Educators Should Teach Students To Be Responsible Digital Citizens

Educators Should Teach Students To Be Responsible Digital Citizens

Click the image above to view the full tweet.

When did we stop teaching students the differences between “free speech” and “responsible speech”?

The Atlantic Wire offers the following story of a high school student who offered the above tweet after her school’s visit with Kansas Governor Brownback.  Turns out an aide who monitors the social media channels forwarded the tweet to the school principal, who reprimanded the student and demanded she write an apology.

The interwebs have erupted in a mix of free speech, overreaction on the part of the Governor (note: it was an aide of the governor who contacted the event organizer who then contacted the principal; it appears Brownback was not directly involved), and the usual flame-wars that come out of this sort of thing.  As a result, the following update was made to the story this afternoon with this note:

As the blowback spreads across other social media platforms, Sullivan’s also become a surprisingly sharp thorn in the governor’s side. And no, she will not apologize for it. By Monday afternoon, however, it was Brownback who was apologizing. “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize,” Brownback told Yahoo News. “Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.”

Again, this is where I return to the terms of “free speech,” “respectful speech,” and “responsible speech.”  The notions are not mutually exclusive, but I increasingly find that the later two elements are surprisingly absent from the former.  Schools should teach students how to be respectful digital citizens and realize that there are consequences to their actions.

Will the governor lose sleep over name calling? Of course not.  However, what this says about Ms. Sullivan is that she is extremely flippant in her use of social media. Her comments are far from the kind of constructie dialogue that is part of good human behavior much less engaged citizenship.  What does it say that individuals would rush so quickly to her aid over being rude?  Disagree, satirize, and debate all you want, but do it in meaningful, constructive ways.

Perhaps the school should not have demanded she write the letter, but I think it is wise to use this as a teaching moment about reasonable online behavior for young adults.  I would certainly do the same–and have done similar–in the case of Academy students.  This has often led to similar kinds of headaches for myself, but I wholeheartedly believe that a student is a representative of their school and their own self.  With so many concerns about cyber-bullying, privacy, over-sharing, and a host of other digital concerns, it makes sense that we seize this opportunities to help students become better young adults. offers nine comprehensive themes of such instruction: digital access; digital commerce; digital communication; digital literacy; digital etiquette; digital law; digital rights and responsibilities; digital health and wellness; and digital security (self-protection).   Of these, digital etiquette resonates mostly strongly with me:

Technology users often see this area as one of the most pressing problems when dealing with Digital Citizenship. We recognize inappropriate behavior when we see it, but before people use technology they do not learn digital etiquette (i.e., appropriate conduct).   Many people feel uncomfortable talking to others about their digital etiquette.  Often rules and regulations are created or the technology is simply banned to stop inappropriate use. It is not enough to create rules and policy, we must teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens in this new society.

So many educators are quick to throw the social media baby out with the bath water.  Ultimately, I think that does more harm for students than good.  It is only when we engage in appropriate, respectful dialogues do students grow, mature, and realize the power of these resources.

  • Kelly_reames

    It was a tweet, and she had limited followers. If the principal wanted to discuss her public presentation of herself, fine, but the comment wasn’t directed at the governor. And it was an overreaction on the part of his media people. I’m a representative of the school when I act in my professional capacity. When I speak privately, I can say what I want. More important, if I and students are co-opted by the idea we’re representing the university, then disagreement with the powers that be is stifled. How would it look if there were open disagreement or people were honest about their feelings. I agree that name calling is immature, but the dangers of censoring or making students apologize for tweets is far worse. Let Academy students speak their minds. Any good liberal arts institution encourages the free exchange of ideas. And that’s not always polite–read about the arguments among the founding fathers so often referenced as our ideal.

    If she actually told him he sucked, that’s bad and counter-productive manners. But I’m impressed she stood up for herself, because the adults over-reacted, and they are the ones who should know better. There were lots of times when I was in high school that Adults attempted to get me to say epwhat they wanted, rather than teaching me to think for myself. I regret every time I caved to manipulation and not ine time I didn’t.