There is no way a book about spending a year in the life of a middle school class – its 28 students’ home, school and digital experiences – could be reduced to a single theme. But one main takeaway from The Class, by UK researchers Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton-Green, may surprise and sound familiar at the same time: the old saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
And “things” in this ethnically and economically diverse school community in north London both change and stay the same in so many different ways. Kids change, technology changes, but school changes little; families are all different and change along with their members, but family roles and traditions not so much, and these students’ families come, many very recently, from cultures in Africa, South Asia, eastern Europe and the Middle East where tradition is strong.
Of course we know, and this book bears out, that home, school and digital are completely intertwined for people growing up these days. But except in quiet, personal ways for some of the young people themselves, the digital part doesn’t change things much at all. It’s embedded but it certainly doesn’t connect home and school. For a few of the students, services like Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were tools for growing their self-knowledge by expressing themselves and connecting to communities of shared interests. But for the most part, social media was just another way to connect – evenings, weekends and other times between the face-to-face interaction that means the most to them – and really just with close friends and family.
Decidedly not obsessed with social media
Interesting, in light of all the angst and hyperbole around keeping up with rapidly changing technology that we (or at least the news media) assume has so much influence on our kids, right? Actually, The Class shows, the influences on these kids haven’t changed much at all, and they’re virtually all non-digital. Family, ethnic and school cultures topped the list. Digital was “neither all-determining nor irrelevant,” the authors write.