Friday, September 30, 2011

To Have a Digital Soul

Margaret Roth is a secondary school teaching intern in Baltimore City Public Schools. An MAT candidate at Johns Hopkins, Margaret is interested in leadership and all sorts of avenues of education beyond the traditional classroom. This piece came out of her work in my Paperless Classroom course at Hopkins; it's context is Baltimore, but the theme is pretty universal. I thought it would make a good fit in the pages of this blog, and so I offer it to you. To read more of Margaret's writing, check out her blog: teachingdaisies. -- Shelly

Is there a place for 21st Century Technology in Baltimore City Public Schools?

This is a stupid question. Of course, there is place for social media and digital technologies in Baltimore City Public Schools, maybe not that there is a place, but there should be - there has to be, and we, as educators and parents, have to make it.

I have spent the last five weeks of my life in a class titled “The Paperless Classroom.” Day one I was told to make a Twitter, a freaking Twitter. At first I freaked out and I grasped for remnants of my pre-college too-cool-for-Facebook-MySpace-hating-self to justify my life up to this point. I was then forced to answer the question why? And I didn’t have an answer. For the next five weeks, I signed up for more digital media programs than I ever thought for a second existed. I found out that an entire universe of information was living all around me and that there were people who could breathe it, and I was suffocating. And today, maybe, I finally learned how to breathe in this world. I realized why all of this new media is important, what all this has led up to: I have created my digital soul. I have entered the digital age, and I am a more complete individual because of it.

Yet, this digital world is being made inaccessible to our students. 

Why do we send our children to school, if we are not going to let them learn to breathe on the outside? If we send students to school to lock them up in a building, to take away their phones, to restrict them with web filters, to forbid our teachers from forming relationships with them, what are we teaching them?


Nothing but to be afraid of the rest of the world, that the rest of the world and the digital universe are only there to hurt them. We are cultivating ignorance by fueling our students with disconnect and starving them with a lack of resources.

Right now we have the opportunity to give students a global classroom, to connect them with the rest of the world, all of our history, and all of our future. If we don’t make changes and get our students connected to this digital world, we will leave them behind, without a chance of changing. Students in this city have enough problems when they start out, they are already dealing with things that no child deserves to face. How can we knowingly deprive them of the resources to make themselves better?

Our students have the right to extend themselves and we have the responsibility to give them the tools to do so. To extend themselves they need to have an understanding of digital technology, they need to create and have an ownership of their digital soul. 

We need to start acknowledging the fact that what we do and experience digitally defines us just as much as the things that we do in our sensory life; that the comments we leave on a website, or photos we upload, are a digital record of ourselves - they are the ultimate journal, a record of our thoughts, saved universally, something that we can never loose, showing how we grow, and pending disaster, never erase. We need to embrace the fact that there is nothing wrong with this - we need to quit teaching our children to be afraid of this. 

The digital soul -- the record of ourselves and the redefinition of our personal space -- may be the most important advantage of social media and digital technology.

But due to the culturally created fear and the resistance of our current school policies to change, we have limited not only our own lives but the opportunities for the success of our students. Unless we enable them to move into the 21st century classroom, we are locking them out of success in our rapidly changing world, we are leaving them on the wrong side of a rapidly rising wall - a wall that they can not even see.  

Baltimore City students see enough walls. We have to give them the tools to build a place in the digital universe where their digital souls can be just as real as the ones we see dreaming inside of them.

1 comment:

  1. Digital Soul - nice one. I love the new language that is coming up around the internet.


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