Can a Fat Man teach P.E.?

The digital citizenship discussions have been intriguing and have been teaching me quite a bit. The issue I deal with is whether or not, digital citizenship be taught formally in schools. I”m more convinced that social virtues, as some might call them, are best taught in context. I’m not sure whether one can be taught these virtues or morales in isolation nor should they. While there is certainly an information piece connected to the technologies, it’s mostly about making wise choices and it’s difficult to do this outside of the real world. Just as technology ought to be used and taught in context, I think the same is true of character. The best context is a model of practice and lifestyle that is transparent.

Which is likely the reason for things like this and this. Because most teachers do not practice or engage in the same kinds of online activities which for the most part is social networking, it’s going to be difficult for them to model. In addition, they likely don’t consider it a relevant topic of discussion amidst the daily work load they already face.

Which leads me to my title, can a fat man teach physical education?  Perhaps, but if the goal is to help students lead healthy,active lifestyles, it seems like a hard sell. It would have the same result as a tone deaf music teacher or an illiterate English teacher. If we’re really concerned about teaching our students to make moral, ethical choices online, teachers need to have some experience that can at least validate discussions and suggestions. Stephen Downes recently chimed in on one of my discussions:

But I think even the students will see through the directed curriculum when taught by a teacher that has never set foot online.

So whether we choose to formalize the teaching or not, it may not even matter. You can go ahead and ask every teacher to teach these principles and the results will be limited, if not damaging. Without credibility we’re just blowing hot air. So rather than jurisdictions making these types of requests, I prefer this response from Regina Lynn of Wired Magazine:

All adults who work with youth should be aware of how young people communicate, fall in love and stay connected; I encourage teachers to try social networking services, to have a blog, to text message with their own families and friends. Experienced teachers will not only gain a better sense of the world their students live in — indeed, a world their students are creating — they will have a greater understanding of the young teachers entering the profession.

I think I answered my own my question.

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  • Why don’t we get Don Quixote to teach us about the inner workings of windmills?

    However, working at a school that recently saw character assassination happening online, I can say that ignoring digital citizenship, or at least digital responsibilities, would be akin to allowing students to swear and fight in the hallways… it won’t go away unless we address it!

    Your (Wired Magazine) point that teachers need to get engaged is true! The same can be said for parents too! We actually need to do more than that and also learn to ‘speak their language’:

    But the reality is that we can’t just wait for that to happen. I’m working with some teachers and admin. to deliver a message to all our students about our digital responsibilities (I still question the idea of digital citizenship after reading Downes). I think that those with influence in the blogosphere should preach that we have a greater responsibility to teach this stuff. Any teacher can ‘deliver’ the message, but the few of us that truly understand the message are better equipped to teach it.

  • David,

    I guess in some ways it’s about getting critical mass. Perhaps beginning in mandatory ways may help make it mainstream and allow teachers to speak from experience rather than simply teaching this from some type of guide book.

    So it’s partly about implementation but also the example you cite above about allowing kids to swear in the halls isn’t addressed by specific classes on swearing or hallway etiquette. It’s either done by yelling at kids and saying “stop it” or punishing them. Most teachers don’t care if they cuss a blue streak outside of school, just learn to be civil in a public place or more specifically school. Which leads me to wonder if, A. They don’t really want to deal with it or B. Don’t see it as a big problem worthy of time spent exploring ideas of etiquette or manners.

    It still comes down to personal experience/conviction when we talk about virtues or citizenship. Formalizing could potentially create awareness but if it remains a formalized part of curriculum without personalization, I don’t think it has much impact other than to CYA.

  • Dean,

    I agree with the sentiment you express. Teachers need to be proficient with the tools that their students will be using. It is no different than a government teacher remaining up-to-date on the happenings in the legislature or a science teacher keeping abreast of the latest news from NASA. The trick is to convince them that: a.)they truly DO have the time, and b.)it is worth it. I speak with very few educators who are simply unwilling to learn new technologies. The majority, however, claim to have little or no “extra” time to learn it. I spend a great deal of time forwarding articles, sharing sites, giving examples of classroom success stories (and the occasional web horror story), trying to show the value makes the sacrifice worth it. I encourage them to have actual FUN with a blog or a social network by setting them up for a hobby or for their families. Most get fired up, some follow through and get started, and a few stick with it.

    I agree that it is ultimately most effective if we are teaching what we truly know from experience. I would offer this analogy, though. We’ve all heard the powerful anti-drug testimony of the former addict. We shuddered and swore that it would never be us. While this is very meaningful, based upon experience, does it mean that the pristine, wholesome teacher who hesitates to take an aspirin, much less an illegal drug, should not be addressing the topic? Of course not–there is some value in simply hearing the message, even without a personal testimony.

    Maybe the solution is to encourage the students to be the teachers here. Many already know what is acceptable, safe, and appropriate, even if they do not always act accordingly. How about engaging them in a discussion of the subject of digital ethics? The more they talk, the more we learn how much they know. We also get to bring misconceptions to light. A lot of schools/districts are taking this route in drafting AUPs, for instance. They seem to recognize that the students are likely more experienced with the tools than the teachers, and that there is a side benefit of greater buy-in when the students feel like an important part of the discussion and policy-making.

  • Dean-

    First let me say that your K12online keynote on Design was awesome! I got some ideas for the time capsules that my 3rd graders create.

    I totally agree with what you are saying here. How do we inspire our colleagues to dip their technical toes in the water so they can better relate to today’s kids?


  • Dean —

    Thank you for putting into words some of the exact thoughts I have been dwelling on this past weekend.

    It is important to me that I set an example to my students of behavior “on and off” the internet. Good behavior, correct behavior, ethics, morales, and “the golden rule” (if I may) should be expected regardless of the venue my students find themselves in.

    I feel that there has been a distinction because of the “Anonymity” available via the internet. It is important for me to remember, and also for my students to remember, that good behavior is important REGARDLESS who is or who is NOT watching you.

    My behavior (virtue, morales, choice of words) does not change as my circumstances or locations change. I hope that I am setting that same example for my students each day.

    I am enjoying getting to know you through your blog and your videos. I look forward to our paths crossing F2F in the future.


  • @Randy

    Although, I like to use analogies alot, it’s often difficult to find ones work when taken too deep.

    I would challenge your drug analogy. We’re dealing with a subject that most would agree is bad behaviour. Spending time online is not. While there are dangerous and questionable practices, social networking most would agree is valuable activity.
    I like your idea of using kids that are doing it right to be role models. I’ve noticed a great deal of kids who use MySpace set their profiles to private. We know many are doing it right, why not tap into their practices?


    Thanks and in terms of inspiring, Randy mentions personal use and I believe and teach that all the time. Forget about relating to kids. Social networking has benefits way beyond the classroom. It’s called life long learning and teachers need to be better models of that.


    I look forward to crossing paths as well.

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