This last couple of weeks has proven to be a good place to circle back and think about all of the material we have been investigating in the Flat Classroom Certification course. A lot of the initial material was not the newest for me. There were a few added wrinkles, but it was pretty familiar fare. Yet, once we got into the digital citizenship material, while not new in concept, it certainly was newly articulated for me in a framework that I both appreciated and needed some time to consider. The concept, as advanced by Vicki Davis and Julie Lyndsay, has been particularly interesting to me. For me at least, it adds a far clearer political dimension to our work, for better, worse, or perhaps both.
Shortly after reading the chapter, international events in Germany started catching my attention. perhaps it is the mid-term elections here in the States that has my radar more attenuated to the political arena. Still, a couple of weeks ago Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments about her native Germany’s multicultural approach having “failed, utterly failed” got my attention almost as immediately as her words were published and translated. Subsequently, a slightly more nuanced version of Merkel’s words began to appear in English language media. To my surprise, the story didn’t have the legs I thought it would.
Fortunately, it did not disappear completely. I was bolstered by the sentiments of James Carroll’s op-ed piece in my local daily newspaper, The Boston Globe. Reading his column, I almost felt that he had read my original message to the Flat Classroom Certification cohort. Additionally, Carroll was a guest on National Public Radio‘s daily show Talk of the Nation, which had a segment called “Multiculturalism Debated In The U.S. And Abroad.” In both entries to the public discourse, Carroll echoed many of my thoughts on the subject.
In particular, Carroll’s comment, “To date, no responsible American government figure feels free to openly echo Merkel’s “Christian values’’ excommunication. But multiculturalism can fail in the United States, too, as mounting negativity toward immigrants (“aliens’’) suggests,” strikes to the heart of why efforts like the Flat Classroom Projects, in all flavors, are such worthy ones.
Alluding to lessons of history, I found the German Chancellor’s comments particularly alarming. Yet these sentiments are definitely part of a dark undercurrent in the States. Of course the US is not Germany. The US has a long history of multiculturalism, however contentious, even violent, it may be. It also has a history of isolationism, especially in times of difficulty. Yet, there is a code, as Carroll puts it, that is designed to incite a more insidious part of the American body politic. Merkel’s statements may have been uttered in German but they too read as the same code. Only education can combat the kind of ignorance, ethnocentrism, and xenophobia that threatens “to swamp the foundation of liberal democracy,” as Carroll evocatively suggests.
Ultimately, the digital citizenship we are promoting is really built upon a modern global citizenship with a long, wide digital footprint, as well as deeper understanding of etiquette and international protocols. Digital citizenship is definitely a more expansive concept and I have already voiced my problems with the term. Regardless of what its called, the concept has never been more needed as an underpinning of education in the twenty-first century and beyond.
Like it or not, this new reality have a political dimension that is full of its own codes, subtlety, nuance, and rhetoric. Students need to be prepared to navigate their way through this reality, hopefully with a more sensitivity, enlightened compassion, and recognition of just how interdependent humanity has become.