This campaign isn’t like high school

This week I had a chance to talk to some high school kids in the area. They are part of a business class, where I came to talk about using Twitter and other social media tools. I had given this presentation before to previous classes for the past several years, so I wasn’t really focused on the events of the presidential campaign and how current they would be in this context. And I found our discussions quite interesting, but not in the way you might think.

I was actually surprised to the mature responses from the kids. Many of the students thought that some of things being said on social media and on TV about the campaigns were certainly entertaining, but they thought the candidates weren’t acting appropriately. I made the comment that many of the students seemed more mature in their reactions compared to what the candidates Tweeted and posted, and there were nods all around the room.

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Their teacher was also surprised by their responses. “Maybe the kids are more interested in the presidential election this year, because it is racier. But I am also shocked that both candidates’ PR teams allow these kinds and levels of responses. I think this election will be in many studies as an example of what NOT to do,” said this teacher. “I wonder what would have happened if we had social media during the Watergate scandal?”

The class is pretty tech savvy: the kids use Twitter, Slack, Instagram and LinkedIn to communicate with each other and with their teachers, and are encouraged to do so. “It is expected that we use social media more,” said their teacher. I was surprised that many of the kids weren’t really facile with Twitter, and I guess that was one of the reasons why I was there, to help them understand how to use it more effectively.

Their teacher has been teaching for decades, and recalls what happened during class when 9/11 happened. “We watched the event live during class on TV. Later, our principal was getting phone calls from parents complaining about my decision. And this was from parents of 17 and 18 year olds. That was crazy. These kids could be drafted!”

I mentioned that during the last couple of debates, parents were posting thoughts about not letting younger kids watch the debates. “In our community, parents do shelter their kids from the news. We are definitely living in a different world politically, and I think this campaign amounts to one big negative political ad that is running continuously. It is like a long version of a TMZ episode that is embarrassing to our nation. Not sure if I know what the true issues are anymore.”

One issue for this and other teachers: using social media is a tricky situation. Last year, a local special ed teacher was suspended for several days after her profanity-laced tweets got her into trouble with the school district. And there are numerous other examples of other teachers who have gotten in trouble over their tweets, which seem tame now compared to what the candidates say about each other lately. Teaching is a tough enough job already — my mother was a special ed teacher for decades — but having to navigate these waters now has to be done with care.

Still, I thought it instructive with all the “locker room talk” and “boys being boys” — at least when it came to this high school class — the kids took the higher road. Maybe there is something we can learn from this to improve our supposedly “adult” discourse.

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