#Ageism Stifles Freedom of Speech

“you only live once (:”

Rebelling against the irrelevant standardized test he was forced to take, Kyron Birdine, a Texas high school junior, wrote in the essay section: “I have the TAKS test to study for, not this unneeded craziness,” then “YOLO” (you only live once) and a smiley face. He photographed his response and tweeted it to the Arlington Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency.

His reply? A written statement by the Arlington ISD: “Today there was an incident with a student tweeting a picture of an answer booklet for a STAAR field test. We have made an initial report of the incident to TEA and will continue to investigate further.” Kyron was suspended for 4 days.

I can’t help but place this story in context with the now yawn-inducing lineup of teachers I meet who complain about “young people these days” that only know how to search Google and copy/paste from Wikipedia. I do believe young people should become critically media literate, identify and cite reliable sources, and reflect on media culture and messaging, but are the adults in their lives who still have trouble saying “Twitter” without a sneer really in a position to teach them that? What makes the nightly news or a .edu website receiving corporate funding more reliable than real-time reporting by youth themselves? The answers to those questions reveal one’s opinions on power, dominance, and legitimate knowledge.

It is no coincidence that Kyron is a black male youth in a school climate that routinely teaches to the test — standardized tests that inherently rely on technology to reduce students to 1s and 0s of code, rather than individuals with creativity, protest, and possibilities flowing through their veins. A recent Education Week article by Curtis Chandler critiques this pessimistic view of youth, highlighting ways technology can be used to foster creativity and collaboration. While many educators are still figuring out how to change their Facebook profile picture, young people have moved on, blurring the lines between virtual and reality.

Students I work with post their Challenge-Based Learning solutions and reflections on Google Sites, create digital portfolios on Tumblr directly from their phones for environmental service projects, produce short films uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo, and work in teams, leveraging social media to engage with their communities. It is my responsibility as an educator to respect and value the ideas of my students, whether they are written on paper or posted on a screen.

What I have found so amazing about Twitter, despite its contrived brevity, is the ability to communicate so directly with people and institutions. An email nowadays is like a letter lost at sea — but a tweet cuts right through bureaucracy, public for all the world to handle. Kyron Birdine didn’t just take a picture and send it to his friends, he tweeted it at two of the most opaque institutions dominating his life right now — and got an immediate response.

Video on Huffington Post
Video on Huffington Post

This continued bias against the ways young people communicate and move through the world is officially outdated. It’s our turn to put the power of media in students’ hands and trust their brilliance. If we do, the next time we log onto Twitter we might just be receiving their latest homework assignment. #FreeKyron

Read the story on Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. This article was originally written for Teaching Tolerance on April 4, 2013.

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