Yesterday in a full-day workshop I facilitated for CASTLE with Minnesota K-12 principals in Rochester, one of the participants told me about a very negative situation which took place in November 2009 involving a class blog in Owatonna, Minnesota.

According to Curt Brown’s November 20, 2009 article for the Minneapolis / St Paul Star Tribune, “Racial tension running high after fight at Owatonna High School:”

Principal Don Johnson said the problems began when two white students wrote papers in recent weeks that were “inflammatory and very disrespectful.” One student handed out copies of his paper to friends, while the other posted his on a class blog. Both were suspended from the school of 1,600 students — about 100 of whom are Somali.

Johnson said that before the second student returned to school Monday, the student sent text messages over the weekend to white and Somali students that were “unapologetic and in your face.” He then walked into a common area Monday where more than 20 Somali students were gathered and sat down. An altercation erupted that sent one of the white students to the hospital for observation.

There are currently over 100 comments on Melissa Kaelin’s November 19, 2009 article for the Owatonna People’s Press, “School works to quell tensions.” I am not intimately familiar with the details of this situation, but based on what I heard today from a workshop participant and have read online, it sounds like blogging and social media were NOT “the problem” in this situation. Several commenters state racial tensions have been a problem at Owatonna High School for years. In this case, it sounds like students utilized social media tools at their fingertips (not limited to a class blog, but also including SMS text messaging) to share messages of hate and disrespect. The actions students took based on their apparently racist attitudes were and are “the problem” in Owatonna. We must reject hate in all its forms. When hate manifests itself, we need to address it, as I’m hopeful the community leaders in Owatonna are doing right now. It’s important not to blame social media when an incident like this takes place. Guns don’t murder. People do, however, and when they do those actions must be addressed.

As I wrote in my January 28th post, “Latest Facebook Situation in Nashville Highlights Need for Social Media Guidelines in Schools,” we need to catalyze conversations in our communities about social media guidelines.

Students or anyone else can use any tool for good or evil. We can use a shovel to plant a garden or kill a snake.

gardening tools

Drunk driving is a problem, but we don’t ban driving as a result of these poor choices some people unfortunately make. We tried banning alcohol in the United States, and it didn’t work out too well. We cannot and should not ban social media use in our societies, or in our schools. This happens in quasi-closed societies like modern China, but should not and must not happen in the United States.

This situation in Owatonna, Minnesota, would make an appropriate case study on why team blog MODERATION is essential in schools. See my blog post, “Blog comment moderation: How and Why?” for more on this topic.

Do you know of other situations in schools, besides this one in Owatonna, which highlight the importance of teachers turning ON blog post moderation, as well as comment moderation, on “official” class blogs?

Issues like these are NOT going to get away, and will (I’ll assert) only grow more common in the months ahead as social media websites gain even more popularity and usage. See my June 2006 post, “Blocking social networking sites is an insufficient response,” for more thoughts along these lines.

H/T to Jamie Fath for sharing the “drunk driving analogy” I used in this post.

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  • http://nayshomeworkthoughts.blogspot.com Renee’

    I loved your comment about hate and racism being at the center of this and not the technology used to spread this hateful thoughts. I see why comment moderation is important and I agree that it should be part of any student blogs or class pages. I have to wonder why it was not being used (at the time of this incident) to prevent this student’s racial views being published. I realize it would not have prevented this from happening necessarily. However, I can’t help but wonder how much it helped fan the fires. Kinda like adding fuel to a fire. I think this is a really good example of why comment moderation should be a part of student blogs and class pages.

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