Peter Gutierrez at School Library Journal has an intriguing proposal for teachers and librarians:
[T]here’s probably no single better way to teach online citizenship to young people than through their participation in organized fandom.
Okay, so why? Well, because nowhere else will they encounter an environment that is essentially supportive and yet where friction with one’s peers can arise with stunning abruptness. Most of your students, whether through their pop culture-fueled activities or other online experiences, will be familiar with the basics of netiquette, principles that are often reinforced in school as part of the technology curriculum. Yet teaching librarians and language arts educators have, via fandom, a unique opening to reframe netiquette as something other than a subset of character education or online safety. Instead, the topic becomes an offshoot of “considering audience and purpose,” a central skill of any communication.
That’s because participation in fandom is always voluntary, thus giving students the opportunity to reevaluate whether or not they want to be a member of a given community, and if so, what kind of member. With any interaction’s potential to end in superficial repartee, lifelong friendship, or vicious flaming, fans must take into account not just the short-term value of making a point or having the last word, but their long-term relationships with their fellow fans, both individually and generally, the latter insofar as they’re developing a reputation or history within fandom. In short, when altercations with other fans start to brew—fans with whom they are aligned in a variety of personal, powerful ways—they must always ask whether it’s worth “winning the battle and losing the war.” Not bad practice for civic engagement, the business world, or scholarly pursuits, is it, not to mention marriage, child-rearing and host of other “real world” adventures?
There’s more at School Library Journal, including a “Digital Fandom Checklist” to help kids think about how their behavior online comes across to others.
I find Gutierrez’s suggestion and guidelines extremely interesting: he’s taken something that is often seen as frivolous and a distraction — fandom — and made it a basis for kids to explore concepts about how we interact with the world. And he also connects media literacy to larger themes of community, ethics, and personal responsibility. I think it’s brilliant.
What do you think? Is fandom a good model for teaching kids how to be good Netizens? What aspects of fandom would you want kids to understand and appreciate?
(Image from Qwertee, once available on a T-shirt.)
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