Monday, April 30, 2007

A question of ethics

Jon and I heard something quite interesting on NPR yesterday during "All Things Considered."

A lady called in with an ethics question. Here is the story: The high school in her community had all their students sign a pledge that said they would neither drink alcohol nor be around alcohol at parties, etc. However, these same students posted pictures of themselves at parties with alcohol on their myspace pages. The school administration found them and disciplined the students.

The question: Is this ethical?

Should school administration be allowed to discipline students based on what is posted on myspace?

Though I can see both sides of the issue, the two important things in the case in my opinion are that:

1) the students ALL signed the commitment form, giving the school the authority to control this (the argument could have been made that it is not the school's right to monitor off-campus behavior, if it were not for this). Regardless of how you feel about the school demanding that kind of behavior, the fact is that they signed.

2) the pictures were posted ONLINE. The lady on the internet used the argument that even though the internet is public, "the students don't view it that way- they view it like a locked diary." Why does what teenagers THINK matter? (I have also heard students say that they thought that in writing a paper, if they changed one word in a sentence of a book they read, it wasn't plagiarism. Regardless of what they think, that IS plagiarism, and it is wrong.) If they think that what they post online isn't visible by everyone and their pedophiliac brother, they need to be educated in it- not excused for it. (As a sidenote, myspace allows you to set your page as "private" so it can ONLY be viewed by the people you allow. Most teens look at it as a "way to meet new friends," so they don't use this feature.)

Also, take a look at the recent VT shootings- the school is being blamed for NOT monitoring what he posted online! If a high school student posted on his myspace that he was going to kill students (even off campus), would the administration have a right to take charge then? If so, what makes that any different from other harmful vices?

And if the students are posting/ commenting on myspace on school computers (which, as a former teacher, I can guarantee you happens frequently), does that make a difference?

What do you think? Is this an infringement of privacy, or did the school have grounds to suspend these students?


Anonymous said...

Without getting into a discussion abut the right and wrong of the students' activities off campus, I'm not sure ethics even plays into it. I think minors are not legally allowed to make contracts. Minors aren't allowed to give that kind of permission, and, therefore, the intrusion happened before the school officials looked the web sites… it happened when they attempted to partner in a legal agreement with a minor. Since I'm not the legal mind in the family, however, my theory may be demonstrated incorrect.

Anonymous said...

To respond to the specific questions you asked: no, it's not an invasion of privacy- you post to the world at your own risk (hence my paranoia about info about me being posted); however, the school shouldn't have suspended them for off-campus behavior. If it's illegal, then turn them in and let the police deal with it.

chaplainkay said...

Good post. I for one applaud the school for holding students accountable to their word. Especially when the world we live in fails to do just that so often.

Concerning what you said about what students think, I say kudos. In this postmodern world, absolutes are usually ignored; however, there is a right and wrong. Good for you. Thanks for pointing out the obvious although to many it's not so obvious

His Servant said...

Not that I am that old, but... This new generation looks at ethics on whether they get caught. And if they do get caught can they get out of it. What happened to giving someone your word. I don't care if your a minor and cannot be legally responsible for signing a paper. If you said you were not going to do it - don't do it! As far as the school is concerned maybe rather than punishment they should express disappointment in a promise not kept. I feel this would start to alleviate the tendency to "get away with it" because there would be nothing to get away with, except disgracing yourself and what people think about your word. I know I am painting very broad and this needs to be woven together with some discipline. But maybe more emphasis should be given to the value of the relationship between each of us.