Thursday, December 18, 2014

Single Tweet Spurs Big Thoughts

Last week I was reminded of just how awesome Twitter can be. I follow Tom Peters, the famous business writer. I'm honored he follows back; and he's even replied to, re-tweeted and favorited a few of my tweets. On this day he was wound up about email and sending out several mini-rants on email etiquette. I replied that I often write email I wish I could send in Word so I don't accidentally send it, then write the more appropriate one. He replies and re-tweets. Over the next twenty minutes or so I'm in a conversation with him and people from South Africa, Dubai, India, England, and various U.S cities. They were people from various professions, from financial advisors to tech consultants to a Wall Street Journal reporter. Pretty darned cool!
The reminders go deeper than that. After all, that story can be reduced to a rather simple and oft-repeated notion: that now it's so easy to connect to anyone in meaningful, purposeful ways. Indeed so, and really quite amazing. We've even reached the point where we've stopped realizing just how signficant this is. Yet while we take it for granted, schools have yet to harness the full potential of this. Yes, many are doing more with different types of connections and blended learning and social media. But how much has it changed school as usual? That question is borderline rhetorical, except that I think it begs many others, beginning with "Should it?" and "How?" and "Why?" Any regular readers know my answers. The point is that the possibilities should be driving us to ask such questions continually.
That becomes quite philosophical. As much as I like to swirl around in pedagogical ether, since that Twitter experience I've found myself thinking about something more practical. The exchange dealt with email etiquette, and one point early on was that in many ways we are the sum of our emails. (You could substitute tweets, posts, et cetera for emails.) So in many ways it was about digital citizenship and how it plays out in two distinct yet overlapping realms. First, how do we treat others? Many people find it easy to hide behide the anonymity of the screen and a cryptic user name, spewing vitriole they likely would not say to someone in person. Even if the people know each other, something about it being on-line empowers--if that is the right word--people to express things in a manner they normally wouldn't. I think it's a matter of physical and psycholgical distance. We have no face, no voice, no body as we do on the phone or in person. Becasue of that, we are less likely to consider the impact of our words on others. The inverse, however, holds true in that the recipient is forming a very strong impression of the deliverer and creating a distinct persona of that person. Hence we have the second area: What is the online persona we are creating? As much as we might wish otherwise, the reality is that our online and "real world" selves are not separate beings, as much as we may try to keep them distinct. Analogously, while someone may try to separate her personal and professional lives, together they form the whole person. Schools must be very intentional in realizing this and in helping students understand this.
That is very practical in that it involves essential knowledge and skills for the world today and the foreseeable future. Yet it also speaks to a broader philosophical view. During and after the Twitter chat, I found myself reflecting on my practices and what they say about me. Not just in email, but other parts of my life. What are my actions saying? How, to use the Quaker saying, does my life speak? I believe that's what a meaningful education is for. It helps young people struggle with the answers to such questions. They also need to do so in conjuction with what's happening in the world around them. To grapple with what local, regional, national, and world events say about humanity and about themselves. That's how they find solid footing and a place in the world rather than drift along aimlessly. It determines the quality of our relationships in ways that go far beyond email.
I know I've rambled in this post, and I hope it makes sense. Maybe there are bits and pieces of something slightly profund. I know I've written and said much of this previously, and others have done so better than I have here. But reminders never hurt.
And to think it all began with a simple Tweet.

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