Remember the Children (Digital Rights in a Digital Age)

What the Kids Say

Someone in the #DigCiz community shared out a research piece about the rights of children in the Digital Age, and I spent some time the other day looking through it. You can, too. The two researchers — Sonia Livingstone and Amanda Third — scoured through research on children to parse out what rights young people have, or don’t have, in the digital world.

As we talk about Digital Citizenship and Civics in the Digital Age, I find it important to remember the balance of adults and children, and how too often young people’s unique concerns and issues of agency get left out of the discussions.

Really, the focus should be all about the kids.

Ideal social media user (company perspective)

Yes, as an adult, I have my own personal concerns about digital platforms (See Doug Belshaw’s post: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Facebook), and the commercialization of our data, and the privacy decisions made behind closed doors. As adults, we can navigate, react, resist, leave, stay, pause.

Kids have a tougher time, for all sorts of reasons related to developmental growth, social pressures and more. I hope I am not being too authoritative here when I suggest, from my experience as a teacher of 11 and 12 year olds and father of three boys, that young people are:

  • less apt to understand the mechanics behind digital sites
  • less open to individual inquiry about what is happening to their data
  • or are more likely to shrug off the trade-off because they see things “in the moment” and not in the larger picture
  • less likely, particular as teenagers, to have an adult they can turn to for help and advice (parents are often the adult of last resort during the teen years)
  • more apt to follow the social herd into something new without fully understanding the trade-offs
  • more likely to have their unique concerns be ignored by adults when a technology is in the sphere of public debate (read danah boyd’s work for a better understanding of all of this)

Take a look …

This video pulls some of the ideas from the research article, and hopefully, it allows for several point of discussion, including:

  • What rights should young people have in the Digital Age?
  • How do we articulate their concerns?
  • How can we empower young people to be part of the conversation and support their unique status when technology companies and governments try to exploit them?
  • Where is the line between adult protectiveness and youthful exploration?

I don’t have the answers. But, as a teacher and a father, I am often thinking about it. I hope you are, too.

Peace (in the kids’ world),

Visiting Artist: Learning About Life with Your Hands

Elton visits

“Remove the negative. Uncover and highlight the positive.” — Elton Braithwaite, speaking to my students about art and life.

We’re fortunate to have an acclaimed woodcarver — Elton Braithwaite — come to work our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds) this coming week.

Elton has been a partner with our school for more than 15 years, and the collaborative projects created by sixth graders are everywhere in our school — from a table-game picnic table to a welcome sign to wood murals to a puppet theater. All show the artistic vision of Elton and about 70 students, and the coordination and dedication of our art teacher.

Elton visits

I appreciate the tactile learning experience that Elton provides, and also, his views on life and the spirit and creativity, and the desire many have to create new things out of the old.

This year’s project is a wood frame for an events calendar. I can’t wait to see how it comes out.

Peace (carved and polished),



Book Review: Horizon

I am always on the look-out for adventurous and exciting books to read-aloud with my son. He’s 12 but still enjoys having me read, and I am holding on to that with all I’ve got (he is the youngest). I’ve had mixed results with special series that get put out by Scholastic over the years, even though we get a good deal through the book club.

I have to say: Scott Westerfeld’s Horizon is a pretty fun read, with lots of action and adventure, and a brimming mystery that had my son and I talking about the possibilities of What the heck is going on in this story?

Horizon is centered around a plane crash, in which a handful of kids survive (while everyone else is gone, apparently dead) in the middle of a jungle where not everything is as it appears to be. In fact, clues around them suggest that they may not even be on Earth. But if not, then where? I won’t give it away (and I don’t have much to give away, to be honest) but it has that sense of Lost, in that we experience this strange place through the eyes and stories of the young protagonists.

So, yeah, we’re ready for the second book. Apparently, the books in the series will be written by different authors, a common Scholastic We hope someone is hard at work writing it.

This book is a nice fit for older elementary and middle school students. There are some scenes of injury and death, but nothing too gruesome.

