Media Illiteracy prevails, and the adults aren’t off the hook

As our modes of communication grow smarter, we seem to be doing a shoddy job of using them. This is not just about the misuse of Twitter, of which dumb tweets are legion. Such as a Time correspondent firing off a tweet wishing for a drone strike on Julian Assange in 2013. This is about young people who have too powerful publishing tools at their disposal. If you like to know more, you will love this compilation!

This week, six High School students in Arizona got themselves and their school into serious trouble, using SnapChat. They got a picture of themselves taken wearing shirts that spelled out a racial slur. They learned, too late, that an app’s ability to ‘communicate’ should not define the message. (If none of them had data-enabled mobile devices would anyone have even bothered setting up the shot?).

An editorial in the Arizona Republic asked how students who have gone through a curriculum that probably included close reading and discussion of the civil war era, could have been so crass.

It’s hard to imagine these girls got this far in school without reading the ugly chapters in American history about the enslavement and oppression of Black people. Did they fail to pay attention? Did they fail to connect the dots to real people?

Let’s not get parents off the hook. How much time are we spending with young people to inform them about media use? It’s easy to be tool literate and media stupid.

Here are some thoughts for parents who may be considering giving a teenager (actually pre-teens, now) a mobile device:

  1. You pay for the phone and the data plan. You own the device; you set the rules. A phone is not like a pair of shoes, it doesn’t have to belong to the end-user.
  2. You better decide on the apps that get on the phone. Don’t complain later when a kid is spending too much time on Insta-brag or Brat-chat. I mean Instagram and Snapchat.
  3. Like your car keys, devices not owned by a child should be stored outside of bedrooms at night.
  4. It’s possible for homework assignments to be completed without digital devices. Really!
  5. Make sure your child makes every effort to not be in a video taken by a fellow insta-bragger.
  6. Finally, make sure your child’s school has a policy that has been updated to match the ubiquity and speed of shared media. It’s no longer valid to call it a ‘social media policy’. It’s a device use policy.

The tug-of-war between social media ‘policies’ and ‘guidelines’

Social media in the education system is often treated with the broad brush. I’ve gotten used to this, and fielded this argument long before I got into education – as a communication consultant.

Organizations who have been mildly exposed to the uses and abuses of social media immediately throw two things at it: filters and policies. You see that’s how we always dealt with these things, didn’t we? When email came along we had gatekeepers (human filters), and policies. Long before that, when people started had access to phones, people did exactly that – they ‘locked’ phones inside booths and rooms, and were worried that employees might spend too much time talking on the phone.

Fast forward to today. Schools are wrestling with this age-old communication issue of Policies vs Guidelines. Gatekeepers vs Accessibility. To address this head on was a timely White Paper on Ed tech in Schools (by the American Association of School librariess) that noted how Acceptable Use Policies or AUPs, are more a list of things young people should not do, rather than what they ought to be considering as digital citizens.

Expanding on this, Frances Harris and Megan Cusick update it with a call to rethink social media policies in schools.(“What’s Not to ‘Like’? March 10, 2014), citing Common Core standards that call for making knowledge “robust and relevant to the real world.” I like how they dig deeper into CCSS to suggest that we ought to be teaching students to use technology  “to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.” (Italics, mine). The point here being that, one effective way to solicit feedback is to get them to be out there in public, on published platforms. While we are busy erecting high fences around this pool, we may be leaving them unprepared to dive into the “real world” where the pools are everywhere and unfenced.

Don’t get me wrong. I teach K-6, and have children of my own, so I know the importance of guidelines and ‘small fences.’ But to the authors’ larger point, we parents often try to teach our children to swim, rather than making them fear the deep end.

I’ve just begun a class on blogging for my 6th graders. They’ve read the AUPs, and that’s behind us now. Now it’s time to see them go public.