Irresponsible fearmongering

Pokemon Go

Three days after the launch of Pokemon Go here in the United States, a central office administrator told me that his superintendent had emailed the entire district leadership team, warning them about the game because “six teenagers already had been killed by wandering into traffic while playing the game.” The administrator with whom I spoke said that he was concerned and also curious about what I thought.

A five-second Google search shows that the superintendent’s email is completely false. Some other funky, mostly harmless stuff has happened – as well as many positive stories too – but six teenagers killed in traffic is not one of them. There are a number of Pokemon Go hoaxes floating around and, of course, the usual handwringing, freaking out, and alarmism that accompany the launch of any new technology popular with young people.

I gently explained all of this to the administrator, and he was quick to note that this was not the first time that the superintendent had been alarmist regarding youth and technology. We had a good conversation and he walked away feeling more relaxed and informed.

The larger issue is our obligation as school leaders to avoid irresponsible fearmongering. Our messages and behaviors influence our educators and communities. They usually trust the information that we send them as principals and superintendents. I am pretty certain that we have a deep obligation to at least do some basic fact-checking instead of disseminating easily-disproven falsehoods. Otherwise we contribute to the fear and anxiety that already exist regarding youth and technology and impede our own technology integration efforts.

If we wish to facilitate digitally-rich learning spaces so that our students can use learning technologies in interesting and instructionally powerful ways, we can’t keep weighing down the fearful side of the balance scale…

6 Responses to “Irresponsible fearmongering”

  1. Whenever I see something like this super’s message, I’m reminded of the ancient maps that labeled unknown territory with “Here be dragons”

  2. Of course the efforts to map the unknown world and dispel the fear of dragons took centuries. Today your search took seconds.

  3. Here’s an interesting article by David Ignatius in WAPO that pertains to changing minds. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-facts-dont-matter-to-trumps-supporters/2016/08/04/924ece4a-5a78-11e6-831d-0324760ca856_story.html

    The Ignatius provides several links to research articles and the Debunking Handbook.

  4. I recognize that superintendents are busy people, but anybody online has to follow basic principle of not forwarding ANYTHING without first fact-checking. And “SIX TEENAGERS KILLED PLAYING POKEMON GO” just screams urban myth.

    I mean, really? There are a billion teens out there with mobile phones–are we to believe that only Pokemon Go is sufficiently compelling to distract teens from traffic, after years of texting their peers. Such obvious nonsense. I’d might believe distracted walking is a problem if given credible source for statistics, but that only this one game is suddenly a hazard? Please, don’t embarrass yourself by forwarding that.

    I agree that fearmongering is irresponsible, but one might also want to highlight how this superintendent is hurting his/her own credibility. If s/he is careless enough to say this without checking, what else is s/he getting hopelessly wrong?
    (Not–I hasten to add–that I haven’t said stupid things on line from time to time, like everybody else, but I hope I have learned from those mistakes, and am no longer quite so readily fooled. Someone should do this superintendent a favour and suggest the rule of “fact-check or don’t send” so s/he can similarly improve his/her credibility.

  5. While travelling across country this summer, fascinated to watch how Pokemon Go is different community to community. In some, players were sitting around in a park, chatting with each other; in others, exact same circumstances except all the people were ignoring each other! In some communities, people arrived at a park or museum or whatever would look up from their phones and say, ‘hey, that looks interesting’ and go explore, while in another community with similarly engaging locale, nobody looked up from their phones to see where they were. It was quite striking! Similarly, saw staff at one railway museum shooing kids away from their lawn; at the park in next community official welcomed everybody, gave tips on where to go, just asked one player to put cigarette out in receptacle rather than flowerbed. (Seemed fair comment to me.)

    There’s a paper in there somewhere, but I’m sure somebody is already writing it.

    As educators, though, we should be giving some thought to whether our school communities are producing student citizens that chat with each other and are intrigued by where they find themselves; or whether they have been so turned off by their interactions with officials and school cliques they never even think to talk to or appreciate others. When did we become so insular that seeing someone playing the exact same game as we are in the exact same location doesn’t provide an opening line to conversation?

    We need to remember, these are our kids and graduates walking through the Pokemon Go Gym; if we’re not impressed with how they behave, is that their fault, or our failure?

    People who fearmonger over the tech, are really afraid of everyone and everywhere. Banning Pokemon Go is not the solution; teaching kids to look up once an hour because the world is interesting and because people are fascinating, is the better way to go.

  6. It occurs to me that the fearmongering in school administrations is related to the larger issue of general fearmongering in our society and political arenas. I only raise this to consider that it may not be possible to solve it entirely within the scope of education. We probably need to tackle it at a larger scale in order to make inroads in schools.

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