Alec Couros’ post on digital citizenship makes some valid points, but I’m not convinced that a few examples of really vile content and lazy practice are reasons to think that the concept of citizenship is in some way fundamentally shifting. But I also don’t fall all the way to the Tom Hoffman side of the fence that says citizenship is little more than what many (though not Tom) would call information literacy.

What rings most true, however, was Stephen Downes’ comment about Tom’s post where he says, simply,

The vile content – and it most certainly is vile – is neither new nor original. And it’s not the kids that are creating it.

The fact is that we have been conditioned to see the worst at the expense of the best, primarily by a media that is always on the lookout for the lewdest, awfulest, stupidist behavior of our cultural icons. A media that then inculcates a connection between crass insignificance and news. And, perhaps to that extent at least, Tom is right. If we teach ourselves and our kids to simply stop and use these “five habits of using one’s mind well,” we’ll get a long way down the citizenship road.

  1. How do we know what’s true or not true? How credible is our evidence?
  2. Is there an alternate story? Perspective? How might this look from another viewpoint?
  3. Is there a connection between x and y? A pattern? Have I come across this before?
  4. What if… supposing that…? Could it have been otherwise if x not y had intervened?
  5. And finally, “who cares”? Does it matter? (And, perhaps, to whom?)

Especially the last one.

But I also believe that citizenship suggests more than critical thinking. It requires participation and action. It requires contribution. And the ways in which even our kids can contribute in this environment and the global scale those contributions now have do change the equation. And most importantly, let’s not forget that a lot of kids are creating and contributing and participating in ways that should make us very proud. For instance:

A ten-year old girl in upstate New York who starts a blog Twenty Five Days to Make a Difference that in just a week’s time has caught the interest of a whole bunch of kids from around the world who want to make a difference too.

Or the imminent launch of a network of student bloggers from around the world:

Students 2.0 Launch Teaser from Sean on Vimeo.

Or, though it’s not directly related to kids, the uber alternative to vile (religious music aside):

(Add your own examples below…)

Point is, there is a lot of good stuff out there too. And not that that fact is new or original, but there are a lot of kids who are doing it, and in the process, learning citizenship. And at the end of the day, if we really want to help our kids become good citizens themselves, the best we can do is to use our own minds well and model our own participation wherever and whenever we can.