What is a Digital Citizen and are Our Teachers Creating Them?

I recently observed an ongoing debate circulating throughout nearly everyone’s newsfeed. I had seen countless posts about this same topic, most of which were not only copied and pasted, but were mindlessly reiterated over and over by people who had not reflected upon their own thoughts, values, and opinions. This topic is something that affects millions of Americans and it truly angered me to see hundreds of human beings acting like “drones” by just repeating what the last guy had written. I thought to myself, “Boy, I’d really like to take a stab at this and let the world know my two cents. But seriously, why would anyone care what I have to say?” As I pondered my options, I soon realized there really aren’t too many outlets for me to release my feelings. So, I decided to make my own post. You’ll notice that I italicized the word “my,” and for good reason. That’s because I believe too few people actually think for themselves and let the world know their own feelings- they simply resort to “copy-catting,” and to me, that’s a sad and terrible waste of the mind.

Shortly after I poured my heart and soul into my post, I received a comment from a close friend, resembling something along the lines of, “Why even make a post like this? The only way to really speak to people is in person?” So, I twiddled my thumbs and thought about my friend’s remark. To be honest, after reflecting on what he had said, I realized that I was happy with his point. I thought, “Why should I make a post on the internet? Who cares what Drew Dahl says, especially while he’s cuddled safely behind the computer screen with a blanket and pillow?” After a few minutes, I started receiving comments from people who had earlier made posts opposing my views, saying things like, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way” or “I’m touched- I never thought of that…” I had an epiphany: if my words can change one mind, allow one person to even think differently for a split second, or even have one person consider questioning their views, my work is done. So, bear with me, because I do have a point.

As I had come to discover, making what seems to some as just another “silly Facebook post” can actually impact people, and more people than you would think. And, for that matter, I may have changed the views of the few people who liked and commented on my post, but there could potentially be many others who viewed my post and were impacted in some way, big or small, but they just didn’t have the time, courage, or thoughts gathered to reply. So, if one person with one voice on a given issue can impact the thoughts and lives of one, two, or maybe even ten people, the sky’s the limit if you have a wide range of internet voices acting upon the same or similar issues. However, those voices need to be passionate, sincere, and independent.

As was highlighted in the “Egyptians Demonstrate Digital Citizenship” article by Stephen Balkam, the youth of Egypt did exactly that- they took their independent, well-honed voices to social media and made a difference by taking a disaster (the current state of Egypt) and placing hope in the hearts and souls of their fellow people by policing and protecting their kind. These people epitomized “digital citizenship,” but what does that mean?

To me, being a digital citizen means taking advantage of the incredible resources the internet and social media have provided us and putting it to good use for helping mankind. Now, I don’t want to pretend we all live in a magical la-la land with smiling ponies and unicorns flying around where everyone can save the world with a few clicks of the keyboard. However, I do believe that if more people spend their time posting and commenting all over the internet about real-world issues with their own thoughts and values, true and good change can be made. To be a digital citizen, one must place a greater emphasis on thinking about issues that concern others and not just themselves. For example, no one really cares when someone posts, “Going out tonight!!!” because it only affects that individual. However, what does effect the masses are issues that involve politics, economics, our planet, religion, diversity, and the like. The good news is that clearly, people are merging in that direction-it’s just a matter of time. But, most people need to be pushed in that direction and who better to direct them than a teacher? Are our American schools prepared to meet the needs of the digital citizen?

Fortunately, schools across the states are beginning to utilize more and more technological advances, especially computers and the internet. Teachers recognize that some of the most cherished and treasured commodities to their students are social media websites. Many teachers iterate to their students the importance of treating these websites with respect, and treating themselves with respect, too. With issues of inappropriate postings of pictures, videos, and topics, teachers and administrators are cracking down hard. And cyber-bullying is constantly being addressed and numerous students are being penalized (rightly so) for their cruel remarks. Holding students accountable and punishing them where necessary certainly prepares students to be good digital citizens. As this improves and progresses, the next step and duty of teachers is to promote thought provoking and inspirational uses of social media to their students. Once any student can act appropriately on the internet, think for themselves, and take advantage of their online resources to even attempt to make the world a better place, they have truly become a digital citizen of the 21st century.

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