School Kids, Axe the Social Networking

For students, social networking sites have no educational value due to the inherently truncated, shallow nature of communication on them. Pro or con?

Pro: Facebook Isn’t a Learning Tool

The standardized hoops—such as Regents and SAT tests—through which today’s "successful" student must jump detract from time spent on meaningful learning and demand rote memorization. Children are encouraged to memorize poorly contextualized facts, instead of engaging deeply with texts, and to master "test-taking strategies," treating tests as games rather than as forums for the display of knowledge. Interestingly, the rising popularity of social networking sites among children mirrors and exacerbates these negative trends in public education.

Yes, Facebook could be used by children to share articles with educational and thought-provoking content. But the reality is that children are using Facebook to share homework and test answers, dropping their education through the cybercracks of a cheater’s paradise. Hence my agreement with the New Jersey middle school principal who recently made headlines when he decried the effects of Facebook on his students’ education and asked parents to forbid their children to use the social networking site.

Children are also using Facebook to exchange messages and play games with cyberfriends. As fourth grader Stan Boflovski explains on a recent episode of South Park, Facebook is great because "You can message your friends, play Yatzi …, even start your own virtual farm and have your friends visit it."

But Mafia Wars, online Yatzi, and other games played via Facebook have little to no educational value. Nor do idle messaging, texting, gossiping, and "cyber-bullying."

In the larger scheme of things, cyber-messaging threatens the maturation of real-life social skills. As a middle-schooler during the advent of the Internet, I myself experienced delusions of sociality, falsely believing that I was having meaningful interactions with friends online. In retrospect, these lacked the physical dynamics that breed healthy relationships.

Furthermore, virtual gaming robs children of developmentally important outdoor experiences. The obesity epidemic is only a gross manifestation of the more general need to get kids off chairs and couches and away from keyboards.

Con: Social Networking Breeds Sophisticated Skills

Is the content of social networking sites truncated? Of course. Shallow? Often. But human history is full of seminal tools that weren’t used to their fullest extent until they—and we—evolved. And we will evolve together as we learn to use these tools for a much greater good than they now seem capable of. The possibility of a few negative consequences to using the newest technology and innovation of today’s generation is not a reason to disregard its potential positive impact on the classroom.

Schools and teachers have always been expected to promote social skills among students, modeling how to collaborate, negotiate conflict, exchange information, and evaluate veracity. When used properly and developed with smart pedagogy, the principles of today’s social networking can be used to enhance and build on traditional classroom learning and develop 21st century skills that future employers and the world economy now consistently demand, such as technological proficiency, civic duty, communication, teamwork, cultural awareness, and financial literacy. Many of these skills can be taught and experienced through social networking and media, which can help teach students to challenge sloppy thinking in sharp but collaborative ways and reach conclusions quickly and without fuss in a hyperspeed workplace.

But just as we did when developing our children’s traditional social skills, educators and parents have an enhanced responsibility to monitor students’ use of these tools, setting guidelines and a model for proper behavior—and yes, even restricting use when it is abused. Just as we encouraged structured thinking and discouraged unproductive debate and bullying in face-to-face social networking, we now have to do the same in a virtual one. As we look for education resources and tools to help our country achieve Obama’s 2020 goals and develop a global workforce, we have to start taking advantage of social networking and stop ignoring it.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or Bloomberg LP.

Reader Comments

John Ittner

I have yet to see anything remotely resembling "sophisticated" communication from 95% of the correspondents on my Facebook home page. Worse, over half of the 'friends' whom I believe are capable of meaningful discourse revert to insipid subjects and horrible sentence structure. Only the organizational posts have any real substance. Worse, Facebook's terminology and structure are geared to a mindset that stalls at about age 13.

All Together

There's really nothing social or networking about being on the web instead of interacting face to face with people that are your friends or acquaintances. My vote would be to axe the so called "social networking" for school kids. Part of growing as a human being is being around others face to face and out in the world exploring real nature and/or farms if possible. If a child has time to go on to a social networking site for hours, then I would say they are lacking in a lot of other very important activities that lead to overall good personal growth as a person. Video games have led to obesity, and social networking sites will most likely lead to depression, anxiety, and sickness. I guess in one aspect it would good to have them home on their computers. Who'd want to be face to face around those kids? IMHO

Ahmad Kamal

Social networking sites, Internet, or even the computer are, in their own way, neither divine nor evil. It's how the user decides to make use of it. The viewpoints of both the writers' are correct, and instead of picking a winner, let's look at the whole picture of reality and possibilities. Therefore, the social networking sites should not be axed or made a culprit in any way. Instead, like all media, they should be monitored. We should explore ways to use them constructively.

