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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Helping Students Navigating the Torrents of Change

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicThis past week in the mountains we went rafting twice:  once down the Nantahala (class I, II, and III rapids) and once down a more mellow river with just class I and II with an outfit that specializes in rafting with kids.

Training them Well
We did this for a reason, the first trip was to remind the kids of the rafting and steering principles that they had forgotten from last summer, with an experienced guide (either an "official guide" or my husband who is a great guide as well.)  This way the kids had brushed up on the technique.

Setting Them Free (sort of)
Then, we went down the other river (I think it is spelled Tugaseekee) because kids who are 9 and up have the choice of going down in an individual self-bailing ducky.  We gave the kids a choice and all but one chose the ducky. My 7 year old went down with me in a 2 person ducky.

Now, some would call us parents crazy - including the beginning rafter adults with us who were scared to death.  But our kids have been down every summer since they were 7.  They were ready and they believed they were ready.  They were equipped with life vests and were in charge of their own boat.

Was there some danger?
Sure, any time you're on a river, there is danger. Of course!  (There is also danger when you're riding in the car or crossing the street.)

But, I always think back on Dr. Paul Brand, one of my life heroes, the man who discovered the cure (or at least the cause of leprosy) - when he was in India, he let his kids climb trees and said that it was an acceptable risk for raising independent children.

Acceptable Risk
So, for us, they were ready and we were ready.  We kept watchful eyes, but as we went down the rapids, the kids were amazing!  NONE Of them got stuck.

Unacceptable Risk
The kids were in stark contrast to some beginners that were much older (about my age in their 40's.)  These beginners had never been on a raft on a river in their life and they told us they had decided it would be easier to learn without someone telling them what to do!  Were they insane? (Does that remind you of any people you know? I for one prefer to stand on the shoulders of giants and learn from those who have done it or share if I know something to help another!)

Well, what happened was that one of the "beginner boats" hit the first rapid, got scared -  and the two inhabitants threw their paddles at least 20 feet as they threw their hands up, stopped paddling and started screaming for help.  They didn't realize that in the midst of a rapid that was the worst thing they could do and so they ended up going down sideways and falling out!  So, one of the kids actually ended up rescuing a screaming, half panicked 40 year old woman!  (Think how many times something like this happens on the Internet!)

Navigating the Rapid Torrent of Internet Change
 So from this, I take a couple of tips for navigating this torrent of change we call the Internet.

1- Find good guides
Yes, I advocate jumping in and learning things for yourself, however, you learn as part of your own personal development time and as you link up with coaches or guides.  There are many people out here who are blazing the trail and can give you tips for navigating the sometimes treacherous waters of the Internet.  Follow them in your RSS reader, on twitter, and befriend them in mutually beneficial relationships.

2- Learn the tactics for safe navigation
Any time you're on the Internet there is an inherent danger and you should know how to navigate.  There are certain principles for keeping safe.

3- Facilitate eventual independent digital citizens
But, I'll tell you this.  As we got out of the water and each of the children carried their boat up to shore, there was a certain pride.  In fact, it was a tremendous pride -- they had done it and NONE, not one of them had fallen in or needed help the whole 2 hour trip down the river!  They experienced something that they never would have experienced had we continued to keep them in our boat.  (And with their little skinny derrieres they didn't get stuck either!)

They had been prepared with at least 3 years of rafting experience - at least 6 times rafting each.  They knew the rules,  had a healthy respect for the power and danger of the river, knew the safety guidelines (like how to pull a 180 pound woman into the boat even though you weigh barely 100), and how to steer their boat.  We had one nine year old, two ten year olds, a thirteen year old and fourteen year old who aced the river on their own.  The pride of navigating safely and also the knowledge from us parents that our children are now safer -- they are safer because they know they can do it and when they are caught in a rapid, they will not throw up their paddles and panic (the worst thing you can do) and possibly drown!

And this is what I want for my children (and my students) before they leave my classroom in the tenth grade.  I want them to:
  • know the rules, 
  • have a healthy respect for the power and danger of the Internet,
  • know the safety guidelines and 
  • how to be technically competent with whatever they tool they meet.
And this happens through a process.  A process of sharing and teaching from me, first in super safe "locked down" environments but progressively taking them to a place were they are navigating on their own.

Sure, it is scary.  Sure, some will criticize, however, I believe it is the only way to have self-confident, safe, effective users of this new world that has emerged via the bits and bytes that connect us.

Get Past the Walls that Bind
We have got to come to grips with how to take children from walled gardens to a point where they can safely operate in public places before they graduate from high school

Face facts!  They are navigating these waters on their own, with no guide, and little supervision -- let's help them succeed, and be safe and do it in ways that give them the sense of pride knowing that they have the ability to make it through the rapid torrent of change we now call society.

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