Fear-Mongering Is NOT an Instructional Strategy

Room 2001 has some good stuff going on. I know because I spent a little time visiting their blog recently, to learn more about their work with a Fox News meteorologist who was having some trouble with his graphs. The page read, “Last night on Fox 11, the meteorologist presented two graphs to the viewers displaying different sets of data about upcoming weather. Analyze the pictures with the information and ask your self: ‘What’s wrong with both of them?’ ‘How can they be improved?’ “

Professional You vs. Personal You   http://room2001.blogspot.com/

Professional You vs. Personal You

The story of the class’s interaction with Fox in order to get images of the charts is interesting, and the students clearly had an authentic learning experience. But what really caught my attention was a box of text just sitting at the bottom of the right-hand column (see the column to the right).

I’ve never seen anything like this before: a well-reasoned, thoughtful explanation of the complex nature of being oneself on the Web.  According to the teacher, this statement is a starting place for what becomes a year-long class exploration of the subject.

No dire warnings. No blanket prohibitions against social media, i.e., their blog. No apparent hysteria about bullying or predators. Just kids, learning with the world, in the world, with an adult who is teaching them to take seriously the idea that they are in charge of what kind of You appears in the world.

Isn’t this exactly what should be happening? Of course. Is it?  Usually not.

In the name of keeping kids safe, most school districts actively block access to any Web site that could be characterized as social media. Worried parents, nervous school administrators, news media eager for a story, all would have us believe we have no alternative. For a teacher’s perspective on Internet Safety, visit Nameless, Faceless Children (Blogs and Internet Safety)

I would argue that the chronic anxiety, coupled with the blocking of access to the Internet conveys a different, subtle, and chilling message: The way to stay safe in the world is to be afraid. Always take a defensive position. Learn what the adults say you need to know for the tests. Do what you’re told.

There’s only one problem. Our young people are moving into a world that is digital, connected, rich with information, media, and possibilities. They need to be great readers and writers, yes, but being literate in this new world demands new ways of seeing, thinking, evaluating, taking action. Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California and Principal Investigator of Project New Media Literacies offers the list below as a preliminary view of new literacy skills.

A student cannot develop these dispositions from a position of fear.

Does the world really become safer if we put a fence around the school yard? Perhaps it feels that way at first. But I fear that, over time, the yard will begin to grow smaller and smaller,  followed, inevitably, by the mind.


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