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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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Caught on Tape - For Better or Worse

A student records a teacher violating school policies, leading to a ban on students taping teachers. What’s the story here, and who do you think is right?

Not too long ago I blogged about the proliferation of digital recording technology and the increased likelihood that we’d start seeing a growing number of gotcha moments in the classroom. By this, I mean students using a cellphone, digital recorder or other device to catch teachers in embarrassing situations, some of which might require disciplinary action against the educators.

Well, it didn’t take long for another incident to raise some tough policy questions. As reported by the New York Times and elsewhere yesterday, a New Jersey school district has announced a new policy banning students from recording their teachers after an incident occurred at one of their schools this fall. Matthew LaClair, a 16-year-old at Kearny High School, was troubled by his American history teacher, David Paszkiewicz, using his classroom as a platform for airing his religious views. The teacher had suggested that students who weren’t Christians were going to Hell and that evolution had no scientific basis.

LaClair felt these comments were a violation of the separation of church and state, but also concluded that school administrators wouldn’t take his word on what had happened. So he resorted to recording the teacher’s comments on the down-low in order to make a case against the teacher’s actions. All of this stirred up a lot of discussion about the separation of church and state, including media stories that carried excerpts of LaClair’s recording. Eventually, the school district issued a directive to all teachers reminding them of the principles of church-state separation.

As the recording was disseminated by the media, some students whose voices were heard on the tape complained to school officials that they were recorded without their permission. This led to another policy decision, the one that’s relevant to this particular blog. The Kearny School District’s board announced in mid-January that any student seeking to record his or her teacher would need that teacher’s permission first. Recording without permission could now lead to disciplinary action.

LaClair’s parents aren’t happy. “Adoption of this rule at this time sends all the wrong messages,” his father Paul LaClair, told the New York Times. “We were in negotiations and this is extremely ill-advised and disrespectful, if not bad faith.”

The Times also quotes an attorney for the district, who said the schools would begin offering training for students on their constitutional rights and to encourage them to come forward about concerns they have in the classroom. However, the attorney said the training would help explain that people “who exercise their rights should not be viewed negatively.” It appears he was referring to teachers, though one might ask the question about the student’s perspective on all of this.

The LaClair family is clearly concerned that this new policy will serve as a chilling effect against students who witness policy violations by their students. The district would likely counter that they want to see students coming forward to administrators directly, rather than taking action on their own by recording teachers secretly. In principal, that seems reasonable, though LaClair and students in previous cases have expressed concerns that making accusations without direct evidence wouldn’t have been taken seriously.

What are your thoughts on policies like the one adopted in Kearny? Is the district sending the right message that students shouldn’t use technology to capture evidence of teachers’ policy violations? Or are officials taking the wrong side, ignoring the concerns of students who seem themselves as having no other recourse? -andy

Filed under : Mobile Devices, Policy


WOW! I teach a video class in my high school and this blog really got my mind going. I am teaching students to use technologies to their advantage and giving them access to the tools. Are they going to use them in a similar matter within my building? This would not upset me, but I am guessing that my opinion on this may be in the minority of educators, at least at my school.
This blog really touches on several very controversial topics within education and the politics that accompany it. Many of which I have observed in my own school. We all have our issues to work out, it just seems that this schools issue have been brought out into the open.
I feel that it is sad that the student had to resort to this kind of technique to prove that something was indeed wrong within the school. It does appears to me that at least the school district has recognized that they have issues and does appear to be working with the staff and students to overcome them.
Don’t you just love the politics involved with education?

The problem here is that the question isn’t “Can I video my teacher when he or she is violating school policy?” but rather “Can I video everything that happens in school every day and put anything I want on YouTube?” I don’t see how you can have the first without also having the second, which would violate everyone’s privacy and safety and fundamentally alter the dynamics of a school, for the worse.

The primary question not answered by the knee-jerkiness of situations such as this is “Who controls the learning?” If we (teachers) intend for students to control their learning and to put them in positions to achieve, then we need to allow them to use available technologies. The Kearny policy Andy describes tends to reinforce the trappings of a teacher’s private practice, a notion that works against the professionalization of teaching.

The other easily overlooked piece to this story is the institutional tendency to disempower students who, for better or worse, are perceived as instigators of trouble or conspirators against the status quo. Who is better situated to point out the inconsistencies in the system or to declare “fraud”? A supervisor who visits the classroom once or twice a year? The parent who is provided with a commentary devoid of context? Or the actual people in the classroom whose collective voice is generally dismissed as naive or immature?

To my knowledge, cassette tape recorders did not raise eyebrows when used in classrooms. Is this situation just another unjustified backlash against cell phone use by teens (remember the brou-haha associated with pagers?) or is it a situation where the student actually outsmarted the teacher? Is this the way we treat those who blow whistles or ask where the Emperor got them threads?

