In the past week, there have been a lot of headlines in the papers about, to put it simply, people getting punished for what they blog. More significantly, many of these are students who wrote slanderous things about their fellow students and even teachers. The Straits Times’ Podcast has a special feature this week on it i.e. To Blog or Not to Blog. Many opinions were aired (you can also download them directly here, here and here) and I think that most what needs to be said has been said either there or in the forums. But I’d just like to add my two-cents’ worth on one thing:
I often hear (or read) about people going tut-tut in disapproval over schools’ decisions to punish errant students e.g. though suspension. They claim these punishments are extreme and that the severity of the offence doesn’t warrant the punishment.
Now, I’ve actually come across a couple of “slanderous” blog posts, and let me say that “slanderous” often doesn’t even begin to capture the purpose and essence of these blog posts. These posts don’t, for instance, simply comment about how boring or ineffective lessons by particular teachers are (and in fact most teachers would welcome such criticism, for we all want to do our job better after all!). Instead, they attack a teacher’s dressing, speech mannerisms, physical appearance, sometimes even insinuating on a teacher’s chastity! Yes, some teenage students (and not only adults!) are indeed capable of writing such venom, whose intent cannot possibly be anything other than to cause emotional hurt to the subject(s).
As for punishments like suspension etc, I am amused that some people seem to have this notion that schools would mete them indiscriminately on students. Schools and teachers exist to educate students to be better prepared for the real world they will soon enter, not to find reasons to keep getting them suspended. After all, when students get suspended, they miss lessons which result in teachers having to spend even more after-school time to conduct make-up lessons – for these very students! So when schools decide to suspend students from school, it is not a decision that is made lightly, and I hope more will understand that.
Schools DO prefer to reason with students. Teachers don’t get into this job out of a desire to punish students at every available opportunity. Alas, some students need more time to advance beyond the lowest stage of moral development. So when less punitive means of discipline have been exhausted, and to minimise the damage to themselves and others, harsh punishments do become necessary.
That said, I do agree that guidelines on acceptable norms for blogging are very much needed. Many may sniff derisively at some companies’ attempts at laying out such guidelines, claiming that it is all already “common sense” anyway. But if things really were so “common sense”, why have people gotten into trouble over their blogs? Just like social norms that are in existence today, appropriate behaviours and ethics on blogging must first first be clearly stated and practised over time before they can join the domain of the “common sense”. And schools, being the institutions responsible for preparing the youth for the real world, have a very real and very urgent role to play in this.