As I was reading through my Google Reader blog feeds last night, I came across Wes Fryer’s (@wfryer) post entitled “Jessi Slaughter (Jessica Leonhardt) on YouTube: A Case Study on Digital Citizenship.” It was an appalling story of cyberbullying that has gotten completely out of hand, especially after the father’s “misguided” contribution to the girl’s video responses. I won’t go into more detail about it since Wes already did a great job with the news clip and article links.
This unfortunate incident comes just in time when I am learning and exploring the different elements of digital citizenship in my recent ed-tech course. It explains why education is very slow in regards to fully accepting technology in the classrooms. Cases of extreme cyberbullying give social media and online knowledge communities a bad rep, and most schools simply don’t want to deal with it. The path of least resistance is to block and ban. Unfortunately, shutting our eyes and ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. It’s the digital big bad monster in the closet. It’ll keep on howling, thrashing, and scaring everyone away unless someone finds the courage to address it, confront it, and flash a light into the dark to dispel it.
As Wes wrote in his reflections, I also believe that it takes an entire village to raise a child. It is very important that the entire school community come together to not only talk about, but also demonstrate and model digital citizenship. Only by bringing these issues out in the open without fear can we begin to shed light on responsible use of technology in schools and at home. Clearly the actions of Jessi’s father demonstrate that great need to bring awareness and understanding to everyone involved. I am reminded of a particular line in the Acceptable Use Policy of one of the local schools in which I observed: “With great opportunity comes responsibility.”
Are we taking our responsibilities seriously when we as administrators and educators ignore these issues in our schools? In the words of Dr. Leman, are we building nests or cages? Today we are at an age of infinite possibility, and yet we hover at the edge because of fear–fear of uncertainty, of danger, and the unknown. We don’t live in a bubble, and children will be children regardless of how well we cover all the bases. I think we gravely underestimate the students, and in doing so, we do them a disservice by not showing them how to use their talents and expressing their voices in more responsible ways.
Ultimately all these issues boil down to one thing: the human factor. It is as the representative said in the video clip, “It’s not the site [or the tools], it’s what the kids are doing.” What exactly are we teaching our students to do when we don’t take on that responsibility for ourselves in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our communities?
“2009 Challenge 37/365 Color Brown” by Loren Zemlicka
“Front Porch Robin” by SteveTookIt