Wednesday, June 03, 2009

This is Zeitgeist Stuff

I've read a lot recently and heard a lot recently about the frustrations and burnout felt by teachers.

Well, it's June, so that's bound to happen.

But this year it's seemed to have been heavier and more pervasive than in most years. And I think when we look back on it, we'll realize why.

The 2008 - 2009 school year will be remembered as the year that the battle for social media in the classroom was fully engaged.

True, some great teachers began using blogs and wikis in school years ago. But this year saw something different. In the full explosion of social media -- especially as evidenced by the exponential cultural growth of Facebook and Twitter -- this year marked the first time that teachers took control of social media in a big way and demanded that they be able to use it both for professional development and as a tool in their classroom teaching arsenal.

Some admins bought in, some admins balked; but teachers everywhere flocked to social media and opened it up in ways that could not have been imaginable just a short time ago. Teachers flocked to Twitter because they fundamentally recognized the value of a free connected network. And that's one of the most important distinctions to be made between the old Web and the new Web:

The old Web was top-down and styled after the world as it had been.

The new Web is free and reflects we the people as we shall be.

This is Zeitgeist stuff.


And, inevitably, along with the Zeitgeist came the fear. Along with the teachers dying for the truth followed the folks scared to death of anyone knowing the truth. Along with the freedom that the new networks of humanity suggested came the eventual threats of blocking, filtering, and just plain turning off.

And many teachers who had just begun using Web 2.0 saw the doors closed before their eyes.

There were no explanations. Just fear. Paranoia.

Same stuff that always follows Zeitgeist around.

A teacher friend confided to me that his school had a team of several lawyers prepped for a battle over social networking. A battle that never took place. The fact that the school was willing to keep the lawyers retained for work they'd never do speaks volumes about the culture of fear.

Years ago, MySpace was made out to be a den of villainy. I recall being told by a law enforcement officer that perverts and criminals were timing their villainous escapades to the posts of teenagers across the USA.

Paranoia stuff.

"Don't take the train because it could derail" stuff.


I have had the fortune to work in a school where getting sites unblocked has been fairly easy and where parents have been on the side of opening access. And that's another of the things that we teachers need to keep in mind: parents and teachers working together can change the world.

Many teachers have long feared parents.

And many parents have long feared teachers.


Get together, already. It's our kids' futures we're talking about here. It's our future. And despite the best intentions of the philistines to portray it as blithe cliche: it's THE future.

Who the heck do you think is going to be running this place when we're all gone?


Those kids.

The ones we're afraid will discover sex on the Internet.

The ones we're afraid will curse each other out in a chat.

The ones we're afraid will publish things on a blog about how they hate school because it's boring and useless and the teachers treat them like two-year-olds who don't actually realize what's going on.

The ones who we're afraid might ignore us.

Those kids.



Ever see one of those slasher films where the bad guy is wielding a kitchen knife?

I'm especially a fan of the late-'70s / early-'80s brand of horror flicks, so I'm thinking Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.

Now, tons and tons of kids saw those movies. You, like me, might be one of them.

So consider: after returning from the movie theatre, did any of you find all the kitchen utensils hidden away by your parents?

Because that's sort of the same lunacy we're talking about here with the fear of social media. We're telling kids: you can't use the thing that hundreds of millions of adults are using because we know that you are so impressionable you would only be able to use it to conduct unspeakable acts.

When we pull social media from kids, effectively what we are saying is: we can't trust you around the knives in the kitchen.

It's insane.

As for the fear of people stealing our children via the Internet: did fear of strangers in shopping malls ever really slow down the economy? You might as well keep your kid locked in a box because that's the message you are sending: you can't be trusted.

Kids get all of these ludicrous messages from us the responsible adults and then we wonder why they go and do stupid things.

Which lands us back in the classroom.

Because the classroom is the final frontier for trust. The classroom is the last place that kids can go and try to get a little truth, experience a little honesty, and be served by a professional whose sole responsibility is to prepare the child to enter the world with integrity, grace, and intelligence.

And now, you've emasculated that professional by taking away the one thing that can best connect her or his classroom to the rest of that 'real world' we always talk about.

And it's right there that the kid realizes that it's all a con.

It's all about the lawyers.

All about the fear.


So I understand why so many teachers are burnt out. I see the exasperation in the comments I receive on this blog. I feel the pain and frustration in the emails I receive.

All I can say is this:

The 2008 - 2009 school year will be remembered as the year that the battle for social media in the classroom was fully engaged.

And if you are reading this blog, then in some way you were probably a part of this battle. It's not over. Our work just gets harder.

I will continue to use the freedom my school honors its teachers with to continue to seek new and effective and powerful ways to engage students through the authentic application of digital technology to their everyday classroom experience. I will continue to fight for the rights of universal free access by all students and all teachers in the one way I feel like I can: by setting precedent for the use of that access in the classroom. And I am hardly alone. As I've said before, there are thousands of teachers who in a simple blogpost would make my work look like so much of yesterday's news.

I'm asking them hereby to do exactly that. Make this paperless classroom teacher look old-fashioned. Make the paperless classroom and the full integration of social media into education appear as obvious and simple and naive as it is.

Make me obsolete.

That's the way we win this thing. Because none of this is about you or I feeling comfortable; it's about our kids getting the truth.

Make me obsolete.


  1. Wow. This was a great post. I'm a brand new teacher, a digital teacher, and all I've encountered is fear. Colleagues and parents have all expressed their fears to me. In fact, some even feared ME! I'm 5'3", what is there to be afraid of!? They are all afraid of what 'could' happen and I think that's crazy. The only people who do not fear me are my students. They crave what digital teachers have to give them. But, no one wants to listen to them. Alas, I will continue my struggle. Thank you for this post, however. I, for one, can't wait to become obsolete.

  2. I think it's a generational thing. Only the most disadvantaged (or bottom half)of the Gen-Xrs grew up and went to college without knowing how to use the PC and Web 1.0 (AOL, remember that?)Even here in Asia.

    By 2010 parents of school-going children and teachers who grew up using technology commonly in the 80s and 90s will form a significant size making objections to tech-use sound ridiculous. By 2015 kids of Gen-Xrs will start entering sec school or college and Gen-Y parents and beyond start making schooling choices.

    By 2015-2020, those opposing tech use would be retiring. Guess who's taking over :D? The opposition comes from the fact that those parents and educators missed the boat in the 80s and 90s and thus cannot form a premise for the use of tech. I'm speaking from personal experience.

    Your work is important to pave the way for those younger parents of school-going children and teachers (now below 35) who will eventually redesign the whole idea of learning beyond schooling.


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