Friday, July 3, 2009

Social Networking & The Social Studies For Citizenship Education

Young people today have grown accustomed to living portions of their life online, shopping , socializing, and learning. According to a 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, over 87% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online. As youth increasingly access and use the Internet, this creates an ideal opportunity for civic educators to help students use the tools they are most familiar with to learn about and advocate for certain causes. Traditionalists have often questioned and brushed off youth civic efforts in cyberspace (Putnam, 2002). This includes discounting youth researching, organization, collaborating, and even protesting issues online. In fact, as Earl and Schusssman assert, “One must question whether existing (traditional) notions of what encompasses civic engagement tend to ignore, devalue, and otherwise marginalize ways in which young people are connecting with one another to collectively make a difference in their worlds.” The fact remains, youth are using the devices they are familiar with, namely the Internet and other electronic technologies, to learn about and advocate for certain civic causes (Maguth, 2009; Bennett, 2008).

The field predicated on citizenship education, the social studies (NCSS, 2009), must reexamine the ways in which it aims to prepare citizens in the wake of massive technological gains. For instance, the White House, CNN, and many local governments and police departments are becoming even more dependent upon social networking tools to inform and learn from citizens (Charitier, 2008). As protests erupted after the 2009 Iranian Presidential elections, and mainstream international journalists were banned from the streets, citizens of the world became increasingly dependent upon digital savvy citizens inside Iran using their cell phones and laptops to upload information to social networking sites, and to inform outsiders about any governmental instability and human rights violations. In fact, U.S. officials even claimed that the Internet, namely social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, provided the United States government with critical information (Labott, 2009). As digital natives uploaded pictures of peaceful protesters being abused and murdered by Iranian authorities (i.e. ‘Nada’), the world watch as these brave enraged Iranian citizens spoke of their quest for fair and free elections.

Even the White House has turned to social networking technologies to open up the lines of governmental transparency and to inform citizens. One of the first Executive Orders of President Obama was for the federal government to “establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.” Citizens can now participate in discussions with governmental agencies and officials about particular issues through Facebook and MySpace. Besides reading about and commenting on civic issues through social networking sites, the Obama Administration has asked citizens to help submit their insights via the Internet to improve the efficiency of government. On May 1, 2009, the Obama Administration sent out its first tweet warning American citizens about the H1N1 flue (a.k.a. ‘Swine Flue’). Routine tweets from the White House have also informed citizens about other domestic and foreign issues. In fact, twenty-five federal agencies now have YouTube Channels (Scherer, 2009).

As the federal government has turned to the Internet to educate citizens, one would assume the field predicated on citizenship education, the social studies, would do so as well. However, as indicated by the latest research (VanFossen, 2008; Berson, 2002), teachers’ and students’ use of technology in the social studies for civic education has been ‘lackluster’ at best. The field is still heavily dependent upon textbooks, lecture, and rote memorization. Despite the Internet allowing for greater access in learning about and communicating with others on current civic issues, the social studies has opted to maintain its traditional course. Future citizens are not learning in the social studies how to use those tools they are most familiar with to contribution to their community and world. However, as evident by the large gains made by today’s youth in cyberspace, the real gains in civic education come outside the social studies. In order for the social studies to stay relevant in a digital and global age, a deeper examination of the ways in which it goes about educating future citizens in necessary.

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.