Recently, I commented on two topics, which intersect. Kent Pitman posted on the topic of anonymity on Open Salon, and I responded with a few of my thoughts on that topic.
And then came the case of Natalie Munroe, a teacher in Pennsylvania, who has been suspended with pay for blogging anonnymously, and talking (without naming herself, her school, or her students) about the frustrations in her work.
While I definitely feel there's a need and role for anonymity, I think there' is great strength and value in the courage to stand up and speak publicly.
I reproduce here a comment I originally made on an Education Week blog yesterday.
Back in 1979, Brian Harvey left the MIT AI Lab (or was it the Stanford AI Lab? I forget the chronlogy), to teach computers at the Lincoln-Sudbury High School in Massachusetts.
I was a devoted reader of his semi-regular email list on his experiences there. This was about as close to a blog as you could get back then. We didn't have Google back then, of course, but we did have a more open environment, and his writings were discoverable -- in fact, I suspect that's how I discovered where he'd gone and that he was writing about it, and asked to be on the mailing list.
I learned a lot from this. Had he been gagged, I would not have learned a thing. He also wrote in other contexts about his experience and lessons learned, for example: http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~bh/freedom.html
Schools are already far too much a secret society, with the public, parents, and even the students themselves being outsiders. Of course there are issues. If my kids were specifically blogged about by a teacher, I would have some concerns about that, even if not by name. Not "Thou shalt not blog about my kids", but issues of fairness, motivating kids, and privacy arise, and must be handled with care.
I don't know that Ms. Munroe crossed those lines. According to Ms. Munroe (who I heard speak on the radio earlier today), those quotes that are making headlines, like "not as smart as she seems", were from a list of alternate check-off report card items she'd like to see -- satire and humor.
And you know what? Although I can't check her blog now, since it's been taken down -- I believe her, because that one is not original -- I've seen it before, in just such a list.
Did the press manage to get that? Apparently not. Aparently, satire, irony, and humor are utterly lost on our modern "press" in their rush to the most sensational headlines possible. One can only imagine what their teachers thought about their reading ability when they were young!
I think the reaction is plain backwards. I think teachers should be encouraged to communicate about what happens in the classroom. Carefully, of course. But -- if a student acts up in class and disrupts learning for the entire class, I'd like to hear about it from the teacher, and not just from my kid's viewpoint.
I can be a better parent, and a better citizen of our school district, if I understand better what goes in in the classrooms, and the minds, of our teachers. And our students could be better students.
But -- there has to be some respect and some professionalism. If Ms. Munroe failed anywhere, I'd guess it was most likely here.
But within those bounds, the more blogging the better. Given the nature of the world our children are growing up in, I would argue that we really should REQUIRE our teachers to blog weekly. It would be a tremendous opportunity for education, for kids to see their environment, and their behavior, challenges, and progress blogged about. Done right, it could be a tremendous motivator.
And most importantly, it would be leadership by example, about how to write, and how to write about others with civility and respect.
If Ms. Munroe erred in her conduct on her blog, I strongly suspect that the anonymity under which she operated was a major contributing factor. I would expect that she would have written a better blog had she not been hidden behind the veil of anonymity, and had the expectation that she would have to stand by her words into the distant future.
Because the internet has preserved posting I myself wrote back in the 1970's. I learned long ago to regard everything I write as potentially permanent and public. I've also learned the courage to speak my mind, to allow others to disagree, and to disagree with respect. I've learn some skill in calming online arguments, bridging communication gaps, and refocusing conversations. And most importantly, I've learned the courage to quickly aplogize when I have erred, or have simply allowed myself to be misunderstood.
And always, under my own name.
I would like our teachers to be able to teach this generation of students some of the same lessons.