Teaching Students to be Creators Again & Rebuild Real Community in what can be a Dangerously Digital World
The year is 2020. What do we want to teach our children about the digital world they live in? What will help them thrive in these strange and turbulent days of total connectedness? How can we give them an education to navigate the screens to build a joyful life?
Teaching goes far beyond the classroom. Children and teenagers learn from parents, friends, siblings, TV, the internet, their phones, mass media in general, and so many other sources apart from their in-class teachers. Informal education inevitably spills out from the classroom due to digital technology, how could it not?
Digital media has taken the world by storm over the past three decades. Today’s students in America have never known a digital free world. They will never know life outside of cellphones, the internet, and being plugged in constantly. After 30 years of this, many of us know, being constantly plugged in to dings, pings and notifications often feels like our nerve endings are touching a live wire. It’s simply not healthy for humans.
Our digital tools are borderline miraculous, and yet they have caused immense societal damage. Social media meant to “connect us” often causes depression, gig apps for food delivery, transportation and other services often promote worse working conditions and lower pay, internet media behemoths wipe out local newspapers, and corporate e-commerce sells pure convenience at the expense of the environment. Our digital miracles can get ugly.
But digital technology isn’t all bad! It’s simply abused, and we haven’t learned yet as a society how to carefully handle such powerful tools. Powerful tool requires training to handle safely. A chainsaw needs skilled hands to wield it properly. If you believe the pen is mightier than the sword, it follows that digital media is far more dangerous for society than any chainsaw. Can you see that corollary there? Shouldn’t we be trained how to use tools like that properly in our lives?
Our students must be trained about why we have digital tools in the first place. After being taught why they are valuable, we must train students how to carefully manage digital tools in their own lives.
Today’s digital world has turned us all into constant consumers. Today’s digital world has also eroded authentic community.
You don’t direct Netflix movies, you watch them. You don’t have authentic community interactions on Facebook, you watch a curated stream of ads, articles and life-highlights from others. These digital tools are middlemen that are for consumption, and the commercialization of community. Students should know this, and understand how this impacts their lives!
We need a sweeping awakening to rebuild vibrant communities, and reclaim our ability to be creators instead of purely consumers. We have to change this in ourselves, and teach our students about real communities, and creating rather than always consuming.
Computers aren’t bad. Put down social media, put down the video game, put down Netflix, and build something! Build a website. Code an app. Craft an animation. Write an article. Record a song. However, to do any of these things… Perhaps we need to restore some community first.
Why do we build websites? Why do we write apps? Why do we create animations? Why write articles? Why record songs? To share something with others that is outside of computers and digital tools! Digital tools are just that, tools. They are not an end in and of themselves.
Community is at the core of the human experience. Planting a garden with your neighbors. Learning to play guitar while a sibling plays piano. Building a chicken coop with family. Cooking a meal with friends. Sharing stories over a fire. Traveling to another city with your kids.
This is what real community looks like. This is real life. Facebook can’t track this, Netflix can’t sell this to you. Once you’ve created something real with a community, then build the website to share it, create the article to describe it, record the video to teach others, write the app to help your next project, record a song to describe your last adventure.
Digital tools should only be an extension to share our lives well lived. We should not be living in digital tools. I’m not saying Netflix and Facebook started out to become dangerous tools. I am saying however, that without education, we humans gravitate towards these systems that are intentionally designed by experts to pull us in and keep us there. Buck the systems!
Create something for you. Form a real community with the people around you.