To the Editor:
I am writing in reaction to the front page article titled, “School and Community Call On All Parties to Help Combat Hate” (Town Topics, Nov. 22). Clearly racism and hatred have no place in our schools, or frankly anywhere. I applaud the efforts of our community leaders to combat it. While I abhor the thought of racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic language being written into an assignment visible to all eigth grade students, what also struck me about this episode is the absence of reflection on the circumstances that enabled it to occur. Behavior is most often attributable to a combination of personal traits and situational factors. Likely the person who wrote the racist and sexist language does not behave as a racist and sexist in every situation, and obviously not every student wrote hate speech on the assignment. We do not know the motivations of the student or students who wrote this. While the most salient motivator may be that he or she is a racist and sexist teenager, I can also easily imagine that this student is a mischievous kid who saw an opportunity to create some havoc and chose to do so. To me, discussion of this issue ought to be as much about the circumstances that enabled this to occur as it is concern for finding the perpetrator of the vile language.
From what I have read locally, the assignment was sent home in the interest of speeding up data entry. Expediency should not be the driving force when determining whether or not to use technology to facilitate learning. Raising children in this digital age requires a heightened understanding of the capabilities of the technology we allow our children to use and appropriate safeguards to positively direct their use of it. It strikes me that in this instance, a casual use of technology to support a lesson provided the opportunity for abuse of the technology, and someone took advantage of that opportunity. This suggests a need for a conversation about how technology is used inside and outside the classroom so we can minimize the opportunity for abuse. Two salient recommendations I would offer are appropriate training for those involved with technology-assisted assignments, and rigorous standards for the use of technology to support learning. Either proper protocols were in place and not followed, or lax protocols created an easy opportunity for misuse. Neither scenario should be tolerated.