I make it my business to know what kids are into. I am on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. I know what “finsta” is and what Snapchat custom is. I watched every episode of “Thirteen Reasons Why” when it was released and I know what throwing shade, get lit, and OG mean.
I do all of this because I’m a committed educator and parent, and I want to deeply understand the contemporary student and my own children. Media and culture play a critical role in their lives. Media and culture shape their frame of reference, and impact how they think and interpret and interact with the world. I could argue that media is THE most influential force in our children’s lives (and our own if we are being honest here).
That’s why I am shocked and discouraged when educators and parents claim ignorance. I can’t count the times I’ve seen parents and educators express disgust about contemporary culture, proclaim ignorance about social platforms–“ I don’t understand these snapchat filter things”–and express a general exasperation with young people and their media habits. How can we authentically connect with our students and children if we’re condescending about their lives and their interests? This is not to discount the valid concerns we all have about how to develop healthy media habits, but we need to take the time to immerse ourselves in their interests. This is critical to understanding and connecting with them, and of course educating and inspiring them.
Recently, I have been surprised by the response of a small number of educational leaders to a program Jerusalem U is offering to high schools this Yom Hazikaron. On April 18, high schools and thousands of students across the world are registered and will participate in a Yom Hazikaron Global Screening Day. The students will be watching a new film about the journey of three wounded Israeli soldiers, When the Smoke Clears. After the film, they will participate in an innovative, global Instagram campaign where high school students worldwide will express meaningful support for the IDF, Israel, and especially wounded and fallen soldiers in an effort to underscore the global Jewish community and the centrality of Israel. It’s a powerful documentary film and an honest film. It does not glorify army service or war, but shares the raw, vulnerable narrative of men who were injured in combat alongside their comrades who died, and the inspirational story of how they overcome their challenges.
A few school leaders have expressed concern about the intensity and weightiness of the content. Of course, it’s critical that schools exercise discernment and intentionality with their educational materials. Schools should also be up to date with what their students are watching- things like Fauda, Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, Narcos, and more. Our children are bombarded with media violence; they are inured to it. We have to recognize this reality if we aim to meaningfully connect with our students.
We must seek opportunities to get real with our students. Engage them with meaningful, visceral and moving content that is thought provoking. Content that will make them stop, think and reflect. Content that depicts real people, facing real challenges, struggling with real pain and overcoming with real strength. Especially when it comes to Israel education.
How can we allow our students to engage with tough topics everywhere else but in the Israel education space? What are we protecting them from? What are we afraid of?
When the Smoke Clears and the High School Global Screening Day are meeting students where they are. It will be a wholly authentic and powerful experience for students that uses their preferred language of film, and leverages their favorite social platform, Instagram.
Student focus group participants actually laughed at me when I asked if the film content was too difficult or too heavy. They laughed at me not because it was a funny question. They laughed because the question validated their belief that adults are incorrigible and woefully out of touch. We need to change that.