We’re at the end of the semester and English teachers at my school are looking for students to reflect upon their learning. I asked my students what they have learned from the use of Twitter as an educational tool while they attempted to network with organizations or individuals while researching a social issue affecting indigenous populations in Canada.
Listening to reflections can show me what students are learning. Or, if I really listen, if I really give them a safe space to tell their truth, then I learn. This “listening” is not just with the ears. I must read their writing and listen to the voice of the student writer. I must ask myself, “what realities am I not hearing, not experiencing, not seeing?”
Today, I learned about the unintended consequences of imposing student participation in social media when virutally all of the issues being considered are inherently about social justice. I learned that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of colour) can experience a secondary wave of victimization as they interact with their White classmates online, and it has caused me to completely reconsider this unit. My initial goal of getting them to “unlearn” had unintended consequences which potentially divided the groups that I wanted to unite; it possibly further isolated the marginalized and this was something I don’t experience and don’t see in my interactions on Twitter.
Superficially, the Tweets and reTweets and comments seemed to demonstrate learning and a growing sense of empathy among students in the class. But my Black student who “started off intrigued” with her Twitter account because “it was a new and unique assignment”, explained that the experience had, in the end, become emotionally difficult.
She said that at first “I took pleasure in tweeting about my personal work and displaying the research that I have conducted…however, after being on Twitter for a couple of weeks, I became discouraged.” She went on to explain that the posts of some students were at odds with their daily actions, their spoken words, and their expressed ideologies in the real world of daily student life. She has personally heard and witnessed racist and derogatory remarks against minority groups made by students in the school, while on Twitter they were “suddenly turning into social justice activists and advocates talking about these social issues as if they are not part of the problem…all the bystanders… were tweeting about these issues that they in fact do not stand up to. All of this for what? A pass? A good mark?”
She spoke her truth and it was a difficult but necessary lesson for me as I really listened to her reflection. She summed up her position so eloquently. “As a minority, seeing people falsify their consciousness on real issues that people are suffering from daily, feels like utter disrespect and belittlement.”
Listening to the voices of those on the margins is vital to my work, but taking action to center and empower the voices on the margins is what my work must do. It is the outcome of my work that matters. I must listen and learn and do better and repeat.
While I am listening to her, I realize that Twitter is a very different experience for me; I surround myself with educators who inform and challenge me and give me the feedback that I need to take the next steps. I don’t have to endure the disingenuous as she did. So, I decided to share my learning on Twitter and the response was interesting and informative.
Ian Bingeman at Youth Ottawa asked me “Any further ideas/takeaways for how to get white students participating for allyship as opposed to grades/creating safer avenues for BIPOC students?” While I did respond on Twitter, I am still reflecting on an answer for this important question. And I am listening and learning.