Sally Dunn

I can see both sides of this well articulated debate. Facebook and the like are potentially useful learning tools, but meanwhile, they are very distracting, especially for students whose parents may be working full time and unable to provide the guidance and supervision necessary.

Rich

The problem isn't Facebook. The problem is the educational system's seriously misplaced priorities that demand rote memorization. Additionally, trying to keep kids "away from keyboards" makes about as much sense as trying to stop the wind from blowing by holding up your hand.

Typical Facebook User

LOL at online social networking. Facebook is for parties.

hg

How do Facebook activities differ from a phone use in promoting intelligence?
Nobody debates if the kids (and perheps adults, too) should chat for hours on their phones (cellular or otherwise) discussing pure nothings with their buddies.
The discussion levels stall at the age 13 sophistication only because humans who are a bit more mature find more productive ways to spend their time.
I think that technology plays an incredibly small role in development of a person's mind. Einstein came up with his theory without any computers after all.
All technology does is make whatever we want to do more time efficient--either research or blubbing or reading. So the kids must learn time management and do their homework before they waste the rest of their time communicating pure nothings with each other.

Muhammad Masyur

Facebook is like a tool--a knife for example, that can be used for any other purposes. It depends on the users themselves. If we use it for killing anyone, then it's dangerous. but if it's used for cutting onions or something like that, then it's very useful.

Blair

I am a Facebook user and the father of seven, and I have yet to find a single instance of social networking--including chat and texting-that promotes good grammar, sentence structure, language, spelling, or interpersonal communication skills. It isn't doing our kids any good right now.

Social networking is entertainment, pure and simple. When someone comes up with a way to turn it into something productive, I'll buy the line that it is the next wave in instruction techniques. Until that happens, however, all I see are teenagers and middle-school kids with their faces glued to a hand-held device that have no idea how to ride bikes or have meaningful face-to-face interactions with others.

Stephen Stofflet

I agree that it is incumbent upon the user of these sites to determine their value. However; they are not going away--and perhaps a more constructive approach would be to provide instruction on how to incorporate them efficiently and responsibly.

One must learn how to utilize something before one can evaluate its effectiveness.

Bill Currence

I, for one, keep my younger kids off of it. My oldest son 18-years old, only abuses it and the site adds no value for kids unless they have discipline.

PAUL McGraw

Facebook and Twitter have no educational value and it has made kids of today rude and uncaring. I'm old fashioned and would rather talk to someone face to face. Or over the phone, not some tiny typewriter.

Randy Poliho

Seen too many instances where abused by children and young adults. Facebook is great for mature users. Not for persons who haven't developed a sense of impulse control. That being said, check out www.openbook.org , which exposes adult FB faux pas.

Chris M

I'm in the Gen X-er age-range, so I didn't grow up an internet-age child (probably a good thing). My observation: Once in your 20s-30s, your free time diminishes rapidly--family, work, college, and maybe a hobby are the only things you have time for. Kids will eventually grow out of this social networking phase. Much like the saying about the deathbed workaholic wishing they'd spent more time at the office, don't think anybody would say, "Gee, I wish I had spent more of my life building my virtual farm, playing mafia wars, etc."

DanTe

So you're saying MBA diploma mills are bad. Because that is exactly what you're describing.

Anony

I've seen very small kids wasting time on Facebook. It's like an addiction. They play games, they share photos, they do whatever they can. I've even seen big mature guys uploading photos which don't really mean anything.

Facebook is entertainment site, but I guess it's gone out of control, with employers complaining that employees spend lot of time on Facebook.

And people complain that students spend lot of time on Facebook (that is a time waste).

Computers can be used in a good and educational way, but Facebook I don't think is educational; it's time waste.

If we seriously ask ourselves, from child to mature adults, what do we actually do on Facebook? I assume will know the answer; 95% of the time, we waste time.

Vaisakh

I think the whole idea of social networking is to find and/or keep in touch with friends and family. That is the basic purpose of social networking. Yes, it is true that more and more children are getting addicted to Facebook, etc. as they get addicted to PC games such as counter strike. However, comparing it with or trying to understand what educational benefit a child can get from it is stretching the definition of social netwroking sites (SNS) a little too far. At the same time, one cannot take away the kind of benefits one can get from SNS in terms of meeting people and getting things done online. I agree there are shortfalls, but that shouldn't over-shadow its benefits. If kids get "addicted" they ought to get proper guidance from their parents, and not every kid can be expected to think rationally. Therefore I do not think SNS are a waste of time. They are a value-added service to human communication that runs parallel to any other means of online service that benefits us educationally and monetarily.

