I don’t want to obsess or dwell on the whole MySpace thing, but we were talking about blog issues in my grad class Monday, so it seems like a good time to post about some of the things we talked about in class.
A presentation by two Lakeview High School students trying to warn classmates about the dangers of putting personal information on the Internet led to their teacher being escorted from the St. Clair Shores building because administrators thought pictures used in the project were too risque.
The segment, roughly eight minutes, that was broadcast to the entire school Tuesday on its in-house TV network featured pictures students in the district had posted on MySpace.com. They showed students drinking, posing provocatively or partially nude, and in one case kissing a vodka bottle.
I don’t know exactly what the deal is here (though if someone can hunt down this video that these kids put together for their school, I’d love to see it), but as far as I can tell from these two articles, while the student report was accurate and probably useful, it also featured stuff that really shows up on MySpace that school officials would rather not know about.
Anyway, my graduate course this semester features about five or so high school teachers, and without a doubt, the rules are different there than they are in (so-called) higher ed. For me, it’s one thing for me to see pictures of students (even mine) drinking or wearing swimwear or whatever; it’s another thing entirely when you’ve got high school kids– minors– doing these things.
On the other hand, this is what “the kids” are doing, as they say. One of my students, who is a high school teacher around here, brought up some MySpace pages from kids in his classes, and these pages featured pictures of scantily clad young people, lots of drinking, etc., etc. Now, this puts my student, these other students’ teacher, into a kind of problematic place because since these kids are, well, kids, my student/their teacher does have at least some (potentially) responsibility here.
The other thing that makes it tough for these high school teacher-types is the broad spectrum of reactions from stake-holders. On the one side, you’ve got parents and teachers who are outraged (outraged, I tell you!) that teenagers are getting together and drinking and doing sexually risque things, and the absolute last thing these people want to do is talk about these things (or sex education or drug use or whatever) with kids in school– it’ll put the wrong idea in their mushy heads. On the complete other side of the spectrum though, you’ve got parents (at least according to my students who are high school teachers) who are so out of touch with their kids or so overly tolerant of the behavior of their children that they’ve become enablers, the kinds of parents who buy the kids the kegs on the theory that “at least they’re drinking where I can see them.” These parents probably don’t care if their fifteen year-old daughter is posing on her MySpace pages in a skimpy bikini with a bottle of vodka in one hand a cup of beer in the other. And in a sense, these parents are as big of a problem for high school teachers since these are the people that are driving the first group of parents over the edge.
Me? Hey, my students are adults whether they want to admit that or not. I think it’s ill-advised for them to post pictures of themselves doing drunk and stupid things, but it’s their problem. I’m not going to call their parents. And my son is 8, so for at least a few years, I don’t think we’re going to have to worry too much about this.
One of the things we did in class Monday night was actually sign up for a MySpace account, and anyone who is curious about this space ought to do the same thing. For one thing, MySpace’s “age of consent” for participating in its forums is 14, which strikes me as a bit young, at least too young without some kind of parental consent. As I understand it (I can’t remember where I read this), MySpace started as a space for 18 and above, and then they lowered the age to 16, and then 14. That seems a pretty crass way to get more users.
The other significant thing (I think) is when you sign up for a MySpace account, you see almost immediately how this is really a social networking software about “hooking up” in all the meanings of that term and it is not a writerly space. And actually, it seems to be kind of a swarmy social space. The first thing you do with MySpace is you set up your “background and profile;” the first point there is “Marital status;” and the first button option is “swinger.” The second thing you fill out is your sexual orientation. Click on over to “networking,” and there’s a “field” option, which seems like a good idea at first– I could maybe “network” with fellow teachers or writers or students or what-have-you. But those aren’t the fields they have in mind. Instead, the fields listed don’t include education and they do include dance, fashion, film, gaming, television, and nightlife. Oh, and each one of these has a sub-field and a role; so, for example, if you select “dance,” you can then easily select “performer” and then select “exotic dancer.”
And as far as blogging goes: it’s easy to upload and display pictures on MySpace, but the blogging function seems buried to me, and most of the MySpace pages I’ve seen just don’t include one.
So I don’t know. On the one hand, I still think that there are many mountains made out of MySpace mole hills in the press. I don’t think MySpace is to blame for getting kids killed at a party (we don’t blame the phone company for these kinds of things either), I think that MySpace is merely making activities that teenagers have done forever visible to a large audience, and an audience that clearly is much larger than most of these kids realize. I’m not in favor of school districts closing MySpace access down, and I am in favor of using MySpace as a “teaching moment.”
On the other hand, MySpace really is pretty stupid.