This blog post was written by Connie Carter and Ed Brazee. Connie is executive director of Operation Breaking Stereotypes, a non-profit organization that helps students address ethnic, socio-economic, gender, and racial stereotypes through short-term exchanges where students visit each other’s lives. Ed is a former University of Maine professor and teacher. Connie and Ed work with students, teachers, and parents on issues surrounding Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship.  For more information please contact conniecarter21@gmail.com or edbrazee@gmail.com


Connie Carter and Ed Brazee


Last weekend, we made the annual journey to “close up camp” for the winter. Because we had already stopped service on our fiber optic cable for the season, we spent three days – make that 72. 5 hours – “disconnected”. Yes, we had cell phones (not smart phones) with pitifully poor reception, but no Internet, no TV. Previous to the weekend we had thought, “Great! A time when we can do some real planning for our digital citizenship project. Little did we know that the biggest learning of the time would be our reactions to being disconnected.

A few benefits…

  • We had very few distractions as we worked on our digital citizenship project—no temptation to check e-mail, no “Wikipedia journeys”, no endless hours on YouTube.
  • We had time to think in depth about the information already available to us without adding one more person’s insight or one more reference article – time to reflect on what we currently knew, time to be creative.
  • When we were tired of working, we actually got up and went outside, took a walk, paddled the kayaks, played with the dogs—no temptation to make our work breaks simply more time spent online.
  • We had time to write and time to edit!  We actually read pieces of our writing aloud to one another and then spent time deciding if what we said was what we meant. There was no way to check online to see if someone had said it better…or differently.

So what does all this mean for students and schools…and how will we apply this to our digital citizenship project?

A few considerations…

  • Community has been redefined right before our eyes. It is no longer just the people we see daily. Many of our communities, and those of our students, are intentional—the people we like, people we never see, people we want to get to know, people with whom we have something in common. The possibilities are limitless and the need for understanding how to negotiate and be safe and responsible in these communities is critical and immediate.
  • All of the knowledge in the world is at our fingertips. It is imperative that our students learn how to manage 24/7 access to that much information—how to handle the constant bombardment of data, how to filter real information from junk, how to determine what is fact and what is opinion, and how to know when they need to disconnect. More than ever, students need to learn critical thinking skills and how to manage the Internet highway to which they have been given an unlimited ride.
  • What are the values that guide student behavior—online and offline?  Because we can “say” something in a text, an e-mail, or a Facebook post and not in the receiver’s physical presence, there is a temptation to say things we might not say face-to-face. It is essential that students think about and act on the positive values that guide their behavior. Additionally, they must also learn to be courageous, standing up against threatening or inappropriate interactions, both real and virtual.
  • Finally, developing relationships has taken on new dimensions. Youth can be in“close”  relationships with people they have never met. They may grow to depend on hearing from them minute to minute through texts, phone messages, online chats. Obviously, students need to be cautious in these relationships, but they also must develop relationships in their own physical communities—put down the phone, disconnect, and give one-on-one attention to the people in their daily lives.

.  .  .  . . . . We are connected again. Along with a deep appreciation for our 72.5 hour “connection break” we have a new sense of urgency and commitment to work with students, their schools, and families…about the challenges, potential, and discoveries that await us all as we blend our digital and real lives!



2 Responses to “Disconnected”

  1. Jerry Lynch Says:

    So true! Great insights, per usual, into an area of communication and relationships that were never touched during many of our’s preparation for working with this age group. Being new to social media it is often times difficult to know the implications of what is said and transmitted for an adult let alone an 11-14 year old.
    Suppose in the future we will pay to go to areas where there is a guarantee that others will be unable to access us. Will the unorganized territories of Maine gain appeal for their silence?
    Great to once again hear Connie and Ed’s wisdom. Thanks to both of them for their sharing and their commitment to all that is good for children.

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