Peace (in another world),

#DigCiz: Debating the State of the World

Echo chamber pop

Count me as curious. I am dipping into DigCiz — a schedule of online interactions in the open designed to generate discussions about Civic Discourse in the Digital Age, and Digital Citizenship.

Loud voices

These are topics that have certainly risen to the surface in the past few years and remain of high interest to me, as a teacher and writer. Some of the issues that I find worth wondering about:

  • The Role of Authenticity and Identity in Online Spaces
  • How Moderation of Discussions Can Be Mixed Blessings
  • How Cultural Norms Play Out in Digital Platforms
  • Whether Digital Platforms Encourage or Inhibit Discussion and Interaction
  • Who Gets Left Out and Who Gets Invited In to Conversations
  • The Act of Writing and How It Can Become a More Powerful Player in the World of Connections, Compassion
  • The Role that Multimedia Plays to Inform and Disinform Us
  • Finding a Clearer Path Forward to Make the World a Better Place for Open Discourse (minus the hatred and anger)

Earth Responds

The first week, which has just begun (see Mia Zamora’s post), is about creating a four-word story about what digital citizenship might be. Here’s mine. Not quite a story, as much as a reflection. Or maybe a hopeful conceit.

Remain engaged

I also read with interest a post by Bonnie Stewart (The Crosshairs of the Split Hairs), and her ideas about agency and technology and the interactions between our devices and our world … as well as the difficult navigational points … had me thinking. Thank you, Bonnie. I went back to the post and used some of the text for a video interpretation. Bonnie and Mia are facilitating this week.

Come join in the inquiry, if you can and if it interests you. I’m going to try to make some webcomics as much as I am able, if only to poke fun at myself as I think through ideas. I will also follow the conversations and reflect.

What if ...

Peace (the world and us),

Slice of Life: 149 Years and Counting

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It was in our local newspaper, so it must be true (Ha! Take that, Trump!): the Memorial Day parade in a section of our small city is the oldest, continual Memorial Day parade in the entire country. It’s been 149 straight years of marching and counting!

This blurb is from the local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette:

The first parade was held in Northampton in 1868, just after the Civil War.

“The ceremony of decorating the graves of deceased soldiers in our cemetery was appropriately observed,” the Gazette reported in 1868. “The weather was bad, rain falling during the forenoon and at the hour of assembly but not-withstanding, a large number of people were on hand to participate in the exercises.”

A century and a half later, the community will continue the tradition.

So it did.

Memorial Day parade

Rainy skies kept the turnout relatively low yesterday, but we were there, as my son agreed to march with the Little Leaguers, even though he was one of the oldest (and tallest — that’s him in second row behind the sign) in the marching unit. He was reminiscing before the parade about the excitement he had when he first marched, about seven years ago. I suspect this might be one of his last years as a marcher, but not as spectator.

Memorial Day parade
But, who knows?

Next year, 150. We’ll be there, clapping and cheering on the veterans and local marching band, and baseball kids, dancing kids, and more as they walk the streets of our small city blocks. We’ll remember those who have fallen in battle, and the connection to our community.

Peace (marches on),

Book Review: Some Writer

I am resisting the urge to say …. well … Ok … this is Some Book. Really, Some Writer is a fantastic non-fiction cross between picture book and biographical story that expertly weaves in the life of writer E.B. White with fantastic primary sources, often in the form of artistic collages.

Like many, I am sure, I know of White’s work as the author of the marvelous Charlotte’s Web. But I also remember reading The Trumpet of the Swan, and even Stuart Little, to my older sons as read-aloud books, and wondering at the inventive spirit of White’s stories. Some of the vocabulary and syntax always seemed a little more adult-like in the Swan and Stuart, but I never felt that way with Charlotte’s Web.

