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Dispute over push to get social Web sites in classroom


By Suzanne Bates

Union Leader Correspondent
November 23, 2007

With a growing number of teenagers using social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, the National School Board Administration says there is a place for these sites in the classroom.

But a Boston-based child advocacy group says the recommendations stem from a corporate-sponsored study and administrators should keep commercial social networking sites out of schools.

Emily Coburn, chairwoman of the Merrimack School Board, said she doesn't see how using personal Web sites advances learning in the classroom.

"I think that kids need to access technology that's meaningful to their learning," she said, adding she doesn't see how MySpace is a necessary research tool.

The board is revamping all of its policies, which are more than 10 years old. Coburn said she doubts the old policies address something as current as social networking sites.

According to Merrimack High School's parent-student handbook, under district policies, students are forbidden to instant message, send personal e-mail or create a Web site using school computers. High School Principal Ken Johnson could not be reached for comment on whether the school has a specific policy regarding social networking.

The National School Board Administration study -- which was sponsored by Verizon, News Corporation (which owns MySpace) and Microsoft (which has a financial stake in Facebook) -- says social networking sites are "deeply embedded in the lifestyles of . . . teens."

The study says it includes an online survey of 1,277 students ages 9 to 17. Of those surveyed, 59 percent said they talk about education-related topics online. The study also says 50 percent of teens talk about homework online.

One of the recommendations the study makes is that school boards find ways to "harness the educational value of social networking." But Susan Linn, director of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), said in an interview that commercially based social networking sites, including MySpace and Facebook, should be kept out of the classroom.

She said those sites are increasingly used by advertisers and marketers to reach out to children, and some of the advertisers aren't teen-friendly, including several alcohol and tobacco companies. In a news release, the CCFC said, "The Captain Morgan MySpace page explicitly promotes binge-drinking and alcohol-fueled sexual activity."

Linn said, "It seems to be that the corporate and commercial takeover of childhood and adolescence is escalating so rapidly. And there's not a lot of pushback from organizations like the National School Board Administration that should be pushing for caution."

In contrast, Linn said, she does see a place for non-commercial social networking sites through which students could reach out to their counterparts across the globe. She could not, however, think of any such sites.

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