It all started this week with a family discussion about the Virginia Governor, a certain Supreme Court Justice and Yearbooks. My daughter sarcastically asked “did people really write stupid stuff in their yearbooks back then? And didn’t you all know better?” When I answered that yes people did write “stupid stuff” in yearbooks, she asked why? Then came the interesting question, “Can I see them? Where are they?” “Well mine are in your grandma’s attic and your dads are buried in our attic, have fun with that.” The question highlights that our students are social media conscious. They have learned that pictures never go away and can impact their future. Most have learned that posting less is best. But explaining older generations to a media savvy student population can be difficult.
That conversation started a chain reaction of questions. How are reporters finding these photos from 30 to 40 years ago? Local libraries have kept copies of yearbooks, but I couldn’t imagine a reporter visiting a small-town library spending days flipping through yearbooks, in the hopes of getting something juicy. In my mind, I saw local librarians hiding yearbooks with compromising photos anyway. I began googling yearbooks and had found myself on page 123 of the 1984 Northwest Ashe High School Yearbook in less than five minutes on classmates.com. There I was, a shy band geek, with nothing to hide. I could buy the book, share it on Facebook or print off the picture. What I assumed was oddly private and stuffed in my attic was public for everyone to see.
As it turns out, yearbooks are big business. There are sites helping connect classmates for reunions, sites reproducing yearbooks for people who have lost theirs and sites to research ancestors. Many of these sites allow you to reconnect with classmates, share stories and messages. All of this information and sharing is public. I could read simple messages between classmates and even a few stories. State archives are now preserving these as well as colleges and universities.
It is a startling reminder that in our media age, information is readily available at our finger tips. No one wants to dig through their attic for a book, when they can find it online in 5 minutes. Having a graduation date and the name of a high school shortens that to just a minute or two. These events provide faculty a unique opportunity to engage their students. They too can research their politicians, political candidates and even teachers. Current events and yearbook photos highlight the age and behavioral norms of our politicians when they were in school launching a variety of discussions. These teachable moments are about analyzing the primary sources and their impact on current events.
How do you engage your students?
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