Civility and Cybercivility in Schools: Two Updates

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.comdevelop 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.

Civility Linkblogging: Hockey, High School, College, and on TV

By Anita Pratanti, via flickr

This post is part of an ongoing series that highlights discourse about civility from around the Web. We glean the links in this segment from as broad a cross-section as we can manage of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and other online venues, from the United States and around the world.

This week’s segment focuses in part on educational settings: the administration and culture, and the classrooms, of high schools and colleges across the country. Here, we catch a glimpse of the fraught world of curriculum changes in New York State; we see a call for civility among students at Brigham Young University and beyond; and we see the continuing impact of what happens when bullying moves online.

But this week’s segment offers more than just the three Rs. One columnist calls for civility — in the style of the NHL. While another makes the important point that politicians cannot compromise as long as we expect our elected officials to tell us only what we want to hear.

If you have an article that you think would be right for future civility linkblogging posts, please do not hesitate to email it to us at [email protected] Include the title, url, and a short summary, and we will gladly review it for publication.

Now — the list:

In Support of Respect and Civility
Posted by Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers at Education Week, October 13, 2013

Classroom by classroom, school by school, district by district, state by state, we are out of time. Pure and simple…we may resent it but it is true. Our best intentions no longer count for data. It is not because a federal or state government told us so; it is because our own moral, ethical compass tells us that there are many children we are failing. It is the system’s fault. We are part of the system. We all suffer if it doesn’t change.

Commissioners have jobs to do and so do we. We will accomplish nothing without respect for each other and civility in our interactions. Remember in this, too, we are teaching the children.

Opinion-Politics Turn Civility to Mediocre Sport
Posted at The Collegian, October 14, 2013

People were quick to call the government shutdown childish, but they aren’t acknowledging the part they played in this mess. If our representatives are bratty kids, it’s our fault for encouraging bad behavior.

Politicians specialize in telling people what they want to hear. Today, however, the political climate is incredibly hostile thanks to a vicious cycle of straw-man arguments, finger-pointing and name-calling.

Let’s Lift Our Civility to That of Hockey Players
Posted by Bruce Falk at The Tri-State Neighbor, October 17, 2013

I’ve heard lots of talk lately lamenting the loss of the ability to compromise in our society, and I agree with most of it. But the problem runs deeper than that; even when events finally run their course and decisions get made without a spirit of compromise, there’s a distinct refusal to accept defeat and move on to the next thing. Instead, we throw all sense of dignity to the wind and keep returning to the decided issue, trying to make it undecided again. If this were to occur in hockey, each best-of-seven playoff series would become a best-of-nine, then 11, and so on.

But, no, after each series has been decided in the previously agreed-upon manner, our hockey heroes simply line up, shake hands, wish each other well and move on to the next series or the next season.

If only the rest of us could be so civil.

Invitation to a Dialogue: Bring Back Civility
Posted by Mitch Horowitz at The New York Times, October 22, 2013

We are not built to like everyone, but we are built to behave civilly. We need to reinforce this message in schools, homes and sports programs, and within the worlds of digital culture and commerce.

Teenagers — and adults — must be called out on excessive sarcasm, bilious remarks, soft bullying and anything that denigrates another individual.

Humiliation is not entertainment. Whether it’s a shock jock, a coarse reality-TV show, an obnoxious song or a shout-fest on political TV: turn it off.

Our Fading Civility
Posted by Mark Ogletree at The Digital Universe, October 22, 2013

One of my students recently told me that on the day BYU played Utah, he and his brother had waited in line for several hours to secure great seats in the student section. However, when the gates finally opened, mote than 50 students cut in front of those who had waited for so long to get in.

To be uncivil is to be so selfish that you are completely oblivious to other people and their needs. It is to say, “I really don’t care about anyone else but me.”