(Photo illustration by Ellie Kaiser)
Arnold O. Beckman High School

Column: Online activism creates new forms of education

Being stuck at home is a shared strife amongst students of all ages. This environmental shift has impeded upon academic routines, engaging learning environments, and the relationship between a student and teacher.

Alas, amongst all this confusion, there has been one form of educational experience that has grown immensely: productive discussion. After tragedy struck Minnesota with the painstaking death of George Floyd, millions of young hearts have been set ablaze in support of Black Lives Matter. By using social media as a vehicle for change, 2020’s young people have proven their power to be — quite literally — virtually infinite.

As such, there now lies bittersweet irony in the realm of education. Although the quality of actual class has declined, the vastness of student political interest has ubiquitously triggered an understanding of current events, fruitful debate, and a heightened sense of empathy.

In turn, this begs the questions: what does education really mean? Are social issues better evaluated through impassioned internet conversations or textbooks?

Young activists have an answer: both.

 Column: Online activism creates new forms of education
Thanks to Instagram publicity, protests at Irvine City Hall gained huge in-person support. (Photo courtesy of Carina Vo-Ta)

“Hearing about [black oppression] directly from people who’ve struggled… is so much more beneficial than a teacher telling us about it secondhand,” Mandy Sharma, a freshman at UC Berkeley said. “Education is a broad spectrum that can’t be confined to the classroom…it’s consuming information through all outlets.”

Many students like Mandy have taken to online platforms to constructively engage with others. With almost unlimited access to resources and messaging, users can easily educate themselves and their peers.

Alternatively, it’s widely acknowledged that performative activism, fake news, and plain ignorance all harm social progress. Teresa Watanabe, an education reporter for the L.A. Times, evaluated the pros and cons in an email interview.

“Information…can be…deliberately distorted, often for political reasons,” she warns. Yet, “Social media can be an extremely powerful tool…Imagine listening to a lecture about a murder of an unarmed black man…versus actually [watching] the video footage, looking at protesters marching and chanting, seeing and feeling all of this in real time,” Watanabe said in an email.

With these points considered, it’s evident that productive social media use entails integrating some forms of traditional education. When formulating beliefs, one should approach Internet sources with a level of wariness that matches that of, for example, writing a graded essay. However, there is clearly a level of decisiveness and individualism to this process that a structured course lacks.

Wismick Saint-Jean, a senior at Beckman High School, sees appeal in this vantage point.

“When we’re having these conversations online, people are forced to pay attention,” he said. “We’re getting a lot closer to the heart of what education should be…a growth, where you’re looking inside yourself, challenging something, and deciding if you want to [believe] it. Not just accepting something as true.”

In essence, while the classroom presses for concrete fact and method, social media creates unregulated forums. When using the latter, the time-consuming process of creating an informed opinion instills in oneself a sense of duty, passion, and acceptance.

These emotions are the cornerstones of making change — they tug greatly on the heartstrings of all, whether or not the beholder is directly involved in the Internet’s symposium.

Cassidy Chung, a senior at Beckman High School, believes that partaking in online platforms diversifies opinions and encourages understanding.

“If you give kids the opportunity to voice an opinion and teach them that you can coexist with people who don’t … agree with you, they can … have a better sense of fighting for justice,” she said.

The takeaway

The consensus between these diverse individuals is clear: unrestricted conversing brings forth its own advantages and setbacks. Refusal to listen and political divides are all givens in the realm of the digital universe, but so is a truly unparalleled learning experience. By consciously venturing outside comfort zones to acquire a variety of facts and opinions, young people have been redefining education in light of school shutdowns.

To address the movement that has caused this wave of change, Black Lives Matter is the culmination of long-standing systemic racism — undoing centuries-old prejudice will not be accomplished by a black screen on an Instagram feed or halfhearted reposts. Continued engagement with information and those around you is vital to pursuing a better United States.

It’s undeniable that pressing for police reform in light of George Floyd’s broadcasted murder has brought about an international response. Opinions are being revisited, protests are being held, and the world is starting anew. This wave of progress all began with social media presenting to us this formative educational opportunity. Whether you decide to wade in this progressive tumult will make all the difference — not only for yourself, but for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the many other souls that have lost their lives from our ignorance.

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