In a room of mirrors, the person in the front ought to look into them once in awhile.

This is a very complex issue that may require more than just a black and white rule. I tend to look at issues according to the intent and the background of what had taken place before. To look at one issue in isolation is to forget that all things are tied together with a past and have an impact on the future. I can see the district’s view and that protocal must be followed. So, if the stuent had gone through the proper channels with the information, then it would have been dealt with in a satisfactory manner, we hope, and no one would have needed to be given the tape. The parents in this case should have been more zealous in how they handle the information. It appears that in today’s society, we tend to enjoy watching anyone in some authority position, be shown in a less than positive light. Maybe if we were to show everyone’s transgressions on the tube so that we are so that it becomes apparent that no one is without fault, we’ll get over this need to stoop to the lowest level and broadcast things to the world. Things need to be dealt with but we need to do so in a way that is less personally distructive - few people would want to be treated like this - the student and parents included. On the other side, institutions must quit hiding violators. As we see more and more “taping” of violations, we are going to become less and less trustful of them to the point where we become isolated and paranoid. Some where common sense must still prevail.

(Comment removed for violating posting rules)

uhhh … could you repeat that please?

Sorry about that. She has been posting angry messages to the blog and to me personally because she is demanding that I review her book on the blog, even though the book is not focused on edtech. Since she’s consistently violating all three of the commenting rules on the blog, her comments have been removed, and will continue to be removed as long as she keeps violating the rules.

Video Killed the Reading Star

As a teacher, I witness students that struggle to think outside of the highlighted terms that are in the text (compare history glossary). As a social science teacher, my experience has been that students are primarily operational in context and experssion. They know how to operate mobile phones, and mp3’s but they would never question, or pause in a moment of fleeting solitude, “how does this thing work, and why do I have such an inordinate attachment to it?”
Computers are useful only for the ontologically objective querries that may arise during a class; e.g. …the population of India is…. 1,095,351,995 (July 2006 est.)
This is not evolutionary, as to compare the class of 1972 with that of 2007. Students need to get tactile and handle subject matter, not become matter themselves; slaves to the warmth of lithium batteries that coddle their loins and fill their ears, never reaching the cortical structures that forces them to think.

How timely! The topic of media literacy, particularly as it pertains to young people, seems to be in vogue right now (the topic, not necessarily the teaching or understanding of). For example, media literacy is one of the foci of the folks in the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning and Media project. The topic also came up in last week’s “Child Safety on Web 2.0: Who Should Protect Our Kids?” panel discussion at the State of the Net Conference in DC. As the panelists in that panel discussion recognized, legislating problems out of existence isn’t likely to be successful, particularly when it comes to protecting children.

In this particular case, how do we both protect (a) children’s (and teachers’) privacy and (b) their curiosity and desire to learn and experiment? I don’t know but I don’t think those two goals are opposed to one another and there is a middle ground. Teachers aren’t the only ones struggling with these issues as ubiquitous cell phones with cameras make everyone into citizen journalists (but without having gone through any appropriate schooling or training, formal or informal).

What a coincidence that this blog appears a week after a similar incident happened to me! I am a secondary teacher who was secretly videoed by a student who was simply “out to get me.” In the video, which was shot at the end of the hour while waiting for the bell to ring, it is evident that she is trying to provoke me to “go off” on her, get angry and lose my cool, etc. She didn’t get what she was looking for, of course, but she posted this video on her MySpace. Another one was found in her archives that she had shot in another teacher’s classroom, as well. She was suspended for using electronic equipment in the classroom, but the unethical side of her actions were never addressed. I agree that this issue requires more than just a black and white rule, as Kelly Christopherson stated.

I understand that sometimes it may take actions such as this to catch wrongdoing, as in the case of the history teacher mentioned in the blog; however, what one must keep in mind is that there are many malicious students out there with access to powerful tools capable of negatively affecting or even ruining someone’s career with a videoed moment that could easily be taken out of context.

From the teacher/administrative perspective I can see issues with “other student” being recored without their knowledge.

As far as the misbehaving teacher, too bad. If you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t object to anyone recording your lecture.

I would suggest that if a student, or anyone else for that matter, wishes to record in a classroom it should take no more then walking in with the recorder, placing it on the desk in plan view and making the teacher and class aware of the recorder.

Now, if that recording were to contain inappropriate activity, then it should be taken to the administration not the media. The media should not have access without express permission of the people on the tape with the exclusion of the teacher….

I am the father of the student involved. Though it is no basis for policy, I wish to be clear that Matthew would not have recorded this teacher had his comments not been so far out of line.

A notice policy sounds reasonable, except for the fact that in our culture church-state violations are rampant. In a mostly Christian community like Kearny, NJ, for example, the vast majority of students will sit silently through any amount of preaching, and anyone who complains will be subjected to intense peer pressure, as my son has been. He even received a death threat.

