We teach our children basic computation skills in mathematics because we know they will need to know how to add, multiply, and think logically about numbers in the “real world”. We also teach them how to read and write because those are essential life skills. We teach them a little history and geography because it is important to understand the past and it provides students with an introduction to context in life. We throw in a bunch of subjects and topics during their first 12 years of formal education; things like art and drama class, physical education and health, and science and tech classes, in order to foster well-rounded individuals who are informed and prepared to succeed in life. These are all very important instructions that our schools offer. But, as we approach the two-decade mark of the 21st century, aren’t we missing one major element of our modern world? Shouldn’t we be teaching social media literacy by now?
Instead of teaching it, it seems that we are doing the opposite. Instead of having conversations about its obvious use and impact on our students, we are banning it from our classrooms, schools, and school boards. And we are at the point where our teaching of youth of the 21st century will be markedly diminished without acknowledging the evolution of social media. #HipHopEd co-founder Timothy Jones makes the perfect analogy when describing social media literacy and its imperative use in our schools now. He reminds us that, “social media is no longer a choice for educators to know. It is like teaching students who speak a language that you don’t understand and you wonder why you don’t understand them”. In order to communicate with students, we have to at least learn the fragments of their language if we want to continue to teach and empower.
This is especially poignant when we consider the mental health implications that social media has amplified. I am currently teaching a health unit on substance abuse and addiction. I guess it is important for me to go into detail about the perils and addictive nature of a drug like heroin. But let us be candid for a quick second – how many people are really ever going to try that? Meanwhile, students are listening to the root causes of all these different things that lead to addiction while they are incessantly scrolling through their Instagram timeline. Mighty ironic time we live in if you ask me.
We are coming around in terms of education actually catching up to the “real world”. We have begun to integrate financial literacy into our math programs because, duh, learning about taxes and savings is far more beneficial to most folks than learning how to calculate the slope of a curve. So, it is time for the world of education to catch up to the “real world” – and by extension, that means getting our schools in sync with the “digital world”.
It is fact-facing time. Because our youth are consumed with social media, the most pressing dilemma in education should be “how do we engage with social media in a way that benefits student learning and academic achievement?” Students have long been armed with the rudimentary skills in math and language and other topics that were necessary to cope and compete in our contemporary society. It is time we arm them with the latest of ammunitions; that is the ability to navigate, understand, and correctly experience social media for all the benefits it provides while educating and safeguarding against its dangers. We cannot leave that learning solely in the hands of our youth.
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