School Climate & Safety Opinion

Cyberbullying, the Future, and FLOTUS

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — July 02, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Most K-12 schools are not engaged in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). That seems beyond the skill set for most K-12 educators and beyond curriculum requirements. It is not out of the realm of possibility that educators look at Artificial Intelligence as a futuristic fantasy, the stuff of a Hollywood movie or a summer thriller for beach reading. There are still those of us who read George Orwell’s 1984 and thought it was a fantastical. Now, well past 1984, his foretelling was correct.

Value and Dangers

Technology, the good tool that has connected us with information and each other with the click of a key, also can be used to do harm. Hacking, sharing of private information, the Dark Web, Wikileaks, and Russia’s intrusion into our information systems are only examples of the worldwide scale of the reach and of its use for selfish and evil purpose. Look for a new suitcase online, and ads for suitcases show up on your Facebook feed or on your Google searches. We are being followed.

There are positive applications to be gained from the development of AI. Don’t turn off when you see the words, ‘bots’, ‘algorithms’ or even ‘AI'; pay attention. As educators, as citizens of the world, and as consumers, we are already benefitting from the value they provide. Gautam Narula, in his article Everyday Examples of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning offers insight into how much we are already depending upon artificial intelligence in our work as educators and in our personal lives. Spam filters, plagiarism checkers, mobile check deposits, fraud protection are just some of the ways AI is being used. We benefit from these technological advances daily.

For schools, often the focus is on how children misuse social media and do harm to one another. Name calling, embarrassing photos and rumors have done far more than cause disruption and hurt. There are cases where they been the cause of suicide.

The Nexus of Technology and Well-Being

Here is the nexus of technology and well-being. Here is where the concern begins and the responsibility for the future finds its way again into the hands of educators. Yes, there is more to the work teachers and leaders than graduation rates, test scores, and safety. Modeling ethical behavior, teaching the language of emotions, developing communication skills, encouraging creativity and critical thinking, and scaffolding the skills of collaboration and cooperation is soft side of the work of educators. Here is why it is more important now than ever.

The dangerous misuse of social media has finally caught the attention of educators. The response may be to discipline, punish, warn, and offer lessons and guidance. What cyber bullying does is make hidden behaviors, thoughts and feelings more visible. Once on the web, it takes on a life of its own that cannot be undone. Documentation exists that can’t be found when bullying happens sans the Internet, person to person, in momentary exchanges. The existence places in our hands the words of those hurting and those being hurt. Previously, when schools wanted to uncover these behaviors we were dependent upon children telling the truth about what they may have said or done. Social media presents the evidence. Schools get insight into the actions and, whether they want to know it or not, they are confronted with undeniable facts.

The Technology and the User

There are lessons to be learned from the cyber bullies. It is not the technology doing harm; it is the human using it. Social media itself is a neutral tool or capacity, its use for good or harm is in the hands of human beings at this point. There is no other institution in the country with the reach of public schools to touch all citizens and to impact the future. We have 13 years to model, teach, interact, respond, and inform ethical behavior, compassion, consideration, kindness, methods of expression of the most difficult and the most simple of emotions. Those who will be designing and expanding AI beyond what we can imagine is in our schools today. While we cannot teach the technology they will develop and use, we are forming the human beings who will be directing and using it. Perhaps, we ought to consider how important a function that is.

Cyberbullying is the cutting edge. We mean that in both ways. First, the effects of cyberbullying cut into recipients and leave scars that can last a lifetime. And, secondly, before all kinds of new forms of AI enter and control our lives, we need to resolve who we want to be as a people. But, be aware. We are learning right now that in our society there is not agreement about what cyberbullying even is.

The new FLOTUS has said she’ll take this on as her agenda in the White House. Before she can make a difference, though, she’ll need to learn a bit and maybe even walk in someone’s shoes. We don’t think the solution to cyberbullying is to punch back harder. It isn’t if you are being hurt, hurt someone else worse. Whoever leads in this field needs the right mix of outrage and of compassion. They need to set the standard of respect for all and teach it with authenticity. We may be wrong about Melania. Maybe she is the one who has seen cyberbullying up close and personal. Maybe when she walks in her own shoes, she’ll be exactly the one to offer a role model, to define cyberbullying for the country and to lead us into a more respectful time. But, if not, educational leaders, colleagues, it will be up to you, your community partners, parents and, yes, students. Our money is on you.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.