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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Literacy: Are Today's Youth Digital Natives?

Danah Boyd's chapter Literacy: Are Today's Youth Digital Natives? tells an informative summary of how today's society is divided because of technology.  Her intro to the chapter speaks about how teens have grown up in a world where internet has always existed, and that from this perspective, "teens are 'digital natives', and adults, supposedly less knowledgable about technology and less capable of developing these skills, are 'digital immigrants'".  However, these teens and students are not interested in learning through the use of technology, rather, they are engulfed in a social media world.  Hence, this term of being a "digital native" is more so a distraction than it is a useful trait.  While there are of course teens that Boyd has interacted with that use their knowledge in technology in appropriate and productive ways, there are also teens that are strictly familiar with social media and can not distinguish spam, or the difference between a web browser and the internet.  Because of this, Boyd argues that is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed, while it also naive to assume that "digital immigrants" have nothing to offer, etc.

The Emergence of the Digital Native
John Perry Barlow, a renowned poet and cyberlibertarian, positioned those who "come from Cyberspace" in juxtaposition with those before this time, dubbed them the "native" against the "immigrant".  Douglas Rushkoff then argued in his book that children should be recognized for their ingenuity.  On this hand, Rushkoff uses the terms "native" and "immigrant" to celebrate children's development in the digital age.  Boyd challenges both perspectives, saying that both you and adults still have a lot to learn.

 "We live in a technologically mediated world. Being comfortable using technology is increasingly important for everyday activities: obtaining a well-paying job, managing medical care, engaging with government. Rather than assuming that youth have innate technical skills, parents, educators, and policymakers must collectively work to support those who come from different backgrounds and have differ- ent experiences. Educators have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environ- ments that the internet supports. Familiarity with the latest gadgets or services is often less important than possessing the critical knowl- edge to engage productively with networked situations, including the ability to control how personal information flows and how to look for and interpret accessible information."

 Youth Need New Literacies
Boyd goes on to speak about how youth must become media literate. They need to develop the skills to ask themselves questions about the construction and dissemination of particular media artifacts.   They need to understand the reasoning behind marketing and advertising, and how computer systems work.  It is important for the youth to learn these, rather than how to complete their MySpace layouts, for basic functioning in today's work force and employment.

The Politics of Algorithms
Boyd brings up the example of Wikipedia vs. Google; that Wikipedia is a community source that any one is able to edit, and that most information is from their own beliefs or other sites that are not credible, when Google, on the other hand, continuously alters their algorithms to minimize the efficacy of those trying to manipulate search results.  Algorithms are fundamental to how many computer systems work; it is important to recognize what algorithms are neutral in this case.

  It is important to educate youth on what sites and search engines they should be using and why.  Many students did not actually understand why their teachers did not want them using Wikipedia, for example, or they still used it regardless.  In this case, adults often end up giving teens misleading or inaccurate advice and information about what they see online.

Boyd explains that the problematic frame of the digital native often undermines efforts to celebrate and critically examine how teens do and do not engage with social media.   "I believe that the digital natives rhetoric is worse than inaccurate: it is dangerous. Because of how society has politicized this language, it allows some to eschew responsibility for helping youth and adults navigate a networked world. If we view skills and knowledge as inher- ently generational, then organized efforts to achieve needed forms of literacy are unnecessary. In other words, a focus on today’s youth as digital natives presumes that all we as a society need to do is be patient and wait for a generation of these digital wunderkinds to grow up. A laissez-faire attitude is unlikely to eradicate the inequalities that con- tinue to emerge. Likewise, these attitudes will not empower average youth to be more sophisticated internet participants. " 

Teens are gaining experience and knowledge of technological skills through use of social networking and media, however, they also need the education from adults and "digital immigrants" on how to use such skills and where to apply them appropriately.  Technology will increasingly play an important role in society, therefore it is very important in our youth and future generations. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

