n important aspect of the work we do as
The Challenges of Cyberspace
educators is helping students build skills.
Skill development spans a range of domains,
But skill development also involves students’
ability to analyze and think critically about not
only the academic dimensions of their work, but
also the social world in which they live. Chief
among the skills that students must develop are
those that propel them to solve social problems—
both social conflicts for which solutions can make
a real difference in their personal lives and broader
societal challenges. As Paolo Freire (1998) noted,
cultivating problem solvers requires educators to
understand that students must learn to read both
the world (social issues) and the word (academic
issues). Problem-solving skills are essential not
only for students’ experiences inside of school, but
also for their experiences outside of school.
At a time when students are actively engaged in
shifting cultural contexts and social practices experienced through social media—such as Snapchat,
Facebook, Twitter, and even text messaging—
students’ ability to handle problems can be a matter
of life or death. Consider the growing number of
students who report feeling unsafe or depressed
because they’ve been bullied by classmates online.
The American Society for Positive Care of Children
reports that 16 percent of high school students
(and 55 percent of LGBTQ+ students) have been
cyberbullied in the past year—and that students
who are bullied are more than twice as likely to
consider suicide (ASPCC, nd).
Never before have we experienced the kinds
of cultural practices in which students engage
through social media, practices that influence both
their academic and social development. To be sure,
information-rich cultural contexts can enhance
students’ opportunities to learn. However, students’ practices in the broader cultural landscape
of technology can also be challenging—and dangerous—if they haven’t developed tools to work
through difficult situations such as conflicts with
classmates. Even at very young ages, children are
now engaging in cultural practices that can lead to
serious challenges if they don’t have the ability to
understand the roots of an interpersonal conflict.
Consider these data from Edudemic (2014):
n 81 percent of teens age 12–17 use social media,
and 50 percent log in several times a day.
n 21 percent of children under 13 use a social
networking site, and 38 percent of children age
8–12 use Facebook.
H. Richard Milner IV
Cultivating Problem Solvers
in Shifting Cultural Contexts
Let’s prepare students to solve key life and social problems.