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Shia Labeouf Needs to Learn Digital Literacy

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The news about Shia Laboeuf makes me sad. After all, he is just a kid, and a kid who grew up in extraordinary circumstances as a famous actor. That kind of attention and pressure could make anyone stumble; but certainly, building your identity and learning about the social world while working long hours and being scrutinized doesn't make it any easier.

Shia, like any normal young person, is figuring out who he is. And part of that is exploring different aspirations and interests. Like many young men (and women) before him, he took a stab at creating art; unlike many others, he was rewarded for this effort and debuted his film at the Cannes Film Festival. Then, the world blew up in his face.

As everyone knows by now, it turns out Shia plagiarized most of the content in his film, and somehow got away with it, until he didn't. And once people knew what he had done, he was judged on the world stage as a cheat, a liar and worse.

But Shia, like the rest of us, is growing up in the 21st century, in a cut and paste culture. Today, plagiarism is easier than ever, and when most grown-ups, let alone young people, have no idea what terms like "fair use" mean, it seems only natural that a kid, especially a kid who grew up working most of his life, might make some mistakes. Unfortunately for Shia, and for everyone else who makes those kinds of mistakes in today's world, the consequences are permanent, pervasive and broadcast on a world stage 24/7. These features of the Internet, while often amazing, can also cause great psychological trauma , and it seems that Shia may indeed be feeling these kinds of effects.

So, how could digital literacy have helped him? With today's media and technology, we all have incredible opportunities to create, communicate, collaborate and learn. But before children engage in our rapidly changing, cut-and paste, mash-up media culture -- where sampling content is commonplace -- children need to learn how to do so ethically and responsibly. That's why it's important to teach kids about creative credit, so they can learn to respect the creator and the process of creation. Today there are copyright protection tools made for the Internet like Creative Commons, which allow artists to receive attribution when their work is sampled.

Common Sense Media offers these kinds of lessons in their free online curriculum. Their age-based curriculum empowers kids to make the most of their creative energies without worrying about violating copyrights when they are excited about sharing something "cool" with their peers.

Just think, if Shia had been taught these lessons starting in kindergarten, with a reinforcement of the concepts at each stage in his education, he may have thought twice about publishing work without attribution. But even though it may be too late for Shia, the good news is our kids still can learn from these lessons, and also from Shia's mistakes.

Part of this article was taken from an unpublished op-ed to the LA Times .