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The Radical Center of Education

RadicalCenter_800.gifLast Sunday I caught just a bit of the Speaking of Faith program on National Public Radio. Tippett was interviewing the author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren, and his wife Kay. As a couple, they lead a large Evangelical church, but also are working on AIDS prevention. One particular comment by Kay stuck me. She sees her church as a moderate organization, neither fundamentalist nor liberal. And she believes this to be the most difficult position for it to take because it has two sets of critics - those from both the extreme left and the extreme right.

While the Radical Center political movement has been around for a while, I suggest that we in education and technology adopt a similar view on hot button topics. (And one thing that blog reading/writing has taught me is that there are PLENTY of emotion-laden topics in education!) While a polarized view of reading methodologies, filtering, DRM, Open Source, copyright/copyleft, constructivism, e-books, fixed schedules, Mac/PC/Linux, OLPC, fear-mongering, etc. makes for entertaining reading and good PR, I wonder if radical stances actually create educational change and so impact kids lives.

As a radical centerist in education, I try to subscribe to the following principles (This is just Saturday morning brainstorming and subject to revision, OK?) Sorry about many of these being clichés.

  1. Adopt an "and" not "or" mindset.
  2. Look for truth and value in all beliefs and practices.
  3. Respect the perspective of the individual. 
  4. One size does not fit all (kids or teachers).
  5. If you think it will work, it probably will.
  6. The elephant can only be eaten one bite at a time. Or is it that you can't leap the chasm in two bounds?
  7. To travel fast, travel alone. To travel far, travel with others. 
  8. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know."
  9. Measurement is good, but not everything can be measured.
  10. Know and keep your core values.

I'll try to flesh these ideas out and revise them over the next week or two. I'd be delighted to hear from others who consider themselves a part of the radical center. And to hear from the fringes as well on just why this is a bad idea. (Will I regret having just written that?)

Image from 



Limits of influence

"He was one of those men who think that the world can be saved by writing a pamphlet." - Benjamin Disraeli

"I really feel like when people ask me to do a keynote or a general presentation that my job is to inspire, cajole, provide some cognitive dissonance or start conversations." - Will Richardson

Right in the middle of my final presentation of 2007 last Tuesday, I had a thunderclap of a flashback: I was arguing for the SAME DAMN THING in 2007 that I was arguing for in 1994 at the same conference - that kids need to have access to Internet resources. In 1994, it was general Internet access adults were nervous about; today it is Web 2.0 tools they worry about.

It just makes a fellow wonder what he's been doing for the past 13 years or so. Just spitting in the wind?

Tuesday's talk went fine. Participants (many in the group were my colleagues here in the state) seemed engaged and were polite. But then folks in our area tend to be that way whether you are deserving of courtesy or not. We even have a term for it: Minnesota Nice. Over all, it's been a pretty good year for me in my side-line of speaking and doing workshops. I had about 18 jobs, working at conferences, with school districts, and for intermediate service agencies with really positive feedback about the work. And while the travel gets to be a bigger PIA every year, actually doing the workshops gets more and more fun for me. And next year's calendar is starting to fill up already.

In the blog entry from which the quote above was taken, Will Richardson angsts about his effectiveness in doing "drive-by" workshops. Maybe I should be more concerned as well, given that I don't feel I've made much of a dent in the world of education or technology. But then I long ago decided that one's influence changes, the further one moves away from the classroom.

  • Classroom influence (Classroom teacher)  Daily interaction with students -> HIgh impact on 20-150 students -> High evidence of impact -> Rapid change
  • Building influence (media specialist or building tech coordinator) - Weekly/monthly interaction with students -> Medium impact on 300 - 1200 students - Medium evidence of impact -> Steady change
  • District influence (District supervisor or director) - Little to no direct student contact -> Less visible evidence of impact -> Slow change
  • State/national influence (Speaker/writer/association leader) - No student contact -> No visible evidence of direct impact -> Imperceptible change

teacher4.jpgIn a nutshell, you have less and less influence on more and more people the farther you get from the classroom. And the more removed from kids you are, the greater the leap of faith one needs to believe one is making a difference. I'd agree with Will that a conference presenter's job is to "inspire, cajole, provide some cognitive dissonance or start conversations," as well as give direction, suggest trends, describe best practices, and even give some low-hanging fruit type applications. And be engaging.

Were it not for the very kind people who on occasion speak to me at conferences or send me e-mails saying that they were moved by an article I wrote, tried an idea I'd presented, or changed their thinking about something because of something I'd said, I'd just stay home. 

I just wonder what I will be arguing for in 2020 - student access to virtual reality equipment, intelligent systems, chips that augment brain functions???  I just hope it is not Internet access.



See you in Anaheim and San Antonio

I've had workshop/session proposals accepted for both the annual ALA conference in Anaheim and NECC in San Antonio.  (I just hope I'm not speaking at the same time as Kathy Schrock - I hate missing her session!)

ala_head.jpgALA - June 27, 2008 - Anaheim CA
Eating Elephant 2.0 One Bite at a Time: Using the Read-Write Web in Classrooms and Libraries, workshop
E-Books, E-Kids, E-Flat! 3 Trends Schools and Libraries Will Ignore at Their Peril, workshop





 NECC - June 28 to July 2, 2008 - San Antonio TX
Are You Punishing or Preventing Plagiarism in Your School?, Workshop, June 29
E-Books, E-Kids, E-Flat! 3 Trends Schools and Libraries Will Ignore at Their Peril, Workshop, June 29
Policies 2.0: Rules for the Social Web, Session, July 2

See you this summer!