In Defense of Teens

In Defense of Teens

A rant from Will R. at weblogg-ed, inspired by an article out of Wichita called “On Xanga, students make their life an open blog”:

Show me how kids using Xanga are blogging. I’m sure there must be some students actually employing all of the information gathering, critical thinking, linking, and annotative writing skills that Weblogs bring to the equation. Find ONE. (Caution: Potentially profane content ahead.) Is this blogging? Or this? Or this?

I just spent fifteen minutes clicking through about 20 Xanga sites and I CAN’T FIND ANY BLOGGING GOING ON! Is it me?

Like most conversations around weblogs, this one is asking yet again the perennial question: what is a weblog? And more specifically, how can we make weblogs more what we want them to be? How can we keep boring content out, and keep everyone fresh, interesting, and intelligent? How can we keep boring, bouncy teens away from our precious software?

I understand that Will is ranting here. But where the rant is directed is the problem. You can unleash a publishing platform on the world, but you don’t get to tell people how they have to use it. Teens are creative, energetic, dyanamic people, and if anyone can find alternative uses for a piece of software, it’s them. Is there any blogging going on at Xanga? Given that blogging involves adding content to a website on a regular basis and arranging that content in a chronological fashion, with a time and date stamp and a name, often using software to facilitate its publication and syndication, yes indeed. There is blogging going on at Xanga.

This rant is coming from a place of frustration. Will wants weblogs to be accepted as academic venues. As useful to the educational enterprise. And he feels that all these kids using this technology to talk about unimportant crap are clogging up Google and getting in the way of people truly seeing the wonder that is the weblog.

From one of Will’s non-blog blogs:

To be in love is merely to be in a state of perpetual anesthesia…. Our lives are shaped by those who love us and those who refuse to love us. Iv been laying here all night listening to my heart and trying to explain why sometimes I catch myself wondering what might have been, and yes I do think about you every now and then. How can it be that 2 people can go from being eachothers everything to absolutely nothing? And why do we always love the ones that hurt us, and hurt the ones that love us?

Do you think you can identify learning when you see it? Can you identify quality in a blog post? Who exactly are you to say? What sort of social network are you coming from when you come down so hard on these social networks? How can you champion student participation on one hand and then rant so derogatorily about those same people using technology to communicate on the other, to work out the truth and the lies about their lives? What’s important to them isn’t important to you. What’s important to them often isn’t important to me either, but these blogs shouldn’t be interpreted as a black mark on the educational use of blogging. What does it tell us that teenagers are prepared to sit down at a computer at regular intervals throughout the day and compose some chunk of text about their lives? That they are using text to work through the same issues we all work through at some point or other?

“Write a little every day.” That’s what they tell writers. They don’t say, “write something good every day.” They don’t say “write something pedagogically useful every day”. Teens are using the resources available to them to do what’s important to them; they are creating and strengthening their social networks. Social networks are of primary importance to teens. It’s well-established a developmental stage. Do they need to learn how to communicate with their peers? Yes, they do. Is this something that works it’s way on to the curriculum? Of course not. That’s something students use high school to do in spite of being requested repeatedly to stop. Teens communicating with each other is not a bad thing. Teens experiencing their lives and writing about it is also not a bad thing. Just because we’re adults and think it looks childish, useless and immature doesn’t mean they should stop doing it. It doesn’t mean they don’t need to do it, either. It doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.

If anything, the mass use of blogs by teens, and their highly-nuanced use of blog comment functions, is a great big selling point for blogs in an educational context. Is this a technology familiar to kids? Yes, it is. They know how to use it, they know it’s potential, and they know how to build and foster community through it. We can start dictating what kind of content we want to see when those blogs are classroom dedicated. When we give them categories to shunt academic content into. Should they stop using blogs to talk about the great party they went to and all the neat people they met? No. Exploring the world and learning to communicate with it is just as important if not more important and learning to think critically about Pride and Prejudice.

I’m profoundly uncomfortable with the snobbery around these topics. Dissing software because teens use it to talk about themselves to each other is not fair. Teens are all about discovering themselves; how can you possibly bring anything useful to the table as an adult if you didn’t go through a period and working out who you are as a teen? Without learning how to have friends, how to deal with conflict, how to distinguish good chatter from hurtful gossip?

Let them play with the software. Let them form their social networks, deconstruct them, destroy them, and start over. Let them work out their issues and get comfortable with the technology. The shift to blogging for curricular purpose can come later.

0 thoughts on “In Defense of Teens

  1. I completaly agree with you.
    I HATE it when an adult says that what teens write about isn’t “normal” or “politically correct” they always say that they went through it. That they were teens…only thing is they forget what tense thier using. PAST not present they can’t even begin to pretend they understand because thier from a complete different generation. Xanga, and other blogs do teach you something. Sit a 60 year old man down and have him figure out a website. How to upload multiple tools in less than 30 min. What would he say when he failed? He would say it was irrelevant to his life. HELLO! computers and technology ARE relevant they ARE the future. You can deny it, but that won’t make a difference. Thanks to you I now feel like blogging.
    -Thanks you for your imput on behalf of teens with a website, everywhere.

    [Cheers! Keep on keeping on, Felicity! More power to you! R.M.]

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