Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hear Me Out

CC image on Flickr by Michael
I've been thinking about voice a lot lately.  It's a theme relevant to our current political climate, our culture's love affair with televised singing competitions, and the exponential growth of social media.  As an educator who focuses greatly on digital citizenship, I regularly reflect with my students on today's Web and the ways that our voices resonate through it.  But lately, I've been pondering a particular distinction: the difference between making noise and making our voices heard.

We all know that there’s no shortage of channels through which we can all make noise on the Web.  Indeed some of that noise is downright depressing.  And I'm not just talking about bad karaoke.  Online exchanges run the gamut -- from vapid to amusing to insightful to combative, condescending, or cruel.  But, in the noisy worldwide cafe that is today’s Web, we need to empower our students to find, refine, and effectively utilize their voice for good.  This is easier said than done, however.  For while the mechanics of publishing one's words are growing simpler by the day, the challenge of effectively conveying one's message remains.

Hopefully as educators we embody the motto of the StoryCorps project: Every voice matters.  But despite the increase in opportunities to express ourselves, we should also recognize how challenging it can feel to actually do so.  Making a point online can feel like trying to speak up in the middle of Times Square at its busiest.  And you might observe that those who manage to find a captive audience, at least momentarily, are The Naked Cowboy, David Blaine encasing himself in ice, or the group of fanatics shouting about Armageddon.  Surrounded by attention seekers and a perpetual din, it can sometimes feel like your voice hardly matters at all.

I think we need to pay attention to this.

The vast reach of today's social Web is only going to continue to expand.  If we're going to succeed at nurturing the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and activists, today's students need to develop strong, clear voices.  And they need to recognize that that strength doesn't derive from any decibel level, font size, or quantity of exclamation points.  It comes from the power of the words they construct, the media they use, the personal connections they leverage, their capacity for empathy, and the patience they may need as social filters push good ideas upward.

Refining one's voice is a lifelong process.  It can be frustrating, hilarious, humbling, and rewarding.  It requires feedback, engagement, reflection, and the ability to listen well.  It is a process we should model for and share with our students.  Because our voices do matter -- including and especially the ones we may hear the least.

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