Cramming

 

ComplicatedWith our San Dieguito Book Club set for tonight, I’ve had a number of folks come to me with ideas and questions about the subject of our discussion, danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated.

My favorite comments have come from students, who have their own ideas about the issues raised in the book, and who shared their thoughts when I asked them some of the questions boyd uses to frame her argument about “the social lives of networked teens.”

With just hours to go, not everyone who has an opinion may have time to read the book, not even the free PDF of It’s Complicated, so I’ll use this post as a cram session of sorts, a shortcut to encourage folks to attend tonight, even if it’s just to listen.

Boyd uses these questions as the backbone of her book, building a chapter around each as she addresses the parents and educators who live and work with students.

 

  • Why do teens seem strange online?
  • Why do youth share so publicly?
  • What makes teens obsessed with social media?
  • Are sexual predators lurking everywhere?
  • Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?
  • Can social media resolve social divisions?
  • Are today’s youth digital natives?

 

One question that generated a great deal of conversation as I talked with students was the second, about sharing “so” publicly, and a couple of answers worth passing on came from thoughtful students who wrote:

I really think a lot of it has to do with social games, and comparing yourself to others. I am guilty of this too, which is why I limit my social media, hence not having an “instagram” or “facebook”, which to most of my friends is “absurd”. And even though many people might not have the intent to show off or be trying to impress or make others jealous, I think that’s a big subconscious reason. … Especially with teens, although I hesitate to admit it, we are all insecure, and in a way I think social media is a coping way for many teens and their insecurities. “I look good in this photo, so I’m going to post it”, the amount of times I have heard that exact line from friends, haha. It is really helping with their self confidence, yet like anything I also believe social media can have very negative impacts on confidence as well. That’s a whole different story though.”

This kind of thoughtful reflection is not the exception, but the rule with regard to the students I talked with. So too was a level of objectivity that might surprise someone who doesn’t work with students.

This question is unclear about what it means to share so publicly, but there are reasons why the younger generation shares so much of their lives to the world. The easiest, more generic answer would be, because they can. We are growing up in a world where we have, at our fingertips, a portal into the lives of billions of people online. And just like a kid who is newly born into the world, we are exploring the turf that we were born into to. In this case, we were born into a world that is connected by the internet. The reason teens share so much is because they can, without realizing that there may be consequences in response to the content that they are posting. But our youth is finally given a venue to express themselves, to share with the world what they have never been able to share so freely in the past, and that is, “look at what I can do,” “look at what I made,” “look what I’ve been, what I’m doing,” and the most importantly, “look at who I am.”

In addition to thoughts about the quantity of sharing, students were open to discuss the quality of what they shared. Some talked about the lack of importance of the information they put online, while others discussed context and the audience they believed would see what they posted as meaningful.

It’s Complicated author danah boyd has talked about some of these same ideas in interviews she gave when the book first was published. Three worth a look are:

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/a-conversation-with-danah-boyd-author-of-its-complicated-about-teens-online/?_r=0

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcus-t-wright/social-media-teens-and-a-_b_4934844.html

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/25/282359480/social-media-researcher-gets-how-teenagers-use-the-internet

So what will tonight’s discussion look like? I hope the students, parents, and educators who come will bring with them open minds and personal stories. I hope to put a San Dieguito face on boyd’s ideas, seeing how her more general observations from across the country jibe, or don’t, with what our students experience in this Mustang blue corner of the world.

If you’ve read the book, or even if you haven’t, I hope you might join us for conversation tonight, October 16, 2016 from 6:00-8:00 pm in our Media Center.

It’s Simple

ComplicatedWhat we do as educators and what we do as parents is support kids.

At our best, when stress, or anxiety, or frustration doesn’t cloud our actions, we approach that even headed wisdom of Atticus Finch, who told his boy: ““There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.” I’ve been a dad for a great many years and I seldom come anywhere close to living that kind of perspective.

Even so, it helps us all to reflect on our work with students and ask ourselves the questions that make us the best contributors to these young lives we can be. For me, that means reading books that challenge me, and engaging in conversation with others who care.

In less than a week a group of such kindred spirits will gather for our first San Dieguito Book Club of the year, when we’ll discuss a topic on many minds of parents and teachers of teenagers: technology.

Specifically, our discussion will center around It’s Complicated, a book by danah boyd (no caps, her idea) subtitled “the social lives of networked teens.” For any of us who have been around a teen with a phone, this is ground rich with relevance.

I suppose I should have spotted the irony that when I introduced the book, and the idea of living in an age when folks (not just teenagers) are glued to phones and other electronic devices, at a “Coffee with the Principal” it was a parent who raised her hand halfway through my talk to let parents know that they could get a copy of the book for free by downloading the PDF at http://www.danah.org/books/ItsComplicated.pdf

Point proven.

…and point expanded upon, as we all realized that this parent had not only underscored the idea that we’re all more connected than we’ve ever been, but that sometimes that kind of immediacy and connection is a very good thing. Heck, it just saved parents $10.95.

It’s Complicated takes an equally positive view of the “social lives of networked teens” as it describes the world our students live in, virtually at least, in a way that doesn’t alarm, but does inform.

The book’s eight chapters are formed around questions: “Why do teens seem strange online?” and “Are today’s youth digital natives?” to name two. They’re questions many educators wonder about and parents spend time struggling to find answers to.