Under those circumstances, it was clear to us that the only way to expose what is essentially community-wide corruption was to record the acts. Giving the teacher notice would have ended the behavior in that classroom, but it would have continued in every other. That gives license to dominionist and other proselytizers who are working very hard to convert our democracy into a theocracy. This is a very dangerous and very powerful movement. It elected the current president and many members of Congress, and is responsible for the current composition of the Supreme Court.

In my lifetime, I have seen the steady erosion of the wall separating church and state. It is being done largely by stealth, and anyone who dares to question the local majority will feel its wrath. Even with a policy in place, a student with enough of a social conscience will engage in civil disobedience and record.

If the child wants to videotape, they can do so legally. They just have to turn the sound off to keep it legal. Chances are that the instructor in question will have incriminating notes on the chalkboard which should suffice enough for a case against them. However, I also like the idea of treating the classroom like the set of Oprah(whereas one can request a download of the lesson taught so as to help out with homework when the parents are lacking in this department.)

You need guidelines, classes on guidelines and sign offs by students and faculty that they have read the material and understand the policies. The use of recording devices by anyone to record a criminal act, or record one who uses their position as an educator to further ideas that are outside the person’s area of learning, reflect individual views of religion or philosophy and are not so prefaced, should be encouraged and allowed. Students should be encouraged to be independent thinkers and to challange what they read or hear in the classroom. Concomittanly, they should understand the consequences of falsely accusing someone or using recorded material in hurtful or prejudicial manner.

I remember the 1st time I saw someone recording a teacher was when I was in college. She was a pretty hip Sociology professor and it didn’t bother her a bit. She also thanked a boy for catching a film projector that almost fell over one day.

An interesting thing happened to me. While teaching a class a student recorded my voice. Later on she put in some four letter words and tried to get me in trouble. Plenty of teachers have been falsly accused for a variety of reasons. Was tempted to give her extra credit for showing creativity.

Here we have two persons, each subject to the laws, rules and regulations of the country, state and local governments. Although different in their roles, each, in their own good conscience, commits an act of civil disobedience. Can we therefore look to government, whether decided by representatives or courts, to decide which one act of civil disobedience shall take precedence over the other?

Maybe it is time for both of them, and maybe the rest of us as well, to enroll in an ethics course and read Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience.

I no longer teach; however, I found that it was quite useful for my students to use tape recorders in class. When students are taking notes, it is often difficult for them to “catch” everything. All students have different learning styles, and the best way to ensure that a student is learning is for that student to read it, write it, listen to it, and then write it again. Teachers don’t want any of their students to fall behind, however, a classroom with 25 students can contain multiple levels of where the students’ learning levels are. Some may be on the senior level & grasp the information quickly & take notes well. Other students may be on a freshman or lower reading level and not grasp the lecture the first time and have difficulty with the note taking. Video and recorders help the students when they go home to study. I believe the majority of people in college took tape recorders to class in order to not miss anything. The issue as I see it is that some teachers are afraid of being caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing. When a teacher is in his/her classroom, they should always consider what they say and do as if they are being recorded. If the teacher sticks to curriculum & the subject than there you go, no worries. Besides, recording can often be in the teacher’s best interest when it comes to students being disruptive. There’s evidence of the disruptive behavior if a parent feels inclined to present it administration. IF a teacher is worried about being recorded/video taped in class than that teacher probably does have something to hide & shouldn’t be with your kids or my kids. Understand, there is no sense in recording roll or classroom grading, but it can most definitely be a help for students to record lectures & class discussions that are on the subject matter.

President Bush passed the no child left behind act. Recording can be a way for schools to insure that a child isn’t left behind due to his/her reading/learning levels. Recording in the classroom can be helpful for students. Students should not be given free reign with recording however. On more than one occassion I’ve had students “record” their tests/homework and mail to their friends who hadn’t had class yet. Teachers should be wise & use good old common sense in their classrooms concerning their conduct, teaching methods, and regarding the use of recording devices.

I have no problem with a student using technology to prove his/her civil rights are being violated.

Deliberately trying to stir up trouble in the classroom - you don’t need another rule to stop this. Were I live deliberately disrupting a classroom is not only against the rules, it is against the law ($150 - $500 fine).

Now for the ironic part. I sent out an e-mail to my fellow teachers on Friday. In it I explained that the because of a tech problem the distance learning cart in my lab would be on, and that someone could dial in and be able to see and hear what was going on in the lab. I’ve also posted a sign, and warn the students.

A couple of teachers were upset - I told them my lab and I’m fine with it.

One of the upset teachers has gone off twice in my room in the last month. One time yelling at a student for doing exactly what I told her to do - log off the computer, because my next group needed different settings. The other time the student had mouthed off at her, before coming in to use a spare computer for a tutoring program. I was teaching class and she is yelling at her student. The bad side of me hopes she does get caught.

