Free Space

Martha Burtis points to this welcome and heartfelt plea from Danah Boyd “capturing why it is that we need to allow space online for young people — and why we need to step aside and let them fill those spaces”:

A few days ago, i started laying out how youth create a public in digital environments because their physical publics are so restricted. Since then, i was utterly horrified to see that some school officials are requiring students to dismantle their MySpace and Xanga accounts or risk suspension. The reason is stated simply in the article: “If this protects one child from being near-abducted or harassed or preyed upon, I make no apologies for this stance.” OMG, this is insane.

In some ways, i wish that the press had never heard of these sites… i wish that i had never participated in helping them know of its value to youth culture. I wish that it remained an obscure teenage site. Because i’m infuriated at how my own participation in information has been manipulated to magnify the culture of fear. The culture of fear is devastating; it is not the same as safety.

…How do youth come of age in this society? What good is it to restrict every social space that they have? Does anyone actually think that this is a good idea? Protectionist actions tends to create hatred, resentment. It destroys families by failing to value trust and responsibility. Ageist rhetoric alienates the younger generation. And for what purpose?

The effects are devastating. Ever wonder why young people don’t vote? Why should they? They’ve been told for so damn long that their voices don’t matter, have been the victims of an oppressive regime. What is motivating about that? How do you learn to use your voice to change power when you’ve been surveilled and controlled for so long, when you’ve made an art out of subversive engagement with peers? When you’ve been put on drugs like Strattera that control your behavior to the point of utter obedience?

Boyd’s piece moves on to a much wider scope than online interaction, but I think argument she makes is dead on. Whether you agree or not, it merits a thoughtful response — this is must reading for any conscientious educator.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with how to align my work-oriented focus on this weblog with ‘unrelated’ issues. I know people don’t come here to read my political views which, if electoral results and polls are any guide, are out on the fringes, even here in on the Canadian Left Coast. I know I have regular readers who share few of my convictions. I worry about alienating visitors (and friends) with rantings that would likely be as pointless and divisive as ones about sports teams (though I apparently have little difficulty doing that). But reading Boyd’s post, the linkages between my profession and my beliefs are crystal clear, and take on a sense of urgency. Open spaces (real open spaces, not simulations of them) might support a stronger framework for self-determination, and greater respect for individuals that will cascade into broader social benefit. It’s an opportunity to offer up a small counterweight against the seemingly unstoppable cycles of fear and repression (heavy and loaded words, yes, but how else do we describe it?) that are grinding up human spirit like sausage. Yes, new technology is being co-opted and undermined on all sides, being hyped beyond reasonable recognition, and will have unforeseen consequences, but maybe this really is a battle worth fighting.

As a wise friend said to me recently, time grows short.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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