Monthly Archives: March 2009

Don’t Bratz Dora!

The new DoraI should have seen this coming when Dora went all Princess a few years ago. Now she is getting the full tween makeover. According to the Mattel press release:

As tweenage Dora, our heroine has moved to the big city, attends middle school and has a whole new fashionable look.

Are you serious? One of the best role models on TV for young girls is heading down sassy Bratz route? A whole new “fashionable” look? Say it ain’t so!

The great thing about Dora is that she breaks so many stereotypes. She is a girl who goes on adventures in the wild, not in the mall. She has short hair, not long flowing locks. She wears shorts, not short skirts. She reads a map so we know she is into geography and science. All this is about to be reduced into yet another friggin trashy pop culture princess mess.

But you know what? It is going to backfire. We parents who love Dora love her for exactly those reasons. Dora IS the anti-Bratz and she will not survive this makeover. She can’t out-Bratz the Bratz. And parents will see through this crass attempt to cash in on trash. Dora is popular for precisely the opposite reasons that Mattel are trying to sell. And, as Packaging Girlhood points out,  we know who the real Dora is and will always be.

But we know the truth. If the original Dora grew up, she wouldn’t be a fashion icon or a shopaholic. She’d develop her map reading skills and imagine the places she could go. She’d capitalize on those problem solving skills to design new ways to bring fresh water to communities in need around the world. Maybe she’d become a world class runner or follow her love of animals and become a wildlife preservationist or biologist. We’ll never know because the only way a girl can grow up in tween town, is to narrow that symphony of choices to one note. It’s such a sell out of Dora, of all girls.

Voice your concern. Sign the online petition that has been started by the fine folks at Packaging Girlhood and send a message to Mattel that we don’t need Dora the Mall Explorer.

Duct Tape Flip Flops

Duct tape flip flop

My wife won a contest last week through a local parenting magazine called Island Parent. As a prize my wife got to pick anything they had on their prize table. She and The Girl went down to the magazine office on Monday to claim their prize.

After scanning the assorted books, toys, tickets and related stuff on the prize table for a few minutes, The Girl’s eyes stopped and became fixed on something. My wife looked at the book The Girl was checking out. It was titled Got Tape?: Roll Out the Fun With Duct Tape!. How could she resist? Their first project? The pair of flip flops in the photo above. I sense a new suit is in the works for Father’s Day.

Can teens learn from Social Networks?

Sign to Ban Social Networks at a library

To balance out the negative social network vibe I may have been putting forth lately, here is a positive story from Ed. Magazine, published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education about how teens are harnessing the power of their social networks to learn.

Thanks for the Add. Now Help Me with My Homework focuses on research done by Christine Greenhow (University of Minnesota). Greenhow examined how teens use social networks and discovered that they are using sites like MySpace and Facebook in positive ways.

Greenhow interviewed 1,200 students in 13 high schools in Minneapolis-St.Paul, which she followed up with some more indepth interviews. The results showed that students are increasingly using their social network to connect, collaborate, share and learn. These students are developing skills they will need in the future.

The kind of skills students are developing on social networking sites, says Greenhow, are the very same 21st century skills that educators have identified as important for the next generation of knowledge workers — empathy, appreciation for diversity of viewpoints, and an ability to multitask and collaborate with peers on complex projects.

The story of Theresa Sommers, a high school student, is one that might seem exceptional, but is becoming more common.

The more she used the online social networking site (SNS), however, the more bored she became with merely being popular; she started using her time for more heartfelt conversations with friends and delved more deeply into her personal interests. A budding photographer, she posted her best shots to the site and searched forums of professional photographers for encouragement and advice. She began, as well, to seek out students at colleges she was interested in attending, even opening up a new account on Facebook, a site more heavily used by college students, to network.

Theresa is leveraging the power of her social network to achieve her educational goals. What better way to research a potential college or university than to connect directly with students who are already going there and taking subjects she is interested in?

And she even began to post some of her creative writing and would solicit advice on homework essays from her circle of friends, asking them “How long did you take on your essay?” or “How’d you write it?” Often she’d post her homework online. “Everybody does it,” she says.

Outside interests aren’t the only topics that found their way to student homepages and Sommers wasn’t the only student to regularly compare notes on school assignments. “If I am stuck on a project, I might send a chat message to a friend, and he might provide an answer or say, ‘Take a deep breath; you can do this,'” says Greenhow, summing up what students often say.

Now the thought that she is posting her homework online is one that I am sure is making most traditional educator quake in their boots. But I think sharing is a good thing, and something I hope Theresa continues to do. Human civilization is built upon sharing knowledge. Theresa is doing this, and learning this, at the micro level.

The research also took a look at cyber bullying and found that most students behaviour is exactly opposite of the cyber bully stereotype.

Far from media stories about cyber bullying, meanwhile, she found that most students use the medium to reach out to their peers for emotional support and as a way to develop self-esteem.

And what about the danger of blowing a job with a future employer because someone posted a photo of you passed out in a bathroom at your college kegger? Well, the reverse is true as well as employers increasingly use social network sites to find employees as well.

In fact, despite cautionary tales of employers trolling social networking sites to find inappropriate Halloween pictures or drug slang laced in discussion forums, many employers are increasingly using these sites as a way to find talent. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers cited this spring in The New York Times found that more than half of employers now use SNSs to network with job candidates. The website even added an application to allow employers to search Facebook for candidates. “Savvy users say the sites can be effective tools for promoting one’s job skills and all-around business networking,” says the Times.

When I read studies like this, I can’t help but feel that schools and libraries that ban social networks outright are not only missing the boat, but sending a message to students that these sites are somehow bad or dangerous and not powerful tools that, when used correctly, can open up a rich and rewarding world to them. If we want our kids to be able to become responsible digital citizens, then we have to play a role in helping them learn how to do that. Banning Facebook and MySpace is not the way to do that.

Photo credit: Stopped by Mishawaka Penn Harris Public Library to see for Myself by mstephen7. Used under Creative Commons license.