New Jersey has recently passed a bill requiring social media to be taught in middle schools. The social media curriculum will include topics such as responsible use of social media, cyber safety and security, and potential negatives consequences of inappropriate use.
The bill has been passed in an effort to combat cyber bullying and to educate young people on best practices and appropriate usage of various social networks. With a greater number of social media platforms more accessible now than ever before, young people are much more able to make a social impact online without realizing (or caring about) the consequences of their actions.
Not only can youngsters use their phones to send text messages to their friends, but they can also use a myriad of mobile apps to connect instantly with their classmates and peers. Many teens, instead of sending a text, are simply tweeting at their friends, sending them a Facebook message or Direct Message over Twitter, or a photo/video message via Instagram Direct. Using these social media platforms to connect with friends can be as easy, if not easier, than texting.
The discussion of social media in schools raises three important concerns:
Who will be responsible for choosing the curriculum included in this new social media education?
Young people are using social media regularly (in many cases, on a daily basis). If teens and adolescents are going to be spending a significant amount of time online, it stands to reason that they should be well educated on how to conduct themselves appropriately while they do so. However, the passing of this bill has brought up some debate over who should be doing the teaching. Many people believe schoolteachers should play a role in educating young people on the proper use of social media. Others feel that the task of teaching teens how to conduct themselves online is the parents’ responsibility. Personally, I think the teens are already much more knowledgeable about the latest social media platforms than their parents or teachers do. Since teachers and parents are collectively using social media much less frequently and much differently than younger users, how much value would there be in the curriculum that the teachers and/or the parents produce?
Will a focus on teaching social media draw focus away from other important school subjects?
Middle school is a crucial period of development for students to learn how to be independent, how to manage their time, and how to be responsible for multiple projects at once. Adding a whole new curriculum of social media instruction could potentially drive students to spend a disproportionate amount of time on social media “studies” as compared to their other traditional school subjects, such as reading and math. Also, will social media classes become an elective option similar to a band/orchestra class or foreign language? And if so, might students lose interest in these extra-curricular activities simply to spend more time online?
How could a state-mandated school curriculum possibly keep up with the rapidly changing nature of social media?
The most popular social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have only been around for about ten years, and a number of others have been around for even less time. This means that even the people who have been on these social platforms since their inception have only had a decade or less of experience using them. This lack of experienced users, combined with the ever-changing nature of social media, could make it quite difficult for any person or group of people to come up with a general, all-encompassing curriculum surrounding best practices on social media that can easily remain up to date. How often would the curriculum need to be revised to include the latest social platform or most recent viral online incident?
At this point, it seems a bit early to tell how the introduction of social media education will play out in schools. However, the passing of the bill (among other things) is a clear indicator that social media is here to stay, and people need to pay attention to it. Many organizations (corporations, non-profits, etc.) are requiring their employees and team members to go through social media training, illustrating how to professionally represent their organization on the Internet. Many companies also have elected to establish a social media department to manage the company’s online presence.
It’s safe to say that social media is going to play a significant role in how both seasoned professionals and young people interact, and the time to start getting educated about social media is now.
Do you think social media should be taught in schools? Tell us in the comments below!