question of the day: Is fandom a good model for teaching kids how to be good Netizens?

got fandom

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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Mon, Jan 28, 2013 11:31am

Downside: online fandom is forever, like anything online, so those learning experiences will be around for everyone to see.

ruth waterton
reply to  RogerBW
Tue, Jan 29, 2013 12:52pm

Very good point. I still blush at some of the things following me around online, from up to 15 years ago. And I wonder, do kids really need this? Don’t they spend enough time online in the natural course of things? Anything that adults start actively promoting is likely to lose its transgressive element, and therefore its appeal, quite fast.

So, while I welcome anything that takes fandom seriously as an aspect of popular culture, I’m not sure that this is the way to go. I think kids learn these things best from their peers. In fact, my kids are a lot more savvy than me. Also you’d have to look really carefully at the intellectual property issues surrounding fanworks  – this is an interesting exercise in its own right but I think librarians would need to be extremely cautious in any environment where they could be perceived as promoting the theft of intellectual property.

I speak as a practising school librarian, BTW.

reply to  ruth waterton
Wed, Jan 30, 2013 1:59am

Anything that adults start actively promoting is likely to lose its transgressive element, and therefore its appeal, quite fast.

Yes, that’s what turned computers from “a fun thing that everyone wants to learn about” to “a boring thing that school does, so I’ll just learn the bare minimum about them” in my peer-group in the 1980s.

Mon, Jan 28, 2013 1:41pm

The biggest drawback is that no matter how much you correspond, you still never really no who’s on the other end.  We’re still reeling in this house because my daughter was recently “catfished”.  She’s been on tumbler for a couple years and enjoyed the feeling of community she got from the fan groups.   It seemed innocent enough. Then she  started talking outside the message boards with a girl who called herself Erica.  The girl, while older, really did provide her with some sage advice regarding her self esteem issues and bullying she was going through at school.  So naturally she was devestated when she got a message from the girl’s mother saying “Erica” killed herself.  The circumstances the “woman” described left both I and the guidance counsler quite certain that it was a fake.  Far from being relieved from the burden of mourning her friend’s death, she was even more devestated and mourning the fact that her friend never existed.  Interestingly, her “friend” killed herself just days before the whole Manti Teo thing broke.  Which also didn’t help.  Needless to say, it was a lesson I wish my daughter didn’t have to learn so early and dramatically.  Any discussion of online ettiquite needs to begin with the “unreal” nature of these friendships.

sorry for the rant.  It’s still pretty fresh here.

reply to  Stingraylady
Mon, Jan 28, 2013 2:47pm

You are absolutely right-it is more important for children, and not a few adults, to realise that when on-line  nobody really knows who they are dealing with. It might be better for children to be encouraged to get outside, and meet real people their own age  who might share their interests, rather than to spend a lot of valuable time in the artificial environment of the net, where they could get really badly burned, without realising what’s happening until it’s too late. Best wishes to your daughter.

reply to  Stingraylady
Mon, Jan 28, 2013 8:21pm

 Damn. I’m flabbergasted. And I am so very sorry for both your daughter and you. Good grief.

Damian Barajas
Damian Barajas
Mon, Jan 28, 2013 7:54pm

There’s a hidden assumption that there is an actual way, a safe way, to learn to be a “Netizen” and I suppose that, learning to be such a “Netizen” is meant to keep you safe.

I don´t know that you can do that, I mean, I don’t think learning to be a good Netizen is different form learning to be a good citizen, I certainly don’t believe that acting one way in cyberspace and acting another way in meatspace is healthy and I know, nobody is saying this explicitly, but it is implicit.

Anyway, I think the only way to learn this, is by learning it from someone you trust, someone who is right there with you, unfortunately, thats the other hidden assumption in this question, how are little kids going to learn this if I’m not going to teach them?

ruth waterton
Tue, Jan 29, 2013 12:57pm

Footnote, if you want kids to have an excellent test-case for debating all these issues and more, you could do a lot worse than Googling “tobermoray cat”:

It will also teach them about the toxic results of cyber-bullying, particularly if they follow the link to Gliori’s blog.