Student safety and bullying did not originate or are restricted to cyberspace. The original proverb “It takes two to tango.” is very applicable. This made me wonder about how, where, and when we as educators can and should address the issue of cyberbullying and student safety online. Teaching kindergarten, this poses a different level of complexity due to the students’ literacy skills and their developmental readiness for the subject matter.
Students in this age group are rarely online by themselves. They play video games or online games where the forum for cyberbullying and safety is less than say, a teenager texting or being on a social network site. Still I think that even at this age, students can be more aware of their digital safety. At home, parents can and should monitor the child’s use. At school, for example, teachers can use the Common Sense site for lessons on digital safety and security, like Go Places Safely. Teaching students how to navigate and rate sites is another important skill.
Reading Dana Boyd’s post about bullying made me more resolute as an educator to take time to teach social skills and character education in the younger years. It is far too easy in school schedules and curriculum to bypass “social studies” and only teach the “core subjects” of reading, writing, and math. Socially, students (and adults) gravitate towards relationships that are easy or familiar. For example, on the playground, I see kids group themselves into those who are from similar backgrounds, speak the same language, or who went to the same preschool. The cliques start early. How do we build empathy towards others that might not be like “us”? Two new students joined our class in April. One was well received and one not so much.
Building students to be empathic is critical to building a peaceful society. Our basic needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) have to be met in order for us to feel safe. Assuming our basic needs for shelter and food are met, we all want to belong and feel loved and safe. One of my favorite books for teaching empathy in the early years is Fill A Bucket. The basic concept is that when we fill someone else’s bucket (of life) with kindness and understanding, we in turn fill our own bucket. So when we “tangle” with others that might be similar or different than us, we can empathize and “tango” with them in and outside of cyberspace.