What about Forgiveness?

A recent post by Vicki Davis has me thinking. Vicki warns about Facebook’s challenging privacy options and suggest educators will run into problems if students view our pages and see our friends posting profanity on our walls. This post isn’t really about Vicki’s post as much as it simply triggers some thoughts about the way we handle what we view to be inappropriate content and interactions. It made me think about forgiveness.

I’m not opposed to anything Vicki writes. I think we need to be empowered as much as possible to control and manage our content and identity. Understanding the nuances of a space like Facebook is an important skill in 2011. Schools and teachers need to be talking and showing students how to manage their online lives.

But if we address the specifics of Vicki’s issue there are a couple of things that concern me. Here’s an excerpt about what triggered Vicki’s post.

Someone in our community - an adult- posted HORRIBLE things on his page.(School Fan Page) Because the adults were friends and the students were friends with the teachers and adults, they were exposed to it. Some people blamed the school because of the link the school caused. The school's facebook IMMEDIATELY unfriended everyone and we went ONLY to a FanPage.

Even without knowing the details of the “horrible things” I can only imagine the uproar. Again, I don’t know the details and am not specifcally addressing this incident but it does make me wonder about how we typically handle this situations. I’m trying to figure out is how long we’ll allow irate and in this case ignorant parents to continue to be uneducated and make us run for cover. Anyone who’s spent time online understands that you’re only ever two clicks away from nasty, vile material. If I post a youtube video, even the most seemingly tame description or tag might link to something offensive because of a double entendre. This is a fact of being online that we need to learn to live with. Sure, as Vicki points out we need to take care but how far does it go? If we have to take responsibility for every link, every colleague and their links, every twitter follower and their comments, every friend and everything they say, we’ll all need to quit our jobs and dedicate ourselves full time to curating all our content and associations. Either that or get offline. At some point, guilty by association needs to end. Particularly in this day of every growing networks.

This is, as well, a good argument for eliminating high levels of filtering in schools. It’s our job as teachers to help students learn to live in this world. The ubiquitous nature of information is here to stay and not allowing teachers to deal with this reality is bordering on educational malpractice. We also need to educate parents about this reality. Good teachers handle students finding inappropriate material by turning it into teachable moments. They don’t go into a panic, they don’t call the police, they don’t send the student off to the Principal's office. They recognize that this happens. Even when it’s intentional, a good teacher deals with the situation with a degree of mercy and I dare say forgiveness. Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s learn and move on and help one another do better.

Just recently my province was looking for someone to be the “Saskatchewanderer”. It was a contest patterned after the Best Job in the World.

The Saskatchewanderer is a marketing pilot project that the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport has launched — we like to call it the best summer job ever.

First, we solicited video entries from post-secondary summer students. Then, the Ministry shortlisted the candidates, and let the public vote for their favorite Saskatchewanderer.

One of the finalists was disqualified after a video of him cheering and swearing at a football game a few years back was found on youtube. When I first read the story it made me think the lesson was how important it is to manage our identity and be sure we don’t expose the skeletons in our closets. After a few exchanges about the story on twitter, I was challenged to perhaps consider there was a different lesson. The lesson of forgiveness. Should this young man be penalized for such an indiscretion? Many would argue that his behaviour isn’t really that shameful and even if you think it wasn’t in good taste, does the young man get a second chance? I’m guessing that the discussion by the powers that be included the possibility of forgiveness but political correctness got in the way. It seems to me the in an age where business and organizations are attempting to connect better with their constituents and become more social, this would be a great opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be a kind and caring society; a society where we give 19 year-olds second chances.
You may have differing opinions here about how you would handle both of the examples I share. Certainly there are many complexities about each situation and circumstances that I’ve maybe missed. I may not have the whole story or all the facts but using this as examples of online indiscretions and mistakes that occur every day I wonder if our default responses might need tweaking. I’m concerned that there’s very little modeling of forgiveness when it comes to what we post and share online. Shouldn’t our students and children see us extending a little mercy and forgiveness? The argument often is, “you might be able to forgive but their perspective employer won’t”. Maybe, but why can’t we teach students both? Why can’t we mix information and reputation management with a healthy dose of human kindness and forgiveness? I’d like us to aim for that.