Something That Scares Me

We’re toeing the line of unbloggable territory here so let me preface by saying I think my school and district work diligently and successfully to cultivate a safe school. We’ve discussed this, my students and I. Kids like this school. Kids feel safe here.

But we had a fight last week, a fight which was remarkable for a few reasons, one which has nagged me since. Our administration ended it quickly. The whole altercation lasted less than fifteen seconds but within that hiccup one girl managed to land a bizarre set of blows. Far from the usual mêlée-style school fight — scratching, slapping, and clawing, all with the frantic awareness that it’s gonna get broken up shortly — this girl seemed to know exactly what she was doing.

I know this even though I was 1,000 feet away minding my classroom.

I know this because I watched the fight seven times — five times on five different students’ cameraphones, and twice on YouTube. Only one student caught it on his RAZR and it’s well outside the realm of exaggeration to say that every student at my school has now seen the fight. I’d wager they all saw it within an hour. At a coffee shop later that night I heard kids from a different district discussing it. Within our limited universe, the fight has gone positively viral.

Also a matter of public record is today’s stabbing and subsequent lock-down. I have no comment here except to say that confiscating cell phones — SOP during lock-down — proved an unconvincing sell for my students and that, via text messaging, they seemed better informed than I was on the events transpiring outside our locked and shuttered door. I acknowledge the likelihood that their gossipy electronic communiqués were largely inaccurate but that only intensifies my queasiness right now.

Clearly, there is a large and capable network at our school, at your school, one that exists entirely outside teacher control or influence, and it scares me. No teacher or administrator had any hand in making that fight the most attended event of the school year. They did that without us. I am the youngest on staff, one of the most technologically inclined, and I have no idea how to flip text-, picture-, and video-messaging over our shoulders onto some positive mat in front of us. Where does this leave us?

[Update: She stabbed herself. Every text message was wrong.]

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. This sounds like one of those things that’s too distributed to squash, unless they bring the sledgehammer down and outlaw cellphones. Seems a bit Orwellian and probably tough to enforce. Although I’ve heard about cell jamming for theaters or something, I would be hesitant to suggest it as a solution.

    Just brainstorming here: what if the school administration leapfrogged the whole gossip circuit and tried to blanket the facts on a given crisis via a blog or something? It’s kind of the “let’s legalize marijuana so kids won’t get a rebellious kick out of smoking it.”


  2. The issue there is that the administration must respect issues of privacy and legality while student text messaging does not. The office e-mails were extremely veiled and intentionally white-washed while text-messaging had no similar constraints. I mean, if you were a kid, which would you rather read?

  3. Well, and that’s the thing–you can’t squash it, and if you hijack it for legitimate/Establishment purposes they’ll just find another network to use. It’s a reality of our world, just another bit of reality coming into our classrooms and for which we need to prepare our students. No more bubble.

  4. Jo Barngrille

    March 30, 2007 - 8:58 am -,2933,262647,00.html

    Police: Teens Used Mobile Phone to Film Rape of 12-Year-Old Girl
    Friday, March 30, 2007

    VIENNA, Austria – Three teenage boys took turns raping a 12-year-old girl, filmed the assault with a mobile phone camera and showed the video to classmates, Austrian authorities said Friday.

    Police said the rape happened after a birthday party in Freistadt in the province of Upper Austria, and that the girl was assaulted after she became intoxicated and fell asleep. It was not immediately clear when the crime occurred.

    Investigators detained the three boys, ages 13, 15, and 16, after they showed a clip of the rape to classmates at school and a student who saw it alerted authorities, police said.

    The two older suspects would be formally charged in juvenile court with sexual abuse, officials said. They said the youngest could not be held criminally responsible.

  5. the danger here is not just the texting that happens in house but the messages that go out. You are right in that the school admin has to respect federal confidentiality regs. The worst part is that each kids only sees “their part of the elephant” and the messages end up quoted in public media and entire legal situations end up “tried” in newspapers and blogs.

    Information is out there, it’s just not always accurate.