The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

“The pen is mightier than the sword”… or “the text is mightier than the sword”??

The sentence (if not the idea, which had been expressed in various earlier forms) was coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy.[1][2

I was working on my National Curriculum: English course when this quote began swirling around in my head.  You’ll notice I changed it to “the text is mightier than the sword”.  I imagine that in 1839, it was probably “the feather is mightier than the sword”, but I’m no Historian.

Words are so powerful.  I recognise their power – they can lift you up, drag you down, make you think, get you what you want.  It all depends on context, audience, grammar. Words can change your life.  Think about the most life changing events in your life.  There is certain to be words that surrounded these moments.  “I do”.  “It’s a boy!”.  “There’s nothing more we can do”.  Each of these quotes made you think of something or someone.  It took you to a place.  Whether it was your own experience or something you’ve watched on TV, something you’ve read, those words probably took you to a place that held some emotion for you.

Once upon a time, we wrote with feathers, slate, pencils, and now it’s electronic.  Last week we looked at copyright, and it got me thinking.  These words we use, the ones we flippantly (sometimes!) put out on facebook, twitter or forums, they are there forever.  Just as the words above were written in 1839, our words will be relics of us.  The electronic version of ourselves that’s published on social media will eventually become a way for our children to know the younger version of us.  I know I have a very inquisitive little girl, and she will surely look for all electronic traces of me, hoping to dig up scandal.

Part of digital citizenship is about teaching our students that what they write, how they write and who they write to in electronic form is something they must take responsibility for.  This is a hard lesson to learn, but it’s vital.  I would almost guarantee that every single one of us has posted something that we regretted.  Maybe not “life changing” regret, but surely something that we would choose not to do if given the chance.  As educators we have to think about this too – I’ve made sure my facebook profile is private, because I work at a private school that has a strict policy on social media in relation to staff, and it is such that I would rather not risk having ANYTHING available to public for viewing.  You won’t even find me on facebook unless I want you to!  I have heard of a Deputy Principal working at a rural school (I say this because the rural areas tend to have a little more “friendly” community of people that perhaps socialise and work together) this person attended a “race day” and was dancing on a bar.  She was photographed by someone else, and tagged.  She was demoted.  Her role was jeopardized by the actions of someone else.  So I’m encouraging you to all think about the importance of teaching our students how their mark on the internet is somewhat permanent, and to think about what they want their mark to look like.  What do they want it to say about them? And I’m encouraging you to do the same.


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