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Savvy High School Students Teach Us Valuable Lessons About Future of Learning

     As a former high school media teacher, a recent news story about high school journalism students in Utah and their pursuit to publish truly warmed my heart.
     The backstory is about how two high school seniors, inquiring why a well-liked history teacher was dismissed from their school, were determined to find the truth regardless of how their school or administration would handle it being published in the school newspaper.
     They did interviews, requested public records and soon pried open the proverbial can of worms. Initially, their story was published on the school’s student newspaper website. But after an unprecedented amount of traffic, they discovered that their story was pulled down. Ultimately, they had to publish their story outside of school on their own newly created website just for that reason. (see the full story here:
     And that’s what I want to examine. We truly live in a digital DIY world where we don’t depend on others - i.e. school administrators, government officials or supervisors - to share what we think is important for people to know. Naturally, we’ve seen the dark side of this in terms of the amount of inaccurate information shared and posted on social media.
     But in the case of the these two high school seniors from Salt Lake City, they are demonstrating the embodiment of both the 1st amendment and learning 21st century style. They knew the truth was more powerful than the medium and therefore exercised what is now available to all students. They don’t need our permission to learn, grown, experience or take ownership of their lives.
     And as much as many of us in education have long promoted the idea of students taking responsibility of their own learning, many may not be ready to keep up with that reality. Our students are more savvy than ever - like we’ve been asking them to be. Students are going to find a work-around and there are new work-arounds being created daily.
     The ultimate question for me is do schools and educators continue to try to control and restrict students in a world where they truly work around us? Do we force their pursuit of ownership of their learning outside of school and our systems, or do we work with them to embrace what they can do as part of school?
     For example, here just a few things we may want to ask ourselves as we continue to design and implement our learning systems with or without our DIY savvy students in mind?
     Cell Phones: the fact that we are still banning cell phones and treating them like contraband will always fail. More and more students will realize that other school settings - online, independent study, gap years, testing out and more won’t slow them down with these archaic approaches to technology.
     Social Media: we need to decide if we are going to teach and lead this important new literacy or approach like many approach cell phones - again contraband. Yes, students are attracted to the “social” in social media, but they are also keenly aware that professionals, business people, entrepreneurs, government official and leaders are leveraging social media throughout their work day to position their company, organization, products, services and brands against their competition. We need to unleash this power of social media to our students in reference to their projects, work and interest. If not, again, we’ll continue to have two worlds : the school world and the real world. And students will be forced to the work-around.
     Websites, YouTube & More: Do we engage and model for our students in school how to use technology to create and share their work through digital portfolios? For example, we should be having all students create their own websites and YouTube channels, as examples. In far too many schools, this is not even on the radar. There are a few students who will do on their own as it relates to their hobbies, passions and interests. But we should be leading them to use these tools to show and showcase their work and projects. The Gig Economy will demand this from them and they should not be left to maybe discover this on their own.
     Technology Overall: I’m one of those that believes that tech access in education is truly a student right. And it’s just access and equity. It’s whether we are learning and working in response to the real world and using all tools available to us. The more schools avoid, limit or consider technology as just a nice accoutrements, the more students will search ways to circumvent in order to use technology to do any of the real world pursuits that interest them.
     Single Source Education: Textbooks are getting a lot of negative attention as well they should be. Yes, we should be ditching our textbooks. Once again, the rest of the working world uses all resources and technology to help them solve problems and do their work. Yet in school, especially in anything that is part of academia, we are sadly married to textbooks - whether in print or digital - and our higher ed. Institutions are really behind here. It’s ironic, universities lead the way in research, but model for their students the limits of relying on a single source for too many classes. Again, our savvy students will learn, with or without us, that are official school resources (textbooks - digital or print) are not only limited and incomplete, but often wrong.
     Our Learning Culture (s): Thankfully, many educators are realizing that culture is what drives student learning and their learning organizations. Nothing has held on to many of its primitive and often counterproductive traditions more than education. The more schools feels, looks and acts like it always has, the more it continues to stand apart from the real world. Students are clamoring for relevance, connection and application. Schools needs to look a lot more like and feel a lot less like something that doesn’t exists anymore outside of itself.
Thank you Connor Spahr and Max Gordon for reminding me, and hopefully many others in education, that the true power in learning is directly realized through student empowerment, voice and ownership. And for you history buffs, nice to see that the first amendment is alive and well sometimes in our country and that, as usual, the young people often get it better than their adult leaders.


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