Should We Let Facebook in the Classroom?

I didn’t have it too bad in high school. I had several things going for me: great relationships with my mom, dad, and sister, a series of mostly well-mannered boyfriends who maintained the appearance of being interested in me outside of their cars’ backseats, and a stellar report card. I wasn’t spoiled, but I did have quite a few amenities: a used car, a cell phone, a new prom dress every year. Aside from a few isolated episodes, I stayed away from trouble, and trouble stayed away from me.

But like every American teenager, I did have my fair share of high school drama, and when I wanted to express my angst, I wrote poetry. There were injustices in the world—boys occasionally did not return my calls, my curfew was a full hour earlier than that of my friends, the gas station that sold me cigarettes was shutting down—and these injustices needed to be released via the written word. The blood jet is poetry, there is no stopping it, I thought, as I put on my Ani Difranco CD and scribbled in my composition notebook.

Most of my friends in high school did not share my love of writing and had a particularly strong aversion to poetry. I remember one classmate lamenting over a sonnet: “Why doesn’t Shakespeare just say what he means?”

Because the overwhelming majority of my peers found poetry frustrating and deliberately vague, I rarely shared my work with my friends.  There was, and still is, an unfortunate stigma attached to creative writing, especially poetry, among teenagers.  Expressing oneself in poetry is the antithesis of the “whatever” culture, which dictates that too much enthusiasm for anything is un-cool.

And yet, based on the Facebook status updates of the few high schoolers I am friends with (mostly family friends’ kids– I’m not creepy), young people are currently expressing themselves in writing several times an hour. Sure, status updates aren’t poetry, and abbreviations and emoticons abound, but these kids are creating—inventing and reinventing their identities through photos, status updates, shared content, and comments.

The experts are saying that social media has become an addiction for young people, especially young girls, and has detrimental effects on their psyches. (I’ll admit that I am exceedingly grateful that I graduated high school well before the dawn of Facebook and Twitter.) Still, doesn’t it make sense to incorporate social media into Language Arts education, to encourage students to approach social media—and all media—with the same critical eye necessary to analyze literature?

Experimental and New Media Poetry, which departs from the printed page and is created and distributed electronically, seems well-suited for this endeavor. It’s fluid, it’s interactive, it elicits and often requires reader participation. Incorporating a social element into the study of poetry is a completely natural and industry-acceptable move, as most MFAs and PhDs in creative writing would tell you: workshop, feedback, and sharing is their life.

But instead some states seem hell-bent on legally preventing teachers from interacting with their students via social media. Their reasoning is that preventing “private” or “exclusive” interaction between teacher and student protects children from sexual predators. The public school system, they say, has an obligation to protect students from sexually aggressive teachers.

Obviously, I’m not an advocate for sexual predators. But most teachers are not sexual predators nor would they ever dream of having an inappropriate exchange with a student. There are many teachers out there–creative, motivated, dedicated teachers—that want to engage children and help them see that their social experiences are worth putting in writing. Why not let them use social media to their advantage?