White, of course, made his name not just as a children’s novelist, but as a writer in the New Yorker magazine, where he wrote funny small pieces and sketches of characters and places for decades. My first encounter with White beyond my own childhood reading of Charlotte’s Web was Strunk & White’s famous Elements of Style book, which is sort of a bible for writers. I wanted to be a writer, so it became a regular reading.

In Some Writer, Melissa Sweet has not just done her homework, but she has brought White’s words and experiences to life in a book that should appeal to readers of any age. From White’s life-long journal entries, we find a curious and funny soul, noticing the world through attentive eyes. We find drafts of stories (including a fascinating series of drafts of the first lines of Charlotte’s Web, where White struggled to write the perfect opening).

It’s another in a line of new non-fiction that shows just how creative one can get with telling a story of another’s life, and here, Sweet’s gentle guiding voice and collages do just that. It’s a lovely reading experience.

Peace (written on the Web),


Digitally Interpreting Wendell Berry and Billy Collins

Thanks to posts at the always wonderfully illuminating Brain Pickings the other day, I read and enjoyed (again) a poem by Billy Collins about the art of writing and then discovered a Wendell Berry poem about writing poetry. (I then donated a small amount to support Brain Pickings, because if Maria inspires me, as she does, I should support her, right?)

I decided to close read the poems with the new Lumen5 tool,  which creates interesting digital pieces from found text on the web, choosing poetic lines from the larger poem (neither of my versions is the entire poem) and revamping them as a sort of digital story. I like the way each piece came out, and how I had to adapt the imagery of the poem to the imagery of the, well, images I chose to go with phrases of the poem.

Was I writing? Is this writing? Did the ants follow me home?

Peace (and advice),

At Middleweb: The Shape of Digital Argument

My latest column at Middleweb is a look at a new book by Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner, entitled Argument in the Real World: Teaching Adolescents to Read and Write Digital Texts.  In the book, Hicks and Turner seek to explore the concept of argument — and its push deeper into classrooms with the Common Core principles — through the lens of digital media being used in the lives of many students.

I posed some questions on my mind to the writers (both of whom I am loosely connected to through the National Writing Project), trying to parse out some ideas on argument in the age of technology and how teachers might tap into the ways kids write outside of school for the teaching of argument. They were generous enough to respond.

Curious? Come read what Hicks and Turner said. And join the conversation in the comments there.

Peace (no argument here),

Create Bravely with Storytelling

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

We had a visitor to our school yesterday with a clear and inspiring message. Paul Reynolds, author and president of Fablevision media company (and twin brother of Peter Reynolds, author of the The Dot and Ish and now out on tour to support his new book, Beautiful Dreamer) presented a message of nurturing creativity and perseverance to our students in an author visit.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Paul’s overall theme — plastered on the front of this shirt — was “create bravely” in a world that sometimes doesn’t recognize creativity for what it is. (One of my students, during Q/A time, asked: “Where can I get your t-shirt. I really want it.” Paul laughed, and said he might need to talk to Peter about making the shirt available. I know I want one, too. You?)

Paul told the story of how and he and his twin brother, Peter, founded their own company to sell books after Peter’s first book got rejected by multiple publishers, and then how Fablevision moved into video game design, websites, software, and videos.

The platforms, Paul explained, are not as important as the underlying core: Storytelling. Telling stories. The narratives are the key to any project, regardless of platform, Paul explained. And he returned to the theme of underlying story over and over again. I was quite thankful for that, but not surprised, knowing the work of the Reynolds and Fablevision.

He also noted the four “c’s” of learning (from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills): creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking — and then how Fablevision embraces the fifth “c” —  compassion. Again and again, Paul reminded students to make an impact — a dot — upon the world, and that art has a role in changing the world for the better.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

I deeply appreciated that after the big session with all of our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds), Paul and Andrea Calvin (of Fablevision) came into one of my classrooms and talked and worked and brainstormed and troubleshot for an hour with my students as they were using a beta version of a publishing site from Fablevision called Get Published. They are creating a memory picture book online that will later get published into a hardcover, bound book.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Peace (brave and creative),