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EdTech Update





Are you motivated more by fear or opportunity?

First a short preface to writing what will probably turn out to be a curmudgeonly post: Social anthropologist Jennifer James explains why old people often have a "the world's going to hell in a handbasket" mentality. At some point, we recognize our own mortality and we find the fact we are going to dies easier to acknowledge if we think we are leaving a world that is getting worse rather than getting better.* 

Is it just me, or are our politics being driven increasingly by fear as opposed to opportunity?
  • Fear of immigrants
  • Fear of rural whites
  • Fear of other countries' economic policies
  • Fear of losing our middle class
  • Fear of LGBTQ rights or lack thereof
  • Fear of losing reproductive rights
  • Fear of losing privacy
  • Fear of not having medical insurance or a fear of others getting undeserved medical coverage
  • Fear of governmental overreach or governmental impotence
  • Fear of Russian meddling
  • Fear of fake news and alternative facts
  • Fear of technology in general, especially AI

And the list could be continued...

Our opinions and actions seem to be driven completely by the possibility of something bad happening as opposed to the opportunity to make something good happen. This does not feel like the country in which I grew up and have been working for 40+ years.

Is fear driving our decision-making in our schools (including our school libraries and tech departments) as well? (Better to overfilter than underfilter. Better not risk having students take devices home. Better pull back on ordering library materials that may be controversial. Better to stress in digital citizenship classes the dangers rather than the creative and constructive uses of the Internet.)

The leaders I admire most are those who move us with the desire for improvement, with forward movement, with new opportunities. I want to think, despite being a geezer, that this is still happening in our profession. It is opportunity that motivates us.


* And there are some definite advantages to getting older, believe it or not. Update to my 2012 list:
  • If one enjoys seeing the beauty and grace of young people, one's definition of "young" encompasses a vastly larger percentage of the population.
  • There are fewer and fewer "hills worth dying on" at work. That leaves one time and energy to engage in the important things. 
  • One can relax knowing that one's potential for becoming a professional athlete, musician, or porn star are long past.
  • It's a pleasant change to worry more about the lack of time than the lack of money in one's life.
  • In athletic activities, one doesn't have to finish first, just finish, for people to be astounded.
  • It's fun to tease peers about all the mailings they're getting from AARP.
  • Shoes can be purchases based on comfort, not looks. (Oh, I guess I have always done that.)
  • One word: Grandchildren. Relishing watching babies grow into fine young adults.
  • With all one's own children over 21, one is responsible only for one's own mistakes.
  • One is expected to complain about one's aches and pains.
  • Understanding the joy of downsizing - possessions, clothes, housing, and obligations.
  • Realizing even if you could magically be 20 years old again, you wouldn't do it.

So far this aging thing, I'm happy to say, has been a lot more good than bad. I hope to be a problem to others for at least another 20 years or so.


BFTP: Is subversion the only way?

In Rethinking the Library Annual Report II, Jeri Hurd asks a question I've asked myself time and time again:

In a response to my earlier post, Doug Johnson says "The key to a successful report lies ... in its direct correlation to district goals."  He's absolutely right, but for someone faced with putting that document together, it's not all that helpful.  How do you DO that?  What kind of data do you need to gather?

Just as importantly, what if the school's goals aren't yours?  [Empahsis mine] I left a completely wonderful school, partly because my principal and I had completely different visions of what a library should be, and mine didn't involve green lampshades. 

As a professional educator - be it administrator, teacher, technologist, or librarian, a person has three choices when one's organizational goals and values are in conflict with one's personal professional goals and values.

  1. Quit. This is the honorable thing to do in many people's minds. You and the organization aren't simpatico, just leave and find - or found - a new school that fits your world view. Easier said than done, of course. We are often tied to a geographic location. A variety of schools or job openings may not exist in our region. Starting a school is probably more effort and risk than most of us are willing to expend or accept. And then there are all those poor kids one is leaving behind who will suffer from misguided educational policies in your old school ...
  2. Suck it up. Just go along to get along. Practice saying, "I was only following orders." Rationalize that the administrators/politicians/businesses/consultants are much smarter than you so they know what is in the best interest of children despite what your head, heart and experience tell you. Keep paying the mortgage and buying groceries for another 20 years while turning a blind eye to situations that are not good for children. 
  3. Or.... be subversive. Stick around, but do what you can do that keeps within your value system without being openly insubordinate. Having nearly memorized Postman and Weingartner's Teaching As a Subversive Activity back in my college days, I've always viewed subversion not just as a survival technique, but as a moral imperative. Do EVERYTHING you can get away with that is good for kids despite the official program. Sleep well at night. (See also Librarianship as a Subversive Profession)

Let me give you an example. I think high-stakes state tests in reading and math are bad for kids, bad for teachers, bad for public education, and bad for society in general. They are simply a fairly transparent attempt to discredit public schools so (primarily) rich people can use public monies (via vouchers) to fund private education for their children, scew poor kids, keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor, and the middle class confused. 

