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    Students turn to TikTok to fill gaps in school lessons

    PHOENIX (AP) – Mecca Patterson-Guridy wants to learn but for some subjects, she isn’t always comfortable asking her teachers. So she has been turning to TikTok. The 17-year-old high school junior in Philadelphia has found videos on social media platforms about protests over police shootings, civic engagement and Black and Latino history in the United States (US). The accounts she checks regularly feature segments including Fast Black History and Black Girl Magic Minute.

    The videos, Mecca said, address “things that get overlooked in the classroom”. Scrutiny from conservatives around teaching about race and gender has made many teachers reluctant to discuss issues that touch on cultural divides.

    To fill in gaps, some students are looking to social media, where online personalities, nonprofit organisations and teachers are experimenting with ways to connect with them outside the confines of school.

    The platform has opened new opportunities for educators looking to expand students’ worldviews. Isis Spann, for one, said she turned to developing digital content after officials in a South Carolina school system discouraged her from sharing stories about some civil rights movement figures with her kindergarten students during Black History Month.

    She also recalls being told by the principal’s office to remove earrings that said “Strong Black Queen” because they were deemed inappropriate. She said, “It didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t help but think that if I weren’t a Black teacher I would be having a different experience.”

    Mecca Patterson-Guridy, 17, poses for a portrait in Philadelphia, US. PHOTO: AP

    Spann left the classroom and now runs a company FUNdamentals of Learning which provides educational materials for use in-person and online. She said she is grateful to be able to share her ideas independently from the rules of any school or administrator.

    “There is no gatekeeper of sorts for social media content,” she said.

    In the Black Girl Magic Minute videos, Taylor Cassidy, 19-year-old, a host on Sirius XM’s Tiktok Radio Channel highlights the stories of women who have inspired her and shares news about Black culture.

    Others who are finding audiences online for their takes on history and current events include Atlanta-based personality Lynae Bogues, who hosts a segment called Parking Lot Pimpin on social and political topics in the Black community. Kahlil Greene, who in 2019 became the first Black student body president at Yale University, calls himself the “Gen Z Historian” on social media. He shares stories of Black history and culture.

    In May 2020, when most American students were still learning remotely because of COVID-19, TikTok announced that it was investing millions of dollars and teaming with experts, public figures and educational institutions to post more learning material under the hashtag #LearnOnTikTok.

    Not everything posted online is educational, to say the least.

    Experts said that a key to help students sort reliable, educational material from everything else including frivolity, misinformation and conspiracy theories is teaching them digital literacy. They need to be able to identify sources and find corroborating information.

    Professor at Florida State University Vanessa Dennen said that parents and educators should take time to learn more about TikTok in particular to understand the platform and how to reach kids where they are. TikTok alone has about 80 million users in the US and they trend young.

    The videos made by good-faith actors that do pique students’ interest can be as educational as anything else they come across in a library or a lecture as long as they have the background knowledge to put them in context, Dennen said.

    “A lot of times Black history, Latino history, Asian history, Indigenous history gets overlooked. Let’s talk about women’s rights,” she said. “I think we should talk more about the things that are directly impacting us.”

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