Honestly

So-called social networking is little more than tricked out blogging. What's not to like? If small-minded souls spend their time demonstrating their stupidity on Facebook, that's their problem. I personally use it to keep people informed of upcoming events, and that literally drives business. If children are wasting their time sinking into Facebook oblivion, then hopefully they'll be lucky enough to have parents that are aware enough and care enough to bail them out and push their tubby behinds out onto the soccer field. If not, then those kids will lose, just like lazy uneducated types always have.

mike

Let's not rush to false conclusions. Growing up without internet was because there was no internet. Growing up with Facebook is possible because it is out there. Every generation grows in a different environment. Axing it would be as stupid as prohibition. Parents that are not able to understand they grew up in different environment and the next generation will grow up in a completely different conditions should refrain from taking sides. Some of us enjoyed going out and dancing tango, others Beatles, the hippy era, and so on. The kids today enjoy Facebook and twitter and so on but go to parties, clubs, and so on. As for playing outside maybe we should clean the streets before advising them to do so! Maybe we as parents should stand more determined for axing guns first and then internet and Facebook. Let's face it: Prohibition is a good example of what can be achieved by forbidding.

Christine

It doesn't matter which way you look at it, socialising over a computer screen instead of face to face isn't natural. It doesn't let children mature with social interaction with their peers or learn respect when dealing with elders. It doesn't set any standards for kids out there at all--except that anything goes! Schools don't seem to have that ability to make a child shiver in their shoes anymore if they haven't bothered to do their homework, so guess who the onus is on now--the parents of course. Naturally, they are probably both working to meet the economy and the last thing they need is Johnny coming home and jumping on the computer. I don't know if anybody is noticing but it is one thing to speak slang amongst your friends but quite another to be in the habit of writing it with constant texting, etc. Once upon a time shorthand was an art studied to become an efficient secretary. As the mother of a twelve-year-old girl I constantly wish that she could have the same sort of upbringing that I did, but this does not seem possible.

tanmay

Excess of everything is bad.

Rob

Of course the guy from McGraw-Hill School Education Group is going to take a negative tack. Social networking is part of the new social/economic paradigm in which a traditional liberal arts education is not only obsolete; it may actually reduce a student's capacity to succeed economically. Most of the negative comments in the blog are essentially hand-wringing nostalgia for a time when literature-based language was accepted as "important" rather than the functional flexibility of globish, the new global media-based English that is replacing the old form, just as the Web has replaced books. In the contemporary world, and that of the future, the ability to find information that is useful, then discard it after its function has been served is far more important than the "museum of knowledge" model of the past. The opinion of the "trusted network" of peers in a social network site is a far more relevant source of knowledge than some teacher or professor who may be totally out of touch with the real world. Academics have become shamen, not life helpers, in that we keep telling students they "need" the old knowledge and values we are preaching, rather than admitting that what we tell them is for our benefit and our self-reinforcement rather than any economic or social benefit to the student's lives. In student's attachment to social networking over studying, we are simply seeing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in action. They are concerned with their lower level needs, social and economic, and we are trying to convince them that higher level needs are more important. Offer them programs directly geared to produce economic success and toss out the excess humanities stuff and they will devote the necessary time to study.

Mary Biever

I teach students how to use social media well--some are high schoolers, some college, many are business.

Not all the sailors on the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria had perfect grammar. But they still sailed to a new world. Those of the world is flat society still missed the boat.

Social media done well can transform a classroom into a real-time vehicle to learn from the greatest minds on a planet. It can--if we're smart enough to use it well--and teach our kids to do the same.

erin

This debate over whether or not social networking is beneficial or detrimental to society may never reach a universal understanding. All we know is that it has happened, and is being used through out the entire world. Whether or not social networking is increasing one's ability to learn and progress as an individual, however, others suggest that it is halting face-to-face communication, promoting obesity, and causing linguistic issues. This argument seems persuasive each way, and we probably will never come to a complete conclusion whether or not it is a pro or con to our society. I must say that I agree with the statement the lack of speaking face to face is just not natural. Nor is sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. Social networking can be extremely useful--if used correctly. It can be highly toxic if used incorrectly, such as the example of using the sites to pass on test answers or talk badly publicly about another person. As technology continues to increase, schools must stay updated with them (primarily middle school and high school) or else when the child is asked to preform tasks using updated technology, they may be completely lost. The world of social networking has already been born, and we must embrace it and work with it, because it cannot be undone.

Professor H. G. Miller

1. Purpose
2. Preparation
3. Agreement
Are three important elements used to create meaningful content. If you are looking for entertainment, social media will fill that need. If you are looking for meaning, you have to ask the right questions in the best search engines.

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