I have been consulting with districts for the last few years regarding the need for incorporating social media into daily instruction. We, as a connected community, have heard all the truths as to why and why not use this mode of teaching. As we are famous for doing in education, we list out these truths and then pick the ones that best meet the needs of some group. I say some group here as there are times when the truth that we as individual teachers or administrators may focus in upon are not the same as the truths espoused by the district or board. I am going to skip the truths in this post as I know many of you have the same truths as I do, and some of you don't. This post is going to focus on facts.
The first fact comes from an experience I had last week in the Dominican Republic. I had an opportunity to combine helping some of the people of the DR with a few days of reflection (something we as educators do not have enough of!) What I personally witnessed down there was amazing. First, everyone with whom I met and interacted was happy and willing to do whatever could be done to improve himself or herself. Students listened. Teens focused on skills that would enable them to get work. Adults focused on skills that would help them in the workplace; especially in the area of hospitality. Please note that I am not saying that their education system is better than ours, as it is not. However, we would be wise to take note of their intent. Students wanted to learn for the sake of learning. There was no singularity of focus on college as a way of judging the worth or merits of a teen. There was also a value for adults in focusing on skills that enhanced their skills, not simply leading to pay raises. So why is this a fact that I bring up for social media? I believe that our students need to interact with students who we might consider "third world" and less fortunate than ourselves. There is much our students can learn from their attitudes. There is also much we can learn when we take some of the external societal pressures off of the students as they get older. Learning should be a lifelong process, not something completed in a K-16 structure.
The second fact comes from one of the evening events there in the DR. The hotel where I was staying hosted a karaoke night. Please do not fret, I did not scare the crowd away! However, I was amazed at the beautiful voices of most of the participants from many different countries. Two people stood out to me. The first was a Russian man in his late 20s who did an exceptional version of a George Michael song. The second was a woman from New York City who belted out a great version of an Aretha Franklin song. The judging was done by the audience. We had about 100 of us in the room. It was simply done by cheering for the act you thought the best. However, the Russian man did not go to the main stage to be voted upon. After the woman from NYC won (deservedly so against the rest of the competition!), I stopped by to congratulate the gentleman. He thanked me. I then asked why he did not go up for the voting. He explained to me that he saw his main competition was a woman from the US and that there were a number of people from the US in the audience. He travels around the world on business and his truth was that people from the US did not like Russians or George Michael. I smiled, told him I thought he was the best, and then shared that I was from the US. He stood up and gave me a hug! Tears actually began to roll down his cheeks and he had to borrow a tissue from his girlfriend. He then explained to me that no one from the US had ever told him that and that he thought that all of us were just interested in business matters. Hmmm, once again, good social media connections with students in Russia might shape the minds of those in future karaoke nights, as well as other US-Russian interactions.
The final fact is actually a couple of months old. I have already shared it with some of you. I was honored to be invited to the GESS show in Dubai as a speaker in February. After speaking on integrating technology into the special needs classroom, I had the opportunity to speak with individuals regarding my talk and the TAPit. A man and woman approached me as we had a great conversation focusing on classrooms first and then the TAPit and its availability to them. When I asked them their nationality, both looked down. The woman sheepishly lifted her head and said they were from Iran. I simply explained that our government had restrictions on the exchange of equipment with their country, but we could contact the State Department if they were intent on using this device to help some of their students. The gentleman suddenly smiled and smacked me on the back like we were long lost friends. He then stated, "You are not like what the Americans on TV are like!" Funny thing was that I could have said the same thing about him, changing the nationality. Good social media connections might demonstrate that others throughout the world are human. It might also be helpful in a world that is much smaller than it once was due to technology.
The facts are as follows. We do not always get a picture of what people in other parts of the world are like. We are often fed information without facts creating a truth that stays with a student for his or her entire life. We sometimes act like the woman in the State Farm commercial who believes things just because they are on the internet. The final fact is that direct communication with a person or group of people from another culture via social media can give us the facts to make a better judgment about the world in which we live. Those facts, my friends, are what education is about. Unfortunately, the truth that some believe is that education is about the dissemination of information to pass tests. IF that is your truth, I simply say to you, "Bon Jour!"