Where are the adults? Leadership and responsibility in the digital world.

Teacher of the Year Anthony Mullen has another excellent Road Diary post today.  At Kent State University, Ohio,  he walks down a grassy slope looking back at the spot where, almost forty years ago, the National Guard stood in line to confront student war protesters.  And then the  fatal 13 seconds that left four students dead.

Those Guardsmen and the students they confronted were close in age, not far beyond childhood. And  Mullen asks: “Where are the adults? Why weren’t adults standing where I am standing now?”

Edith Skipper, 89, with her computer stationed on the mangle.

Perhaps for those who lived through those turbulent times the questions seems naive. In any event,  that interdiction did not happen.

“A generation of young people was left to settle a nation’s conflicted soul on the soil of a Midwest college campus. The village elders and faculty arrived after the killings, and did a good job preventing more bloodshed. But they arrived too late….”

Where are the adults? On Friday a NY Times Room for Debate presented a similar question:  Wired Kids, Negligent Parents? And while much of the eye-rolling commentary that followed brought King Canute to mind,  the question remains: Where are the grown-ups?  While there is nothing wrong with either,  computers are not just for entertainment delivery and gaming.  The potential is for empowerment, independence, community and creativity not mere consumption,

When it comes to the digital revolution, our children need guidance, example and sometimes intervention.  They don’t have a choice about whether to get involved with digital technology.  Unless they opt to be hermits living completely off the grid it is their world. This is a new frontier and adults and children are together at the threshold. It’s not about prohibition and control but rather example and leadership. We have at our disposal incomparable tools for learning – collaboration, change, creation and communication.

What are we doing with that unparalleled opportunity? And that challenge?

Is it  time for the generational abdication to end?  No more natives and immigrants?  Maybe the divide is less generational than aptitude for learning.  Can it now be  about possibility, innovation and change (for the better)?  – learning what we can do with what is now available to all of us.  Can we do it together?

Where are the adults?  What should we be doing and how should we behave?


  1. Hamsterfree?:

    It seems to me that both adults (children with more years experience) and children have their contributions to make. Those with the skills assisting others to gain them – as most likely happened to Edith Skipper. Younger generations have been taught tech skills at school, as we were once taught maths tables and grammar for example.Adults need to make time to acquire them. But it seems many will as they use them daily in their work, financial,community and personal lives.And skills will grow as benefits become known.Not many people now push a calculator aside for doing maths – although it is always good to ensure you also use your own mind too.

  2. Yes, “Where are the adults?” is such an important question when considering the new technology that children are using!

    Will Richardson, an expert on networked learning, wrote:

    “This may be the first large technological shift in history that’s being driven by children. Picture a bus. Your students are standing in the front; most teachers (maybe even you) are in the back, hanging on to the seat straps as the bus careens down the road under the guidance of kids who have never been taught to steer and who are figuring it out as they go.”

    Richardson, Will. “Footprints in the Digital Age” Educational Leadership, Nov 2008, Vol 66:3

    I agree that it is important that we adults work our way up to the front of the bus!

  3. admin:

    Thanks for the comment Denise. And thanks for the Will Richardson reference. He always has something useful to contribute.

    I see it as an unparalleled opportunity to sit next to, parallel with, those born digital children and learn together. For decades we have talked and talked about the role of the teacher as facilitator and coach. Here is our chance – to help make learning happen for both ourselves and our students.

    And Hamster for all our access to these tools – we will always need to use our own minds to make the decisions. It’s just that we no longer need them purely to memorize but rather to evaluate, synthesize and put new information and ideas out there. And the first decision may be to pick up the calculator in the first place because we understand there is a worthwhile problem that needs solving.

    – Josie

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