Archive for September, 2011

Learning to use social media shouldn’t be like learning to ride a bicycle, it should be like learning to drive a car.


 Learning to use social media shouldn’t be like learning to ride a bicycle, it should be like learning to drive a car.

Generally, children start to be taught to ride a bike when they are physically able to learn. We start by doing. We don’t worry too much about them going too fast or too far as they are still young and are watched by their parents. They are also small so going too fast is rarely a concern. We don’t worry too much about the rules of the road; those come later. The rules aren’t that important to their learning process because they are, again, not going far, not fast, there’s always a parent around. Often, the rules of the road are immaterial as they are learning on paths, parks or parking lots. Eventually, we teach them all that as they begin to go farther away from a parents gaze. Eventually, we fill them in about the dangers and the we warn them about the rules. Maybe we wait so we don’t dampen their enthusiasm; maybe we don’t want to worry them. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, they have plenty of time to learn the rules as they go. There is little danger in learning to ride a bike this way.

Learning to drive a car is a radically different process. First, we wait until we think they are old enough to handle the responsibility safely. Teens are physically able to drive a car long before we begin to teach them; obviously, we feel the dangers / responsibilities are a more important criteria then mere physical strength. When they are finally viewed as old enough, we still delay their participation in social driving.

First, we teach them the theory. Either by studying a book and taking a test, or by taking classes, or most often by doing both, we are finally ready to take them on guided lessons about driving. Then, at least in Ontario, they go through a 2 year probation period before we give them full access. As a society we take learning to drive very seriously. We are proactive in mitigating the risk. We have professionals who are aware of the dangers, not just the advantages of driving, teach them to be safe. No instructor says, “wow, look what a car can do – explore! Test the limits!”

Even though they grew up in a culture where cars are the norm, even though they are natives in a driving culture and can’t imagine a world without it, we take the time to make sure that they are ready before we let them drive on their own.

I think we should be as responsible and serious about teaching them to use social media; I think pretending its like a bike is irresponsible and harmful.


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Should Kindergarteners be using Twitter?

 Last week I offended someone. For those of you who know me, that might not come as a shock, but I’d like you to bare with me. I was reading an article about Twitter in a kindergarten classroom. I re-tweeted it and called it reckless.

@ginrob_pt P. Tucker

Rather read about their understanding of SM and privacy-reckless! MT @OISELibrary How a SK class uses Twitter to learn

@happycampergirl was good enough to engage me about it on twitter, and I am hoping she will respond to this post. Since my initial re-tweet, I’ve learned more about her and what she is doing. Not that she needs my approval, but I think she’s doing a good job. She seems to have the current privacy of her students well in hand, and she is using twitter to do really interesting stuff. She has found a way to use it for a very engaging, authentic, ongoing, literacy, learning activity. If you disagree with my objections below, you should check out her blog about it @ . If you disagree with my points, you could hardly find a better use for Twitter with kindergarten students; however, if I were a parent of one of those children, I would not have signed the parental consent form; I would not allow my child to participate. By the end of the post, one of 3 things will be apparent: 1) I was reckless to call her reckless; 2) she was somewhat reckless in using twitter; or 3) we both were reckless.

Objection 1: The invisible curriculum.

By using Twitter in the manner described in her blog, this teacher is violating the terms of use set out by Twitter. This, and behaviour like this, has the unfortunate effect of teaching students 2 lessons that we should wish to avoid. First, one is teaching their students that they don’t have to behave ethically by modeling this behaviour. The “terms of use” are an explicit social contract. Twitter is a free service but it is not freely offered. The conditions for use must be followed; Twitter is someone’s intellectual property. You have no right to it unless you follow their conditions. If one wishes them to be different, petition the company or attempt to get an injunction…in either case, in order to fulfill the requirements for ethical behaviour as set out by social contract theory and by our courts, we must abide by their conditions in the meanwhile. Second, students are learning to ignore the “terms of use.” By passing them off as unimportant you are helping to foster a climate where people ignore the fine print. I don’t think this is a safe mentality, nor is it one that will guard their privacy or utility in years to come. If you aren’t worried about you students learning these lessons because they are too young to grasp the concepts; well, I might agre.  This, however, brings me to my second objection (later): if students are too young to grasp the complexities of the digital environment, perhaps they are too young to be using it.

It is startling that people in education want to extend the reach of a company in the market place, even to places it doesn’t dare go on its own. Twitter has rejected young children as a market to deliver to its advertisers; why are teachers trying to do it for them? Has twitter seen a danger we haven’t? Have we even asked?

Objection 2: Do they understand it?

