This week marks the final segment of the winter 2019 EDTC 400 Great Ed-tech Debate Series, and what a rush it has been. Our last topic up for discussion was whether or not Educators have a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice and fight oppression which was a perfect way to close out and summarize our debates. All semester long, we have been considering topics surrounding digital technology and its influence on education and how we as educators can provide equitable education for all of our students while integrating technology into the classroom. This week challenged us to reflect on our learning through our EDTC 300 and EDTC 400 journey and ultimately take a stance on what believe concerning the theme of this course. Through my learning Ed-tech learning journey, I have come to believe that teachers are responsible for integrating technology into their classroom and setting positive examples on social media platforms to support our students and help them be successful in our technology-based society and I recognize that this may include acknowledging controversial topics. With that being said, there are always two valid sides to our debate topics and thus, I was excited to hear arguments specifically from the opposition in this debate because if this class has taught me anything, it is that there are two sides to every story and educators must be willing to have their beliefs challenged and remain open to continuous learning. Our pre-vote and post-vote results showed little discrepancy and exhibited that majority of my Ed-tech peers shared my belief concerning teachers responsibility to use technology to promote social justice and fight oppression as I had expected, however, we were not in a unanimous agreement which illustrates that there are valid arguments for both sides even after studying the value and implications of educational technology.
As in many of our debates, an important tangent arose rather quickly that was critical to discuss and understand in regards to this week’s topic. Throughout these debates, these conversations have illustrated how teachers can not predict where discussions will go but unexpected ideas brought up by students are critical to discuss and often can lead to the most important learning opportunities. We spent a large amount of our class discussion time portraying the importance of understanding the difference between fact and opinion. Facts cannot be ignored and as much as I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, one’s opinion becomes wrong when it begins to disregard facts. Examples such as the anti-vaccination movement where people are choosing not to vaccinate their children since they believe vaccines can cause autism was brought up in class to help illustrate the importance of knowing the facts. This belief has been proved wrong numerous times yet as a result of these wrong opinions, many measles outbreaks have occurred in Western Countries despite the measles virus being previously considered extinct. It is believed that the role of the internet to help spread anti-vaccination ideas had a large influence on strengthening the movement at the expense of public health and safety. This example shows how fast information can spread online, how believable fake news can be, and the importance of becoming informed because misguided opinions can have seriously damaging results.
Arguments for the Agree Side
Mr. Jesse Simpson took the stance on this debate that was in agreement that teachers are responsible for using technology and social media to advocate for social justice. His introduction video includes three main points that explain why he agrees with the statement under study that are backed up with research, statistics, and valid modern day examples. Jesse’s main message was that teachers should use their voices to speak up about social justice issues and fight oppression and he connected social media and technology as one mean of allowing educators’ voices to be heard.
1. Remaining Neutral is Problematic: Jesse’s first point addressed a theme that I have been exposed to frequently as a member of the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education. He addressed how one can never be neutral and that when we pretend to be neutral we are siding with the dominant group and thus supporting the existing oppression and privilege rather than challenging it. Jesse discussed how education is indeed political and shared a quote from Alyssa Dunn that states “education, at its core, is inherently politically driven”, which highlights the importance of acknowledging political issues in classrooms. Discussions concerning racism, sexism. classism. treaties, ableism, gun violence, or the LGBTQ community just to name a few may be difficult, however, it is the uncomfortable feelings that result from these conversations that will initiate the change we need to see in our world to strive towards social justice. Avoiding these topics and in particular, the ones that directly influence our students ignores the fears, interests, and concerns of our students and demonstrates that we do not care about the oppression they may be experiencing. As expressed in an article by Tim Walker, neutrality is a political choice that bolsters the status quo which is incredibly problematic and unfair to our students. What we discuss as educators will illustrate our values, concerns, and who we are as a person and thus, to be activist role models for our students we as educators cannot choose to remain “neutral”.
2. Risks of Staying Silent Online: Many people believe that educators should remain silent online to avoid being discovered by their students on social media platforms and projecting their biased opinions on to their students. However, teachers are responsible for preparing our students to be successful in our world and as digital technology continues to influences society, it is important for teachers to model digital citizenship. Jesse explained how since the majority of Fake News is political in nature, it is important for educators to speak up to ensure their students are not left to navigate lies on their own. Staying silent will allow misinformed news to reign supreme which is the last thing we want for our students. As a teacher, it is critical that we learn the facts and provide them to our students so that they have appropriate understandings of the issues happening around them and are able to make informed decisions concerning the stance they choose to take. Similar to neutrality, silence is complicity as taking a silence stance demonstrates agreeing with the issue that you refuse to comment on. An article written by Mathew Lynch explains how hovering will not keep kids safe online but demonstrating exemplary digital citizenship, encouraging digital literacy, and insisting on digital etiquette, respect, and responsibility will help our students be prepared to thrive in our digital world. By choosing to allow fake news to circulate and thrive rather than speaking up and addressing it, educators will do a major disservice to their students.
