Facebook Note: Time to show your colours

While many teachers choose not to share their online spaces with students (in Queensland, where I have just moved, teachers are now officially prohibited from communicating with enrolled students on any social networking site), I do have about a dozen senior students (from NSW) who have added me as a ‘friend’ on Facebook.

My personal policy has always been to only add students in my HSC (final year) class.  Since going on leave, I have accepted invites from some in year 11 too.

Over the last few days I’ve noticed in my news feed a few of my students becoming ‘fans’ of the group “Your Gay” or “Thats Gay” is a excellent response to ANY situation.

So tonight I posted this in my ‘Notes’ section, tagged the students in question, and waited…

I’ve noticed a few of my friends becoming a FAN of the group:
“Your Gay” or “Thats Gay” is a excellent response to ANY situation.

Really?

You REALLY think so?

I guess you must not know anyone who is gay then, or have thought very much about how this might make a gay person feel.

Or maybe you really believe that everyone has ACCEPTED that the word ‘gay’ can be used out of context. Because no-one REALLY thinks that you mean ‘gay’ when you say ‘gay’, right? Like, you’re not actually saying that something is homosexual!

Buuuut…last time I looked, there were plenty of people out there, gay and straight, begging people like you to stop using this word. Plenty of people who are HURT when you say it. Plenty of people who understand the origins of this word being used as an insult, ON PURPOSE, in a very directed way, to literally mean that GAY = BAD. Plenty of people who have suffered verbal and physical (sometimes violent) abuse at the hands of viscious (as well as oblivious) homophobes, just because they are gay.

But hey, it’s just a word, right?

Ah ha! I know – maybe you think you are a postmodernist, and you believe that words should be detached from their historical meanings so they can be used again in new and exciting ways. Ironic ways! Contradictory ways! In ways that are self-reflexive, and therefore actually subtly critical of social institutions at large! (Wow, that would make you pretty smart…but I just can’t help but think that Derrida and Foucalt had other things in mind when they encouraged people to challenge social norms.)

If you’re tagged in this note then you probably don’t think that “gay is just another word for happy” is a good reason to use the word ‘gay’ as an insult, because that whole argument just makes no sense whatsoever…and I’m not usually friends with idiots! No, chances are you don’t think that, anymore than you think anyone actually uses the word “faggot” in regular, non-woodsman-type life to describe a ‘bundle of sticks’.

MAYBE you’re actually a social activist, and you’re trying to reclaim the word ‘gay’ the way that black people reclaimed the word ‘nigger’, or the way the GLBT community reclaimed the word ‘queer’. But if you thought about THAT for longer than two seconds, you’d realise that no…using a word as an INSULT doesn’t count as reclaiming language. In fact it’s kinda the opposite. It’s more like how when people say ‘nigger’ as an INSULT they are being RACIST.
(Though perhaps you have never watched important historic speeches like Martain Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and really been shocked at what African-Americans had to endure at the hands of the law, let alone at the hands of racists citizens, back in those days. Like, did you know that black people couldn’t vote! That they were made to ride on the back of buses! Kinda like how women couldn’t vote at the turn of the last century – or how they weren’t allowed to buy property, open bank accounts, or divorce their husbands! Or like how gay people are not allowed to get married, or adopt children as a couple, or work for schools owned by the Church! Oh…wait… that’s now. My bad.)

No, I DON’T think that “You’re Gay” or “That’s Gay” is an excellent response to any situation.

And friend, I don’t think you’re cool when you say that it is.

You know for a FACT that it is hurtful to use ‘gay’ as an insult, so now you have the choice – are you gonna do it anyway? How mean are you? How disrespectful to the struggles of countless others, their families and friends? How callous? How cruel?

Use your imagination and come up with a new word already.

It’ll take you awhile to kick the habit, but it’s worth it.
Swear if you have to.

AND UN-JOIN THAT STUPID GROUP OR UN-FRIEND ME!

The response was immediate, and resoundingly positive.  Many students who picked the note up through their news feed ‘liked’ the note without being invited.  Here are some of the comments that were posted:

“never thought of it like that, unjoined!!”

“thank you for showing me the light 8P”

“yer that is totally fair enough. i actually joined on account of an injoke with some friends, and the group related to the context of the situation, but fair point.”

I also got some lovely messages from fellow teachers who shared their stories and experiences, and the students would have read this too.

