Saturday, April 16, 2016

Can We Be Done With "Creepy" Now?

Remember “random”? You know that few years when you heard, “...that’s so random!” all the time? And I think this was not only folks common for who worked with kids. “Random” was everywhere, and mostly what people meant was "coincidental" or "unexpected."  But, like most slang, it died. In my experience, and I have nothing but anecdotal data to prove this, slang dies for one of two main reasons: Condition 1-adults (or advertisers) pick it up and make it uncool, and/or, Condition 2-it gets used so commonly and ubiquitously that it loses it’s meaning. I submit that with "creepy" we are almost at Condition 1 and we are definitely at Condition 2.

There’s an educational point to this...and I promise I will get there.

Can we please be done with "Creepy" as a thing now?

I’ve been feeling this way for a while, largely because of how it gets used by students for things that are really innocuous but are also new/different/unusual/unexpected. And then I saw this on Twitter:

I am not attacking anyone, not Engadget, nor Rick King, but this slang term...I’m ready for it to go, especially when our kids use it as ubiquitously and randonly (see what I did there?) as they are.

This is linguistic and vocabulary laziness that is indicative of intellectual laziness and I’m ready to be done with it; we call it lazy writing instructionally. On some level, aren’t we all ready to be done with lazy thinking?

This drone is not coming-on to the water recipient in a sexually aggressive way, nor is it stalking him with malicious intent. It’s trying to bring him some water...which, as it’s a “delivery, he asked for in the first place. Can someone explain exactly what is creepy here? Is it new? Sure. Unorthodox? Definitely. A thing we’ve never seen before? Potentially, but in no way is that “creepy”

Let’s define terms. Language and communication only work when we all agree that the words we use mean the same things to all of us; word definition is not the best place for personal interpretation.

Dictionary.com defines creepy thusly:
Slang. of, relating to, or characteristic of a person who is a creep; obnoxious; weird. (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/creepy)

Not good.  Let's click on creep in that definition.  When you then click on “creep” you see this:

So, they’re all negative connotations.

If you want to see what they say synonyms are, click here, but I assure you they’re not pleasant.

So here is the edtech tie-in, and in part, adults and school officials who approach edtech and specifically the internet from ONLY a harm-avoidance/reduction model are responsible for the student mindset I am about to explain. If you paint something as only dangerous, that's what the perception of it will become. But also our current linguistic over-reliance on this word when what we mean is “new”, or “not used to it” is becoming a problem in edtech...at least in my view.

One of the teachers I support has had a few students (and then a few more) in her middle and high school classes, where she is a frequent Google Classroom user, copy the assignment into a new doc and do the work there, specifically so she cannot open it up and see what they are doing. And here’ the thing, they’re not doing anything inappropriate, they’re working. She’s not doing anything inappropriate, she’s working. In fact, she’s utilizing the thing that so many of us love about Google Apps for Education (GAFE), namely: live document collaboration. When we asked the students why they were doing it, they responded with some version of, “it’s creepy just having my teacher in there [the doc] whenever.” When we asked what was “creepy” about it, in true middle and high school fashion, either “I dunno” or “it just is.”

No. I’m sorry. Not sufficient. When you accuse a teacher of being “creepy” you’d better have some damn thought behind it. Not everyone takes that word so lightly. We think in language.  Words indicate thought--words mean something important.

Was the teacher doing anything out of order here? Absolutely not.

Does the word “creepy" have a negative, sexually aggressive, stalker-like connotation? Absolutely yes. And before you tell me I am overreacting or over-thinking this, Let’s try a little 2nd grade empathy. How would you like it if a kid told you (and then each other) your teaching practice, especially one that you saw as progressive, revolutionary, and “how the new generation learns,” was “creepy. For those of us who pride ourselves on being responsive to students, that’s not a good day. Then add an anti-edtech parent into the mix….not good.

Language works because we all agree words have the same meaning for all of us. Slang is a purposeful attempt to subvert that commonality to create exclusive use by a group of people. I get that. Further, I get why kids do that, and I have no problem with that as a concept. I don’t think students, and now more and more adults, are specifically trying to paint each other with this particular brush, but we are. And we increasingly do it because something is basically unfamiliar.

Is that really the mindset we want our kids walking into the wide and diverse world full of amazing, different and unusual new things, that all those things are “creepy”?

Yeah, me neither. So how about we all knock it off and use our bigger words. And while we’re at it, how about we call it out in our kids, and use it as a teachable moment?