It’s been a week or two of interesting stories related to school students harnessing social networks in order to make a point. We’ve had school speeches on the state of education and a plea for puffer jackets to name the most recent two.
There has been reciprocal handwringing on the part of the press in response that has varied in tone, from ‘social media amplifies opinions unhelpfully’ (PPTA interview) to ‘Today’s students have appalling attitudes, thinking they are untouchable …bring back corporal punishment for one year, and whack some of those students who so desperately need it for there abhorrently selfish attitudes” [comment, MelSays, 1/7/15]
This collection of stories brings to mind the research of folks like danah boyd and Keri Facer, who have both highlighted the way in which young people’s use of technology is directly related to how they choose to build relationships and find their voice and identities.
I wonder sometimes whether society still has a slight hangover around young people being seen and not heard, dismissing their views as immature, poorly developed and knee-jerk. This doesn’t sit well against ideas that are central to how we choose to educate young people today.
For example, there is a national drive towards access and use of digital devices for young people. What does this mean? That they can have them but only use them on others’ terms? That we think technologies are important but only to be used for designated learning opportunities? I think the horse has bolted here. Ubiquitous access to technology must surely need to align with the message: we think you deserve to have a voice, you have something important to say and we think it’s worth sharing.
If we don’t like what that ‘something’ message is, or the networks on which it is shared, too bad.
New spaces for community engagement
Facer (‘Learning Futures: education, technology and social change’) talks about how we can tell a great deal about relationships between adults and young people by how technology is mandated or restricted in schools. If we open the doors to access for young people, we should expect them to use their networks to have those conversations that are important to them, regardless of whether others think they are making immature points. She suggests:
- Social networks offer new forms of democratic engagement where young people first learn to “do democracy”.
- The way technologies are used in school, to both silence or empower, models powerful lessons about democratic practice and civic engagement.
- If we are to take the online space as places where young people learn to play out democratic rituals, how are we helping young people navigate and understand such spaces?
Citizens now, not citizens in waiting
The role of parents and educators is to help them harness, navigate and understand the way these networks operate – understand that we can choose to share information but understand how technology may then amplify that information in ways we cannot always control. I like the research from NZCER (‘Key Competencies for the Future’) in its positioning young people as active citizens now, not citizens-in-waiting. How can we help them take collective action now on issues that matter to them most and in ways that will get most traction?
The fact that we may not agree with their message is irrelevant. The key here is to help them communicate and shape the messages using the channels that have greatest relevance for them.
Whether it is puffer jackets, speeches or the next media-hyped ‘youth’ opinion, we would be wise to see it is an opportunity to catalyse discussions about communication – and around our relationships with, and perceptions of, our young people.
Got tech? Hear me roar! by Karen Melhuish Spencer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.