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EdTech Update





Roger Sween on school libraries

... libraries ... are more potentially sustaining of learning and knowledge acquisition in the full range and lifelong run than any other mechanism - Roger Sween

Roger Sween is a retired member of the Minnesota Department of Library Services. He is also a passionate advocate for Intellectual Freedom, a supporter of libraries of all types, the husband of a school library media specialist, a very good writer, and pretty much an all-round good guy. This is his reaction to the defeat of our library bill for school library programs last week. He sent the following to our state's library/technology listserv and it is posted here with his permission...                                                                                    

The subject of an active, integrated school library media program has been dear to my heart forever.  I say, forever, because as far back as my memory reaches, I have been addicted to books, reading, information-seeking, learning and libraries.  Bookstores, too.  By the time I left high school, I realized that it was what I had read and pursued on my own that made the greatest impact on my life.  Most teachers were good; a few were extraordinary.  Most textbooks were okay; a few were dreadful, and in subjects where I read widely thanks to libraries (history especially), I ignored the assigned texts as shallow and redundant of what I knew.
schlibrs.jpgThough I set out in college to become a historian, I first became by indirection a school librarian.  More with the passage of time, I realized that libraries (or whatever we call them and however they function) are more potentially sustaining of learning and knowledge acquisition in the full range and lifelong run than any other mechanism.  We do depend upon parents and teachers to give us our learning start, but nothing surpasses the ability to learn on one’s own as long as one has the attitudes, skills and resources from that start to become seekers.
In my latter years, I came to realize that what seemed so obvious to me was not obvious to others, and I wondered why.  As I have continued to ponder this matter since leaving employment in 2000, a possibility has dawned on me: Most people perceive that education qua classrooms and teachers exists primary to learning, and not the reverse.  Thus anything that exists outside of teaching – conversation with others, reflective experience, reading on one’s own, self-directed learning, exposure to the skills and benefits of using our cultural heritage – becomes secondary and suspect from the primacy of education.  This is a theory, but I am working on it.
Now, one way to overcome the subordinate position of learning in regards to library services in general and slm in particular is to require the service.  In Minnesota, public library service is required but school library media service is not.  I forget exactly when the requirement for public library service passed, but it was after I came to the state library agency in May 1984.  MLA and the state library agency had been at it for some years, and it took some years more, at least ten years of incessant trying, so that it went into effect about 1990. Resisting county commissioners in those holdout counties were obstacles to participation and therefore of taxation.  Local control and unfunded mandates became their chief arguments, but eventually legislators bit the bullet and made the requirement.  What the law requires is that all counties tax for library services and join regional public library systems, and at that time about six rural counties remained hold outs.  Municipalities that already tax for public library services are exempt from the county library tax.  Statutes set property taxation levels at a minimum level based on valuation and taxing authorities within regional public systems are not allowed to reduce their current level without a corresponding decline in valuation.  Participation in regional public library systems allows residents – over 99% of the state population – to a host of services that those outside of regional memberships do not have.  Few other states have this level of service by which the state, the counties and the other municipal bodies all play their part.
The situation with school library media services, as most likely you all know, follows.  Among the general powers the state gives to independent school districts is this provision:

The board may provide library facilities as part of its school equipment according to the standards of the commissioner of education. – Minnesota Statutes (2007) 123B.02 Subd.