But my department is in charge of making sure online state testing goes well. And I do my very best to make sure it does, despite the fact I don't think the testing is good for kids.

But I spend a lot more time on these kinds of things:

  • keeping an open and accessible Internet for all kids
  • using the budget to put as much technology in kids hands as possible
  • keeping library programs and collections strong and professional librarians in place
  • encouraging professional development opportunities that stress students using technology to engage in higher order thinking skills, collaboration, and creativity
  • sending articles, blog posts, and other resources about progressive educational practices out to all staff
  • writing and speaking publicly on topics that reflect my own educational values in the hope of persuading decision-makers

In today's atmosphere that seems to value a student's ability to pass a test as the only mark of an "effective school," any librarian who gets a kid to read for pleasure, any technologist who finds an enjoyable tool that teaches a skill, or any teacher who gives students a chance to use their own brains to creatively solve a problem is subversive. 

It may be the subversives who change the world. I hope so.

Of course, this doesn't help much in trying to determine the contents of the library's annual report. Sorry, Jeri.

Let's all sing along with What Did You Learn in School Today by Pikku Myy:

What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
I learned that I must pass a test 
To sort the learners from the rest 
That winners win and losers lose 
And TAKS test scores is how they choose 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
It matters what my parents earn 
I'll get better grades with cash to burn 
If I don't speak English I can't be smart 
And no more music and no more art 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine? 
Workbooks fill my empty mind 
So that I won't be left behind 
I'm learning how to play the game 
And all right answers look the same 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
What did you learn in school today, dear little girl of mine? 
Learning's just a job I do 
From seven thirty til half-past two 
And all my interests have to wait 
'Til I drop out or graduate 
And that's what I learned in school today 
That's what I learned in school 

Original post June 6, 2013


Diversity spreads in Minnesota


Early in my speaking/consulting days, say mid-90s, I was accused of giving a racist presentation. Now while I have never claimed to be a particularly culturally proficient individual, I never considered myself to be racist. Ignorant, lacking in experience, and insensitive perhaps - but not racist. So I was taken aback.

"What did I say?" I asked the librarian who had confronted me.

"It's not what you said, it's what was on your slides. You only had photographs of white children throughout the presentation!" 

And on review, I had to admit I was guilty as charged.

I always illustrated my slides with photos of students from my district's classes and libraries. I would run them through a photo filter to make the students unrecognizable and make me look artistically talented. Seeing actual HPLUKs added cred - that I was walking the talk. I had also read that in showing pictures of happy children, you were more likely to be liked as well since subconsciously the listeners would credit you with their happiness. 

Anyway, the comment was a wake up call to be more inclusive in my subjects. While the other-than-white population was a small percentage of my rural Minnesota community, it was present and I gladly snapped photos of a wider range of ethnicities for my talks. 

I was reflecting on this experience after reading the following story: The number of majority-minority school districts in Minnesota has doubled in the last five years, Minnpost 7/23/18. The district in which I am currently employed has a "majority-minority." Administration has led and continues to lead a very purposeful cultural proficiency initiative to raise awareness and understanding what a large minority population means in a district comprised primarily of white teachers and administrators. 

As are most changes, this increase in minority students has made some people unhappy. Some families open enroll their students in districts with a larger white student population. (Personally, I see this as doing a disservice to their kids since they will be living and working in an increasingly diverse society and should experience this diversity as learners.) Teachers have had to change their mindset from having students adapt to traditional teaching practices to having to adapt teaching practices to better meet the needs of today's students. And for those of us in technology, we have now made equity and access for all students a primary factor in planning and budgeting.

Personally, I like living in a diverse community, a diverse state, a diverse country. I like walking through the halls of our schools seeing lots of skin colors and hair styles and clothing fashions, especially when the common denominator among all the kids is their smiles.