A #ChooseKind Mashup

Vonnegut, Boyd, Applegate, Eliot, Palacio, Wheaton, *jeminabox and Me

Photo by NASA – Public Domain

“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

Photo by ThatsABigIf under CC BY 2.5 license

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:

Wil Says… by *jeminabox on deviantART

6 thoughts on “A #ChooseKind Mashup

  1. Great post. I agree, we need to teach our kids to be nice everywhere. Be strong, be knowledgeable, but in the end, share their ideas and collaborate in a nice manner. Nice always wins. I hate the fact that nice is often coupled with “weak” when thinking about leaders. In many of our positions where we have to work with our colleagues, I think being nice and working well with others is the #1 attribute.

    We have developed our citizenship program this year as well (in the middle school) and we are looking to better roll it up to the rest of the secondary school. Please share all the great things you are doing when you can.

    Your school is doing great things. Is COETAIL advancing the curriculum development and programs at your school a lot this year since so many of you are participating? Or was the momentum already there and you are all superteachers?

    • Julie,

      Oh you make me laugh! I am doing an excellent job of making us sound way cooler than we are, although I do think we are pretty cool. I think that we do have a lot of great stuff happening here though. Our secondary school principal (I work in the secondary, so I can’t really comment much on the primary) has a really strong vision and is working hard to hire great people. Also, Angola is just finally starting to get it together in terms of Internet and stuff (I mean, a lot of it is terrible, but most of it is getting better everyday) so a lot of people are able to push harder for innovative thinking. The other thing is, our school is only about ten years old and has grown very quickly. This means that we are having to build a lot in terms of policies and programs. A lot of the stuff happening is not because we are trying to be “that school”, but just because we are putting it together from scratch as we go and getting the support we need from our administration.

      All those things said, yes I think COETAIL is impacting our school. I see teachers willing to try new things and experiment and their enthusiasm is bleeding out into other areas of the school. That’s really nice to see.

      With the exception of the current outbreak of hemorrhagic dengue fever (EEK!), this is an amazing place to work. I am very lucky.

      With the permission of our staff, once we have our well-being curriculum completed, I’ll share what I can. It looks fantastic,a nd I get no credit for it!

      Have a great day,

  2. Excellent post, Katy! Thanks. I love the Vonnegut quote-pretty much sums up how we should all be in life. 🙂 The well-being program that you are all developing sounds fantastic, especially with digital citizenship as a component and not a “separate” part. Like you said, the digital world is the one that we all live in, so it makes perfectly good sense to have it embedded. You are definitely doing your part in the library-how cool to collaborate with the primary teacher librarian and to start out with a whole school read of “Wonder”. Such a perfect book to start the year and a perfect way to get the discussions going. It’s such an accessible story-one that primary students will definitely be able to engage with.
    Well done and keep up the good work! I look forward to reading more!

    • Hi Beth,

      Especially in the midst of a conversation about giving credit where credit is due, I merely consulted on the digital citizenship portion of our well-being program. There are several people at our school (Sheila Allan!) who are the main people writing this amazing curriculum. I think it’s going to be pretty fantastic!

      As far as the LIS Reads program goes, I am getting really excited about it. I just read Orchards yesterday (I’ll post a review later this week) and I think it’s going to be our upper secondary novel in verse for March, which we will celebrate around World Poetry Day. I am pretty excited about Wonder. It’s unique in that any age can read and connect with it.

      Thanks for dropping by,

  3. HI Katy,
    This is a great post I am somehow coming across now, during course 3. I loved the idea of having the whole school read a book together. How did it go? Which grades read it?

    • Hi Mary,

      I guess you missed it the same way I only saw your comment now! 🙂 For a start to a program, it was pretty great. The whole school didn’t read it, but many did from years 2 through year 13. The opening night, which Ju Garcia made her Course 3 movie about, and our end of month celebration, which I made my Course 3 movie about, were awesome. We had nearly one hundred people at our LIS Reads opening night.

      There’s been some ups and downs over the last few months as we introduce new books every month. Wonder was just the first month, and we’ve had new books every month. If you visit my Course 5 ideas post, you can see some of my ideas for how I might be able to take it to the next level, at least in the secondary school. I’d love any feedback!

      Have a great break,


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