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Is technology responsible?

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Ah technology.  Such awesome power – which, as always, has the potential to be used for evil.   It’s practically unavoidable.  After all – don’t we all love technology because of how much more convenient it makes our lives?  Why not bullying?  We hear about cyberbullying in just about any newscast these days, and some even reporting a cyberbullying epidemic!  But I have to ask the question … is technology responsible?  Let’s think about “cyberbullying” and what it’s come to mean in our classrooms.

1.   Can we talk about the word “cyberbully”?  Does anyone really think that a “cyberbully” wouldn’t be a bully at all – were it not for the modern convenience of technology?  I doubt that.  From terrorists, to hate groups, school yard bullies, and cyberbullies – these are bad people.   Bullying is bad.  I think we need to focus more on teaching tolerance in all forms and less on differentiating between how the bully conveyed their evil intentions (text message, Email, passed a note in class, spreading rumors, facebook, etc).  Lets not throw our beloved technology under the bus here! Keep those who are responsible accountable.    Anil Dash posted a blog boldly stating “Theres no such thing as cyberbullying” in which he states:

The truth of it is, calling the cruelty that kids show to one another, based on race or gender identity or class or any other imaginary difference, by a name like “cyberbullying” is a cop-out. It’s a group of parents, school administrators and lazy reporters working together to shirk their own responsibility for the meanspirited, hateful, incomprehensible things their own kids do.

2.  Somehow, students today are not connecting their virtual lives online (who they are on facebook, their voice in texts and Emails, etc) and their actual lives – who they are “IRL” (in real life).  There is a disconnect between those two worlds.  And that provides a layer of anonymity that makes bullying easier.  Technology also makes bullying more visible and easier to report.  So it might seem to be more prevalent.

3.  Intolerance and lack of empathy are ubiquitous in todays youth.  And this is really where I think us teachers need to focus our attention.   Students can identify a bully and they can tell you countless examples of how they have been bullied.   Most of the “anti-bullying” education at my school surrounds how to deal with bullies and what to do if you’re being bullied.  What about teaching tolerance, empathy and forgivness?   These are the underlying issues of bullying.  Teach kids to get along.   I’m not saying that’s easy.  In fact, I would argue it’s more difficult than ever as the standards and norms become more and more diverse.  But we have to get kids talking about them.

Here are some excellent resources for information on teaching intolerance and empathy:

1.   Teaching Tolerance:  Many resources for so many tolerance issues – but we’ve used the “Mix it Up” idea at my school and loved it for getting kids to connect with others outside their social groups.

2.  Me to We:  An oganization to connect people in order to make the world a better place to live.  They’ve got ideas, articles, stories, video’s, products and a lot of inspiration.

3.  Teach Empathy:  A lot of information, articles and understand about the role of empathy in our world today.

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“To empathize is to civilize. To civilize is to empathize.” – Jeremy Rifkin

And for younger students, you might want to introduce the ideas of bullying mixed with technology (“cyberbullying”) by using “Professor Garfield’s Learning Lab“.

Please feel free to share your resources on bullying (cyber or otherwise) in the comments below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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  1. I think you bring up a great point…and here’s my fear. As money gets tight in the US and other nations one of the first positions cut is the couseling position. The same people who’s job it is to help teach such empathy.

    I wonder if there could be a corralaton drawn between the decline in counselors and the rise of bullying in society. It would be hard as the bullying probably doesn’t start right away but over years of not being taught empathy the bullying would show up. Think I just defined someone’s PhD thesis for them. :)

    • LOL – so true Jeff – and that’s such a good point about the counselors. It’s a real commentary on where our society is heading – isn’t it? That the counselors role could in any way be viewed as “superfluous” and also that the responsibility for character education is falling so heavily on teachers. Not to mention what budget cuts are doing to all areas in education …. the future …. sigh.

      Let’s get that research on budget and counseling going!!!

  2. Lauren, I really agree with you about it coming down to raising our kids to have tolerance and empathy. Sometimes it feels like it’s such an uphill battle – we at school can only do so much. But I’ve been to schools where there is a real sense of caring and warmth in the classrooms and corridors, and you can really tell the caring adults there are having an effect on the children. Likewise, I’ve been to schools where it’s obvious that it’s not happening.

    I also thought it was interesting that you were advocating the deemphasizing of “cyber” in cyber bullying. I read an article this week (can’t find it for the life of me!)that suggested we use other terms instead of “bully”. This thought had occurred to me before, and so was good to hear that someone else was thinking the same thing. The word bully conjures up images of large beefy children stealing milk money. I bet most bullies don’t consider themselves bullies. But when confronted, they would probably more readily admit that they were acting without empathy.

    Great thoughts, Lauren. I enjoy reading your blog.

    • Thanks Geoff – great perspective there. Nate forwarded a video to me about a girl who was suspended after posting on facebook that she wished Osama bin Laden had killed her teacher instead of all the other people in 9/11 link to bit.ly (!!!!!!!!!!!!!). What’s interesting in the video is that clearly the girl thinks her comment was “funny” and she believed others would think it was “funny” too. Where’s the empathy? Not only for her teacher but for anyone ever victimized by terrorism. “Bully” needs a new identity. :o) Thanks for your comments.

  3. I think you have nailed it on the head. The term cyberbully is a cop out. It is plain old bullying, but utilising a new medium. The teaching of empathy would go a long to repairing the situation.

  4. Fantastic post, Lauren- if we were successfully teaching empathy and tolerance, we wouldn’t have to spend so much time teaching about what to do when bullying occurs (in any form)!

    The second point you made really resonated with me. I see a significant feeling of disconnect between students’ virtual lives and real lives… and I completely agree with your assessment that the anonymity makes “bullying” (since we haven’t yet agreed on another word for it (: ) easier. That same anonymity, however, has had some positive effects in my classroom this year. I’m always astonished when I log into edmodo and see the conversations that my students are having, or when they come to school and talk about who they chatted with the night before. Kids who never interact voluntarily at school (including GASP!… girls and boys!) interact seamlessly and enthusiastically online. It is fun to watch the conversations (and Pokemon tips) break through “social barriers” as they continue at school.

    I definitely think we need to teach students that their digital self and RL self are one and the same, and that their actions online should be representative of their real self. Fortunately, I think online accountability (and avoidance of the negative social aspects anonymity provides) can be taught without eliminating the positives.

    • LOL – pokemon tips!! Love it! Nate and I see the same kind of benefit using Edmodo with our students. A student will post a question to me (how do you do #9? or how do I post a link, whatever) and before I can get to it, some other student in the class has walked them through a tutorial. Love that part of using tech and giving the kids a place and opportunity to feel safe coming out of their comfort zone. Thanks for your thoughts Megan!

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