Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 aims to ensure inclusive, equitable, and high quality education for all. We have the pleasure of supporting and publishing authors whose research investigates and highlights innovative approaches towards this end.
In the recently published Open Access monograph Social Media for Civics Education, Amy Chapman explores how social media might be used to connect civics students to their communities and beyond. In this interview, she discusses this work, how research impacts society, and the kind of progress she wants to see towards equitable and inclusive education.
Social media has this great power to connect, to disrupt, and to harm. I had seen this as a user, and then as an educator, starting to use social media for and with my students. I began working with one of the most prominent social media researchers in the field of education, and it became clear that while we knew social media had this great impact on kids and adults, and that it had impacts on the community, we didn’t know how teachers were teaching with it very well. This was particularly true in the area of civic education. As a former history teacher who has always cared about how we support students into becoming civic actors, I started researching how teachers might use social media for civic education because I saw how much potential power there could be– for students and teachers. At the same time, I wondered how teachers were teaching with and about social media in civics. Social media clearly operates in the civic sphere. How are we teaching kids how to live with that reality, and how to use social media proactively and intentionally for good?
What surprised me most in this research has been how enthusiastic teachers have been about using social media in civic education, even when some of their ideas and approaches have not worked out as they had planned. There is this deep well of optimism that kids can change the world, and social media would be one tool in their arsenal to do that– so the teachers see it as their responsibility to teach the kids about it. More than that, there is an element of authorizing students to be civic actors and recognizing that they are already members of the community who impact civic life. For these teachers, civic education is not about preparing students to be citizens in the future. It is about affirming that they are already valuable members of the community who have an important role to play. That’s very different than what we see in the literature as the way most civic education is framed and taught.
Research impacts society in a number of ways, but primarily it gives us a snapshot of where we are and a rough roadmap of where we could go. The phrase “knowledge is power” comes to mind: we know a bit more about how the world works, or about humanity’s experience of life, because of research, and then we can make informed decisions about how to maintain or change it. Sometimes research tells us we are doing very well; sometimes it points to a gap; sometimes it gives us ideas about ways to do something better. A professor of mine in my teacher education program once told me that, as a teacher, you want as many tools in your toolbelt as you can have, to reach as many kids as possible. There is no silver bullet in education, no one thing that will fix all of the issues, support all of the kids, make everything right. Education itself is the silver bullet. Teachers need every resource and tool they can have to support and challenge every student. To me, that’s the importance of education research and my research specifically: it is one other way in which teachers can support learning. My research is somewhat timely in this regard, in that while social media is not new, hearing teachers’ perspectives on how they teach with it (as opposed to how they learn from it or interact with it) is not that common.
Equity is when everyone has what they need to participate equally; inclusion is when all are truly welcome, wanted, and there is space for them at the table. Creating an inclusive and equitable learning environment takes thought, flexibility, and resources. It requires listening to people who have been or are being excluded– historically or in the moment– and believing what they are telling you. It also may involve changing what education looks like. It certainly has to mean that everyone has equal access to learning, acknowledging that for some that might mean providing meals, clothing, supplies, or ensuring that kids are safe.
For instance, my own discipline was history. Everyone and everything has a history, but we disproportionately talk and teach about white men, the formation of nation-states, wars, victories, and seismic shifts in culture. However, there is only so much time in the school year, teachers usually do not have a choice of textbooks or have limited access to other educational materials, and there often are rigid standards in place for what needs to be covered in a year. What if we gave teachers the freedom not only to expand upon the frameworks or curriculum standards, but also the time to research the stories that are not in the textbooks, and then resources to create lessons and experiences that include those voices that often go unheard?
It is absolutely possible to see each part of history through multiple perspectives, and how much better would we all be if we did? Instead of studying the American Revolution only from the point of the lead up to the fight for independence, the Continental Congress, the battles, the strategy, what if through all of that we were attentive to the experiences of women, enslaved people, Indigenous folx, children? There is no reason that we cannot celebrate American Independence while also acknowledging the patriots who often go unnamed and unrecognized and hearing the stories of those for whom the American Revolution did not mean freedom. The American experiment is still unfolding, and students are a part of that on-going co-creation of the United States. How much more inclusive would that classroom feel if every person in it felt represented by the curriculum, included in America’s history, and part of the good that is to come?
This is also true worldwide. Some of the places I have lived outside of the U.S. have similar challenges to equitable and inclusive education, and in some places those challenges look slightly different. In all cases I think it’s about knowing your students and your community, knowing what is needed so that everyone has a seat (at the table and in the classroom), and then working to make sure that remains true.
Amy L. Chapman is Director of the Collaborative for Spirituality in Education and a Fellow in the Clinical and Counseling Psychology Department at Teachers College, Columbia University, USA. Her research interests lie at the intersection of social media, social studies, and social justice, with a particular concern for vulnerable and marginalized students.