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Speak, people. We cannot be silent.

Most of us have, by now, read or heard Tyler Clementi‘s story.  If you haven’t, I have to wonder what kind of rock you’re living under.  Mae at Parenting in Progress wrote a beautiful post about this tragedy.  (And if you haven’t, here’s the two-ish-sentence summary: Tyler Clementi asked his dorm roommate for privacy while he had a date over. Tyler Clementi is gay. His roommate broadcast his encounter on the internet via a webcam and a live feed. Tyler later committed suicide.)

There are countless other stories of cyber-bullying leading people to take their own lives.

There are tales of cyber-bullying ruining people’s lives by ruining their reputations.

Y’all. The days of schoolyard taunting are over. Bullying is taking place in bedrooms, living rooms, family rooms, all over the country, often under the noses of unsuspecting parents. Parents who believe their children are “good kids.”  Kids incapable of doing or saying such cruel and heartless things to other children.

Children are tech-savvy. They are text-savvy.

They are also insecure and somehow fearless behind the “anonymity” of their computer screens.

The internet is a powerful thing. Perhaps more powerful than any of us or Al Gore imagined. 

But online bullying isn’t just limited to tweens and teens, y’all.

I’ve debated whether or not I should provide a link to this family’s blog.  Because I believe my readers are good, honest, caring people, I’m linking you to it because this family needs an outpouring of support the likes of which many of us may never know. Whether you pray, chant, burn incense, rub the belly of a Buddha, or think happy thoughts, this family needs all of the above. Give it to them.  Give them love.

This blog above is under an attack.  This is a family who has just lost their child, their seven week old son, their son who shares a name with my son.  Their Joshua was born with a congenital heart defect. Prior to their son’s death, this family received an outpouring of hatred and vitriol from the anti-circumcision community for deciding to proceed with their son’s surgrey under the approval of their doctors. They are still receiving such comments despite the fact that they are grieving.

Don’t you just love the smell of sanctimony in the morning?

Smells like napalm all over the credibility of their cause.

(For the record, I support causes.  I support people’s rights to support their chosen causes. I do not, however, support or condone people using their causes to bully, belittle, and berate a grieving family.)

Here’s the point of everything I’ve said so far:

Every morning I check my email.  And every morning there’s an email in my inbox from NEA with links to the country’s top educational news stories. I always skim the headlines to see if there’s anything of direct interest to me and my state first, and then I skim for national, broader stories second.

One stuck out to me today.

It was a link to an NPR article about teaching kids the ins and outs of online ethics. “Digital Citizenship” they call it.

What struck me was not that NPR would post this, or that they would assert that this is something that needs to be taught in schools.

What struck me were the commenters.  Those who said that this is NOT the job of teachers. That teachers have too much on their plates to also have to worry about how students behave online.  That it isn’t up to teachers to teach morality and ethical behavior. That those topics should be left for parents to teach.

In the absence of parents, who teaches these things?

My answer?

I do.  You do.  The person down the street does.  WE ALL DO.

Morality isn’t about religion.  Knowing right from wrong isn’t about who you worship or how.

Morality is about being a good person.  Choosing to do good in the world.  Acknowledging that it takes each of us to make this a better place for the future of humanity. 

And if adults can act this way online, if they can attack other adults in such a manner, how can we honestly expect children not to do the same thing?

Isn’t that, after all, what bullying is?  An attack?  Isn’t it all the promotion of one person’s agenda over the emotional and physical well-being of the person being bullied, whether that agenda be a rise in social status or the eradication of circumcision as a routine medical practice?

I think it is.

So for today, in response to the NPR article’s respondents who have said this is not my job, I’ve made it my job.  I’ve tabled other lessons and I’ve made it my mission to tell my students that how they act online has consequences that reach beyond what they are able to see or understand.  That it is their duty to be good citizens wherever they “are.”

That the Golden Rule still applies in cyberspace.

And you know what?

They have listened.

They have acknowledged that they have been victims of online ridicule and bullying.  That they have seen others be victimized.

That they agree that it is horrible and stupid and wrong and hurtful.

And I like to think that a few of them have heard me.  That they have seen my passion and my conviction and that they know my heart bleeds for them and their well being. That having a candid, honest discussion such as this can and will make a difference. That my not remaining silent about this will cause them to speak up.

I have a bulletin board in my classroom that I call “Wise Words.”  It contains quotes that at some point have stood out to me for their poignancy and relativity to my life as an educator.  Two of my favorites are:

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but can build our youth for the future.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

 “Our lives begin to end the day we BECOME SILENT about the things that matter.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

We MUST be a global community of people set on making the world better if we can ever hope for it to actually BE better. 
We must all BE better.

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