As I prepped for Tuesday’s book club, I asked some of my students what they thought the answers were to the author’s eight questions. A sampling looks like this…

“Why do youth share so publicly?”

“We share a lot, but not a lot that is meaningful. That’s kind of the beauty of social media.”

“A lot of the time when adults see us on our phones we’re just communicating with another person, a private message to them, not social media.”

“What makes teens so obsessed with social media?”

“No more than adults. It’s just part of what we do.”

“Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?”

“It amplifies the negative and the positive. I go to social media for inspiration and find it.”

“People who are going to be mean or cruel are going to be mean and cruel in person too.”

These are just a few thoughts; I’m hopeful more students will come on Tuesday and be willing to share. As a parent and a principal, I found their points of view honest and thoughtful.

In addition to individual students, I was able to talk with a couple of classes about their relationship with social media, and the result was …reassuring.

Certainly social media plays a part in many of the students lives, often providing information, inspiration, and connections to friends near and far. There are downsides too, and they were quick to identify that seeing some posts made them feel bad about themselves, and that on occasion the anonymity of the internet allowed people to be negative in ways they wouldn’t if their name was attached to comments.

The thoughtful conversations I had with these students inspired me, and reassured me that kids today have more poise than my own generation had when we were in high school.

I look forward to our discussion next week and the possibility of leaving the evening a little more informed and a little more connected to people who are all working toward the same simple goal: helping students.

The San Dieguito Book Club will meet on Tuesday, October 18, from 6:00-8:00 pm in the media center. Students, parents, teachers, and all members of our SDA family are welcome to attend.

“Have a go…”

ComplicatedPart of a healthy school community is the ability (and opportunity) for parents, students, and educators to talk together about the big issues, ideas, challenges, and opportunities that swirl around our shared experience. Whether we’re moms and dads trying to help our kids navigate a world so different from our own growing up, students faced with a thousand choices every day, or teachers, counselors, and administrators dedicated to helping kids learn, we all benefit from time to connect with each other not in reactionary ways, but proactively identifying topics about which real conversation can yield positive results.

With this in mind, over the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of hosting book clubs at school that give all of us a chance to talk. Those opportunities for parents, teachers, and students have been informative, renewing, and fun. As this new school year begins I’m excited to announce that our first San Dieguito Book Club of 2016-2017 will be on October 18th at 6:00 pm when we’ll talk about It’s Complicated by danah boyd (the lowercase, ee cummingsesque choice of spelling her name is hers, and while the former English teacher in me cringes, I’ll honor it).

The risk of choosing to talk about a book, a real live book, about social media is that it will be outdated before it comes to print. It’s Complicated, however, smartly looks not at particular apps or social media platforms, and instead takes as its starting point the teens that use those apps and platforms. Writing with a great empathy and understanding of those adolescents, boyd presents and addresses typical presuppositions about “kids today” and does a nice job of speaking to issues of privacy, safety, and community.

It’s Complicated gives us much to talk about, but less to fear, and I’m looking forward to hearing what parents have to say about their own perceptions of their son’s and daughter’s online activity, what teachers notice about how social media and the rise of handheld technology has changed education, and what students believe about their own behavior online. These conversations are at the heart of our San Diegutio Book Club.

The New York Times book review captures the reason It’s Complicated is a solid choice for our first (of three) book clubs this year when it notices that “Boyd’s book helps us understand our new environment.” The interconnected online world is certainly different than what most of us parents and educators grew up with, and whether we agree with what boyd has to say a little, a lot, or not at all, It’s Complicated provides us with a great starting point for a discussion of the ubiquitous nature of social media in our teens, and our own, lives.

Last spring, when we ready Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult, discussion ranged from parsing direct quotations from the book to heartfelt anecdotes from parents, who realized just how much we really aren’t alone.

I knew just how much we parents were connected by shared experience when we got to the point in our discussion about “grabbing the glue gun” during our kids’ elementary school projects. As parents talked about the successes and missteps they’d experienced helping their students gain independence, lots and lots of heads nodded. We’d all come to the book club caring, curious, and a little nervous, and had all of a sudden found ourselves surrounded by kindred spirits.

As we talked about the challenges of parenting, one mom who’d moved to our town from Australia mentioned the trepidation she saw in her kids’ friends and contrasted that to the more bold Australian attitude that looks at uncertainty and thinks: “Let’s have a go!” We have a long way to go before that spirit of adventure is commonplace, but knowing that we are part of a caring community can help.

book clubIn addition to the parents, many teachers joined the discussion. To hear them talk about the importance of students finding their own voices, gaining confidence, and being willing to take risks inspired us all to think a little more about our role in helping kids become adults.

And those kids… some came to the book club as well. Our parent foundation purchased a few copies of the book for our school library and those copies were checked out on the first day. The students who lent their voices to the conversation brought a richness that those of us who have taught English know can be profound.

I’m optimistic that discussion on the issue of social media will be just as rich, and I look forward to hearing perspectives as varied and passionate as we heard last spring.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some articles about the topic and excerpts from It’s Complicated, and do my best to encourage us all to learn together, talk with each other, and feel comfortable enough in our shared adventure to smile. We’re not alone and one of the best things we can do is take a deep breath, find our community, and have a go.