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Sunday
Oct072018

My Freely Admitted Personal Biases - updated

Everyone has biases. They may be well-founded and good intentioned, but they are still matters of opinion with which others may differ. Recognizing and articulating our own strongly held beliefs, I believe, is a healthy thing. We are more likely to be empathetic to those poor misguided souls whose biases may not ali align with our own. Some of mine are below... 

My Freely Admitted Personal Biases

(subject to change on short notice)

About education:

  1. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own education.
  2. The solution to all the world's problems will rely on effective education.
  3. Libraries and uncensored Internet access are vital to a democratic society.
  4. A teacher's primary job is to instill a sense of importance in his subject. Skills will follow.
  5. Schools should teach children to think, not to believe.
  6. Creativity, empathy, and humor are as important to success as reading, writing, and numeracy.
  7. An effective school library program should be available to every child.
  8. Money alone won’t improve education. Chastisement alone won’t improve education.
  9. All citizens should pay for public education. Don't you want an educated person changing your drool bucket in the nursing home?
  10. Also see "All 10 fingers, all 10 toes" on my educational wishes for my grandchildren.
  11. All kids should be treated the way I want my own grandchildren to be treated.
  12. There is no place in the future for teachers. Only co-learners.
  13. Like it or not, what gets tested, gets taught.
  14. On data driven decision-making: anything that you can get someone else to believe is true.
  15. Anything fun in education is automatically suspicious.
  16. The best way to show gratitude for a professional courtesy is to pay it forward. Show a person new to the field a kindness.
  17. Standardized tests are more about discrediting public schools than improving education.
  18. Forprofit education is an oxymoron.
  19. When traveling, never eat anything you can't translate.
  20. A real teacher doesn't provide answers. Only questions so compelling the student must answer them for themselves.
  21. Creativity always starts with a problem.
  22. Some are born learners, some achieve learning, and others have learning thrust upon 'em.

About politics and religion:

  1. Both politics and religion should be viewed with profound skepticism.
  2. Legislators should not require children to take tests that they themselves can’t pass.
  3. All political extremists of both the left and right should be put in a compound surrounded by razor wire and armed guards in western North Dakota – and kept there. Ann Coulter and Al Franken should have to share a room.
  4. If life isn't fair, why should the afterlife be?
  5. The best gifts given are to those who are actually in need.
  6. Strength of opinion and depth of knowledge rise and fall in inverse proportion.

About technology:

  1. Technology is neutral.
  2. Best practices should drive educational change, not technology.
  3. Short-term fixes rarely fix anything and usually aren’t short-term.
  4. PowerPoint doesn’t bore people: people bore people.
  5. Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part.
  6. Cell phones are evil. (Exception to bias #1.)
  7. Macs are better than PCs. But both are detestable.
  8. More and better are not synonymous.
  9. My best decisions are made when I think of myself first as a child advocate, second as an educator, and lastly as a technologist.
  10. The motto of most technology departments should be: Solving problems with technology that you didn't have before there was technology.

About race and culture:

  1. Swedes are superior to Norwegians in every way. But mixed marriages can work.
  2. Everyone has a funny accent except Minnesotans.
  3. George Carlin and Bill Maher and Jon Stewart are almost always right.
  4. Unrecognizable food served in small portions artfully arranged on over-sized plates served by an obsequious waiter is not fine dining.
  5. No male over age 10 should wear bangs.

On human nature:

  1. Although I may not say it out loud, my grandchildren are better than any other children on the face of the planet.
  2. I really want most urban legends to be true.
  3. Most of us would prefer shallow wit to deep intelligence in our writers and speakers. Thank goodness.
  4. Sport stadiums should be paid for by the people who use them; community centers, parks, bike trails, libraries, and swimming pools should be paid for by everyone.
  5. Smoking and overeating should be considered poor health choices, not moral failings.
  6. Most of us should be a lot more thankful than we are.
  7. Most of us should worry a lot less than we do.
  8. Change is inevitable - except in human nature.
  9. Say something nice about your significant other to your significant other everyday.
  10. If you wait for the perfect conditions, you’ll spend your life waiting.
  11. It's easier to find something than to find it again.
  12. Rules and reasoning only work with the rational.
  13. Unless you are the bride, never be the thing people remember most about a wedding.
  14. Only English majors and film critics like tragic endings.
  15. Nice people ought to get better service.
  16. Charitable giving is the best investment you can make. Spoiling your children and grandchildren a little is the second best.
  17. The happiest people in the nursing home are the ones with the best stories, not the ones with the most money.
  18. If you can't find someone on whom to pass your stress, you're stuck with it.