The digital media environment is complex and difficult to understand. It is frustrating, but without a deep understanding, my warnings fail to alarm people; I find those who understand media better are more receptive to my arguments for caution.  Twitter, for example is not a conversation; it is not the same as talking to someone.  Twitter is a publishing and broadcasting system; it is also a business with a complex business strategy.  How can one properly prepare kids to use media, if s/he doesn’t understand media theory?  My objection is: teachers might not know the dangers that are out there (and there are out there); therefore, it is dangerous for them to lead their kids into SM.

I use twitter for limited purposes with my intermediate gifted students in late January or February, depending on when they are ready – when they know enough. I think kindergarten is necessarily too young. 10 % of them still cry on Monday mornings; some believe in Santa Clause (even that Virginia kid); that a bunny hides chocolate eggs for them to find because the world is a wondrous place; at least half of them don’t understand the difference between commercials and TV shows; they certainly don’t understand the techniques or reasons for them. Sadly, I think most teachers don’t understand the digital environment either.

One can’t just read “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky or watch him on, though those are a start. He and other technophiles are great and inspiring but not necessarily critical or cautionary. Teachers have to read things like: “Understanding Media,” by Marshal McLuhan; “Amusing ourselves to death,” or “informing Ourselves to Death.” by Neil Postman. Teachers have to analyze media like Twitter using something like this: . Do you think it is a conversation they are having? Then you haven’t read by Danah Boyd, or by Alexis Madrigal.  Teachers even need to figured where their students or even themselves reside in Twitter’s business model?

If you do understand all this, do your students? teachers might be able to keep them safe in their class, but by normalizing twitter at such an early age, students/children will not approach it critically the next time. They won’t give it the respect/caution in needs. (“ahhh, no big deal, we used it in kindergarten; I know all about it)…will they use it next year or in two years by themselves? Do their parents now think it is harmless because it was introduced in school?

What’s the rush? There must be other less abstract ways to get your students to relate and talk to others. What advantages does the digital environment offer to kindergarten students that cannot be replicated by other means? What great advantage outweighs the negatives? Eventual participation is not an argument for early exposure. Students will do all manner of things when they grow up: drive, drink, enter committed sexual relationships….is early expose necessary? I think that they are too young.

Yes, @happycampergirl and others are doing great things with Twitter…but there are other great things they could do (I have no doubt). Things that are age appropriate that their students will better understand. Use media that is more immediate, mundane and less abstract. Have them talk and read to each other or the class down the hall. Why, in our multicultural schools, do we have to abstract an opinion from across the world? They are right across the hall. Make a chat room by arranging your desks in a circle. Get them to know each other and share their diverse opinions.

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Please tell me I’m wrong; where are my mistakes? Be critical; that’s how I learn…

A colleague of mine recently remarked that my blog was too negative; that it belabored the facts; and I was missing the main point of social media – sharing!

I countered by saying, I try to share as much as I can; some of my posts are sharing resources that I created, and I re-tweet points, arguments and resources that I think should be considered or have value.

In regards to belaboring the facts, I responded that I had no idea what that actually means.  Relevant facts are always…well, relevant! They, when applied correctly, are argument busters – they help you gage if an idea had merit or not. Value facts; they keep us grounded in reality.

In terms of being too negative I saw his point; taken as a whole, my blog and tweets are more disagreeable then many others.  I saw his point, but I emphatically disagree.  This is what critical thinking looks like.  Critical thinking is the analysis of where a concept is weak or wrong; it is an exploration of negative consequences, oversights, weaknesses, errors, assumptions, etc.  

There might be some misunderstanding out there on what critical thinking is. You aren’t thinking critically when you point out the benefit of something or when you are optimistic.  Those are other analytical strategies.  Critical thinking is the subset of analytic activities that attack – its the reductio ad absurdum and the like. It is the process used in systems analysis (from everything to computer programs to making sure the maintenance schedule for aircraft repair is adequate); it is the process used by your defense lawyer as he breaks down the Crown’s argument; it is the method of Socrates – he never said, “wow, I see your point; I can’t wait to share it with the Sophists.”

We hear people presenting the merits of critical thinking a lot; they present the need that our students have for them; however, we rarely hear anyone embracing someone else’s critical thoughts. It’s much like coffee – when asked, people generally say they like it dark and rich when the truth is the majority of us like it milky and weak (Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti sauce at When asked, people generally say that they value critical thinking, then when confronted by it, see it as negativity and then as something to avoid or dismiss (“you say you love the baby, but you crucify the man (Jim Croce).”). Though people say they value critical thinking; they don’t embrace the actual thoughts only the vague unassuming concept. As a profession, we tend to see it as the “black hat” from de Bono’s 6 hats…something associated with negativity. Even in many sources of this method, we are warned to not use it too much.

