What Are The Cultural Norms For Online Personal And Community Learning?

On Wednesday, Reuters ran an op-ed by the Colombian writer Federico Fuentes on the changes happening in schools as evidenced by school bullying. Sadly, this is a common story to know and hear about in schools in Latin America.

It’s a shame that “social media” has become synonymous with “advertising” in this election season. Or maybe it is a matter of mind.

A few years ago, it was fairly easy to condemn the current attitude toward advertising in the media. According to the Free Press, a media watchdog, “advertising and marketing are no more than the conduits through which media and advertising become products for consumption.” In fact, the notion of advertising within a given context is absolutely within the bounds of accepted cultural norms.

But there’s a huge problem, a social media problem, in some of the online communities for the 3rd and 4th grade learners that we experience monthly. The way our children use social media today is a disordered, dysmorphic reaction to the realities of mainstream culture. Their obsession with crafting their photo meme versions of humanity, with focus on what is coming into focus, is a microcosm of their hyper-anxious lives in this hyper-transfixed society. No wonder our children act like little monsters in the media.

Recently, we discovered that one of our volunteer tutors, Shawn, was using foul language, belying his uniform shirtless stature, in front of our young learners. And the class was still learning to use tools on video like those associated with voice. It’s easy to create a persona in an online community, where everyone is endlessly deluged with virtual bubbles of “fake news,” conversations about Amanda Bynes, Princess Diana, Sondra Hicks, Beyoncé, Dolce & Gabbana, and Jonny Depp…not to mention their day to day random encounters with others in the search for a version of them. As it turns out, Shawn’s classmate, Adam, has also used foul language, within the same context, and we asked him if he knew that. “Oh, we’re both guys, so I think we just grew up with that. My grandmother taught me to curse. It was the things that I heard my grandfather using. I don’t know what else to say.”

It was the skillful adaptation to the mainstream narratives of our generation that caused us to lose sight of the context within which the linguistically constricted lessons in the classroom are being received. It wasn’t until I mentioned to one of our licensed instructors that it was Shawn’s actions within this context that I learned about the toxic political attack against the president that he was posting about.

Is it really enough for a tutor who, at the moment, is making faces at his peers about how they make fun of his hairstyle, to be well aware of social media? That’s asking a lot of a child. I should have known he was up to no good already. He’s unprofessional on and off camera.

It’s the same in the realm of physical interaction with kids. Or the parents who add to the inappropriate double standards surrounding crossing the street to get to a soccer practice. Your opinion about the president is enough to justify violating the pedestrian laws, so why not the safety of others?

There has been a long-standing tradition within the traditions of Black History Month for African Americans to “remember our past and show respect.” In many ways, I feel our love for our First Ladies extends to similar directions. For example, Julia Child’s culinary expertise needed to be tempered within the context of our Nation’s stereotypes of African American women; her appearance was a reflection of what that stereotype meant. Temptation is a part of our lives on this planet. We have made great strides for racial integration, and social justice since slavery, but such progress still needs to be maintained.

Ultimately, when you have youth subject to the inculcation of a toxic atmosphere in which there are no codes or norms, it doesn’t have to be their fault. A word from our elected officials, in response to their unfortunate roles in modern political life, would go a long way.

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