Vonnegut, Boyd, Applegate, Eliot, Palacio, Wheaton, *jeminabox and Me
“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
– God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
I have loved this Vonnegut quote since the first time I read it almost ten years ago. When it comes to any discussion of children, bullying or digital citizenship, it floats into the back of my head. Whenever I see the Westboro Baptist Church haters come up in the media, I take a deep breath and channel Vonnegut.
“Combating bullying is not going to be easy, but it’s definitely not going to happen if we don’t dive deep in the mess that underpins it and surrounds it. Lectures by uncool old people like me aren’t going to make teens who are engaged in dramas think twice about what they’re doing. And, for that matter, using the term “bullying” is also not going to help at all either.” – danah boyd, Bullying has little resonance with teenagers
We can talk about laws against cyber-bullying, digital citizenship lessons and internet etiquette until we are blue in the face. This sort of explicit “Don’t be a cyber-bully” instruction ends with a hastily drawn poster and a set of Do and Don’t guidelines that don’t actually impact students’ choices on the WWW.
Like a standardized test, kids check the right boxes and then go on to continue being whoever they actually are in their world, a world which includes the Internet.
We need interventions that focus on building empathy, identifying escalation, and techniques for stopping the cycles of abuse. We need to create environments where young people don’t get validated for negative attention and where they don’t see relationship drama as part of normal adult life. – db, BHLRWT
Basically, we need to raise nice people. Students and children who are going to be nice on the Internet; nice to their friends and family; nice to themselves; nice to funny-looking strangers, clumsy puppies and water-logged worms. Side Note: There’s a school of thought that we shouldn’t be teaching our young girls to be nice because then they won’t be successful in the cut-throat adult (unfairly implied male) world. I disagree. We need to be teaching everyone- girl, boy and gender-neutral- to be a little bit nicer. Not weak and wimpy; just nice.
What are these interventions going to look like? Our school is introducing a new well-being curriculum to be delivered through homeroom. It will focus on four different areas of well-being, and being a person who is good to yourself and good to others in all ways is intrinsic in this curriculum. Digital citizenship is part of it, because the digital world is part of our world. It is not being addressed as a stand-alone issue. Amongst the topics addressed, it includes work on relationships and advocating for yourself, important skills for students face-to-face and on the Internet. It builds over the course of the 7 years you spend in the secondary school, and each year includes at least one major creation piece as part of the curriculum. Major rounds of applause are due for the teachers at our school who are developing this. I look forward to sharing more about it next year.
I am trying to do my part as a librarian. With our primary school librarian, I am designing a school wide reading program titled LIS Reads for the 2013-2014 school year. It’s theme is borrowed from Katherine Applegate’s epigraph in “The One and Only Ivan“:
It’s never too late to be what you might have been. – George Eliot
We’re going to start the year off with a whole school read of Wonder by R.J. Palacio, the book responsible for the #choosekind Web 2.0 phenomenon. After the introductory month, each following month will have four options (2 for secondary, 2 for primary) which are tied to the LIS Reads theme. As we complete the plans for this program, I will share the details on this blog. My hope is that by reading and discussing books that help students to think about who and how they want to be, students will have real examples of empathy, kindness, and assertiveness in the face of difficult choices.
There are other initiatives happening at our school as well, such as tim’s work (tim, like e.e. cummings is not fond of the capitals, so I bow out of respect, despite the pain it causes my inner editor) coordinating the CAS program and our DP coordinator’s push to get mindfulness incorporated into our lives as teachers and eventually into our classrooms.
The issues here are systemic. And it’s great that the Internet is forcing us to think about them, but the Internet is not the problem here. It’s just one tool in an ongoing battle for attention, validation, and status. And unless we find effective ways of getting to the root of the problem, the Internet will just continue to be used to reinforce what is pervasive.”– db, BHLRWT
This doesn’t mean we get rid of great resources like Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship curriculum. It means that we incorporate these into a larger coordinated effort as
educators humans to grow students humans we actually want to be around when we are old and crippled and subject to how they choose to treat us. These efforts need to be intrinsic in our schools, a part of everything we do in teaching and learning. They also need to be diverse, as I fully recognize that touchy-feely stuff like #choosekind doesn’t work for everyone. For that reason, I will allow Wil Wheaton and DeviantArt artist *jeminabox to close this post for me: