The Classroom and the Social Network

October 03, 2011

The Classroom and the Social Network

Most of you probably know that two weeks ago a 14-year-old boy who lived outside of Buffalo, NY named Jamey Rodemeyer killed himself. In his final act, Jamey, an openly bisexual teen, joined a long list of LGBT teens who commit suicide each year as a result of the bullying they endure in school and over the internet. A Tragedy in More than One Way The circumstances surrounding Jamey’s death have been well-publicized and are tragic in more than one way. The fallout from his actions has ranged from Lady Gaga’s heartfelt plea to the president to make a law in Jamey’s memory, to the thousands of people within the social networking world who have blogged about Jamey’s struggles and what this all means, to hate speech posted on his YouTube page. Not surprisingly, the jury is still out on what schools can do to prevent teens from making the same decisions as Jamey. As educators, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We need to send a clear message that bullying is not acceptable, yet at the same time we are restricted in our dialogue about the issue, especially as it pertains to LGBT teen concerns. One factor that needs to be dealt with for certain, however, stems from the medium through which most modern bullying takes place: the internet. Teachers and school counselors may be censored when it comes to conversations about topics like race, religion, and sexual orientation, but we still hold the sacred pact of upholding the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. The trick in the modern classroom is translating this age-old maxim to the Digital Age. Take the Pledge At the commencement of each school year it is a tradition to review “Class Rules.” Even in high school and college (via the syllabus) teachers have long been able to set boundaries in regards to student actions and consequences within the walls of their classroom. The theory here, obviously, is that through responsible participation in the classroom community, students will learn the skills necessary to be a productive member of the larger community. However, in the internet age we need to take those lessons outside of the physical boundaries of the classroom. On September 9, 2011, social network powerhouse Facebook, in partnership with Time-Warner Cable, launched a page called Stop Bullying: Speak Up. The page asks members of the Facebook community to “like” it and take a pledge to stop bullying themselves and report any bullying they see. There are two separate pledges; one is for adults, the other for students. The first step all educators should take is to take this pledge. Then, we need to discuss it and encourage our students to do the same, whether they do so through Facebook or as an extension of those same Class Rules. Open Up the Floor There is another really important message that an activity this simple can send. By bringing Facebook and the social network into the class discussion we also deposit it into the educational discourse community. One of the pervasive problems that tackling bullying in our schools has presented to parents and teachers alike is the disconnect that our adult labels and our adult movements has with teenage reality. What they call drama, we call bullying, and, while signing a pledge on Facebook cannot solve this problem in one fell swoop, bringing the social network and blogosphere into the classroom conversation can make a difference. By openly discussing the use of the internet both educationally and socially we can begin to shine a light into the dark hole from which bullying emerges. As adults we have been made to feel powerless in this struggle. Whether the bullying stems from misguided thoughts about LGBT teens or a social hierarchy that places emphasis on factors that children cannot control, it seems that our pleas for sensitivity are falling on deaf ears. That doesn’t need to be the case, however. By taking small steps and integrating quality curriculum choices and honest discussion about all the areas where bullying takes place into our schools, we open up the floor for discussion. And, if we’re lucky, maybe, just maybe, open the door for true change.



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