Friday, January 10, 2014

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

I recently read an article via Twitter about how educators are concerned about kids in Colorado beginning to use marijuana at a young age. As most know, Colorado has legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older with limits on how much you can grow and carry. While I do think that the accessibility and acceptability of recreational marijuana will probably increase in use from citizens of Colorado, there lies an important lesson for young people to understand: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!

Every day most of us are given countless opportunities to make choices for ourselves. These choices are affected by many factors such as context, morality, values, and background. In elementary school, students encounter somewhat harmless decisions like:

Should I play games on my computer instead of writing my narrative?

Should I throw this ball on the roof so that no one can play wall-ball anymore?

Should I go tell on my friend for calling me a name, even though I called her one first?

Ideally, a student would reflect and say to themselves: “I could do this, but I shouldn’t.” You might call this having a conscience.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. The ability or capacity to do something does not mean entitlement to do it. As an elementary teacher, I attempt to instill this mentality into students while they are still learning appropriate social behaviors. Almost daily, I help mediate conversation between students who are “being mean” to each other or are having “friend-problems.” My suggestions to students are to encourage them see how his or her actions have affected the other person, whether intentional or unintentional.

Ultimately, my goal is to increase the student’s consciousness. Consciousness of how his/her actions are impacting others, consciousness of the environment where they work and live, and most of all the consciousness of choices. Developing consciousness is the task of both parents and teachers and is an essential skill for all people and begins with awareness. People who are aware ask themselves the question, “How are my actions/choices/decisions affecting the way people see me and I see myself.”

As we get older, decisions become more difficult because the stakes are higher and may shape our lives and the lives of those around us.

Should I send that Snapchat?

Should I start smoking marijuana now that it’s legal?

Ideally the response would be the same as expected from ten-year olds: “I could do this, but I shouldn’t.”

It seems like almost weekly there is another athlete, politician, or celebrity in the media for inappropriate tweets or Facebook posts. I often wish I could ask them, “Was that necessary?” or “Are you aware of how this might negatively affect you or the people around you?” I am not naive however, some people take great joy in creating a stir in the media. Yet, most inappropriate tweets are examples of a lack of awareness. There are many lessons from these situations, one being that more so than any time in history, everyone has an audience. Social media allows everyone the opportunity to share. Since everyone has a platform, the need for consciousness is even more vital than ever. Preventative measures are always more effective than reactionary measures. Teaching students to reflect and become more aware is a preventative social measure.

In education, teachers stress the importance of 21st century skills. They are the skills that allow students to apply critical thinking, information literacy, collaboration, self-direction and invention to all contexts. This is all an attempt to increase a student’s awareness and consciousness. The goal of a quality educator is to see students leave his classroom with a better understanding of the world, themselves and how to navigate the world. In other words, we want students to take control of their own learning and be able to independently know when to enact the, “I can, and I should” mentality and just as importantly the, “I could, but I shouldn't” mentality when making choices.

My hope is that students are people who are awake and alive to the world around them.

-Kevin Watanabe

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