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Using the story to help kids learn the power of online courage—and cruelty

I was visiting a middle school in Michigan where every student had read The Revealers — and where, at first, kids told me, "We don't actually have that much bullying here." But as part of its project with my book, this school had set up an online discussion center where students could post, on their own time and in settings where they felt safe, some of the bullying experiences they had gone through, along with their thoughts about the book.

As I left that school, a teacher handed me a thick printout of the hundreds of postings kids had made. "This might be good airplane reading," she said.

It was that and more. Some of the bullying incidents kids related were horrific! And this was a positive use of the Internet. By setting up the online forum, that school allowed its students to reveal hard, usually hidden truths in ways that everyone in that school could see them and think about them. My guess, from many similar experiences, is that that school was changed by that experience.

We can lecture young people about the dangers of using the Internet to bully - to spread rumors, share embarrassing photos and videos, and create websites that trash other kids - but I think the most powerful thing we can do is help them see the impacts of these actions for themselves. With its story of middle schoolers experimenting with a school mini-Internet, The Revealers does just that. And by using the Internet itself to encourage and share kids' reactions to the novel along with their own experiences, schools have helped kids learn for themselves how the Internet and networked communication amplifies what is put into it - cruelty or courage, truth or lies.

This is learning about cyberbullying by experience. I think it's the most powerful lesson of all.

Doug Wilhelm

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