Friday, October 24, 2008

The Politics of Education in a Virtual World

This year, the web has radically changed politics more than ever. Citizens from across the nation are using the resources of the Internet to post comments, photos, recordings and challenge facts. It seems obvious to anyone looking on that technology has certainly come to a vast majority of the households and that many many of them are using them in the online virtual democracy. Every flyer or robocall is being scanned and shared, and every fact is being checked via live blogs, text mails and news programs. Here are just a couple of interesting examples:

  • The day prior to Sarah Palin's introduction as vice president, there were 464 entries into her Wikipedia page as the spin doctor's tried to create her image. On the day that she was announced as the Republican Vice Presidential Nominee there were nearly a two thousand entries correcting and posting new information.
  • Barack Obama's conversation with a plumber in Ohio was recorded on a cell phone and posted on the Internet, leading to the "Joe the Plumber" phenomenon.
  • YouTube videos of event goers entering a political event making racist comments went viral and lead to an online debate on race in America.
The challenge for educators is to keep up with this real time world where everyone can post a comment. While most school districts do not solicit comments, or create avenues where parents and students can state their opinions, this does not mean that they will not create their own. If educators close their eyes to the virtual democracy that is the virtual world, then the forum will be created without them. Politicians certainly did not create YouTube or blogs where their deeds are discussed. A parent or students will not be asking for permission to have your assignments and policies vigorously debated online. I hear all the time from teachers and principals that we can't use electronic communications because not every home has a computer. Although that is certainly true, I believe that the majority of homes do have a computer and many of them are active in online communities. The time for us to acknowledge this reality and to learn the lessons of the events around us has come. We need to think carefully about what and how we do things today, before they are done to us.

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