There’s hardly a school in our overly wired age that doesn’t have web pages, online grade books, listservs, texting principals, Facebook pages, and PTA e-mail alerts. If you count all the parents digitally drawn into their children’s school communities, never have more adults been more involved in more schools more of the time.
Yet, while one may learn of a back-to-school night or a school fair via Twitter or Facebook, how much does this really translate into greater school involvement? Do schools, teachers, and, more importantly, students, benefit from all this?
The cliché may be that knowledge is power, but in the digital era, the flying bits and bytes of knowledge seem more like mosquitoes in one’s ear on a muggy summer night. They briefly garner your attention, literally “bug you,” and flit away.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and other books, recently wrote in The New Yorker that “social media are built around weak ties.” Unlike hands-on, high-stakes activism—he used the example of the 1960 civil-rights lunch counter boycotts—signing up for a PTA listserv doesn’t really involve much. As Gladwell says, you can get a lot of people to sign on to a cause “by not asking too much of them.”
As he acknowledges, social media, e-mails, and even tweets and texts can be a good thing to disseminate bare-bones information to lots of people. However, it’s still an open question as to whether school communities, or anyone else, can really achieve strong, large-scale involvement in a cause.
In the end, there are still likely to be five or 10 people talking over pizza at the average PTA meeting.
A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12, Parents & the Public blog.