Students Love to Help, Part IV

Today’s students, fairly or unfairly, possess the only hope for changing the social trends that their parents and their culture have enabled, and they need the help of teachers and other adults in order to prepare for the task.

Young people in our culture today must confront social challenges on a scale no prior generation could conceive of.  Our digital mass-media culture’s power to enrich the lives and education of young people far too often finds itself obscured behind a largely-unsupervised labyrinth of content that ranges from the idle to the toxic.  As a post from this blog explained last year, very few adults have a truly informed understanding of the dysfunctional social dynamic that prevails online among our youth or of the powerful and harmful content that any determined young person can easily access.

Students are the cure to social ills that threaten their culture and their world.  Today’s students, fairly or unfairly, possess the only hope for changing the social trends that their parents and their culture have enabled, and they need the help of teachers and other adults in order to prepare for the task.  This will require a widespread, coordinated, consistent endeavor.

We educators need to include students in the process of determining and fulfilling their needs.  If their peer culture–in person and virtual–harms them, we owe them more than a few lectures telling them not to bully each other.  We owe them more than vague encouragement to be kind to each other.  Instead, we owe them specific, relevant, compelling, useful manners of coping and responding to what happens in their social sphere.  In short, we owe them something we cannot design for a realm we can only dimly understand.

Young people should have an opportunity to contribute and craft ideas that can broaden and enrich the landscape of social interaction and opportunities.  Students themselves should help to design opportunities for social and emotional learning, to create support groups for peers who feel isolated, to collaborate on strategies to resist harmful expression, and to create a wider social context–in school and in the community at large–that can draw time and attention away from the digital arena that so many students feel compelled to enter despite their own misgivings.

All of these possibilities represent only what an adult on the outside can think of in order to begin the effort.  But given the opportunity, students will readily add meaning and scope to the project.

Adults do not have the insight required to plan such interventions.  They can only facilitate the process of promoting better social circumstances in which young people can thrive.  In this matter, only the students can bring about success.  It is our role to empower them.

Photo credit: Cottonbro Studios/Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

6 thoughts on “Students Love to Help, Part IV

  1. Paul, as I read your words, I find myself nodding at the truths. I recall your previous post this topic of the chasm between adult awareness the depth of the “dysfunctional social dynamic that prevails online among our youth”. One of our local middle schools has had several lockdowns recently due to online threats; while they have to be taken seriously, instruction and student learning are seriously and repeatedly disrupted. You’re right; we are unprepared for this different culture, that we do not have knowledge of the scope of intervention needed, that the kids deserve more than vague encouragement and lectures about not bullying. Most of this just melts like snowflakes on hot ground. One thing that remains the same: The kids’ needs ARE at the heart of it all. I cannot push away the image that’s crowding my mind now, of adults putting their own phones down first…

    1. Not only do I deeply appreciate your thoughtful and elaborate resonance for the points I had hoped to make, but I also agree with your vision at the very end. Our generation has been complicit in the emergence of these circumstances, and the adults have sometimes set unfortunate examples. Thank you!

    1. I return your sentiment! We all draw such support and inspiration from each other in this group. So kind of you to remind me of that moment–I am pleased that we are still involved in this.

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