As I have tried to point out kindly in the written testimony posted last week, the existing statute is a bit of a mess.  Not only does it date from a decade in which school library facilities were new and uncommon but it references standards that do not exist and a authority for standards that past commissioner’s have said they do not have unless they are specifically directed to produce them.  Further the current concept of school library media services is one of program, not of facilities and equipment except as they carry out program.  Therefore I suggest that what the legislature do is update this section to require every school district to have a plan that puts resources into use through a school media program.  Why would anyone be opposed to planning?  It costs nothing but time and effort.
The current bill, if it is still live in the House, having died in the Senate, goes beyond my gradualist proposal and certainly should be considered.  I had asked the other day about the reasons given to not report it from committee and found the fullest answer and discussion on Doug Johnson’s blog.  I have chosen to carry on the discussion here.  The same old reasons were given – local control and unfunded mandates.  I am suspicious enough to think that these are not the real reasons.
The only reason for something to be optional and subject to local control is that it is not essential and therefore is elective.  The only reason that something elective is valid is that it is marginal to the intended purpose – learning.  Since research investigations in various states and over time have show that media services have their positive effect on student learning, then those still opposed must refute the research and not answer that it is a matter of local control.
The unfunded mandate argument is hooey and contrary to past legislative arguments.  The legislature has argued for the last two decades in my experience that categorical funding for school library media programs is unnecessary since districts are awarded enough student aid formula funds to meet their needs.  No question of scale, purpose, or method seems ever to have entered here.  Therefore if districts have adequate funds and some districts do not employ them for school media services, then they are de fact providing unequal and inferior service to their students.  The last time I looked, equal and efficient means of education was a guarantee in the Minnesota Constitution.
I think we have two choices: 1) Since legislators cannot be convinced in committee, they have to be won over through persistent dialogue one by one.  This takes lots of conversation and lots of public interest.  2) Put public interest first and generate a ground swell of support that causes legislators to investigate on their own what this school media business is all about.
At basis, I think human nature is about potential and learning is the means of becoming one’s best.  School media services are in the forefront of learning and of becoming as fully human as we can be.  As hard as this endeavor is – one that is now decades old – this is why we have to do it.  The trick is not to do it alone, but to build support.
--Roger Sween
Dubitando quippe ad inquisitionem venimus; inquirendo veritatem percipimus.
By doubting we come to enquiry, and through enquiry we perceive truth.
          - Peter Abelard, Sic et Non [c.1120]

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Tom Ross on games

Our state listserve has been having an ongoing discussion about the use of computer games in school.

Being the agitator that I am, I posted my lists of reason for and against games. Ending with:


  1. Kids playing games might be using resources (computers, bandwidth, chairs, oxygen) that other kids might need to do "real" school work.
  2. Kids playing games find school fun and we all know life isn't about fun.
  3. Playing games is against school rules

My friend Tom Ross, library media specialist for Robbinsdale (MN), sent me a reply which he kindly gave permission to share here. Tom is one of those wonderful writers who grows more eloquent as he grows more passionate about his topic!

One more very valid reason for banning games...
Because we choose not to adapt, "and those who do not adapt..." Well you know the rest of the quote.

Our educational community is choosing to live lin the 19th century and cannot adapt to the world our students live in.  We choose not to walk beside them, coach them and transform them into responsible users of all media. We are too busy with our own world to think about theirs. Let's face it, our educational community is uncomfortable with their world. Overhead projectors are still one of the most important purchases by media specialists, but only so because our teachers demand them. In this we fail. We fail to text, we fail to blog, we fail to WOW and many of us don't have a clue about what I just said.
Therefore, 1. We will be replaced the first chance they get, and 2. We will continue to lose the ability to influence the decision making process and ensure a safer, more sane world than we have now.

... I would put as Number 1 at the top of the "Reasons for Games," the following: 1. Influence the values of this generation for the future and 2. Remain relevant in the lives of our students. We are becoming irrelevant ar the speed of Afrikaners.JPGa duo quad four Pentium. Let me say that word again: irrelevant. Students are moving beyond us as if we did not exist. Our grammar, our word choice, our polite culture, how we spell our words, our attitudes, our culture, our world, our values are being left discarded like a used tissue. Complain about it as we will, it will not matter, because we will be replaced and like some forgotten massacre of the Second Boer War,  No one will even know we were here. It will be the sound of a tree falling in a far off Siberian forest.
Realizing that we as educational communities cannot make this and several other adaptions, (cell phones, hand held internet access and retrieval systems, I will predict that schools as we know them will continue to shrink and be replaced by other formats of education until they are things of curiosity of the 18th-20th centuries. This is just a reality, not an emotional response.  We won't be the first dinosaur that failed to make the adaptation. The question for us individually is whether or not we will allow ourselves to morph with the new world realities around us --- or simply retire?
 As for myself, I am not going softly into that good night.
Tom Ross,
Plymouth Middle School

How does the now over-used quote by General Eric Shinseki go? “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”  Thanks, Tom, for the passionate reminder.


