Citizenship is a verb

US K-12 students aren’t getting adequate instruction in “cyberethics, cybersafety, and cybersecurity,” according to a just-released study sponsored by the National Cybersecurity Alliance and Microsoft released today. The survey, of more than 1,000 teachers, 400 administrators, and 200 tech coordinators, found that – although over 90% of administrators, teachers, and tech coordinators support teaching these topics in school – only 35% of teachers and just over half of school administrators say the topics are required in their curriculum. A bit of pass-the-buck thinking turned up in the results too – 72% of teachers said parents bear most of the responsibility for teaching these topics  while 51% of administrators said teachers do.

via Connect Safely |How to teach Net safety, ethics & security? Blend them in! | NetFamilyNews.

Check out my quotes later in this article – I was thrilled to be interviewed by Ann Collier, one of my heroes in the effort to address Internet safety and ethics in a sane manner. We had a long conversation about digital citizenship and what it means. To me, citizenship is a verb, an act of participation in a community. To be a citizen means more than being told rules, it means having the rights and responsibilities of membership. So it’s simple. If we want students to be “21st century citizens” or “digital citizens” or ANY kind of citizen, we have to give them responsibility and include them in the actions of the community. This, of course, should be guided, gradual, and mentored, but it should not just be telling them the rules of a game they aren’t allowed to play.

Otherwise, it’s digital dictatorship, not digital citizenship.

4 Replies to “Citizenship is a verb”

  1. Wonderful post and very well put! Especially those last 3 sentences – I’m keeping that quote. It makes no sense to shield students from a world we want them to function in.

  2. I just read the article, so I’m commenting again. I think I actually disagree with Anne Collier that the biggest hurdle for teaching digital competency is net filters. I think the overly strict net filters are just a symptom of a deeper problem: most teachers can’t claim net safety, ethics, and security as a skill they have – and even many that have read about it abstractly aren’t speaking form first-hand experience. I think that’s what causes anxiety as students use tools teachers don’t know how to deal with, which in turn, leads to strict net filters.

    Before anyone suggests more professional development seminars and tech-focused conferences though, let me say that I think these are just band-aids for a problem that’s only getting worse. We can keep trying to educate teachers for the recent past, but students need to learn for their future. I think teachers CAN catch up though and help students build the skills they need.

    First of all, I think we need to show teachers how to direct their own learning (as many already do), and place the expectation on them that they never stop learning. Many even want to keep learning though, but simply can’t dedicate the time to it. Which brings me to my second point.

    To give teachers their time back and empower students to learn beyond the limits of any individual teacher, we have to also show students how to direct their own learning, letting them choose how, when, from whom, and often what they learn. Then teachers can spend more of their time learning themselves, and helping students in ways they’re uniquely qualified for, like inspiring students, helping them identify problems, and finding resources to help them make it over that next hurdle. I don’t think this would be a hard sell for teachers either. It’s a significant cultural shift, but I think this is what we all, as educators, really WANT to spend our time on. It’s what we got into the profession for.

    What do you all think? Is this the real problem? If it is, are these steps sufficient to overcome it?

  3. Chris,
    I don’t know that there is ever a “biggest hurdle” – Ann would probably agree that there are many facets to this issue. And certainly it varies from classroom to classroom, building to building, etc.

    The answer I keep coming back to is similar to yours, though, it’s about agency. There must be more trust given to both teachers and students to make choices about their own teaching and learning. Yes I know we run the risk of some people making poor choices. But the fear of poor choices creates a system that fails everyone.

  4. Sylvia,
    Agreed. As Barry Schwartz once said, “We don’t trust the judgment of teachers enough to let them loose on their own. … [Rules] are insurance policies against disaster, and they prevent disaster – but what they ensure in its place, is mediocrity.” That’s exactly what we get too, when we restrict the freedoms of teachers and students. Joe Bower wrote a great post about teacher and student autonomy recently (, if anyone’s interested.

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