It seems that every day we learn a new tactic, social media tool, or argument about how technology has been over-hyped or undersold. Due to the widespread availability of
modern technology we are experiencing a level of interconnection that we have never seen before. Specifically, technology in the classroom is most often imbalanced with using it to change it up versus using technology, because it is actually beneficial to that learning experience. As teachers, we sometimes lose sight on why we should be implementing technology into our classroom. And sometimes, we can be very unsure…but what if one thing we were sure about was using technology as a means to help our students make a difference through online social activism?
An approach that intentionally trains young people in community organizing and
advocacy, youth-led activism assists children and youth in putting these skills to action in order to alter power relations and creating meaningful change throughout their communities. Through youth-led organizing, young people can employ activities such as critical thinking and change.
But can technology and social activism truly be used together? When I explored the connection, more often than not there seemed to be a dispute against its actual benefits. In fact, Elite Daily describes online social activism as “meaningless.” Why? Because, suddenly making a difference means clicking a button, updating a profile or liking a post. All you have to do is read the headline, share the link, and suddenly you are a supporter of a cause.
I agree the knowledge of reading a headline is better than no knowledge at all, but will it create the same level of commitment that existed when protestors and activists had to truly understand the issue in order to champion it? Sometimes I do feel that individuals approach online social action in an insincere way, creating a potential lack of reliance on the use of technology to bring forward social action. And yes, some forms of online activism can do more harm than good. Sometimes, online activism can perpetuate oppressive ideas – consider how certain online breast cancer awareness campaigns can be cissexist, misogynistic, and generally ineffective.
There are many limitations to online activism, and there are plenty things we need to work on to make it more accessible for marginalized people. Online activism isn’t necessarily better than offline activism, but both kinds are necessary, useful and important. Ideally, the two kinds of activism should co-exist without being disparaged or hierarchized. But as with all forms of activism, it’s important that we think about it critically, so that we can try to make it better — because for our society’s future, online activism could be exactly what we need.
As Chelsey Sharpe stated in her recent blog post, Online Social Activism, The New Way To Protest, it is “important to be aware of different social movements online, but that does not mean that you have to go and follow every movement.” You don’t need to have an expectation that your students take part in every opportunity to take action — because that’s when making a difference turns into pressing the like button. Instead, provide them the opportunity to take action for a movement that they feel most passionate about. And that’s where the blog title comes into play — my passion for Truth and Reconciliation through Treaty Education and how myself and my students can use technology for this social change.
Most recently, I have began my own Treaty Walk to discover miskasowin — finding the center of myself — and my relation to Treaties as a settler. Every day, I have had more and more opportunities to unpack and critically reflect on my role on Treaty 4 land — both on a professional and personal level. Throughout this journey, I have gained an entirely new understanding of the strength that can come from sharing — not only my values and experiences, but those of the many First Nations, Metis and Inuit individuals and families still suffering today — online with others — through Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Google Communities. It became my course of action throughout this past semester to not only take part in a variety of experiences — such as the Circle Project, Treaty 4 Project, Blanket Exercises, etc. — but also by using the voice I had on social media to spread awareness about the inequalities that are present between Western-European Settlers and Indigenous peoples. Through this, I was able to have some of the most significant conversations I have had throughout my journey of unpacking these relationships.
I have always had a desire to have social activism at the heart of a child’s education; especially surrounding Treaty Education and Truth and Reconciliation for First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. Growing up in a world that pretends social inequalities do not
exist never should have been an option for teachers to take — yet it is still very evident in our school system today. I remember getting turned down from my interning principal for wanting to do the Junior Blanket Exercise (A teaching tool to share the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada) with my grade 6 kids, because she was worried they would get too emotional or get PTSD — worrying about breaking the well off white kids — but not worried enough to make them aware of what is happening around them in their society.
