My grandson just turned 11. He is the same age as the kids I was teaching in 1997 when I realized that they would be the leaders who would shape my own retirement years! Although I left classroom teaching in 1998, that thought never left my mind. In 2002 I hired a webmaster to create a website. Leadership 2020: Specializing in Learning Environments for the 21st Century Is still online, but since I never learned how to use the software, it hasn’t been updated since 2004. The Homepage still asks this question:
Have you ever wondered who our leaders will be in the year 2020?
Depending upon how you want to define “leadership,” we now have the answer to that one. The internet is full of Monday morning quarterbacks who think they know for sure who’s in charge, what they are doing wrong, and who’s to blame. Not only that, as they research and share their favorite theory, they create a filter bubble that feeds them more and more “proof” every day that they are right.
(Notice how it’s easier to point my finger at “THEM” rather than to own the fact that I can get sucked into my own internet addiction and get lost in cyberspace before I know it!)
So there we are.
Meanwhile, where are the kids? The ones who are watching from the sidelines and forming their own theories about what to do with the fragments of information that come their way?
My daughter-in-law sent me a link to a podcast called Rabbit Hole yesterday and I started listening to it this morning. The first episode is called “Wonderland,” and is a pretty scary interview with a young man who was radicalized into white supremacy.
He told how he became interested in YouTube self-help and motivational videos that promised he could improve his life. He was gradually seduced by related “click bait” videos that appear on the right side of the screen. He soon found several charismatic speakers who knew exactly how to attract disenfranchised young people and convince them to join their ranks.
As I was listening to him describe himself as a kid, I began thinking about my grandson.
At the beginning of this school year he was excited about finishing elementary school and taking that giant step into Middle School! He was looking forward to all the fun activities that he had watched his older brother and sister enjoy during their last year at the same school. “Graduation” these days is no longer reserved for high school and college. Fifth graders get to march across the stage in their caps and gowns and celebrate with all their friends at the party their parents have spent months planning for them.
Instead, on March 14, 2020, “screen time” replaced “seat time,” and the best part of school (hanging out with his friends) was lost to him. My grandson is probably one of the lucky ones because, living in the Silicon Valley in a home with more screens than bedrooms, he’s able to “hang out” virtually with some of his real-life friends. He also has two tech-savvy parents who keep a pretty close watch on his online activity. But he’s only one of millions of 11-year-olds who must be feeling pretty left out these days.
When I began thinking about our future leaders in 1997, I tried to find out what they were calling the generation after “Gen X.” They finally decided upon “Millennials,” but at the time they were also talking about “Gen Y.” I just thought of them as “Generation Next.” I like that because it doesn’t really matter what they are called, they will always be the kids who will turn 30 in twenty years. The current Gen Next’ers will turn 30 in the year 2040. They are 10 years old right now, the perfect age to do a little “social inoculation” as Dr. H. Stephen Glenn called it.
Glenn said that “social inoculation’ is much like the other inoculations we give our kids, but instead of protecting them from illness, it protects them from the negative social behaviors that they will certainly be exposed to in the next few years. Dr. Glenn wasn’t thinking about internet addiction in the 1980’s, but giving our kids a supervised dose of what could easily become an addiction is still a very good idea.
I began thinking about how that could be done for my grandson and the rest of his generation. So in typical teacher fashion, I decided to write a lesson:
LESSON #1: Fact or Fiction?
I received a beautiful private Facebook message yesterday from a friend. It was a YouTube video about the power of Universal Love and how much our world needs that right now. I was told to share it with as many people as possible because it is the sort of thing that should “go viral.”
It was a wonderful message and I fully agree that our world needs to hear those words right now. My problem was that it was a letter attributed to Albert Einstein and recently released by his daughter, Lieserl. I decided to check further into the post because of the podcast I had just heard.
The “Universal Love” message was as far from the white supremacy message as you could possibly get, but the bigger picture is still important. Social networking is neither good nor bad; it’s simply a faster and more seductive way to connect and communicate. How we use it – and how we teach our children how to use it – is up to us.
The rest of my story is probably obvious by now. What may not be so obvious is how much I learned about Einstein by going through the process of fact-checking the video. Not only did I find out that he did not write the letter, I also learned that this particular daughter probably died or was adopted by someone else when she was three years old.
Google a question containing several key words from the post that you wonder about. If nothing comes up, add or change words until you find what you’re looking for. If it’s a news story and you can’t find at least two other reputable sources that have reported it, you can be pretty sure it’s fake. If you find nothing, check the source. Go to the website – but be careful. Once you go to a website, your algorithm thinks you want more of whatever is on that site – so you may or may not want to do that.
Choose a fact checking site or a secondary source that you trust and click on three hot links (the words that are underlined in blue in the text.) Find out what they say about the post. Stay focused on what you’re looking for, but at the same time notice how easy it is to become interested in something else that catches your eye – even to the extent of losing track of time!
Write TWO paragraphs telling about your experience:
- Paragraph One: What did you DO?
- Paragraph Two: What did you LEARN?
The best way to help our kids learn discernment in terms of what they choose to believe or not to believe on the internet is to model the behavior we’d like to see in them. So, the next time you run across a post that seems interesting but a bit far-fetched ….
- Ask yourself if you have ever shared or posted something like that without checking it?
- Go through the fact-checking process for yourself.
- If the subject matter is age-appropriate, talk to your kids about what you’re doing.
- You might even try writing the two paragraphs yourself and sharing them with your own children or your class.
The old saying “Monkey See – Monkey Do” has never been more important than it is now!
Here are just some of the interesting sites I found.
- I usually start with Snopes.com because it always gives a lot of secondary sources to check
- This article from the Huffington Post was written almost five years ago, so this story has been around quite awhile!
- I probably learned the most from this one: Steemit.com
- This one really looks legitimate – so I would want find out more about the writer and the source: Thrive Global.com – David Levin
I could go on and on with this process because it’s really interesting! There’s enough to learn about Einstein to keep a kid busy for years (IF he/she is interested!) Needless to say it’s imperative that parents or teachers monitor both screen time and online activity for all the reasons given on that scary Podcast!
THREE nice things about a generic lesson like this:
#1: No two students have to research the same subject so no one can complain that it’s boring.
#2: When a kid loses interest in one thing, there’s lots more out there to learn about.
(And the best thing – in my opinion) . . .
#3: The KIDS do the work and I get to learn from them and about them while only having to “grade” two paragraphs. (Which, by the way, have to be indented, legible, and at least fairly interesting!)