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EdTech Update





BFTP: My 5 rules for being a grown-up

As I believe I have mentioned, I am bad at math. When splitting a check in half — half! — I reliably figure it out wrong. (How is this possible? I don’t know either.) I do a lot of crying while balancing my checkbook, and not just for the usual reasons. I chose my college in part because there was no math requirement. I now muddle by with the help of calculators and software, though if I’m doing basic figuring – money, distances – I usually try to do it manually first, to stay in the habit of doing the actual work of math. Why? Because a grown-up needs to be able to maintain a budget and not run away when her kid asks her to check her homework. That’s just how it is. Mary Elizabeth Williams

Ms Williams writes on Salon (Nov 18, 2013) about her 5 rules for being a grown-up. The genesis of her article was a reflection on a Atlantic piece by Miles Kimball and Noah Smith that proposed that when considering competence for something like math “inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.” 

Williams rules are, that as grown-ups:

  1. We have to move [exercise]
  2. We have to feed ourselves [cook and eat healthily]
  3. We have to be able to write a coherent sentence 
  4. We have to think about other people
  5. We have to do the math [maintain a budget and help with homework]

I have two problems with this list.

First, with the exceptions of numbers 1 and 4, these tasks can be outsourced. Yes, given enough time and energy, a human being can become competent at nearly anything. The question is if the time spent in gaining competence is worth the pay-off. I could learn to become a great pastry chef, although that is not an area in which I have much interest or talent. I could indeed take classes, practice, and probably get pretty good at baking a world-class pumpkin pie. Or I could use my time to write and earn enough from that writing to buy a pumpkin pie at Bakers Square. I can hire others to cook, write, and do math - if I have other talents I can trade in exchange. 

My understanding is that psychologists have demonstrated that we are better off spending time developing our strengths than trying to compensate for our weaknesses. Such an approach seems to me to be one that would lead to greater productivity and a happier, more fulfilling life.

The second problem I have with this small list is that it seems terribly modest to me. I have much higher expectations of adults (grown-ups). In my eyes, true adults:

  1. Are independent and take responsibility for their own lives. They have left blaming one's parents, teachers, circumstances of birth, physical make-up, etc. behind. They play the hand they've been dealt - and play it for all it's worth. "Responsible adult" is redundant. An adult also recognizes when he/she needs help - and seeks it without shame or embarrassment. (I write this recognizing that I myself have been very fortunate with my "circumstances of birth," the beneficiary of white privilege.)
  2. Take responsibility for being as healthy as possible. 90% of good health and physical well-being is probably genetic. One doesn't have a lot of choice of being tall, short, fat, thin, pretty, or plug ugly. But the other 10% can make the difference between an active, fulfilling life and one spent on the couch. 
  3. Recognize that their actions have an impact on others - including future generations. This ranges from taking the last scrap of toilet paper and not replacing the roll to using environmentally unfriendly detergent to using bad language around children. Adults live lives of purpose, and the best purpose is making the world a better place for others in some large or small way. And to make the world a better place for one's grandchildren.
  4. Understand that monetary wealth does not necessarily bring happiness - and that the sources of happiness may be different for different people. Real adults don't use money as a means of calculating personal value. Relationships, adventures, creative projects, and service are the big parts of one's obit, not the size of the estate. But then if adults honor the right to pursue happiness in personal ways, far be it from me to criticize the savers and the hoarders. I don't understand monster truck or ballet aficionados either.
  5. Develop a spiritual life and live by a set of personal values. Whether through organized religion, mediation, literature, appreciation of nature, or commitment to the Star Trek fan club, adults seek meaning. And they think about their values - and their value.

Schools should find ways to allow student practice in acting in adult ways - making independent choices, experimenting, and, yes, making mistakes and living with the consequences. Good teachers, like good parents, work themselves out of a job when they are effective.

And I know, at 66, I am still trying to become a grown-up. 

What in your experience is a rule for being an adult?

Image source 

Original post 12-4-13


Maybe younger library users really aren't so different

The Pew report: Younger Americans' Library Habits and Expectations (shared by the State Library of North Carolina) did not surprise me in revealing that our kids and young adults want their libraries to be more tech-enhanced than we old goats. See the chart above.

What the report did make reflect upon is just how much our younger people still value many traditional library resources and services. As much as I have encouraged libraries and librarians to embrace new technologies (starting with The Virtual Librarian in 1993), we need to recognize, maintain, and even strengthen those traditional attributes of our libraries that are valued - even by our younger "techies."