Lessons learned from bicycling

Johnson's Little List of Library and Technology Laws

Tuesday
Oct022018

Livin' in the changing 'burbs

The suburbs are the American dream, right? Living in a nice house, having a good job, a happy family. Cheryl Hines

Up until a couple years ago, I had no desire to live in a suburban area. I grew up on a farm in a rural community and have spent my career working in smallish schools and living modestly sized communities - most happily on a lake somewhere in the country. Living in a downtown metro area sounded interesting. But the 'burbs - old, ultraconservative, white folks - no thanks.

A job opportunity made a move to a suburb rather inevitable. And moving from small town life to this new environment of busy roads, no downtown, large shopping malls, and a seemingly-removed government has been a long adjustment. My suspicion that suburbs lack the personality - even the soul - of smaller towns was not entirely unfounded.

Suburbs, mine included, are also making adjustments as this interesting Pew Study reveals. We are becoming less conservative, older, poorer, and more racially diverse. But we are gaining population. And of course, this is impacting our schools in very big ways. My district is now a "minority-majority" district and we are still searching for ways to close the achievement gap. We are serving more immigrant families with language acquisition needs. An increasing number of our students need not just free and reduced price lunches, but help getting enough to eat on the weekends and over the summer. We are experiencing "white-flight" with parents placing kids through open enrollment in less diverse districts nearby. 

I sincerely believe our entire staff - from board members to bus drivers - is trying to figure out how we as a district needs to change as our community changes. And there are no easy answers. So much of what influences if and how our kids learn is outside our control. A homeless kid may have more to worry about than knowing the Pythagorean Theorem.

But I think we will adjust. Just as I am adjusting to living outside my small town comfort zone by joining a service club and participating in hiking and biking group activities, so will our district figure out how to allocate its resources, change its teaching methods, communicate more effectively, and retain all families living in our community. Change is bumpy with starts and stops and much discomfort at times. But it happens.

I often think of the old quote from Seneca: The fates guide those who go willingly; those who do not, they drag.

Tuesday
Oct022018

Old advice that is still valid in the digital world

Those of us who did not grow up with technology may struggle less with the hazards that accompany its use if we look back at some lessons from our own childhood. I was thinking of a few of this past weekend when reading another article aimed at senior citizens warning about email fraud. (Why DO these keep popping up in my Facebook feed?)

So for my senior colleagues, remember...

If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
My guess is that the majority of scams perpetrated are successful because there is some kind of unearned financial or emotional gain involved. Neither Nigerian bankers nor Russian supermodels want to give you something for nothing. These are the carnival hucksters of the digital world. More subtlety, "wealth managers", Medicare advisors, and trip planners all expect compensation for their guidance.

Face to face meetings get things done. With few exceptions, getting all parties together physically rather than virtually, is more effective in planning, problem-solving, and resolving disagreements. Second most effective is real-time virtual meetings where participants share a webcast or a conference telephone line. When attempting to move a multi-participant task forward, these "come to Jesus" meetings are essential. You wait for someone to return that email or support ticket, you may find yourself waiting a very, very long time.

Consider the source. Amazon is not a reference source - it is a sales tool. Fox News, Huffington Post, etc. are deliberatively provocative. The wilder the headline, the more likely the sucker who clicks the link, generating revenue for somebody. 

If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? I suspect kids are more likely to do foolish things on line (or off) when they see their peers do them. But we "mature" individuals may be suseptible as well. That new gadget everyone seems to have (Fitbits, Echos), that newest investment opportunity (BitCoin), or health practice (quinoa, fasting, low-carb, high intensity exercise) are tempting just because its seems everybody's doin' it, doin' it.

I feel fortunate that somwhere during my misspent childhood I picked up a few good rules of common sense that seemed to have mostly served me well. You can't go too wrong with the advice given by your grandmother.