Monday, November 24, 2014

How Do We Teach Empathy and Resiliency Online?

Harassment is Not New... It's Just a New Space for the Jerks

I was talking to my dad recently about school and bullying issues. My somewhat redneck dad had a simple solution to bullying and that was, "Just let kids (he most likely meant boys) be kids, and wrestle it out on the playground, and it will be finished." At first I kind of laughed. Imagine if we just let kids "duke out their problems". Ridiculous... But was there some truth to that? Did kids in our parent's and grandparent's generation, just deal with their issues right away without letting it drag on? There were the bullies and the "intimidators" in their time, but did they have the power they do now, by being able to present a constant threat to those pegged as their victims? Has technology allowed harassment to become more of a mental and emotional issue than in previous generations?  Hmmm... I thought there was maybe some truth to my dad's way of dealing with issues, until I read Tammy's post, "Speaking from my spot in the corner... let the over-sharing begin!"  After reading about her struggles to become an independent and confident person, while dealing with negative pressures of her father, it only reinforced to me, that women being harassed or encouraged to be quiet is not a new thing, it's always been around. Were things really dealt with in our parent or grandparent's generation?

My Thoughts on Being a Woman Online

Photo Credit: Stefan Mendelsohn via Compfight cc  
As Benita pointed out in her blog post, "Women" or Ryan explored in his post, "If You Don't Like What They are Saying, Change the Conversation" our session with Audrey Watters wasn't really that shocking. Yes, it is unfortunate, that I many of us weren't really shocked to hear that women are demeaned and harassed online. It wasn't shocking to hear that when a women speaks out about an issue that immediately she is harassed into silence. It wasn't shocking that there are individuals who take it to the extremes to psychologically threaten others, so that they can't even go online just because they spoke their opinion.  In her post, Benita states, "So here we are in year 2014 and along with the issues in advertising we have to contend with the technology age and not being (portrayed) as smart enough, not being able to give our opinion, don’t play online games (or do well) and so on…" I have to agree with her comments, not a lot has changed. Women continue to be threatened if they put themselves out there too much. The only thing that has changed is the environment, and unfortunately it's an environment that in many ways is still the Wild West or Uncharted Waters. 

Recently when I put my picture on my profile, I started to wonder if a pic with my daughter was a wise choice. I started to wonder about the environment and the insidious nature that the Internet offers for those who wish to do harm. Nowhere in my photo does it say that I'm with my daughter, but a shadow started to creep into the back of my mind, as I started getting updates on who was checking out my profile. Thankfully most of those who looked at my profile were members of this class, but there was the odd person who had no connection to education or technology, or even sports. I started to rethink the links I had posted from my Google+ information to my Twitter profile. I'm usually pretty savvy about the image and information I put out there to the world, and for the most part, I'm sure no one cares. But what if? What if I caught the attention of some creep?  Regina just isn't that big. Now after our talk with Audrey, I wonder if I should change my profile picture. Should I be this paranoid? 

It's Everyone's Deal

As I was exploring sites related to online harassment, I stumbled upon a Time article, "Misogynist Online Abuse Is Everyone's Problem - Men Included" written by James Poniewozik. In the article,Poniewozik,  shares this point, "the price of having a female byline and an opinion is getting subjected to torrents of gender-specific, grotesque, sometimes frightening and threatening abuse, which men like me, in general, do not deal with to nearly the same degree." This definitely reinforces our discussion with Audrey... But the part of his article that really captured my interest was his reasons for saying why the misogynist abuse is everyone's concern.

"It’s still my problem, though. There’s a whole genre of men saying that they’ve become feminist because they have daughters. I don’t; I have two sons. Which is exactly why this kind of toxic crap in the culture is my problem, because they play games and they live in the world, and I want them to grow up to be decent guys with healthy human relationships. I don’t want them immersed in a mindset that says that throwing anonymous abuse at women is somehow retaliation in kind."

I think as teachers we need to kind of embrace this philosophy, that teaching for these kinds of issues is more than just a few lessons in Digital Citizenship.It's more than teaching girls to be confident and stand up for what they believe. The issue is not just a digital one.  It's about teaching kids about stereotypes and generally about how to behave, even if you don't agree with another person's opinion. Unfortunately as doors open and walls were flattened with the Internet, it has become a bit harder to keep the trolls from coming into our domain.

Moving Forward, Even When You Wonder If It's Worth It

So where do we go from here? I agree with Tammy's advice at the end of her post, in that we "don" our life jackets and teach students how to avoid "the rapids, the submerged objects, the sand bars" and sharks. And, in going with her boating metaphor, we teach students to be more than wandering sailors unsure of the waters ahead, and instead become wise, confident captains of their own journeys. This means empowering kids. Teaching boys and girls that online harassment is something we can't be silent about, and that it's worthwhile to speak out against "toxic crap" in our culture. We probably won't solve all the issues related to being online, but we can do our part, which is, do what we do as teachers... educate kids and make them ready for anything.


I leave with one question... Should I still change my profile pic? Or should I just be aware and keep it as is?? Thoughts anyone??

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