We Begin to Know Each Other

While navigating around the Rethinking Schools website, which has an overwhelming amount of exceptional information, resources, and articles, I found one article that I was more intrigued to read than others.  The summary of We Begin to Know Each Other by Maiya Jackson caught my eye and left me wanting to hear the rest of it.
The article is primarily about an 8th grade girl named Laura, who was born a boy.  Laura applied for Manhattan Country School (where Maiya Jackson is director) upon entering the 8th grade because she was being pressured to leave her current school after making the decision to become a girl.  Not ready to deal with the questions that would arise from the community, Laura's current school asked her to leave when she made this decision.
This was the baseline that was explained in the brief summary prior to reading the full article.  While I can imagine that the topic of transgender can be quite a complex one for staff and families of such a young age group,  I could not believe that a school took the initiative to ask this child to leave.  This child had undoubtedly struggled with her identity for all of her life thus far, and had made a bolder and braver decision than many adults have in their own lives to change that.  This is so impressing to me that a child this young can be sure enough to make such an aggressive, and assuringly scary, choice on their own.
Manhattan Country School (MCS), the school Laura would be transferring in, "is a pre-K to 8th grade progressive school in New York City with a social justice mission.  Our student body has no racial majority, and we have a sliding-scale tuition system that supports socio-economic diversity".  The admissions team wanted to trust that the school would be safe and welcoming place for Laura, but was unsure how the wider school community would be in regards to talking openly about transgender identity.  While reading how the community and school felt, I found myself relating it back to the students transferring into Frances Howell in This American Life.  While very different identities, it is seemingly the same situation of bringing students in to a school that may make current students and families feel uncomfortable, but also wanting to make the new students feel safe and welcome.
The mission of MCS is proven throughout the article many times, but mainly because of the way Laura found MCS.  She had found it by attending Cometfire, a citywide group for LGBTQ middle school students and their allies (love that this is a thing there).  There, Laura became friendly with an 8th grader, Sophia, that had been out as a lesbian since the 5th grade.  Again, as a side note, I was very impressed that a child had come out by that age.  I feel that goes to show how serious gender identity can be, and that these children so obviously know this all of their lives (see related video link at end of blog).
After the admissions team met with the school psychologist to talk about Laura's adjustment and how to support her, she entered the 8th grade class that already had three gay families; "Sophia had already blazed a path to talk about gender and sexuality.  The class's 6th grade activism project had been lobbying for marriage equality at a state senator's office; their 7th grade project was leading a campaign to stop bullying of LGBTQ students".  These points that show how unbiased and welcoming this school is is absolutely amazing to me.  This is exactly how schools today need to be, and I wonder how Delpit and the other authors of the readings we have previously done would react to such an outstanding body of students and staff.
As the school prepared for Laura's welcoming and the new school year, Sophia's mother wrote an e-mail in regards to Sophia's gender as well.  She had attended a gender nonconforming camp for kids that summer, and made a transition to being called 'SJ' and living in a masculine spectrum.  It was very meaningful to her, and SJ wanted to continue his transition identity that year school.  Another thought provoking situation for me, because I could not help but respect that this parent was so supportive and open to their child's identity transition, especially at an age where many children do not still know themselves, and go through many phases.
Upon these situations, the school found themselves wondering how to deal with certain situations, such as gender bathrooms.  They opted for hanging signs on the door that said "occupied" when students were using them, rather than having a girls room and a boys room.  They did not want to have only locked unisex bathrooms, because of the potential safety hazard of students locking themselves in bathrooms.
The staff spent much time discussing this with each other and their students, and even did staff development sessions on gender identity and writing exercises of the first time when they were aware of their gender (I found myself briefly thinking of this as well, and finding it rather hard!).  The staff would tell their students on the first day of school while making opening remarks for the school year. They talked about the importance of community, and introduced SJ, who all the students were already familiar with as Sophia.  At first, Maiya reported that the students were rather open and accepting of Laura and SJ.  However, as the school year went on, there were minor issues and confusion for the students attending school with Laura and SJ.  Students brought up issues such as sports, and how they felt Laura playing on a girls team was an unfair advantage having been born a boy.  Some brought up overnight field trips, and how it was going to work gender wise.  The 8th grade girls apparently kept asking a 7th grade girl why she was interested in dating SJ, because he was a "boy" and had a crush on her, implying that she was a bad friend for not choosing to go out with him.  All of these confusing issues with staff and students brought me back to when Allan Johnson said that "people fear the unfamiliar".  At the beginning, everyone seemed fine with it.  As time went on, and questions arose, and the students and staff could not justify their questions with answers for themselves because they were unfamiliar with the situation, they seemed to start that fear he speaks of.  The staff held several meetings throughout the year, and had started with written questions from the students. It seemed the sessions were helpful, however, while reading the end of the article, I believe the most effective strategy for the students dealing with these confusing issues was to hear from Laura herself.  Laura gave a talk to the 7th and 8th grade students at the end of the year, and I felt it even put things in perspective for me.  She explains that she has always been a girl, stuck in a boy's body.  "I want all of you to close your eyes and imagine seeing yourself in the mirror, but instead of seeing yourself as your biological sex, imagine you are the opposite open your eyes. Some may have liked the image they saw and some may have not.  If you did not like the image you saw, imagine what it would be like to live 11 years of your life as that image".  This quote is extremely powerful and I would love to refer back to it for anyone that may be confused or biased against transgenders.
I wanted to include this brief video on Jacob, a 5-year-old child that was born a girl and has already chosen to live as a boy.  I think it is very interesting to see a child at this age be so sure of his identity change, and it proves that children know this far before they even know what gender really is.