When educators and homework helpers think of Wikipedia.org, they probably shake their heads over its monopoly on students' encyclopedia look-ups (see "Victim of Wikipedia: Microsoft to shut down Encarta"). But think of it in a different light: as digital-citizenship teaching tool. A recent commentary in the New York Times compares Wikipedia – with the more than 2.8 million collaboratively edited articles in its English version alone – to a vibrant city, with its population density, high drama, diversity of views, and unpredictability. Like a big city, writer Noam Cohen suggests, one of Wikipedia's "founding principles" is "Assume good faith." How can people do that? Consider this:
"Wikipedia encourages contributors to mimic the basic civility, trust, cultural acceptance and self-organizing qualities familiar to any city dweller. Why don’t people attack each other on the way home? Why do they stay in line at the bank? Why don’t people guffaw at the person with blue hair? The police may be an obvious answer. ["Police," where unruly adolescent behavior is concerned, could be replaced sometimes with "school administrators" or "parents."] But this misses the compact among city dwellers. Since their creation, cities have had to be accepting of strangers – no judgments – and residents learn to be subtly accommodating, outward looking." Good citizens as stakeholders in the smooth functioning and well-being of the community, as signers-on to a kind of social compact. But transparency, or accountability, helps too. Every editorial move an editor makes in Wikipedia is documented and can be looked up at times of controversy. Wikipedia is, of course, a wiki – so just think of the value of wikis to learning all kinds of subjects, including citizenship in real and virtual communities!