So…cost/benefits of dipping into the ‘teacher’ role on social networking sites?  You tell me. But I just got a whole bunch of students to leave that stupid group, and some are re-posting the note to their friends.  For tonight, 100% worth watching my online p’s and q’s to ensure I maintin my duty of care.

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  1. #1 by tboy72 on November 19, 2009 - 12:25 am

    You made a pretty bold move, making those people think twice about how they used the word “gay”.

    You are obviously popular, and have some influence. Here comes the part that you may not realize.

    In a world where popularity and influence are what many stars and other people of such caliber, are really seeking; you realized that you can use your influence for something other than making money selling someone’s product.

    You realized you could change the behavior of some people, and the fact that you could do this without making them defensive, or retaliate, says quite a bit about you.

    Good for you, thumbs up to you. Where were all the teachers like you when I was in school?

    Also, what kind of a stupid group was that anyway? “saying that’s gay works in every situation?” That is officially one of the most ridiculous groups I have ever heard of.

    Again, hats off to you!

    Tboy72

  2. #2 by darcymoore on November 19, 2009 - 5:10 am

    A really insightful post, Kelli.

    I love how you are able to challenge ‘the authorities’ fear of social media and the kids’ homophobic use of language, whilst still ‘teaching’ the kids something about language.

    Very very very good!

  3. #3 by Barbara Schaffer on November 19, 2009 - 5:21 am

    Hi,
    It goes to show how it is possible for an individual to make a difference !and that social networking can really widen your sphere of influence!
    …… Thanks for the post

    Let’s stand together and not allow homophobic use of language to become normalised.

  4. #4 by paralleldivergence on November 19, 2009 - 5:31 am

    Well done Kelli. I’ve been saying for years that teachers MUST jump into this world where our students are carelessly swimming. Although we may not fully understand the “technology” and know all the procedures, we still have guidance to offer – sorely needed guidance for students who are still immature enough to realise the repercussions of what they post on-line. Attitudes and behaviours can be changed by teachers who are prepared to teach using 21C resources. We must jump into that world, because THAT world is the REAL world.

  5. #5 by Kate Tracy on November 19, 2009 - 6:27 am

    Kelli your comments are perfect. It’s great that you used FB for the forum for your comments. I have a ‘reputation’ at school because I never let it, ‘gay’, be said, without commenting on the inappropriateness. What I find disturbing is how early it starts, I’ve heard kindergarten kids using the word gay in a pejorative manner. Language shapes reality, and we all need to be reminded of that.

  6. #6 by Eva Gold on November 19, 2009 - 7:14 am

    That’s why we love our Kel!

  7. #7 by Yvonnefergie on November 19, 2009 - 8:15 am

    popular?! no just respected. we become good friends because we respect not because of popularity.

    and your post was about “respect” to people who want themselves to live up to the values they aspire to and respect themselves.

  8. #8 by Lysh on November 19, 2009 - 10:57 am

    Good job my fantastic, passionate and immovably just friend :)

    My first instinct was: “How bizarre that QLD PROHIBIT student-teacher contact on social networking sites. They must have little trust in the professionalism of their teachers”. But on reflection, giving them a bit more foresighted credit, perhaps they are trying to stop incidents like one that I was just told about: a teacher I’m doing marking with just found out that a group of Year 9 students had created a page in her name and were pretending to be her. She hasn’t seen it, doesn’t really want to in dread of what they might have put. Another teacher I know is still being bullied viciously by one particular student through Facebook, despite criminal charges. Perhaps this is not QLD’s reasoning, but it is worthy of consideration.

    That being said, as English teachers particularly, how vital and powerful is it when we engage with our students through all the voices and forms that they themselves are exposed to – meeting them in a real and thought-provoking way, making them aware of the power and manipulative potential of words & visuals all around them.

    Thankyou for making a stand on that stupid and irrational use of the word “gay” too – how the heck does anything that dumb take off anyway?

    Love you,

    Lysh

  9. #9 by Troy on November 22, 2009 - 3:53 pm

    I read that note with a big smile. I am forever trying to move students or colleagues beyond ‘that’s gay’. I find it the most offensive thing I come across at school.

    I am not entirely confident with adding students on facebook, at my current school, but I have added past students, and recently sent them a note that I would be back at their campus for a training day. Everyone of them was positive and came and had a look at what the teachers were doing on the training day. Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to social media and the negative connotations surrounding the label of gay.

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