By Robin Beaver, Director of Technology
To borrow (and slightly alter) a phrase from the esteemed Charles Dickens, “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times,” digitally speaking at least. Never before has the human race had such immediate access to so much information. And never before have the crazies of the world had a broader audience! Never before have we had the ability to stay connected to and/or collaborate with friends, family and colleagues around the world. And never before have rumors and lies been more easily amplified.
We have explored the need to balance the use of technology in our lives, the role of social media in children’s lives and how best to manage technology with young users in previous blog posts, newsletters and parent forums. All of those things remain relevant and important. Knowing how to represent yourself online, how and when to use tech with little ones and being willing to simply disconnect at times is crucial. But what about discerning the validity of the information we receive and knowing what to do with it?
When I was young, there were limited sources of news and information and there were positives and negatives about that . While the content was generally vetted, it was most certainly also limited in scope and laden with bias. These days we have myriad sources which can broaden our views and in some ways keep people honest (or at least provide fact checking capabilities). But it also puts more of the onus for “truth-finding” on the reader. And let’s be honest, humans do not want to work too hard for their news. At Holy Child School at Rosemont, we have always felt strongly about teaching our students good Media and Information Literacy Skills, but in an era of “alternative facts” and “fake news” this becomes more important than ever. We encourage students to ask the questions like those listed in this article. We expect them to be critical consumers and creators of media – not simply passive users.
Much like seeking truth in the news and information they consume, we ask students to apply a similar process to the “facts” that come across their social media streams. Is this fact or fiction? Rumor or truth? Positive or negative? And what do I do with this information? Do I spread that juicy tidbit, leave the conversation, or try to interject some truth into the situation? And how do I know when I need to get some adult help? Luckily there is an analogy here. These are the same kinds of questions that we want our kids to ask themselves when they hear a rumor on the playground or in the locker room. It is just that now, those rumors have a larger audience than before so we have to be more vigilant than ever.
A knee-jerk reaction to all of this is to just restrict student access to the media in general and to social media specifically but that is a) not realistic and b) counterproductive. I think the not realistic part is pretty self-explanatory – we can certainly teach our children good usage habits, but expecting to be able to keep them in a media-free bubble? That ship has sailed.
Here is why I say it is counterproductive to keep students away from all media:
- The access to resources and experiences that allow us to develop an understanding of other cultures, ideas and lifestyles available via the Internet is one of the best ways I know to help our students get out of the very bubble that encourages them to be myopic in their approach to information and social interactions.
- The academic resources are boundless, varied, and often free.
- Like it or not, information and social media, may not always look like they do now, but they will be a fact of life for our children for the foreseeable future (and likely forever.) Thus, it is imperative that they learn, with our guidance and support, to navigate that realm and make it their own.
It makes no sense to demonize digital devices or the content they provide us with. That is like saying it is the car’s fault that I hit a fire hydrant, not mine as its driver. What we do want to do, however, is to help our students – and perhaps ourselves – take control of the media around us and use our powers for good!
I will end with a story shared by one of our seventh grade girls during the speech she gave as a candidate for Student Council Co-President last week. Apparently, the seventh grade girls have an ongoing group chat (of course), and each morning, one of the girls sends a text including the Middle School day of the week (e.g. Day 4) and a kind, positive, or motivational thought to all of the girls on the thread. Can you think of a nicer way to start your day? Because I can’t, and that is the “best of times” that technology can create.