In direct or indirect ways, children begin to learn ethical values from birth. And while families and the church are assigned the primary responsibility for a child’s ethical education, schools have traditionally had the societal charge to teach and reinforce some moral values, especially those directly related to citizenship and school behaviors. Most of the ethical issues that surround technology deal with societal and school behaviors and are an appropriate and necessary part of the school curriculum. Johnson, Developing an Ethical Compass for Worlds of Learning, MultiMedia Schools, Nov/Dec 1998
I like the term "citizenship." As is obvious from the quote above, I've always seen "citizenship" as the rationale for teaching ethical behaviors and values in the public schools. Given the concern many parents and religious leaders have over public schools addressing "values" (we teahcers are mostly godless humanists, after all), teaching what is right and wrong can be tricky. But while Baptists and Bodavistas may differ a great deal about many beliefs (as may one Baptist church right down the road from another one), all faiths pretty much agree that it's a good thing to teach kids to follow the rules of one's government.
But when I first hear the term "digital citizenship," I am a little confused. Of what governance, exactly, are we supposed to be teaching kids to be good citizens of? According to Dictionary.com, a citizen can be defined as:
- a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government
and is entitled to its protection.
- an inhabitant of a city or town, especially one entitled to its privileges or franchises.
- an inhabitant, or denizen: The deer is a citizen of our woods.
While "denizen" might be aptly applied to many a middle school student, none of these definitions of citizen work very well for me when it comes to online citizenshi[. The digital world itself is not a single entity with a codified set of rules, laws or even mores. We can't say "Internet citizen" like we'd say "U.S. Citizen" or "Chinese Citizen" or "Madrid Citizen."
What we are left with then is that we teach online citizenship as a subset of the general citizenship rules we already address in each of our communities or countries. Being a good "U.S. Citizen" means acting lawfully and ethically when online as well as off line. Thankfully, there are clear analogies between online and offline behaviors.
OK, most of you probably already had figured this out. It just takes some of us a little longer.
On a personal note, I just finished making the suggested changes to my Technology Survival Guide book to be published by Josey Bass early next year. From the forthcoming book: A Dozen Ways to Teach Ethical and Safe Technology Use.