The other day, I received the following text message: “My principal just told me I have to teach digital citizenship. Help?” I think this rather succinctly summarizes where we are at in education with regards to digital citizenship. We are told that it’s important; we know we need to teach it, but we have no idea what to do or where to start. Plus, we are all using digital tools and services. This educator sent a text message to ask for help about teaching a subject that includes text messaging! Technology is seeping into every area of our lives with increasing levels of importance. If you don’t believe me, go ask a fourteen year old to go a week without their cell phone.
Today is unlike any other in the history of time. We are moving faster, changing more rapidly, and engaging in behaviors completely alien to any generation before us- good and bad. There are a number of reasons for this, such as population growth, technological advancement, the rise of the middle class, or even the double-digit year-over-year economic growth of China. These changes, however, present a problem when they become part of the fabric of who our children are and we fail to acknowledge and adapt to these changes. We have seen the egregious failures and breakdowns throughout society, including members of Congress in the form of pictures that shouldn’t have been posted, emails that shouldn’t have been composed, and text messages that shouldn’t have been sent. We shake our heads in disbelief thinking, “surely they knew better.” We are quick to judge until it happens in our own back yard.
Every year there are stories that make headlines about inappropriate teacher/student text messages. We empathize when a student commits suicide over hurtful things that were sent to her. We are disappointed and frustrated when there are scandals and cover-ups. We spearhead and become involved in campaigns, if but for a short period of time. But what real, effectual change takes place? Have our students altered their thinking? Have they changed the way they operate within society? Have they given careful contemplation to what might happen if…? Have we? And this is just about how we can integrate something as basic as teaching digital citizenship!
Real, lasting change begins with the personal, conscious choices that you and I make on a daily basis. Complete breakdowns don’t happen (usually) in one fell swoop; they are the product of a series of choices. This is why reform takes as long as it does and why it’s so difficult to convince teachers (among others) to change what, according to them, has “always worked.” A series of small, incremental changes to your daily practices, thoughts, and actions can completely change where you end up in five years. A school where the teachers begin reevaluating their daily lessons is a prime place for small-scale change, but how, then, can we alter the educational system of our country?
Do we ignore it thinking that it’s always been that way? (Traditional public schools)
Do we scrap the whole thing and start over? (Private schools; charter schools)
Or do we begin to see that the world around us is altered one small choice at a time? Do we challenge the status quo not just with our voices, but with our actions? Do we reject the reality that exists today and strive to make each morning better than the previous? It is this mentality of persistent, constant progress that will slowly but surely change the tide. We have to begin somewhere and the choices you make today are the best place to start.