With the great power of technology comes great responsibiliity

Oct 21 2022

With the great power of technology comes great responsibiliity

“Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn’t help us know what to say.”
–Jonathan Sacks

Watching students on some recent Outdoor Ed trips felt at times like I had stepped back 20 years. They hiked and canoed without digital distractions, with only their fellow students and the natural world around them. Some students even told us that they were surprised by how little they missed their devices.

Let’s face it-smartphones are ubiquitous in today’s world, and they are here to stay. We can delay the inevitability of our children getting one, but sooner or later, they will have a phone. This technology can be a force for positive change or it can do severe harm; news accounts abound with examples of both.

Before going any further, though, it’s important to acknowledge what I feel is an unfair bias. All too often, adults bemoan children and young adults’ irresponsible use of cellphone technology as if grownups have it all figured it out. We need only look around us to see drivers texting, adults posting comments they later regret, or grownups strolling head down on a crowded sidewalk. I recall the time I was focused on an important call, and almost stepped into the street before the loud honk of a semi stopped me short. Let’s recognize that people of all ages continue to learn how to use the handheld computers that dominate our lives. In addition, we realize that not all Keystone families will be in the same place regarding children’s use of technology, and we will continue to engage in conversations around this topic.

Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that in providing youngsters with a cell phone, we give them a great deal of power while they are still developing and maturing. Consequently, we need to engage in constant education around the ethics of technology. As Uncle Ben warned his nephew Peter Parker (Spiderman), “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Learning how to handle the responsibility of technology fits in with Keystone’s pillar of ethical growth, and the Cobra Code value of integrity. For example, we now include programming from the Social Institute that is designed to guide children in ways to use technology responsibly. However, there is only so much educators can do in the limited time they have with our students, and we need to partner with parents.

After much discussion last summer, we revised part of our student/family handbook and established a new Digital Citizenship policy. We began with some foundational assumptions:

  • Keystone students are fundamentally good people who wish to do the right thing.
  • Technology is everywhere and will continue to increase its presence in our students’ lives.
  • If we want students to use technology ethically, we need to continually reinforce what this looks like.
  • Technology can be used for good and for ill purposes.

From there, we developed a policy emphasizing a positive approach to technology rather than beginning from a negative or punitive perspective. We want students to have an online presence that speaks to their best selves. So, we will address it in a variety of ways both formally in the curriculum and informally in conversations when issues arise.

We also realize that just like adults, students will make mistakes as they explore their online world and create their digital identities. Initially, we will approach incidents as learning opportunities and teachable moments. We have no desire to police students’ online social interactions; when something occurs online that is hurtful to a child, we will encourage students and parents to speak with one another.

However, if students participate in cyberbullying or harassment as those terms are defined, we will address it. We are also willing to take on extreme situations that occur in cyberspace when they affect children here at school. The “walls” of the proverbial schoolhouse have become much more permeable over the years and what happens off campus, at night, or over the weekend can influence children’s lives at school.

We want our students to not only be academically excellent, but also ethical beings who lead responsibly from a place of integrity and empathy. When parents and educators join together, we can teach our children at school and at home how to use the internet and all of its attendant apps for good.

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