3. Technology and Social Media can be used effectively: As stated by Jesse, his third idea is less of an argument and more of a guide. We know neutrality and silence is extremely problematic but it may still be difficult for educators to know how to effectively use technology and social media to speak up against political issues. Firstly, teachers must become informed about the various platforms and learn how to comfortably navigate their features. Once we understand how to use technology and social media effectively, we will be able to support our students and guide them in doing the same. Putting that idea to words makes me incredibly grateful for the opportunity for my EDTC 300 and EDTC 400 learning experiences and the valuable knowledge that I have gained through their teachings. I feel prepares to act as a role model, guide, and learner alongside my students as the influence of digital technology continues to persist. Secondly, Jesse emphasized the importance of sharing and getting involved. As citizens, our responsibilities travel well beyond being law-abiding and paying our taxes as we must actively engage in activities concerning civic affairs and address the root causes of social issues while actively striving for solutions. Using technology and social media can benefit both teachers and students and together, the education community has the power to make a difference and change the world.
Arguments for the Disagree Side
Mr. Daniel Lee approached the opposing side to the statement suggesting that teachers are not responsible for using technology and social media to promote social justice and fight oppression. Daniel shared three main points that were surprisingly persuasive and challenged my peers and me despite us all being Ed-tech students. His main focus was that teachers significantly influence their students and should not be sharing biased opinions that their students will absorb.
1. Teachers are Under Constant Scrutiny from the Public: Due to the significant role that teachers play in the lives of our society’s youth and the future generations fo our world, teachers work is under the public eye and often unfairly criticized or judged. There is no denying that part of the education profession is being able to justify our teachings to the public while having them picked apart by others who fail to offer recognition, support, or gratitude. Since almost everyone has had experience in the education system, we all have opinions concerning how schooling should look and what should be taught in classrooms and there is no surprise that there are variances among these opinions. An article by Richard Worzel discusses how parents claim that they do not always understand what happens in the classroom and that they worry about the education that their children are receiving because it is different from their personal experiences in the school system. It is not unreasonable for parents to strive to ensure that their children are receiving the best education possible, but they must accept that education is changing with the needs of students being the first priority and that teachers are not solely responsible for the education that children receive. Parents are quick to place blame on teachers because they are at the front face of the education their children receive, however, it is also important to acknowledge that there are many other factors that influence the education that students receive. The fact that teachers are consistently judged for their approaches and behaviours both inside and outside of classrooms supports the belief that remaining neutral and not speaking up online is the best way to avoid scrutiny and insulting backlash or media attention that could be threatening to their careers.
2. The Education System is Political: Both Daniel and Jesse acknowledged that the education system is political but unlike Jesse who acknowledged the importance of addressing these political issues, Daniel expressed reasons for doing the exact opposite and keeping political opinions private. He shared a CBC article that examines the story of an educator who was denied a contract because she was found to be sleeping with her male partner which denies a clause in the contract that forbids any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. This example exhibits a multitude of troubling thoughts but staying on topic it demonstrates how it is difficult for teachers to separate their personal and professional lives. In some schools, teachers are expected to conform to certain beliefs to avoid risking expulsion and thus advocating for social justice change would be bold and most likely viewed as inappropriate. Both teachers’ private and professional actions are constantly under a lens and thus, many educators believe they are better off staying silent rather than risking their careers by advocating for social justice and fighting oppression.
3. Students are Easily Influenced: Daniels’ last point addressed the popular idea of comparing children to sponges because they are easily influenced and absorb information and ideas that surround them. Students look up to their teachers as role models and believe that their teachers are always right (especially elementary grade level students) and thus, many people believe teachers should remain neutral rather than teaching their students what to believe. It is critical that students are taught to critically think for themselves but this may not always be possible if teachers are expressing their personal views as the only view in their classrooms and not exposing students to both sides. The rational part of the brain is not fully developed until the age of twenty-five and thus, students are not always capable of understanding the justification for beliefs and are vulnerable to being brainwashed. Daniel shared a Toronto Sun article that describes that story of a Toronto educator who rallied his grade three class together to protest against the proposed Enbridge pipeline project in Western Canada. This story dictates an extreme case of the issues that arise when teachers vocalize their personal beliefs and convince their students that they are right. Due to the biases teachers hold that can influence their students, it is argued that teachers should remain neutral to avoid influencing their students to think a specific way.
So What Do I Believe?
My stance on the topic of whether or not teachers are responsible for using technology and social media to advocate for social justice and fight oppression is fairly concrete. I believe that all citizens are responsible for challenging social normatives in hopes of improving societal norms for all citizens. As an educator, I am accountable for teaching my students about citizenship and thus it is my duty to set a positive example of what being a “good” citizen looks like which requires me to exemplify digital etiquette and advocate for change. Minoritized students need our support the most and staying quiet or neutral will simply demonstrate to them that I do not care about the oppression they experience which is the last thing I would want my future students to think or feel. When I attended Treaty Ed Camp in 2017, Brad Bellgarde, a sessional leader stated that he was jealous of teachers because together educators are a united team that have a platform to make a difference. I chose the education profession because I am excited to be part of a team that has the opportunity to inspire students and make our world better for all, and Brad’s words exhibited that my aspirations are possible in the field of education. I do recognize the problems with transmitting personal biases onto students but if teachers are adequately informed prior to addressing issues and primarily share facts, students will be able to recognize the need for change on their own and make their own educated decisions concerning topics that have valid opposing sides. I believe educators are responsible for advocating for social change and fighting oppression.
Thank you for following along my journey during the EDTC 400 Great Ed-tech debate series! As always, I would love to hear your personal thoughts concerning this topic and look forward to engaging in more conversations that will challenge my personal views and open my eyes to new perspectives.