Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sorry, Ms Tan – You no spinster, oh-kay?


Sept 27, 2005
Schools act against students for 'flaming' teachers on blogs

By Sandra Davie and Liaw Wy-Cin

FREE speech may be the buzzword on the Internet - but libel is unacceptable everywhere.The message has been sent out loud and clear, with five junior college students being punished for posting offensive remarks about two teachers and a vice-principal online.The students, all girls, were made to remove the remarks from their Internet diaries, or blogs, and suspended for three days last month. Their parents were also informed.The case is not an isolated one. Of the 31 secondary schools and junior colleges contacted, 18 said they were seeing more such incidents as the number of bloggers surges.

Seven secondary schools and two JCs have asked bloggers who criticise or insult their teachers online - 'flaming' in Internet jargon - to remove the offending remarks.

One such remark referred to a secondary school teacher as a 'prude' for disciplining a student for wearing a too-short skirt. 'Frustrated old spinster. Can't stand to see attractive girls,' the blog read.Tanglin Secondary science and PE teacher Tham Kin Loong said: 'I've had vulgarities hurled against me, my parents and my whole family in some students' blogs.'The 33-year-old added: 'Most of them do not realise the legal implications of what they are writing in such a public domain.'If teachers wish to prosecute, they may have legal grounds to do so.
Singapore Teachers' Union general secretary Swithun Lowe said the union is ready to back any teacher who wants to take legal action. It has offered legal help to a few members, but they did 'not want to affect the prospects of their young students'.Lawyers say students can be sued for defamation, even if a teacher is not named. 'As long as someone is able to identify the teacher, and it is an untrue statement that affects his reputation or livelihood, then the student is liable,' said Ms Doris Chia of Harry Elias and Partners.An injunction can be taken to get the student to remove the blog and issue an apology, she added.

But none of the schools contacted by The Straits Times has banned blogging. Rather, many English and General Paper teachers encourage it to improve students' language and writing skills.

The recent cases of two young men and a teen charged with making seditious and inflammatory remarks about Muslims on the Net have led to teachers discussing the dos and don'ts of blogging with students.

Three words: get over it!

As a student blogger, it completely puzzles me to see this article. Granted, there are a lot of student bloggers, and quite a number of them do have occasional references to teachers. Some of them are even quite unflattering.

So what?

What the school has to keep in mind is that such the audience of an average student blogger reaches to mostly, what… a few friends? That’s hardly cause for defamation or libel, especially considering, most of the time, the students are of one opinion about the teacher [especially if they have peculiar habits and mannerisms, or are just plain evil to the students].

Livelihood threatened? Yeah, okay. Get a grip, really. How much can the words of a 16 year old affect your career? And really, it is not as if we don’t gossip about teachers offline.

We students have no voice as it is. Any feedback we give is censored, strained, seasoned and presented on a golden platter to the authorities with all the ugly bits carved out. Blogs are our last avenue, a place for us to air what we really feel. Why are our teachers even looking at this space – don’t they have papers to mark instead of worrying what the students are saying about them?

Mr Wang has really funny response to this article (and I have to thank him, for the article, because STI requires digital subscription to access the articles *rolls eyes*)

Okay, if any teacher is going to come across this blog, let me say this to you: This probably wasn’t in the job description, but I can assure you, that being a teacher is avenue enough to invite gossip, especially if you have some weird/annoying/hilarious mannerism. When you stand in front of that classroom, that Lecture Theatre, you are putting yourself on display for the school. No way around it. It is absolutely natural that students will talk about you, we being human. Might as well accept it, and get over it.

EDIT: Mr Brown has a really good suggestion on how to deal with student bloggers.

Maybe teachers should start their own blogs and flame their students back. Better yet, have a yearly Interschool Teacher-Student Flamewar Blogging Championship. Like a WWE of blogging.

What will we see? “Samantha came to school again with an ultra-short skirt AGAIN. That girl is really getting to me!” or “Shawn forgot his homework, and was very rude to me. Boy, you better watch out that you don’t get detention from me!”

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