Make Stuff, Not Subscribers

Middle School Misfortunes Then and Now, One Teacher’s Take

Please read this post that provides an excellent example of then and now–before smartphones and their dopamine enhancers embedded into our psyches. I’ve been the classroom teacher who has witnessed this first hand. The students who find out that I have a Youtube channel and never, ever ask me what’s the content, but always “How many subscribers do you have?” (Currently 52.) The students who graffiti on any free surface: AMOS@(Snapchat username). The students who looked at me blankly when I suggested they use their Snapchat filters to create a monstrous portrait for a writing prompt. Here is one example using Snapchat, and another using Snapseed:



I can’t find the one using WordSwag to create a mini-quote print, but no matter. So many fun apps to make and create fun things, satisfying my artist’s soul. When they looked at their Snapchat and Instagram accounts with new awe and wonder: you mean, my work is my art, and it’s important and valuable simply because it’s mine? A shocking concept.

If you belong to this age of parenting where you don’t know this is the case for so many students because your family does things together, have built a culture of creativity and exploration then you may not see this issue. I am fortunate because my own family is a family of musicians, photographers, and artists. My husband and sons are excellent musicians, my husband and younger son love to photograph, and my older son is a skilled musician and actor. I just make stuff–I was an art major and I love tinkering with digital apps to create and blend new things. But that’s not what students are taught. Art is diminished. Conversations about making things don’t exist in many classrooms or homes. Be mindful of that: technology is not the problem. How it’s perceived is.

And here are my responses to his recommendations:

  1. Propose that administrators and teachers stop using social media for school related purposes. In many districts, teachers are encouraged to employ Twitter and Instagram for classroom updates. This is a bad thing. It normalizes the process of posting content without consent and teaches children that everything exciting is best viewed through a recording iPhone. It also reinforces the notion that ‘likes’ determine value. Rather than reading tweets from your child’s teacher, talk to your children each day. Ask what’s going on in school. They’ll appreciate it.
    Propose that schools are diligent in terms of engaging, embedded technology used to create: more video and digital art production and know-how. But please: start talking to your children, even if they hem and haw and put up walls. That’s what adolescents do, it’s their job. But do what you can to find a common place to talk, even if it’s a drive in a car together, have them make the playlist for the drive or a family event/holiday. Have them start an Instagram account for a family pet or story. There are multiple tools to use to create: encourage creativity, not the likes. 
  2. Insist that technology education include a unit on phone etiquette, the dark sides of social media and the long-term ramifications of posting online. Make sure students hear from individuals who have unwittingly and unwillingly been turned into viral videos.   Yes.
  3. Tell your children stories from your own childhood. Point out how few of them could have happened if smartphones had been around. Remind your children that they will someday grow up and want stories of their own. An afternoon spent online doesn’t make for a very good one. And have them document those stories using the technology tools available: curating photographs, collecting sound recordings and videos of family members, bringing back the ‘home movie’ concept and most importantly, underscore WE ARE THE HEROS IN OUR OWN STORIES. We own our narratives. 
  4. Teach your children that boredom is important. They should be bored. Leonardo Da Vinci was bored. So was Einstein. Boredom breeds creativity and new ideas and experiences. Cherish boredom. Yes.
  5. Remind them that, as the saying goes, adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins. They have to be found. Tell them to go outside and explore the real world. Childhood is fleeting. It shouldn’t be spent staring at a screen. Yes, again.

Ultimately, I would prefer that the normalization of technology is the normalization of creativity and creation, of making and doing, not the false idols of likes and followers. If you haven’t been in a classroom in the last three to five years you may not believe this is a reality for students. It feels like a Black Mirror episode some days. Flipping the conversation to “how many subscribers?” to “what do you create is a simple but important acknowledgment.


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Together alone
Above and beneath
We were as close 
As anyone can be
Now you are gone
Far away from me
As is once
Will always be
Together alone
Anei ra maua (here we are together)
E piri tahi nei (in a very close embrace)
E noha tahi nei (being together)
Ko maua anake (just us alone)
Kei runga a Rangi (Rangi the sky-father is above)
Ko papa kei raro (the earth mother is below)
E mau tonu nei (our love for one another)
Kia mau tonu ra (is everlasting)