The post was inspired from some well meant questions from a caring American adult (teacher) who was chatting with Sean at 1:30am (Scotland). I think it was more the perceived inferences Sean drew from the questions that inspired his post, not necessarily the intentions of the asker, but regardless, the conversation struck a chord with me.
Where do we draw the line?
Sean asks, "Where do we draw the line?" in response to the question- “Does it seem strange to you to associate with a bunch of adults?” There is more to the conversation- I encourage you to go read Sean's post for contextual reference for this discourse that follows.
The line Sean is talking about has more to do with the hidden rules of tradition and territory than it does with a moral or digital citizenship line of sorts. It is one that while more visible in the 21st Century has been around since Amateur radios began showing up in homes. It also has a bit to do with motivations, goals, intellect and family culture I think. Let me explain.
It is a matter of family norms and culture
Sean's preference for adults is not new and he certainly isn't the only one. There are others who don't quite fit the mold and in some families it is by design. I homeschooled my four kids. Amber, my oldest (http://myaimistrue.com), only attended 1 year of conventional education. And Grace, my youngest, entered the traditional system in 5th grade(11-12 year olds).They mostly hung with adults and each other- which had some real advantages. Sure, they had some friends that were their own ages who they mostly saw at church or later in the collaborative school I created, but mainly they preferred adults. Why didn't that bother me? Because in our family the culture (mantra) was- I am raising adults, not kids. I wanted the end product to be adults, so having lots of interaction with adults seemed to make sense.
My kids were mature for their age and had lots of questions and interests that other kids simply were not into, so it just made more sense for them to connect with folks who could help them learn what they wanted to learn. Besides, learning in our family took place 24/7 even at 1:30am-- as we all had people we spoke to around the world. And I do not think that is so different than it was for my father as he was a Hamm Radio nut when he was a kid and up at all times of the night trying to accommodate for time zones.
And being a homeschooling family, the more interesting or diverse the adults my kids befriended, the better. Since my kids could pursue their passions in terms of content studied, we actively sought out adult mentors who could serve as SMEs (subject matter experts), and technology helped a great deal with that. My kids would often attend the college classes I taught and participate in the discussions. They felt as comfortable around adults as they did children, not because they were so different- but more because our culture and experience was different.
Tools today are more powerful
While we didn't have the same tools we have now, we did have some. Bulletin boards and asynchronous chat boards were popular, IRC chat, and various protocols that gave us direct access to each other's machines. Sometimes I would make the relationships online and introduce my new found friends to my kids and sometimes they would introduce me to who they had met. I will admit- in the beginning of all this- there were typically more "techie types" online than there was Joe average, so less chance for a need to exercise digital citizenship (safety) skills. It simply hadn't caught on yet. However, if I had been given a choice between my kids being online at 1:30 am talking to someone in Scotland who was a responsible adult or having them out riding around in a car, breaking curfew with other immature, age-specific peers-- well you get the idea. Plus, when you raise your kids to be responsible online and have open lines of communication there is a level of trust that is developed. And until that trust is broken, there is no reason to doubt that the relationships they are making in person or online aren't healthy. Staying involved is the key.
I say all this to say- not all kids are the same. Not all parenting styles are the same. My kids now are all very successful and madly creative. They are well adjusted and have lots of friends. They all say they have fond memories of growing up in a house that included such different learning opportunities and access to a variety of interesting adults through both hands-on and virtual experiences. And they all have continued to develop relationships with interesting adults from around the world.
Teachable Moments and Networking
Let me help you understand the different mind set. Because the culture in our family was learning as a life style and not just when school was in- we were always on "game" in terms of teachable moments.
I remember going to WalMart and seeing two young adults (my age at the time) on bikes who were traveling long distance. I thought, what a cool experience this would be for my kids. I struck up a conversation with these strangers and invited them to stay at my house for a few days. Turns out, Jenny and Dan were from Seattle and had just gotten married. As part of their honeymoon, they decided to take a cross country bike trip for a year and Jenny, a writer was documenting it all on a laptop!!! (Remember 15 years ago laptops were not as common). Boy did I score. Here we had young, interesting adults who used higher order thinking to plan a year long trip, one was a writer, they were traveling and could share their experiences with my kids.
We got out a map and documented everywhere they had been with pins and yarn. (picture shows how we used this technique to study other things too) We researched the geography, culture, and landforms. We talked about how you plan a year long trip and the kids planned their own using their newly found skills. We looked at bikes in general, the mechanics, how to wrench, the science behind them and the environmental impact. The curriculum we discovered in Jenny and Dan was endless. When they left- they emailed back their locations and we continued to track them on the map.
Well meaning friends asked-- How did you know they weren't mass murders? What if they had been drug addicts or had hurt your children while you slept or what if they had stolen things? All valid questions I guess but not part of our reality, much like Sean 's feeling of surprise, " I surprisingly hadn’t thought about it before."
Not Wrong- Just Different
That isn't to say this way is "the" way to raise a family. Homeschooling sure has gotten its share of criticism as well. It is to say that there are different ways to raise kids that are acceptable even if they do not fit into the traditional vein. And adults are not the only ones who feel discomfort with breaking tradition (Sean's post). Teens also feel territorial about places like MYSpace. My kids use to get asked all the time if it creeped them out that I was on MySpace and Facebook. They would laugh and say not at all as I was there first.
I think the most important message I got from what Sean wrote was this- Teachers we need to ask ourselves...
Do we want what we are preaching or not? Do we want kids who know how to use these tools in powerful and pervasive ways to connect and collaborate with others from around the world-- even at the cost of breaking our comfort and relationship with the status quo. Are we willing to unlearn most of what we know and relearn new ways -- new norms-- for how healthy relationships are established and nurtured in the 21st Century? Do we believe in learning ecologies made up of very diverse people who help inform our student's interests and passions?
Model for your students how to build a personal learning network
The kids are ready for relationships defined by community and what each learner has to share- and not bound by the traditions of teachers having to be the expert. I feel I have come full circle. Now rather than looking for teachable moments with interesting adults so my kids can learn what they need to learn, I find myself looking for opportunities to learn with/from interesting students who have garnered skill and wisdom through their use of these participatory medias. I want to learn all Sean has learned in his late night ventures with interesting adults. I hope he doesn't hang with kids all the time and that his parents continue to allow him to be part of a learning community that is trying to leave education a better place.
As educators we need to get ready for a real shift in culture. The shifts that are coming will not allow "business as usual" rather it will be "business as unusual". That is why it is critical for all of us to first own these emerging technologies and the pedagogy/culture that surrounds them, by using Web 2.0 tools to connect- in an effort to chase our own passions. Through the experience of building of your own PLN, not only will you model for your students how this should be done, but you might find some transformational moments along the way -that like mine with Jenny and Dan- will leave you a better person. And do NOT discount what those younger or older than you have to offer. Use expertise and passion- not age- as criteria for who you should learning from and for who should be part of your learning network.
I look forward to your comments, concerns, and push back. Let's have this hard conversation.
Photo credit: http://www.ky4ky.com/yhn.htm