When I was in high school, I kept a shoe box on the top shelf of my closet. In that box, I tucked away letters and notes that I had received from various sweethearts, ticket stubs from memorable concerts and movies, and various other “secrets” that I wanted to keep away from the prying eyes of my family. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but it was safer to conceal that I had things of sentimental value, that helped mark a memorable time with friends, from my parents.
Adolescence is a time when you begin the process of constructing your identity, figuring out the public and the private self. I’m not a psychologist, but I imagine it is very important developmentally for teenagers to have their own private space in which they safely explore and figure out for themselves who they are and who they want to become.
In school we help students develop the public side of their identities and, when we are at our best, we encourage them to be the person they want to be. In school, students do have an expectation and a right to their own private space, but that area is considerably smaller than what they might enjoy at home. When a student’s behavior arouses a reasonable suspicion that he/she is engaging in harmful activities, the principal or his/her designee can conduct a search of the student’s clothing, bags, locker, and car. While school administrators may have to conduct searches more frequently than they would like to, this usually doesn’t impact a large segment of the student body.
With the omnipresence of technology in our lives today, we conduct more of our public and private lives online. How much privacy can we expect?
The love letters of years past are now text messages, tweets, emails, and various other electronic communiques.
The recent scandal involving the Director of the CIA shows us how easy it is for law enforcement to uncover and expose an otherwise lawful, yet inappropriate relationship between two consenting adults. I don’t mean to editorialize about extra-marital affairs; however, to me the case is important because it reminds us that we have almost no right to privacy on the internet. If the director of the CIA cannot find a way to communicate privately on the internet, as the ACLU points out, how can any of us reasonably expect to be able to do so?
We can only take advantage of this teachable moment to help our students understand that anything and everything they say or write on the internet can be traced back to them one way or another. We educators need to help pull back the veil of perceived privacy that we sometimes feel while “lurking” on Twitter or while surfing aimlessly across the waves of the web. We have to model internet integrity and make sure we post only what we would say or share in a public setting. By doing this and creating authentic experiences for our students to use and create content on the internet, students will be able to build their public identity on the internet and hopefully understand the need to keep the private stuff in the real shoe box and not in the digital dropbox.
Whatever we do, we don’t remain complacent.
I and my student welcome your feedback.
In addition, if any of you have expertise in any of the issues discussed above and you would like to come and have a talk with high school students, you have an open invitation.
Bloom, Alan. “Shoe Box Scan NJ.” Shoe Box Scan NJ. Alan Bloom, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <http://www.alanbloomproductions.com/ShoeBoxScan.html>.