Would We be Talking about Digital Citizenship if We Were…

I received an email the other day from ISTE, asking me to complete a survey to assist the National Council for Digital Citizenship in creating a shared definition for — digital citizenship. Even though I whole-heartedly commend and recommend the work of Mike Ribble and others in describing and creating practical frameworks for helping learners develop responsible behaviors over the Internet, the term Digital Citizenship has always puzzled me.

I tried filling in the survey, but found that my status as an independent and a lack of “Not Applicable” options on the form rendered my input unacceptable. But the experience prompted me to go to my (digital) dictionary and look up citizenship. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, a citizen is

a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized.

Reading on, I learned that the word comes from Middle English, deriving out of the Anglo-Norman French term, citezein, coming from the Old French citeain, based on the Latin civitas, or city.  This conveys to me a sense of place and of belonging to that place, either by birth or by earning.

I don’t want to fuss over the old ground of native versus immigrant.  But I wonder from which perspective citizenship needs the most defining?  As a check, I downloaded the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.  In the last paragraph of the introduction is written,

They (students) reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic.

Nowhere else in the 66-page document does the word citizenship appear.  Of course many have used better words than mine to point out the omission of citizenship and the pursuit of personal fulfillment in the current and influence-weighted conversations about education reform in its drive toward better college students and more effective workers.  So why do we need digital citizenship?

I guess that digital citizenship irks me because of my shame.  We need to champion concerted efforts to define and teach our students to be digital citizens because we’re not.

As a society, we have failed to recognize the crucial educational implications of the incredible shifts that ICT (Information & Communication Technologies) has provoked in recent decades.

As politicians, we have shrunk from our responsiblities to provide for our children, eagerly trading leadership for partisan gamesmanship.

As educators, we have grown less confident, more complacent, and just plain meek, when we should have been insightful and bold.

Much is made of our falling behind the Chinese and the Finns and behind our digital native children. But the real shame is that in working to prepare our children for their future, we have fallen so pathetically far behind our own times.