I understand why the boy taped the class. It sounds as though this teacher probably would have forbidden the taping. I have no problem with being taped, but I want to know about it ahead of time. If I need to tape students, I need their permission. Maybe there should be permission both directions. As good teachers, we should have nothing to hide. Will the day come when video cameras are in classrooms as they are in police cars?

I think the teacher who said ‘that students who weren’t Christians were going to Hell and that evolution had no scientific basis.’ is a moron because that doesn’t determine whether or not you go to Heaven or not. Even as a non-believer, everyone knows that you are judged based on your life meaning if you were a kiddie porn watcher, who ran a drug trade or something then yeah of course. If you lead a decent life and you were let’s say an atheist, well it doesn’t stop you from being kind to others, etc so what he said was completely garbage. As for banning video taping of teachers, I think it’s just covering up the major corruption all over the place, in education and everywhere else. They shouldn’t ban it but they know that if they don’t, a big part of corruption will be discovered and cause problems. Then again, if you put a camera in everything including every single home on the planet, the world would be a very scary place..

I am very concerned about our children. I believe there should be a camera in every classroom and we should be able to monitor classes. I also believe parents should randomly sit in on classes. If the teachers have nothing to hide and they are teaching well and behaving appropiately with our children’s best interest in mind then they should be thrilled to have their classrooms monitored. I believe it would solve discipline issues and keep teachers off of their computers and in front of the class teaching. I also think it would allow us to see how our children are performing on a daily basis.


The idea of having parents “randomly” sit in on classes strikes me as misguided. More importantly, the implication behind the idea (that teachers who “have nothing to hide…should be thrilled”) is wrong. People are innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around. Do you believe that all teachers are showing pornography to their students, or that they are all in need of constant “monitoring” by parents?

Instead of policing classrooms, waiting for a teacher or substitute to say or do something,—anything—that an individual parent does not approve of that day, why not have that same parent help the teacher, the school, and the community by volunteering there? A parent who spends any time in our country’s public schools may have a better appreciation for teachers and the dedication they have to serving the public through educating their children.

I support students having the right to tape their teachers and professors in the classroom. In most instances, let us not forget, it is the parents who are paying for the education. Parents have the right to know what is being taught to their children; teachers do not usurp this right once the child walks through the school door. If a teacher is violating policy the parent has the right to know.

How ironic that the featured incident in your blog is an example where the violator of policy is a ‘Christian’ when in fact most of the complaints raised today are by conservative ‘religious’ students who must endure the relentless diatribes of liberal anti-religion teachers. I currently am experiencing this with our middle school but I know from personal experience in my high school days that teachers have been defying school policy for decades. I plan to find out if it is legal for my son to tape his Social Studies teacher and if it is I will have him do it. If for no other reason than to prevent the offensive statements being said, I will have accomplished my goal.


Wow, I am a bit surprised by how confused many people are about privacy rights. Everyone seems to want to justify the crime of video taping a teacher, and possibly posting it on a public forum like “youtube”, with the crimes that some teachers commit in the classroom. I really feel for the father who added comments earlier. But, in the end, an emotional response here will not justify the means. While it is true that this teacher deserves serious disciplinary action, including possibly losing his job. In any profession there are many people who should be fired, why is it that people are so set on violating our right to privacy to “lynch” teachers? Has this country really bought into the un-Constitutionally supported Patriot Act? Are we so desensitized to media that we think nothing of the students in the classroom? The teacher’s spouse or children? The reputation of the community or school district?
The argument that if you are not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t care if you were being taped, is merely empty rhetoric that has been force fed to you in our Post 9-11 era. It is a shorp time for our nation, and if we want to preserve our freedom (and the educational system) we need to find ways to deal with cell phones in classrooms that protects everyone’s rights.
Bottom line, if your school administration needs video to act on a teacher’s incompetence or criminal behavior, then worry about your administration. Do you really think that they are doing their jobs if they can’t get someone violating Federal Law out of the classroom without video? The enemy here is not teachers who want their privacy, it is comprised of broken administrators who can’t be bothered to visit classrooms.

As i read this issue that in hand there no right or wrong way. Teacher’ should have nothing to hide if they there for the right reason. It’s just not for the students rights,Let it be for all . I think all schools should have cameras in each room and one main one in the office.Teachers are to encourage the students and be roles modles after all the children are the future.

As i read this issue that in hand there no right or wrong way. Teacher’ should have nothing to hide if they there for the right reason. It’s just not for the students rights,Let it be for all . I think all schools should have cameras in each room and one main one in the office.Teachers are to encourage the students and be roles modles after all the children are the future.

There are a lot of opinions. But, does anyone know if there is a NJ law that prohibits a special needs child from tape recording a class?

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