Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Accounting for Harriet

I last read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh in 1980. The experience is bringing me flashbacks of Mr. Jordan's 6th grade English class and my grey stone Catholic grade school.

Mr. Jordan had an abandoned wasps nest hanging over one of his doors. He was the only male teacher I had from Kindergarten through 8th grade. From the last row, I could look through the windows across the black asphalt of the school yard, over I-95, and at Veteran's Stadium. I used stare at the stadium and wonder if the Phillies or Eagles were on the field practicing. I haven't thought about that in 35 years.

I'm finding, as I read certain scenes, that I can recall the experience of reading them as a child--I remember liking the old Mrs. Golly and I can remember the line about "her big ham hands dangling helplessly at her sides."

And I remember the squiggly-lined sketches. I drew a lot as a child. I noticed drawings in books. I liked them.

But rereading it now in 2016, I am struck by something very different: Harriet not feeling any accountability for what she wrote in her notebook. Even when she dropped her notebook in public and her classmates read all of the horrible things Harriet wrote--she felt no sense of accountability. No one was supposed to read it in Harriet's mind. Harriet says to her mother, "...they shouldn't have looked. It's private. It even says PRIVATE all over the front of it."

And I thought, aren't we having these same conversations about kids and writing online today? Aren't we figuring out that nothing is really, truly private online? Yet, some might blame the device for online bullying or kids making poor decisions, but it isn't a device problem at all.

Harriet the Spy was published in 1964 and presents an issue which causes much anxiety today.  I am wondering if anyone was blaming the notebook back then?

Harriet carrying her notebook everywhere reminds of Donald Graves carrying his writer's notebook with him everyday--everywhere he went. Anyone who saw Don speak at conferences probably saw his notebook. I am falling into the habit of carrying a notebook as well. Notebooks are portable. It can be pulled out anywhere.

And so is my iPhone...which is an extension of my notebook.

Imagine someone writing an updated Harriet the Spy but instead of a marble-backed notebook, Harriet spied on people with her iPhone. She'd write in it, of course. But Harriet could take pictures. She could record video and audio. She could use apps to manipulate the images of people--write horrible things on their photos. She could blog her thoughts as she spied and then accidentally "click" PUBLIC or PUBLISH.

And none of it would be the device's fault.

It all still comes down to human beings learning about a very important life skill: accountability.