I think that debate #4 touched the nerves of a few people this week as things seemed to have gotten a little spicy- and rightfully so. I feel that this topic is one that is more so based on opinion and beliefs rather than research, facts, and statistics. There has always been much debate surrounding the promotion of social justice in the classroom as well as the use of social media by educators. When I went through university, our social media accounts were strongly scrutinized. Our profs found everything that they could that was “open” and then pointed out all the posts, tweets, photos etc. that could be misinterpreted or “shouldn’t be something a teacher posts.” I was not too fond of this exercise since they said simple things like a vacation picture in a swimsuit or you with a drink in your hand at a friend’s birthday when you are of legal age were BAD. In all honesty, I thought that it was way out of line for them to tell me what I can and can’t do in my own free time. I am not only a teacher, but also an adult as well as just a regular human being! I do keep my social media fairly locked down so they couldn’t find much, but the debate this week reminded me of this experience and the “image” that teachers are supposed to uphold online.
The agree team (Kari, Jessica, and Jenny), presented many points as to why they believe that we as educators do have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice:
Teaching, education, and the curriculum aren’t neutral + these issues directly impact our students
We all know that the field of education as well as the curriculums we follow are not neutral. These things we are expected to teach vary by province and country. Many times, what is included in the curriculum (and what isn’t) is reflective of who is in power and whose voices they think “matter” enough to be presented. We saw this just recently when Alberta introduced a new K-6 curriculum & the social studies section was heavily criticized for how it discussed things like race, colonialism, and the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. There was so much criticism that they ended up holding back the implementation of the social studies portion in order to rewrite it.
I really enjoyed reading Angela Watson’s article shared this week by the agree group. I think she does an excellent job discussing neutrality in regards to education. She points out that it is not only the curriculum we are required to teach, but also our own viewpoints that shape how we manage, instruct, and build relationships within our classroom, even if this is done unconsciously. She also touches on the fact that we, as educators, have a reasonability to not remain neutral when it comes to social justice issues because even if the issue does not affect us directly (possibly), it sure as hell will affect at least one student that we know. She conclude by saying that we don’t need to share things like our political views or force our beliefs upon students, but that we “DO need to pay attention to what’s happening in our country, be well-informed about the lived experiences of marginalized groups of people, recognize discrimination, and speak out against it when it occurs.”
Gives students a voice
Similar to the previous point, many of these social justice issues will directly impact students themselves, or their friends/family. Lorena Germán wrote an article about her experience teaching preteens and working with them on a project that allowed them to “gain confidence in their ability to navigate complex topics by using intersectionality to investigate social issues.” This project allowed Germán to help students find their voice and allow it to become the center of their learning. She mentions that “there is power in student voice, and it isn’t a voice any teacher can give. We don’t give voices. We make space for them in our curricula and classrooms, or we don’t.” This is a very powerful and true statement. And while I appreciated the article and the thoughts behind it, I question a bit whether this is connected to the idea that educators have a responsibility to promote social justice or educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice. In this case, I think the article is great for supporting the first idea, but the connection to tech/social media is lost.
Social media and technology are already large parts of our student’s lives
A final point the agree team made was that social media and technology are both things that are already super important to our students and are used by them daily. It is true and educators need to make sure that students know how to use these platforms (as well as general tech) appropriately. This is where ideas such as digital literacy and teaching the 9 elements of digital citizenship become an important part of the hidden curriculum. Showing students how to be safe, savy, and social online at school may be the only time they are given proper modeling on how to do these things and utilize technology in the best ways. We can also show students the power and potential that social media has. Some examples include the Idle No More Movement, Black Lives Matter, and more locally, the walkout by Balfour Collegiate students which was organized using social media.
The disagree team, Dalton and Brooke, also did a great job of presenting their reasons as to why educators do not have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice:
One point that the disagree team stated was that as teachers we are expected to exhibit a certain level of professionalism both in and out of school. This point reminds me a lot of the story I told earlier and the blurred line between what is and is not acceptable. I think this fact often comes down to each individual. What one person deems to be O.K for a teacher to do outside of school hours, someone else might say it is not. When it comes to posting online, this may often come down to the style of account we are discussing and who is going to see it. Madeline Will’s article points out that there are many reasons a teacher may refrain from sharing something online such as “They want to preserve their objectivity in front of their students. They don’t want to hurt their relationships with parents, students, or colleagues who might have different beliefs than they do. They worry about professional repercussions, especially when posting from an account that they use for work-related reasons.” These are all good reasons why a teacher may choose or choose not to do something on social media.
Another point presented is the idea of slacktivism, in which someone will support some type of activism using an online platform with minimal effort or commitment required. Alternatively, a term we also see related to slacktivism is “hashtag activism” where someone will show their support for a cause by using a hashtag. In his article, Peter Susci points out that “critics have questioned whether this activism actually leads to any real change or whether users simply indicate support without taking any meaningful action.” As Dalton and Brooke pointed out, requiring teachers to use social media to promote social justice might end up giving more of these types of “lazier” activism instead of encouraging teachers to make the choice to share their beliefs and promote things that are important to them online.
We all have different comfort levels
A final point to consider from the disagree team is that we all have different comfort levels and experiences when it comes to social media. There are many great teachers (such as @steve_boots, @Iamthatenglishteacher, @mrs.frazzled, and @mrwilliamsprek who have used social media to discuss things ranging from politics, anxiety, and teacher working conditions all the way to classroom tips and general comedic posts. Depending on the district you work for, how you say things, and the view points your are sharing, there can be a risk with posting online as a teacher (whether it is for activism purposes or not). In the end, it really comes down to what each individual is comfortable with.
As I said earlier, I really believe that the “winner” of this topic comes down a lot to personal opinion. I also think that the wording of the question might change someone’s answer completely. For example, if you were to ask me if I agreed or disagreed with the debate topic as is “educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice,” I would say I disagree. I do not believe that I have to use social media or any other sort of technology to promote social justice. However, if you change the statement to this:
Educators have a responsibility to promote social justice
Educators have a responsibility to promote social justice in their classrooms
My answer would be 110%! If you take away the idea of tech and that I need to be using my personal social media to do this, then I am going to give you a very different opinion. Could technology be used to do this? Absolutely! But, it isn’t the only way. As someone who has been spending a lot of time learning about my privilege and the ways that it can affect my teaching, I do believe that is is imperative that we are bringing social justice into the classroom as our students need us to guide them in unpacking these big big topics. As Angela Watson said, “it is my privilege to choose whether or not to stay informed on [these issues] and advocate for those being targeted.”
I am someone who enjoys using social media, but I tend to do so in a more private way. I mostly use it for sharing photos with friends and family. I do have a twitter account, which I use more for lurking. I will not tweet much, but I will definitely like things that align with my viewpoints on more controversial issues. I have no problem discussing these things face to face, however I don’t feel like I need (or want) to do this online.
2 thoughts on “Debate #4 – Do Educators Have a Responsibility to Use Technology/Social Media to Promote Social Justice?”
I agree with you! I think that if the wording didn’t include social media, I would have agreed with the prompt. However,r the term social media is what throws me for a loop. That’s like saying that all teachers need to teach a certain way, or all students should learn the exact same way, and so on. You’re right, this was a spicy debate and I felt it all week!