Rich Reflections on Required Readings 4 – Digital Citizenship (2.0)

Readings

The first reading from Education Technology Solutions by June Wall, Digital Citizenship vs. Digital Literacy – Is There a Difference?, asks lots of questions, but provides very few answers. I do enjoy the phrase “digital muggle” and will probably incorporate that into my edu-speak vocabulary. The remainder of the continuum June cites from The New Work Order seems apropos as well, but the remainder of the article doesn’t answer the question asserted by its title, so I will attempt to do so here. At its core, digital literacy is the ability to comprehend and create information that is disseminated electronically. Digital citizenship requires more than just comprehension or creative acts; it is the participation in an electronic community. Both digital literacy and citizenship can be evaluated on a continuum, the first based on a person’s ability to understand and craft digital information, the second on a person’s level of involvement in their electronic community.

While this seems to make them distinct, digital literacy and citizenship are also inextricably linked. A person with absolutely no digital literacy cannot be a digital citizen because they do not have the ability to communicate via digital modes. The greater an individual’s digital literacy, the more effective and involved they are capable of being as a digital citizen, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will choose to exercise those abilities by involving themselves deeper in a digital community.

While I will acknowledge that the article What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy is well-written, thought-provoking, and insightful, I see some flaws in the study and the premise of the opinions therein. I will address the first now, and the second at the end of my response.

The study only reports on the activities and survey results of two social studies programs out of the ten that they surveyed, one of them for a single year and the other for a two-year period. (1) This seems like a pretty slim sample when painting the lines between different types of citizenship education. I would be very interested to know if the other eight programs corroborated the evidence from these two by showing similar delineation in types of citizenship education or at least why they weren’t included in the findings.

As I said, despite what seems a small sample size to me, this is still an excellent article that made me think deeply about citizenship. I appreciate the three categories of citizenship education programs–personally responsible, participatory, and justice oriented–and how they were explained.

  • “Programs that seek to develop personally responsible citizens hope to build character and personal responsibility by emphasizing honesty, integrity, self-discipline, and hard work.” (3)
  • Participatory citizens “actively participate in the civic affairs and the social life of the community at local, state, and national levels.” (4)
  • Justice-oriented citizens “need opportunities to analyze and understand the interplay of social, economic, and political forces. [They call] explicit attention to matters of injustice and to the importance of pursuing social justice.” (4)

The authors of the article then go on to explain that most social studies programs promote the personally responsible citizens style of education, but that this style is inferior to participatory and justice-oriented styles because “even the widely accepted goals [of personally responsible citizens programs]–fostering honesty, good neighborliness, and so on– are not inherently about democracy.” (5) This may be true, and I can see the logic in their arguments, but it seems to me that encouraging students to participate in the various levels of government without the foundation of social responsibility and morality is asking for young people to grow up with the idea that we must have activism in order to be busy and affect social change for the sake of change itself, but without any underlying reason or purpose. The social responsibility and good character traits developed by such a program are why it is so important to participate in democracy. Training young people on the importance of good character might prevent future crooked and selfish politicians, who have turned their position into a self-serving career instead of maintaining their position as a servant of the people. I can definitely see the value of all three styles of citizenship education, and the best citizen development program would probably be one that balances all three, beginning with developing personal responsibility, then examining our communities for injustice, and getting involved to affect positive change. These three strategies should be reinforcing one another as they are implemented.

This article analyzing types of social studies programs for training democratic citizens could be applied to digital citizenship training as well. Rather than just focus on having good online behavior, a true digital citizen should be trying to make the online communities they are involved in better places for all people. In order to do that, they have to identify the problems (injustices) in their digital community and work together with others to correct them.

As promised, here I return to the flaw I see in the premise of the article. The premise of What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy is that it is of the utmost necessity that students be educated in citizenship to promote and further democracy. For social studies teachers I understand that this might be a given, but I see things a bit differently. The feeling I get from the article is that we are all subservient to this idea of democracy, that students must be trained to fit into their part of the democratic machine, that if people aren’t involved in activism and righting social injustice that they are flawed and incompetent citizens. The democracy should exist to serve the people and make their lives better, but the article makes it seem like the highest calling of each individual is to serve the democracy. Alright, I’ll step off my soapbox now…

6 thoughts on “Rich Reflections on Required Readings 4 – Digital Citizenship (2.0)”

  1. Paul,

    I appreciate your statement “that encouraging students to participate in the various levels of government without the foundation of social responsibility and morality is asking for young people to grow up with the idea that we must have activism in order to be busy and affect social change for the sake of change itself, but without any underlying reason or purpose.” I agree that without the foundation of personal responsibility, participatory and justice oriented citizenship become empty vessels. They may be artfully constructed and look good from the outside, but there’s nothing meaningful or purposeful inside.

    1. Hi Deana, and thanks for the comment. At Liz’s suggestion, I navigated over to your blog post on the same readings and noticed that we had some similar ideas about the relationship between digital literacy and digital citizenship, as well as the modes of citizenship from the article. I especially thought your chocolate chip cookie analogy was clever and a good way of expressing the relationship between the two. Thanks again for visiting my blog!

  2. Wow, what a great and well thought out response. I completely agree with your statement that young people need to be taught how to be good citizens in general. I remember nothing like this being taught in social studies and History in school. Why should teaching morality be left to religious institutions? It shouldn’t. People who are not religious or do not attend a religious institution still need to develop morality!

    In particular I like your quote: “The social responsibility and good character traits developed by such a program are why it is so important to participate in democracy. Training young people on the importance of good character might prevent future crooked and selfish politicians, who have turned their position into a self-serving career instead of maintaining their position as a servant of the people. ”

    You also mention that people cannot become good digital citizens without digital literacy; in the same way, they cannot become good citizens without learning basic morality. You almost make me want to switch my content area from music to social studies….except that I can never ever retain dates or knowledge in my head. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading my reflection Liz! I have the same problem with memorizing dates and other social studies-related facts, they just don’t seem to stick with me, but I have found that immersing myself deeply in the story of a particular event helps.

      As for the morality issue, I think that really this is primarily the responsibility of parents, although everyone involved in the lives of children has a duty to lead by example and explanation when the opportunity presents itself. The real dilemma is that many parents aren’t doing this with their children–maybe because kids are at school so much of the time and they assume teachers are taking care of it–but teachers don’t feel like they can or should address morality overtly because it isn’t their child. Somebody needs to though…

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