Character Education for the Digital Age Taken from the Educational Leadership (ASCD) February 2011 | Volume 68 | Number 5 Written by Jason Ohler

Should we teach our kids to have two lives, or one?

Our current technological trajectory promises unfathomable, roller-coaster innovation with no braking system. While the ride is exciting, it moves so quickly that we typically don’t have time to think about the possible unintended consequences that might accompany it. The result is that we find ourselves unable to effectively respond to hot-button issues like cyberbullying and sexting because they seem to come out of nowhere.

Our challenge is to find ways to teach our children how to navigate the rapidly moving digital present, consciously and reflectively. How we meet this challenge depends on how we address the following fundamental question about teaching our digital-age children: Should we teach our children as though they have two lives, or one?

The “two lives” perspective says that our students should live a traditional, digitally unplugged life at school and a second, digitally infused life outside school. It says that the digital technology that kids use quite naturally is too expensive, problematic, or distracting to use effectively and responsibly at school. It says that issues concerning the personal, social, and environmental effects of a technological lifestyle are not important in a school curriculum, and that kids will have to puzzle through issues of cybersafety, technological responsibility, and digital citizenship without the help of teachers or the education system.

In contrast, the “one life” perspective says the opposite, that it is precisely our job as educators to help students live one, integrated life, by inviting them to not only use their technology at school, but also talk about it within the greater context of community and society.

If we want to pursue a future that celebrates success not only in terms of abundance but also in terms of humanity, we must help our digital kids balance the individual empowerment of digital technology use with a sense of personal, community, and global responsibility. School is an excellent place to help kids become capable digital citizens who use technology not only effectively and creatively, but also responsibly and wisely. But we can only do that if we help them live one life, not two.