In December of 2013, Joshua Starr, superintendent of schools for Montgomery County, Maryland, faced a distinctly uncivil snow-day situation online. According to Washington D.C.’s NBC 4, as the weather worsened and as he decided whether or not to cancel school he began receiving tweets from students that ranged from snarky to “offensive and disturbing.”
According to NBC, Starr said that some of these tweets were clever, funny, and respectful, pleading for me to cancel school so they could sleep in or have more time to do their homework. But not all. They also included rampant use of racial epithets and curse words, and threats to himself and to his family.
In response, Starr wrote a letter to parents calling for a renewed conversation about how we can support our children in using technology in a way that is healthy, productive, and positive. We need, he said, to talk about “cybercivility”: how we can help our children grow into responsible and caring adults who interact with one another in a civil, respectful way. And he directed his staff to develop some materials and methods to help schools and families navigate these conversations.
In 2014, it seems, Joshua Starr has leveraged his experience to take matters one step further in a constructive direction. In this February 19 interview on D.C.’s Fox 5 news, he speaks with reporters about the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Cybercivility Task Force — a new initiative that will — according to mymcmedia.com — develop strategies to raise awareness of the need for cybercivility in how MCPS students and adults communicate online, and guide the creation of tools for schools, parents and community members that encourage conversations about cybercivility.
The goal, Starr says, is to teach our kids to behave online in the same way we expect them to comport themselves in public… Just like we expect our kids to say please and thank you, and all that, we want them to act the same on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever else they are socially engaged on the internet.
You can find out more about the Montgomery County Public Schools’ Cybercivility Task Force by clicking here.
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In the meantime, New Hampshire Public Radio has this short interview with Malcolm Smith, professor in the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Education and founder of the Courage to Care Program, a curriculum aimed at encouraging empathy and civility among middle school students. Like Joshua Starr, he talks about the importance of training students in civility as a bulwark against bullying. And as part of teacher training, he has been instructing nascent educators in techniques that do just that.