Tag Archives: Social Activism

A-tempting Virtual Environment


If there is one day that I can go back to and say, “I became a different teacher,” it would be the day my son was born. I would argue that the moment I became a father, my teaching fundamentally changed in a way that allowed me to understand how parents of the children I had been servicing for over a decade struggled with: when to be involved and when to “let it alone.”  I can honestly say that I started to see my students as people with needs and that parents put enormous amounts of trust in us to be fair, encouraging, responsible professionals. Oh yes….we should be human as well.

I make this initial point in relationship to the onset of cyber-bullying as a 21st century phenomena that for the first time allows an adolescent to be reached by a bullying behavior in their home. Technology has made bullying behavior pervasive and mobile. The implication here is that without a safe-haven for those victimized by bullies, the teen mind is threatened and faced with limited choices. The teen mind, as it has been studied in the 21st century, thrives on risk-taking while in the midst of identity formation. The sense of “self,” a construct based on one’s interpretation of how others “see me,” emerges along with significant physical changes that can be used by others to draw attention away from their own obvious changes. Here is the heart of adolescent harassment as a behavior rooted in image, self-esteem, and identity. To address bullying behaviors, it seems practical to employ a number of approaches that would involve all of the major relationships connected to this stage of development and embed within secondary schools alliance systems, collaboration, and exploration, rather than systematic approaches that encourage competition and zero-sum experiences. To support this type of shift, the parent role must also be re-examined including their understanding of the teen brain, their knowledge of their own child, and of course, knowledge regarding technology. Teens need their privacy, however, building a trusting environment is a two-way road with all being responsible for their agreements. One recent understanding of the bullying cycle is the theory that a majority of bullies are intelligent enough to identify the people they can easily harass. Confidence and communication are key elements. Eating family meals and allowing for open discussion lays a strong foundation for developing confident young adults.

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Here are Essential Tips for Parents to consider if you believe your child is a victim or victimizing another. The general feeling from experts in child psychology is that students in both roles are suffering and need support.  Without looking though I am going to make some essential tips for teachers to consider based on experience and understanding of the teen-age mind.

Tip 1: Allow for students to talk more in class. Talking and critical thinking discussion work the frontal lobe, the seat of executive function and verbal abilities. Verbal skills and articulation help build self-efficacy, the holy grail of self-esteem.

Tip 2: Role play, Show video, Blog, or conduct readings focused not on bullying but on empathy….actually with HS students I would bring in 4-5 books from the elementary library and look for examples of “thinking of others.”

Tip 3: Use teachable moments and relevant events to show how dangerous thinking can affect the teenage mind. It is sad when you open the paper and read about a destructive or negative outcome that is related to bullying. But it is an opportunity to send a clear message about the phenomena and learn from others.

Tip 4: Find out as much about the brains of your students and work in class time on building a positive sense of “self.”

Tip 5: Educate your students parents. Blog, send notes, use Facebook or Twitter…..appeal to your student’s parents sense of responsibility and let them know that if they love their children they will be benevolent supervisors who monitor their children’s connectivity and be active guardians of their child’s lives.

The world may be a scary place, but the virtual world conjures a more sinister environment for harassment, exploitation, and defamation. Like many significant changes that have occurred through time, I feel there are strategies and lessons to be used to teach empathy in school, and more importantly, educate parents on the dangers their kids face and the dangers they may present. Since this issue encompasses physical development, cognition, and social development, the programs for ending bullying in all forms must address all three levels of Psychology and developing person.


The tragic death of Jamey Rodemeyer due to bullying behavior and hate has galvanized public sentiments urging lawmakers to begin taking a more policy-driven role in bringing empathy into the classroom. I encourage people to view this video from Jamey and consider his message that has reached over one million people, probably many of them teens.

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I encourage people to sign the Stop Bullying Petition, as if anything, it is a symbolic gesture to marginalize a real threat to the well-being of children everywhere.

The Value of Social Studies (And how it can be transformed for the better)

Ten Reasons to save Social Studies is one of the best summaries of my own feelings about why history and social sciences are critical for fostering critical and divergent thinkings. We are studying life and life is a dicey proposition for many. Decisions, reactions, belief structures, culture, and accident are embedded into every human being to allow for the construction of identity.

I am extremely interested in seeing Social Studies as a subject transform into a more engaging and socially active discipline. Would this look like service learning? It could, but doesn’t have to. Service learning is kind of tricky – not in regard to qualities and function, but in regard to engagement. It is difficult to encourage 50 9th graders to share the same passion for one cause. I would rather start small with investigation of problems (root causes, socio-cultural context, resources, nature of the conflict, etc.) then move toward identifying current solutions and evaluation of progress. This could be presented in a number of formats with opportunities to share the learning and spread the message. High Schools could utilize the IB model of CAS and embed this type of activity into the 9-12 curriculum. I see 9th grade as investigation, 10th/11th grade can be constructing of action plans, with Senior year being about reflection and action.

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This is probably already in place in progressive schools because progressive leaders realize the engaging power of empathy and purpose.

What is Gladwell thinking?