For many, the blanket exercise is their reality and something they cannot simply choose not to know. All students, K-12, should be exposed to unpacking and THEIR history (yes, even if you don’t have FNMI kids in your classroom, it is still your students’ history), and critically thinking of the contemporary issues that have risen from the history of unfulfilled treaties — Residential Schools, Loss of land rights, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, inadequate health care, inadequate education…the list goes on.
People have been fighting for these rights for years using online social media tools —
especially Twitter. Idle No More has quickly become one of the largest Indigenous mass movements in Canadian history – sparking hundreds of teach-ins, rallies, and protests across Turtle Island and beyond. What began as a series of teach-ins throughout Saskatchewan to protest impending parliamentary bills that will erode Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protections, has now changed the social and political landscape of Canada. The movement “calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water.” They have generated a huge online community through their hashtag #idlenomore, as well as their page @IdleNoMore4.
We know that kids have a passion to make a difference — they are not squashed down by all the negativity that is oh so evident in many adults today. Children have a powerful tool in which they can reach a large range of society – from young to old they can spread and share a message that they are most passionate about.
Why not use their strong connection and understanding of technology to take Reconili-ACTION by sharing their knowledge about Treaty Education and Truth and
Reconciliation with those around them using different online tools that they already have experience with, as well as potential online tools that have been explored throughout their learning experiences.
Young activists can use their social media as a way to communicate, organize and raise awareness, such as through the annual #haveaheart campaign, a child and youth-led reconciliation event that brings together Canadians to help ensure First Nations children have the services they need to grow up safely at home, get a good education, be healthy, and be proud of who they are.
It is not enough for just our children to be learning this information, because they will be entering a world where many are resilient to the idea of accepting what is going on in our society. By using technology, students are not only developing their own skills and understanding, but are spreading awareness to their family, friends, community members, and global neighbours.
This course of action can be taken in a number of ways. One way, which may have been initially intended for building a connection with the students, is making change through digital storytelling.
Sheila Brass recalls the time her students enthusiastically asked if they could do extra work after creating a digital story. They were role playing situations in residential schools, and after an emotional presentation wanted to perform it again in Cree. Brass said this is the magic of teaching through storytelling.
“They can empathize and sense and feel. It’s not just history, cold facts. This is where you actually become part of the history because you role play it. That’s why actual changes can occur then because they’ve actually felt it.”
“Storying Treaties and the Treaty Relationship: Enhancing Treaty Education Through Digital Storytelling” is a journal article by Alec Couros, Ken Montgomery, Jennifer Tupper, Katia Hildebrandt, Joseph Naytowhow and Patrick J. Lewis. It outlines “preliminary findings of a collaborative educational research endeavour to take seriously calls for reconciliation with Aboriginal people within a Canadian context of ongoing colonialism” — specifically in relation to the K-12 Saskatchewan Curriculum, where Treaty Education is mandatory.
While digital storytelling is a great tool to help students gain a stronger connection to their own learning experiences, this can be taken one step further where these presentations are shared with their communities through a variety of online platforms. Claire Kreuger does this by having her students create their digital stories and share it through her blog and Twitter accounts. She also encourages her students to write their own blogs about a variety of subjects surrounding Treaty Education.
We are connected more by the internet than by a personal relationship or a geography. Those who think hashtags and online platforms don’t work or that young millennials are apathetic really haven’t spent a lot of time being a part of that, because it does exist and it is successful. Social media works as a forum to share articles and contribute to a greater social conversation; and youth can learn and share more about anything they want to online — including the need for social change.
Social activism is not deemed successful only if the whole world’s population gets on your side. Even just by sharing one post, students can begin to challenge someone’s perspective on Canada’s injustices towards First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples and their communities. Do you know how many people don’t know about the TRC Calls to Action? Could you imagine how many more people might begin to gain an understanding of this social change if children shared this information in a video and demonstrated how they are taking action with these calls? Go on…like the video…you know you want to.
Students have a desire to make change…change that needs to be heard beyond their classroom doors. Let’s help students make that happen.