Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Citizenship is a Political Role

First off, my interpretation of the fundamental meaning of teaching "digital citizenship" is not teaching "citizenship in the digital world/nation," but "the extension of real world political citizenship into the digital realm," although I'm sure that distinction could be the topic of a very long discussion itself.

Citizenship is a political role, and if you look at it outside of political history, and, for Americans, American political history, you're going to come up with a bunch of nonsense.

Is literacy a fundamental part of American citizenship? No. Efforts to make it so are bound up with the history of black disenfranchisement and Jim Crow.

Etiquette is also a method of social control. It is not your responsibility as a citizen to be polite, particularly when polite is defined by those in power.

Safety? That's an open question at this point, in the US. Do you, as a citizen, have an obligation to fasten your seatbelt, not smoke, etc? Perhaps, but I'd argue that it is hardly central to the role.

Learning strategies? That's just out of scope.

Look, we've already got a great framework for building schools around the idea of citizenship, digital or otherwise. I'll quote a little Deborah Meier blogging:

The "five habits of mind" (see below) were a rough, unfinished attempt to get at what such "play" might look like at some Sizer-led schools. These "habits were an effort to describe the essential responses of adults in their vocation of citizenship (and, fortunately, useful for a lot else as well)...

Briefly, the five habits that defined "using one's mind well" in some of the Coalition "progressive" schools are summed up as follows. Being in the habit, whenever confronting something of interest and importance, of asking:

  1. How do we know what's true or not true? How credible is our evidence?
  2. Is there an alternate story? Perspective? How might this look from another viewpoint?
  3. Is there a connection between x and y? A pattern? Have I come across this before?
  4. What if... supposing that…? Could it have been otherwise if x not y had intervened?
  5. And finally, "who cares"? Does it matter? (And, perhaps, to whom?)

If you go over Alec Couros's list of things he's freaked out about, I think you'll find those questions to be quite useful. We don't have to start over with "digital citizenship," just apply the best thinking about educating citizens in general, and I think you'll find it applies quite well.


Alec Couros said...

Thanks for your thoughts here Tom. I've stated in my own comments that citizenship may not be the right term to use. However, I am not sure if I buy the idea that citizenship is solely for the political spectrum ... and even if it were, I am not sure it is a bad thing. I've been conversing with a colleague regarding full-spectrum citizenship and how it is a vehicle toward social justice, participatory democracy and positive personal and collective action. Basically, full-spectrum literacy (a full arsenal of literacy tools) may lead to a world where individuals contribute as responsible global citizens ... at least that is the hope. Why can't we at least wish for this in the digital reaches of our world ... the extensions of of our temporal world.

I agree with your takes on etiquette and the connection to power, in my post I spoke strongly about the importance of critical literacy in identifying power, position and authority. As with you, I identified that etiquette, safety, literacy and learning are not enough to make up citizenship of any sort ... and my call for something else should have been clear.

I'm quite sure your identifier "Alec Couros's list of things he's freaked out about" is not very accurate. I'm well aware that there are darker corners of our colletive web experience that are not mentioned in my post. However, the items I listed are not trivial and many educators don't have a clue that they exist, or if they do, don't have a clue what to do about them.

As for your conclusion "just apply the best thinking about educating citizens in general, and I think you'll find it applies quite well", I don't entirely agree. For the most part, yes it may. There are general moral and ethical principles and apply across the spectrum. However, it's the appeal of the medium, the instant access to content and the connected nature that may cause more problems than we have witnessed ever before. In other words, it's much easier to get into trouble than ever before ... or as Trevelyan wrote, we are "easy prey to sensations and cheap appeals."

Thanks for your thoughtful post on this subject. I look forward, as always, to hear more from you in the future.

Mr. Lauer said...

Well said Mr. Hoffman...