As the situation in the Middle East and North Africa has been unfolding, there has been a significant emphasis on the utilization of new technologies and social networking to relay messages, gather crowds and send records of what is happening all over the world in a matter of seconds.
Clearly, in many countries, the uprisings are a function of both politics and disenfranchised youth.
Feeling repressed is one thing; feeling repressed and lacking any opportunity for steady work offers up a recipe for revolution.
As an educator, I have been following the events along with students, some who come from the countries involved and thus carry a much more emotional understanding of the issues, and many who come from a variety of countries where the potential for rebellion, or at least serious social unrest, is very real.
As we were watching matters unfold last week on CNN, the ubiquitous presence of technology to spark freedom from tyranny seemed to strike a cord with the students.
Emotions were high.
“See, Mr. Hookey, technology is an agent of positive change. We should be able to use our phones and computers anytime we wish.”
A little background into this might help clarify the context of that comment. As the head honcho in a boarding school, I have the dubious pleasure of what is affectionately termed “pastoral care” of young people. A significant number of the students in the school live with us 24 hours a day and their health habits and social habits are as important a lesson in any day as their learning habits. So, too, is my role in putting up some fences to protect them from themselves.
I know what that sounds like; another dictatorial despot repressing ‘his people.’
And so it was that after one particular session of viewing the late CNN news with the students, I was putting the squeeze on one student who was doing everything in his power to delay his bedtime. He had done little to clean up his room or to get himself ready, but he was on his computer and we were less than five minutes from lights out. As I was mid-sentence with my threat of holding him accountable, the automatic timer we put on our wireless network system clicked off and his internet connection died.
He was apoplectic.
“All over the world people have the Internet 24 hours a day,” he screamed at me, “but here, it’s on a timer. I’d get better service in Egypt.”
He went on to say that perhaps everyone in the school should revolt to change rules that were repressive and ridiculous and that he could probably use his cell phone to organize that.
I told him, “probably, but for now, get to bed.” I left to a lot of door slamming and new vocabulary lessons.
We know, already, that kids use cell phones to warn each other about where teachers are, what they are doing and where to go to get away with stuff. I’ve had students take pictures of other students sleeping in class, then e-mail such pictures to their parents to prove how “boring Mr. X is.”
I’ve seen videos taken by students on cell phones of teacher meltdowns later posted on YouTube, although I have not yet experienced it at the expense of any of my personal colleagues. I am resigned, however, to recognizing it is just a matter of time.
Some youth are using technology to “beat the system,” but it’s really just a new tool to do what they have been doing since the beginning of recorded history. Almost as a rite of passage, young people growing into adulthood feel the need to assert their independence by practicing some freedom that is banned by the authority figures in their lives. There’s not a day that goes by in a school when one kid or another isn’t pushing the limits.
I put a timer on the Internet so that students would be able to get some sleep.
We are still battling the tendency of some kids to download films and watch them after-hours, and taking the computers away from those unable to manage their own behaviour is certainly not uncommon. But someone has to set limits if kids are going to get enough sleep and make reasonably good choices in their lives.
Recently, some parents bought their children the “receivers” that can plug directly into their computers and get Internet connection through wireless telephone reception. Great, now some of them have 24-hour access to an unfiltered Internet connection.
Don’t be surprised if I’m on TV next week in the middle of a “Twitter” revolt when I devise a response to ensure kids get some sleep at night, not just in my classes.
Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at <a href=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com</a>.