Removing the Fear of Talking to Strangers

I had the opportunity to listen to Will Richardson talk at #ISTE11 a few weeks ago, and I was struck by one of his ideas. For a long period of time, we have driven into our children's' minds that talking to strangers is always a bad idea. I remember as a youth being told not to answer the door if a stranger comes to the door and never tell someone on the phone that your parents aren't home. These certainly seemed practical at the time, and they probably still hold true, but those small chunks of advice have turned into a culture of fear surrounding strangers.

I certainly don't lay the blame on just loving, caring parents as the media has fed this fear with news stories about child abductions, with shows like Criminal Minds, where serial killers seem to nab kids almost weekly, and with a blurring of the facts about the circumstances surrounding missing children and inappropriate behavior toward children. During my career as a principal, I, based on this fear, brought in an expert to scare my kids away from engaging in conversations and behavior on-line with "cyber-predators."

Richardson , throughout his talk, made a compelling case for chipping away at this culture of fear, so we can find a happy medium for our children to be connected with the global learning conversation. Now I'm not advocating for some new Wild West where students are thrown to the wolves and asked to survive in a global virtual learning community, but I do believe that there is a golden mean, closer to the center, than we currently have in place. We must teach our students the opportunities of Skype and Twitter to extend their learning into a global community. The graphic below shows the tsunami of chatter that is coming to the internet in the near future. We must trust and verify the students' exploration of the Internet through less filtering and more freedom.

Learning from strangers holds the key to our future growth. Students can no longer be bound to the expertise of one person per subject that they are assigned to each year. All of us learn from strangers each day. We have learned how to do so by having information literacy skills and curation skills that allow us to find just the right information. We must give our students a balanced look at strangers, the fear of the past must be coupled with the promise of the future learning from strangers. The global learning front door is open, the house is filled with strangers; let's go inside together.