Well, my last post has created some good discussion, I always like discussion. One thing that seemed to generate some good discussion revolved around listening to students.  As mrsdurff commented 

“Producing future workers in the economies of our countries who are able to think critically is the point. This cannot be accomplished without the use of the tools. There are many who are concerned about the widening digital divide, or as I like to say the wrinkles.” 

I won’t completely disagree with this although I wonder if school should be focused on producing future workers. If that is what schools are to do, then tools we use need to be much more than just the tech tools because our economies are being driven by more than technology. In my area of the world, we cannot find people who work in the trades – carpenters, plumbers, electricians and such, nor can we find enough people for the service sector to work in restaurants, hotels and other such places. These are the areas where we need people to work and it has been that way for a number of years. 

As for the “widening digital divide”, I’m seeing it kind of like the discussion of the 21st Century Skills discussion that has been making the rounds. From my perspective, we need to teach the youth much more about dealing with people and worry less about them learning to use the tools – they’re already doing it and will grow into using these tools in their chosen area of employment. They’re youth, they will experiment and learn then take what they need for their employment. The divide, from my perspective, is more about socio-economic conditions than about using tools. If we can work on dealing with the human factor, maybe the divide won’t be such a problem. But as long as we continue to feed the narcissism of the youth, getting them to see other’s plight will be that much more difficult. 

Now, we need to listen to the youth most definitely. As one of my new acquaintances points out:

“I think we have to listen to kids….I think we have to listen a LOT. They shouldn’t be totally empowered, but they should be heard. Thinking that the teacher has all the answers is misguided. In fact, some of my best teaching has been a result of asking the right questions and listening.”

Again, I’m not going to disagree because what is said is correct. However, listening to them doesn’t mean you give them all they want. My comments come from the point of view that there are many discussions where I see youth putting their points out and then, when an adult disagrees with them or doesn’t side with them, they are angry, upset, rude and disrespectful. As an administrator I get to see more than my share of this and it isn’t getting any better. When we elevate youth to equal adults, we create problems that go far beyond just the age difference. We create a peer situation that is, basically, wrong. Adults and youth are not peers. Yes we can learn from listening to youth just like we can learn from listening to those older than us or people in different situations than us or listening to someone of the opposite sex or…. the key is learning through listening. However, there is a point where we need to make it clear that although a youth may appear to be wise beyond their years, they are still a youth and guidance from those older than them is required. Yes, I know all about those youth who are like that, I live with a few of them. But they are still youth and need the guidance of parents and adults and need to respect those adults. It is a life skill that will serve them well in their lives!  To invite a youth into a situation where they are discussing as a peer with adults creates a situation that, frankly, I wouldn’t want to be involved and I sit and discuss with youth about various things on various levels. Input, ideas, opinions and the rest are important but cannot be confused with being given the responsibility to make decisions about areas that are not within the realm of the youth. And, if the adults don’t make it absolutely clear that all the youth are providing is input, ideas and the like, then that is misleading. To qualify, I’ve seen what happens when youth are led to believe they will be given the ability to change policy or have ideas implemented and then find out that it’s not so.

This whole area is a bit of a contentious one since educators work so closely with youth and can see that their input and ideas are crucial to the whole educational context but because they do not have all the bigger picture pieces nor some of the life experiences that the adults have, there is just a difference that cannot be ignored. Call me what you will, but I believe that my time here on the planet, my education and my abilities give me an advantage about certain situations in relation to a youth. 

Okay, now here’s another thing that I don’t get. Since when haven’t youth been disconnecting and powering down when they went to school? I don’t get this. Maybe I hung with a different crowd or was abnormal but, for the most part, what we did in school was almost completely disconnected from our lives and we powered down and disconnected at school only to reconnect after. We couldn’t do it via texting or msn so we actually had to plan and get together f2f or talk on a landline, but we were connected quite a bit. We played video games, hung out at each other’s homes, drove around finding places to get away from adults and be, well, kids. We didn’t videotape the time we hung out (for that I am so thankful!!) and post it online and we had to drive to a meeting place. The tools have changed but the fact that youth have been disconnecting from school isn’t new. (See earlier post and reference to Socrates!) The youth finally have the ability to get their message out in a persuasive manner and for some reason it’s bothering adults! 

The important thing is to find a balance between listening to what youth are saying and continuing to realize that some of what they are saying has been said before and is part of being a youth. To frame this as a new problem of youth discounts the past, which has much to teach us. What will be interesting will be what happens when these youth are no longer youth. How will their tune change?