By Anne Collier
Read the lede anecdote of this Washington Post story and tell me if you think Kimiya’s 11th-grade English teacher didn’t come up with a brilliant solution to help her. Using Twitter. And yet the Virginia Board of Education apparently thinks that the use of social media in school assignments could be the slippery slope that leads to more teachers becoming sexual predators. “The push for new restrictions grew, in part, from the case of Kevin Ricks, a former Manassas High School teacher convicted last year of molesting a former student. Ricks exchanged personal messages with several students on Facebook, including the eventual victim,” the Post reports. It’s as if the Board of Education actually thinks Facebook was the cause of Ricks’s reprehensible behavior. So, the logic goes, if Ricks had been teaching 30 years ago, the cause would’ve been the telephone. The Board somehow must’ve gotten the idea that the communication channel rather than the person was the problem. But let’s take a closer look at the problem. Board of Education members may be encouraged to know that child sexual exploitation in the US decreased significantly – 58% – between 1992 and 2008, the latest figures available from the FBI and the Crimes Against Children Research Center, the very period during which the Web went mainstream, grew exponentially, and went social. As David Finkelhor, the CCRC’s director pointed out in a recent talk, certainly that doesn’t mean that the Web caused that significant drop in child exploitation, but it does mean – and shows very clearly – that the Web in no way increased it. I would hate to see the creative use of social-media tools by great teachers like Ms. Ludwig be deleted if a Board of Education bases its decision on fear rather than facts.