If you follow my Tumblr, you know that I have a reaaaal interesting MO for it: I can legit go months without posting anything, without really reading Tumblr, but then every so often I’ll sit down and spend legit hours just catching up on people’s blogs and redoing my layout and reblogging like crazy. (Today is one of those days.) Part of it is that it can be addicting, just like World of Warcraft–so I limit my consumption to moments where I have a lot of time, like Shabbat. But part of it is also what I find most powerful about it: it is a place for millions of (often young) people to exchange ideas.
Because of this, people are recognizing the power of Tumblr. News outlets and other companies are looking to Tumblr and its uses to expand their brands. The platform is visual, and the highly social aspect of it means that it is easy for things to go viral. After all, it only takes a couple of clicks to reblog something for the world to see! But there is, of course, a flipside to this–the other reason I tend to limit my time on it. Because it is so easy for word to spread on Tumblr, hoaxes that would have previously taken months to carry out can happen in a matter of hours. For every reblog that has encouraging comments, there are often several that have negative comments. Tumblr is a great place for people fighting inequality to communicate and educate–but it is also a great place for us to be derisively labeled “social justice warriors” and even be (temporarily) threatened off the Internet.
It is that last point that is on my mind. While educators have begun looking at Tumblr as a tool, mostly to have content for their students, I believe that Tumblr’s social structure can also make it a powerful teaching tool. I’ve had several conversations with students who tell me that their understanding of privilege and feminism comes from the Internet, particularly from Tumblr–and if educators took the time to reference Tumblr, to go through it and educate themselves too, to connect with students over it? It could make class more engaging and open more doors for the difficult and often painful conversations that we have with students. (Or at least I do.) Because when exposed to other perspectives, when allowed to have relationships with people who are different from them, when empowered to see oppressed peoples as people? Our youth can do and say some really amazing things. And, while some people might say that’s not in my job description, my business card says bilingual educator on it and I don’t think that refers to just the classroom. And because, as I said in a paper I wrote for grad school recently:
[Educator] Ambrizeth Lima is quoted by Sonia Nieto (2010) as saying, “Teaching is always about power. That is why it must also be about social justice… I teach because I believe that young people have rights, including the right to their identities and their languages” (p. 237). She goes on to ask, “Is it morally right for me, as a teacher, to witness injustice toward students and remain quiet?” (ibid.). So, as much as we want to protect our students from the harsh realities of the world, to do so is, in Nieto’s own words, a disservice. In a time like today, where so many cases of racism are being brought to light, it is educators’ responsibility to make sure that they are addressing these issues in class whenever possible—and that they have prepared a safe space in their classrooms to have these difficult discussions in a respectful and productive way.
Therefore, I am committed to educating my students not only in grammar and literature and writing, but in communicating and evolving and reforming. I am preparing them for “post-secondary success,” for college and career as CPS loves to say–and none of those things happens in a vacuum. Even now, and certainly when they leave high school, students will be interacting with the real world, with people outside of themselves–and I would be remiss if my students left the classroom unprepared and unaware of the inequality and injustice that they will at times face. So my hope is that other educators will see the value in a platform like Tumblr and either integrate some of it into their classrooms or interact with students through it in order to put more messages out there that combat ignorance.
Which is making me wonder if I should be cross-posting to Tumblr when I write about these things…