(I realize this is old news but I was very inspired to blog about Mr. Gladwell’s article)



I read The Tipping Point, Outliers, and Blink within a six month period. You had me hooked Gladwell. The stories and level of thinking in your books I found relevant, practical,and abundant in “aha” moments. Even your TED Talk on how spaghetti sauce changed the consumer culture had “stickiness” and impactive meaning. And now you pull this? Selling out the role of social media as a force of change.

Let’s lay out his arguments:

1. Social Media creates weak ties to others; strong ties are necessary for social activism. (1970s Italian Red Brigade & Civil Rights Movement are used as examples)

2. Instead of being defined by their causes, activists today are now defined by their tools.

3. Social Networks do some things well; but hierarchal direction isn’t one of them. Bottom to top change is in many ways a phenomenon rich in structured organization.

I can’t disagree….100%. While it’s true that social media creates weak ties, Gladwell himself sees this as a great quality in moving information or locating specific people or items with value. In my experience my weak ties have profoundly influenced my stronger ties by allowing me to share understanding and experiences. A good example is my PLN on Twitter. In another scenario, while protests were happening in Bangkok last year, social media kept me apprised of the situation in order to make decisions for my family. I feel very fortunate to have been informed (I also needed to corroborate information as well). More importantly, we are now embarking into an age where we have greater opportunities to forge “weak” ties that have never been possible before in the history of the planet. In these unchartered waters, we are just beginning to understand the complexities and promise of greater connectivity. Gladwell appears to be jumping the gun.

Gladwell’s next idea is very puzzling and problematic since I see social activism in the 1960s as heavily depending on the tools of the time period. University pipelines and weak/strong ties to people in specific positions to be used for getting the word out. I’m sure Gladwell knows the story of Rosa Parks getting arrested on a Friday and the Montgomery Bus Boycott starting that next Monday. The social network and media devices were word of mouth, the academic and social pipelines of colleges, and a hand turn mimeograph machine (at work all weekend) to organize a massive, city-wide boycott of municipal transportation.  I don’t see the point – tools are tools and social activism is impossible without both a message and a means of transference .

The third point regarding the lack of a hierarchy in the mass of social media is his most valid. All major political revolutions have order, direction, and organization although the effectiveness of all or any combination of the three can be questioned.  Can revolutions happen through Twitter? Emphatically not. But this is where Gladwell makes some important errors in analysis. His first error is in trying to compare the social activism of the 20th century with current political activism. They lack congruency. Bad government/ineffectual government is relative and the people at the barricades in Egypt and Libya are ready to make sacrifices so their children can experience the sweeping global changes taking place (Thomas Friedman is all over this). Social media is not bringing down governments but it most certainly is effecting the intellectual climates of closed/single-party states. More importantly, neo-liberalization and the proliferation of information on an exponential scale has blurred the lines of right and wrong, with a high propensity of moral relativism filling the void. In the 1960s Americans had to learn that disenfranchising citizens because of race is wrong…arguably some still don’t know; my point is that effective social action informs and changes minds; it is by definition demonstrative to all involved. I am demonstrating something when I put out a 140 character message to the world.

I have tremendous respect for the writer who has made me think differently about socio-cultural context, cognition, and success. I find his books extremely relevant to teaching and therefore his books resonate on very high level with what I do daily.  So here is my dilemma. If I believe social media has the capacity to transform learning, communication, and citizenship, then why doesn’t this brilliant author? Shouldn’t we be on the same page? Sounds like a 21st century problem. Get to the root of our difference, explore the evidence of the counter-argument and establish the “middle ground.” I’m learning empathy – I will see (or try to see) Mr. Gladwell’s point of view. So I research (21st century skill). I read a number of blogs and articles about this difference of opinion.  Here is what I came up with:

From Barbara Popova of the Change Observer (digital resource)

Malcolm Gladwell’s take on social media is like a nun’s likely review of the Kama Sutra — self-righteous and misguided by virtue of voluntary self-exclusion from the subject. But while the nun’s stance reflects adherence to a moral code, Gladwell’s merely discloses a stubborn opinion based on little more than a bystander’s observations.*

And this excellent observation from Matthew Ingram of Gigaom.com

While I was reading Gladwell’s piece, in my head I replaced any mention of Twitter or Facebook with the words “the telephone,” and then it became a diatribe about how people talking on the telephone has never amounted to anything in terms of social activism. That is probably just as true as his criticisms of Twitter. But would any modern social effort or campaign or demonstration be effective without someone making phone calls? Twitter and Facebook are just tools, and they can be used for social good in the same way any other tool can. And those “weak ties” can eventually grow into strong ones.*

(*I recommend both of these readings (plus Biz Stone’s response) for anyone still not convinced about why connectivity drives information and action)

So what does all this mean? Malcolm Gladwell really said nothing that wasn’t accurate from a particular point of view. Watch the video below: YouTube Preview Image

Discipline, trust, and organization are necessary for high risk activism.

Sounds like a few 21st century teachers I know. But OK…I’ll give credit to you Mr. Gladwell; I have come full circle and now will read Tipping Point for the third time because it just makes me think….like social media does.