Education, Social Media, and Ethics: Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education

– For quite a few years,
I’ve been studying ethics in the United States. Particularly with regard
to the professions, and more recently with
regard to citizenship. What does it mean to be a good worker? What does it mean to be a good citizen? Not just what are my rights, which we’re all very good at expressing, but what are my responsibilities as a teacher, administrator, or scholar. What are my responsibilities
as a member of a community, whether it’s my city or the whole world. And we began to look
at the sense of ethics of young Americans, and we
found that they all knew what it meant to be ehtical,
and some of them were, and some of them admired ethics. But many young Americans
feel that ethics is a luxury, it’s something that they can afford to do when they are wealthy, and
successful, and famous, but in the meantime they want to pass. They want to be allowed to cut corners in order to be able to succeed
on the American terrain, and instructively, many
young Americans assume that their colleagues, their
peers, are not being ethical. And if they were to be ethical, if they were to act
responsibly, they would lose to the people who cut corners. So when we heard about the MacArthur Foundation initiative on how young people are
being affected generally by the new digital media,
how their learning’s being affected, how
their social connections are being affected, we asked the question, what about their ethics? And we focused in five
area of ethics initially: What is your sense of identity
and how do you portray yourself to the rest of the world? What’s your stance on
privacy, your own privacy and how you should relate
to other people’s privacy? The issue of ownership and authorship, should that be respected or ignored in the new digital media? Issues of trust and credibility,
whom should you trust? And why should you be trusted? And finally, what does it mean to belong to a digital community? And our first discovery, which
was quite surprising to me, is that the final question,
membership in the community, turns out to be the
most important question about the new digital media. Because once you enter the media. Whether you enter doing
e-mail, or on a social network, or blogging, or playing a
game, you simply don’t know how wide a community you’re a part of. You can’t control that. You might think you’re just
exchanging with a few friends, but if any friend decides to transmit it, or anybody else sees it
on somebody else’s screen, essentially it’s an open book. And, this is unprecedented
in human history. That’s a strong statement. We evolved to deal with groups
that were 50 or 100 people whom we knew, they knew
us, and our morality, how we treated them, was
based on everyday experience. Now as you get older, and as you live in a more global community,
of course you do participate in wider communities. But what ‘s unique about
the new digital media, and what’s unique about our
era, is you can be as young as seven or eight and
participate either legally or illegally in some kind
of a social network site, or in some kind of a game. And you are in touch,
potentially, with thousands and thousands of other people. And so the former lag
between behaving morally toward people you know,
and behaving ethically toward people in the community whom you don’t know, that’s been lost. And to me that’s a very,
very striking finding and one that you can’t, I don’t think we can ever
turn the calendar back. People, once they go into digital media, will be parts of much larger communities. And the only questions then is, do they behave as good citizens or not? – [Interviewer] And what do
you think are the implications of what you’re finding
for school and educators. – When we raise these questions about the ethical implications
of the new digital media, the media was so new that people hadn’t really begun to
ask these questions. So, I guess the very first thing is simply to raise consciousness,
namely that the size of the community in which you participate once you enter cyberspace,
is inherently unknowable. And you’re gonna be held accountable, potentially, by people
whom you’ve never met, about things you say or don’t say, about things you display or don’t display, things that you download or
don’t download and so on. So, I would say raising of
consciousness is a first thing. Then, as in so many other areas of life, particularly in America, interest groups have very different
stances on these issues. If you are a music recording company you have one set of standards. If you are a Principal or Superintendent who has to worry about
regulations in the community, you’re got a second set of standards. If you’re parents who worry
neither about your child’s life ability to be accused of a crime, or being something about your child which was supossed to be a family secret being promulgated, then of course you’ve got a set of concerns as well. And young people want to be
able to connect to others, they want to be able to do
content production on YouTube or on their social network site. And in any kind of a democratic society, things work the best when
people have an understanding of where the other stakeholders
stand on these issues and have a chance to
participate in discussions about what the rules
and norms ought to be. So one of the things we’ve been doing in our own research group with
regard to ethics in general, has been to bring
together in the discussion of interesting cases, students, teachers, faculty members, administrators, parents. Because when you’re all in the same room and you’re all talking about,
well what is the implications of downloading this or
what are the implications of posting this about your
friends or your family, or what are the implications
about faking your identity on a social network site,
or what are the implications of bullying in some kind
of a multi-user game, then people can’t hide behind ignorance, they have to confront the
consequences of their actions. And I have no reason to thank
that at the end of the day, people are going to be
more or less ethical because of a new digital media, but I have every
expectation that the ethics will be different because
we haven’t had to deal with these large communities before. There’s one other thing which has emerged from our research, which
I’d like to mention. And that is a broad shift
in how young people think about issues of authority
and information and so on. In my lifetime, 50 years
ago, there was a widespread belief in certain
individuals and institutions as having authority,
and in the possibility of moving toward objective
and disinterested accounts. So certain broadcast
outlets, CBS Evening News, New York TImes, certain
people, Supreme Court Justices, Federal Reserve heads,
were assumed to have earned a certain amount of authority. In part because they weren’t just serving their own interests. They were trying to pursue, we might say, the public interest. They were trying to be
objective about covering news. They were trying to be disinterested in the sense of not
pushing their own agenda. This is essentially
gone with young people. It’s not that alive with
older people either, but young people instead make a focus on what we call authenticity
and ideological transparency. And while the trends may well have begun before the new digital
media, there’s no question that they’re accelerated
and probably made permanent by the new digital media,
because there’s so much information around and
everything can be changed, whether it’s graphic or verbal,
from one minute to the next, How can you possibly consider any source to be objective or authoritative? I think it seems to be impossible. And so people are thrown
on their own devices. If you’re very careful, very
reflective, very willing to triangulate, you may actually come up with better conclusions
than you did 50 years ago. But all of our research
suggests that most young people don’t follow that course,
they go to the most sited

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