No such warning exists for the optimistic hat. Well, I don’t want my airplane mechanic to be overly optimistic; I don’t want my lawyer to be (should I need one); I don’t want journalists to be; or farmers (“don’t worry; crops grow themselves; don’t worry, I’m sure the ecoli wont spread”) or educators.

I find the irony a bit too thick to even enjoy when an educator shares someone’s critical argument at face value…when anyone optimistically accepts a critical argument and shares it saying, “great point to consider…” they have missed something fundamental; they have forgotten to be critical. I also have very little respect for someone who prefers to ignore an argument because it is too negative and goes off in search of some great list of 100 apps that every student needs or 100 uses for twitter in your classroom. Without seeking the possible weakness or negative consequences, one’s optimism is reckless and naive.



Organizing schools by ability instead of age is harmful to children

Another argument swirling around these days is that it is a disservice to children to educate them in “batches.” Meaning, people argue that we shouldn’t group them in grades by age, but we should focus on their abilities. There are some strong arguments in favour of this and I invite people to detail them below; perhaps you will persuade me. Currently, however, I think the idea is flawed and harmful to children.

I think it is beneficial and appropriate to group children by age in school. Schools serve as their primary vehicle to socialize and be socialized. They should primarily be part of a peer group at more or less the same stage of development (not necessarily ability). They learn about friendships and other relationships at school as much as they do about the curriculum. I think the development of these skills will be hampered if we are constantly re-ordering them as their skill sets grow at different rates. I also thing it creates other problems like: should an advanced 5 year old be partners with a 13 year old who is struggling especially in such things as health class or gym?

This brings me to my second point: consider those children who are struggling. People tend to focus on children who are being held back and who’s skills are more advanced in the argument for ordering be ability; however, we should be equally cognizant of the struggling student. By organizing them by level s/he is de facto failing. S/he sees his/her age cohort, his/her peers, continue to advance and drift away while s/he struggles with younger and younger students. This reality must be considered because implicit into the argument of arranging by ability is that students will grow at different rates (some slower), if not, then organization by age would be adequate. We stopped failing students because we started to value the whole child; we started to realize the damage we were doing to an individual by holding them back. The proposal of organizing by abilities seems to be a step backwards in this regards 

Finally, and the part of it that bothers me the most: By focusing on ability rather then by social peer group, age, or the whole child, we are visiting on our children a harmful practice that we usually reserve for adults. Students become their ability. This is analogous to adults being evaluated/ranked by their job. We measure the worth of a child by their ability, not human dignity, or peer group, or stage of life. The pressure to excel, to out preform, to rank each other by their relative success in school is visiting the worse elements of the ‘rat race’ on the most fragile members of our society. This really upsets me: I would much rather people see my son as a 6 year old and not as a good reader who needs to be moved up and challenged and who needs to struggle (“don’t worry, you’ll make lots of 11 and 12 year old friends in your new class”). I especially want people to see my autistic 3 year old as a child who should socialize with other children and not as a struggling reader who needs to be left behind the more advanced and promising students…doesn’t every parent?



Grade 8 history reports: public education was not made to serve industry

 Making its rounds in the blogsphere and the twitterverse, at least in the regions associated with education, is the mistaken notion that public education/our current education system was created by the industrial revolution to serve the needs of industry. This is not the case; the industrial revolution and early industrial period preferred unskilled and cheap labour; industry preferred people with no marketable skills or options. Child labour was very common; for some jobs, employers actually preferred children.

In order to can an accurate understanding of this period, I suggest reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair published in 1906 or the transcripts of the Royal Commission on the Relationship between Labour and Capital presented in 1889 but detailing interviews from throughout the 1880’s. Both present a picture of ubiquitous abuse of unskilled labour by industry.

It was in reaction to this reality that worker’s movements included in their demands free compulsory education for children. This had 3 benefits for workers and children at the expense of industry: 1) With less labour available, wages generally increase; 2) Children of working class families were cared for during the day; and 3) Educated individuals would grow up to be harder to victimize and generally have more options as they entered the work force.

It was the possibility of freeing people from poverty and abuse that drove the creation of our free, mandatory education system in Canada. It was this realization; this empowerment and betterment, that sustained this institution over the last 100 years or so. It is a promise and reality that still serves as a people today. Industry would prefer uneducated workers and consumers: they are easier to sell to, exploit, and control. Consider reading a book like Fast Food Nation to see a current trend of hiring and abusing people; then you can decide whether it is education that is leading them there.

People who link free, public education to the requirements of industry are wrong. The historical record is clear on the insistence of working class families for it, for their benefit, and the record is equally clear about the resistance of the industrial elite and the costs associated with it.

The idea that public education serves the needs of industry and is therefore outdated and bad for people, cannot properly be used as an argument for education reform as it is unfounded.

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