avoid profanity in your blog. An employer might see it someday."
"Hey kid, you might want to be careful about getting shit-faced drunk and posting the picture to Facebook. That vapor trail lasts forever."
I get it. We want students to behave appropriately. We want to see acceptable use. We don't want a juvenile mistake to screw a kid up for a lifetime.
And yet . . .
Sometimes I wonder if we're encouraging students to self-market rather than engage in meaningful interaction. Sometimes it seems that students are encouraged to post only their best work, ask only the best questions, avoid anything remotely offensive on their Twitter and keep their Facebook squeeky clean.
We're asking them to hide.
We're asking them to create a brand of themselves that will then be used to self-market for the rest of their lives. For all the talk of meaningful learning and authenticity, the system often reminds students that social media is a megaphone and therefore, we'd be best to avoid being insensitive or offensive.
Adolescents need to experiment socially. Ever worked with teenagers? Their ups are way up and their downs are way down and they can be brutally honest in a way that adults often curb. They are figuring out relationships. They are engaged in friendships with training wheels.
Asking students to "be nice" might be great in managing liability, but it fails to reach them at their level and ultimately it fails in the purpose of education. If I want students to become honest, ethical critical thinkers, I'm not sure the model needs to be Mr. Rogers.
I want students to be themselves, unfettered and unbranded.
John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink. He recently finished two books, Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and Drawn Into Danger, a fictional memoir of a superhero. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer