Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





Is screen time a problem? Depends on your source

As an educator and/or parent, have you ever read something that makes you wonder if you have done more harm than good in your work with the children in your life?

A retired librarian sent me this video of an interview of Nicholas Kardaras, author of the book Glow Kids: how screen addiction is hijacking our kids - and how to break the trance. From Kardaras's website:

Current clinical research correlates screen tech with disorders like ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, increased aggression, and even psychosis. Most shocking of all, recent brain imaging studies conclusively show that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a young person’s developing brain in the same way that drug addiction can.

Kardaras, of course, is not the first or only voice sound the alarm (and hope to sell books as a result) about the impact of technology on kids - or on civilization as we know it. An early influence on my thinking about technology was The Alliance for Childhood and its Fools Gold report, the writings of Jane Healy (Failure to Connect), and Larry Cuban's Oversold and Underused. Hey, don't forget Clifford Stoll's Silicon Snake Oil from 1995!

Of course, for every bit of research you encounter, you soon stumble over an equal and opposite set of stats. So a day or two after watching the Kardaras interview, I read "Debunking the 6 biggest myths about "technology" addiction" in which the author, a professor of psychology concludes:

To be sure, there are real problems related to technology, such as privacy issues. And people should balance technology use with other aspects of their lives. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for the very small percentage of individuals who do overuse. There’s a tiny kernel of truth to our concerns about technology addictions, but the available evidence suggests that claims of a crisis, or comparisons to substance abuse, are entirely unwarranted.

So unless you are really just looking for bias confirmation, its seems the verdict on technology use and kids is not final. Maybe we don't even have the right questions yet. As with so many controversial topics, the subject is right for extremism, swamp land sales pitches, and over-reliance on incomplete or hand-picked data.

What I do believe is incontrovertible is that technology and children's access to it is not going away. And that a thoughtful approach to working with technology and kids is absolutely critical. Educators and parents do need to think hard about how much time kids spend with devices and how exactly that time is being spent.

So take the warnings seriously, but don't let them stop the positive uses. Probably far too rational an approach to sell many books or garner many tweets.


BFTP: Can one be kind and still create change?

General Rule #2: It’s always, always, always better to be a nice person than an ass. You will make mistakes at home and on the job. So keep this in mind: People will forgive your mistakes if you are generally a nice person; they never forget them if you behave like an ass.  Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the the Hard Part.

The focus of my workshop "Change from the Radical Center of Education" is about making change with humanity and empathy. One slide speaks about why one should be kind during times of change and what that looks like.  From "A Secret Weapon - Niceness":

  1. Having great listening skills. This is tough for guys. (We are, after all, guys.) I can offer advice even before I know the dimension of the problem. But I know that hearing people out is sometimes even more important than being able to help. Harvey Mackay, a business columnist states:  “You’ll know you’ve attained your goal (of being a good listener) when you can utter two sentences in an hour-long conversation, and the other speaker thanks you for input and adds, ‘You always have so much to say!’” That’s my goal.
  2. Being empathetic. A former principal who had been a guidance counselor had this system for dealing with people who were upset. He would paraphrase their statements and ask if what he just said was what they meant until they would respond with, “Yes, that is exactly what I mean.” It was only then that he knew the other person was listening and there could be a conversation. Try it sometime – it works.
  3. Assuming any request is possible. I love people whose automatic response to an idea is “anything is possible.” Now the following conversation might involve the nitty-gritty details about while although that idea may be possible it may not be advisable or describe some of the implementation challenges. But I appreciate the positive attitude. (I also like being treated as though I have a functioning brain and being given the respect of a good explanation when something can’t be done. Citing “policy” does not qualify as a good explanation.)
  4. Responding in a timely manner. We coach our tech staff to always respond to e-mails and phone calls in as timely a manner as possible. Even if it is only to say, “I got your message and I will be there on  _________” or “I don’t know the answer to your problem, but I am working on it.” Putting off responding to people never makes things better, only worse.
  5. Looking for the win/win solution. This is still the best of Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” As he reminds us, a good course of action is never giving in or even compromising, but continuing to talk it over until both parties agree that the action is a “win.” Keep searching for the “third way.”  It is always there.
  6. Giving the benefit of the doubt. Library media specialists who give kids the benefit of the doubt have a special place in my heart. The response to the assertion “I brought the book back last week” should be a trip to stacks, not a dirty look. I’ve found too many books that somehow failed to get back checked in to suspect the veracity of any student.
  7. Passing on compliments. The teacher, the administrator or parent who lets me know when one of my staff did something nice for them puts the person offering the compliments on my list of nice people.
  8. Analyzing before emoting. I’ve found that a short temper has never worked in my favor – ever. In fact, when somebody gets me mad, they have “won.” Diligently practice the common definition of a diplomat: A person who thinks twice before saying nothing  - and then tells you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip.

Lately, I've spent a lot of time wondering if I've been following my own advice.  Our district is asking staff to make a number of major changesover the past couple years: making GoogleDocs not Office the supported productivity suite; implementing beau coup Chromebooks throughout the district; replacing textbooks with district-created online materials organized in Schoology - along, of course, with all the other curricular mandates in the district. Changes, I believe, that are in the best long-term interests of staff, students, and the district.

A lot of change, a lot of discomfort, a little resistance from teaching staff. 

May I remember to always respond to the push-back with respect, with patience, and, well, with kindness. 

Image source

Original post May 22, 2013


I graduated in the upper 90% of my high school class!

The poster above resonated with me. I volunteered yesterday to serve as a "supervisor" for our large high school's graduation ceremony. About 700 students and their families gathered last night to celebrate this major milestone.

Our district, like our society, is stew of races, religions, ethnicities, and income levels. Our kids run the gamut from world-class athletes and scholars to severely physically and intellectually challenged individuals. Some families came to the event last evening wearing suits, ties, dresses, and gorgeous hijabs; others in t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

But all came to honor the work and perseverance of a young person about whom they care.

Institutionally, we call out the strivers - the honor students, the student council members, the valedictorians. They get special sashes and tassels and fonts in the program. They give speeches and sing songs. Good on them. Well-deserved.

But as the poster above states, I hope we recognize the achievements of all our kids. Graduation for the "C" student who is homeless may have required ten times the effort of the "A" student who could rely on a hot meal, warm bed, and caring adults every day. Perhaps we need an "overcoming adversity" award as well. How about an award for helping a buddy through school? A kindness certificate? A perseverance tassel?

And then there are the many who happily made it through high school without just causing too many waves. I was one of those, graduating somewhere in the middle of my class. (But I always remind my grandsons that graduated in the upper 90%!) I got some recognition in college and professionally later in life, but in high school, I just made it through. Luckily, that was enough for my supportive family.

So congratulate ever kid you know who finished high school (or just the school year). Even if we aren't all world beaters, we still deserve a pat on the back.

Oh, I've been the guest speaker at two graduations. Here are the texts of those talks:

Graduation speech - 1994 

Everything I know in 15 minutes