Those traditional areas that jumped out at me from this report include:

  • Reading print books
  • Wanting librarians who help locate resources
  • Valuing physical library spaces for reading, studying, and media consumption
  • Having availability of separate social spaces in libraries
  • Needing programs and classes
  • Providing job and career help

I am guilty of advocating for library evolution. I believe libraries must change to increase their odds of continued existence. But has this been at the cost of not recognizing and promoting those wonderful services and resources and spaces all generations love and value. In fact, it's been those very things that have made me personally a vocal advocate for libraries.

Read the report. What are your take-aways?


A librarian's take on student privacy

Scott McLeod's important thought-piece The surveillance of our youth asks many of the same questions I've been asking myself as we contemplate giving parents a record of their students' browsing history in our district (a capability enabled by a new filtering system). He asks:

Should we monitor every single book or online resource that our children read? Should we use biometric school lunch checkout systems so that we can see exactly what our children eat for lunch each day? Should we dig through our children’s belongings and rooms every morning after they leave for school to see if they’re doing something that they shouldn’t? Should we install RFID and GPS tags into our children’s clothing and backpacks so that we can track them in real time? Should we slap lifelogging cameras on our kids and review them every evening? Should we install keystroke logging software or monitor everything that youth search for on the Internet? Which of these makes you uncomfortable and which doesn’t?

This right to information access privacy has been on the radar of librarians for a rather long time. The Code of Ethics of the American Library Association (first adopted in 1939) specifically calls out:

III.    We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted. 

In "Ethics in the use of technology" (Chapter Five of Ethics in School Librarianship: a Reader edited by Carol Simpson, 2003), I also asked some questions about privacy in the digital age:

Adding complexity to ethical choices that must be made in interpreting the general statement about a library patron’s right to privacy, minors have traditionally been accorded fewer privacy rights than adults. To what extent do we as SLMSs [School Library Media Specialists] reveal the information-seeking and reading habits of an individual student to other adults who have a custodial (and ethical) responsibility for the well being of that student? Do I let a child’s parent, teacher, or school counselor know if one of my students has been accessing “how-to” suicide materials on the web? Do I give information to an authority on a child’s Internet use if it appears that the authority is just on a “fishing trip” with little probable cause for needing this data?

There are often legitimate pedagogical reasons to share with a child’s teachers information about that child’s library resource use. Is the child selecting reading materials at a level that allows that child to practice his or her reading skills? Is the child using the online resources to complete a classroom assignment?


I would suggest we ask ourselves as SLMSs when making decisions about student privacy issues:

  • What are my school’s policies and state and federal laws regarding the confidentiality of student information? Have I consulted with and can I expect support from my administration regarding decisions I make regarding student privacy? Is there recourse to the school’s legal counsel regarding difficult or contentious issues?
  • What is the legitimate custodial responsibility of the person or group asking for information about a student?
  • How accurately and specifically can I provide that information?
  • By providing such information is there a reasonable chance the information may prevent some harm to either the individual or to others in the school or community?
  • Is there a legitimate pedagogical reason to share student information with a teacher? Am I sharing information about materials that students are using for curricular purposes or for personal use?
  • Have I clearly stated to my students what the library guidelines are on the release of personal information? If the computers in the library are or can be remotely monitored, is there a clear statement of that fact readily posted?
  • If student activity on a computer is logged, are students aware of this record, how long the log is kept, how the log may be used, and by whom?

As SLMSs, we of course need to help students be aware of technology issues related to privacy both so that they can protect their own privacy and honor the privacy of others. Students need to understand that businesses and organizations use information to market products, and that information is often gathered electronically, both overtly and covertly. Students need to know that a stranger is a stranger, whether met on the playground or on the Internet and that personal information shared with a stranger may put themselves and their families at risk. Students need to know that schools have the right to search their files when created and stored on school owned computer hardware. Students need to be taught to respect the privacy of others: that because information is displayed on a computer screen doesn’t make it public; that information inadvertently left accessible does not mean that it is appropriate to access it.

Scott, like you, I would prefer to err of the side of privacy. New capabilities for monitoring student technology use and information access call for new discussions around the topic. Will over-surveillance drive students away from using school-provided technologies? Will this create a have and have-not situation in which students with non-school means of information access will be able to satisfy their curiosities without fear of being discovered; whereas students without non-school access will not be able to gather good information?

Thank you for again raising this topic. It's critical.