Odds and Ends - Spring thaw 08

Been a busy, busy time for me with trips to Iowa to see my mom who is on the mend from hip surgery, to the state legislature where it is still on the waiting list for a brain donor, and to the DuKane Library Institute near Chicago where I had a chance work with outstanding area school library media specialist. (Pam Kramer runs a class act!) School board reports, workshop handouts and a column are sort of rounding out my evenings.

But the weather seems to be moderating! 

Anyway, I've not had the chance to explore entries in my GoogleReader as deeply as I'd like. Here are a few I need to get back to soon:


Sorry to start with a negative, but Seth Godin is overrated. But now and then he does peak my interest. Like in this post:

Encyclopedia salesmen hate wikipedia...

And CNET hates Google
And newspapers hate Craigslist
And music labels hate Napster
And used bookstores hate Amazon
And so do independent bookstores.

Dating services hate Plenty of Fish
And the local shoe store hates Zappos
And courier services hate fax machines
And monks hate Gutenberg

Apparently, technology doesn't care who you hate.

LMSs and TLCs (Technology and Learning Coordinators) whom do we hate? Or do we just hate anything that asks us to examine what value we add to education - and then realize we must change as a result of what we find?


 Wonderful blog entry by Pete Reilly on the need and content for a Students Bill of Rights. Check it out.

I took a little softer approach on this topic when second grandson Miles was born a couple years ago. Here are his "Bill of Rights."

Miles will start school in 2010 or 2011. Here’s what I hope he finds:

    1. A place that cares as much about his happiness as his education.
    2. A place that cares more about his love of learning than his test scores.
    3. A place where he feels safe and welcome and can’t wait to get to every morning.
    4. A place that honors creativity more than memorization.
    5. A place that has a library full of stories and a librarian who makes them come alive.
    6. A place where technology hasn’t taken the place of playing with blocks, finger-painting, naps, graham crackers, or a teacher’s soft encouragement.
    7. A place where he learns to work and play with kids who make not have been given the blessings of a middle-class lifestyle or a fully-functioning body or brain.
    8. A place that teaches kindness along with math, tolerance along with history, and conservation along with science.
    9. A place where teachers are excited about teaching and passionate about encouraging the passions in their students.
    10. A place where he is never compared to his older brother, Paul.

What would you put on a Students Bill of Rights?


NCTE is going high tech on us! From its Toward A Definition of 21st-Century Literacies.

Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Sound like any other sets of standards you've been reading lately??? Looks good, English majors!

(Full disclosure - I was an English teacher in my career's larval stage.)

Still have found no organization adopt my Bullshit Literacy Standards and I don't quite understand why. 


I was very flattered to be tagged for a Blogs That Make Me Think Award by Carolyn Foote at A Not So Distant Future.

The rules of the meme are:
  1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
  2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
  3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote

In addition there is a note: “Please, remember to tag blogs with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all - blogs that really get you thinking! ”

Thanks, Carolyn. My guess is that what most people think while reading the Blue Skunk is "Why am I wasting my time reading this stuff?" Anyway, here are 5 folks who, as much as it makes my head hurt, really make me think:

  1. Pete Reilly at Ed Tech Journeys
  2. Paul at quoteflections 
  3. Joyce Valenza at A Never Ending Search
  4. Scott Adams at The Dilbert Blog. (Recent observation: Women prefer taller men. That’s probably a good thing from an evolutionary perspective. If the preference worked in the other direction, eventually our descendants would evolve smaller and smaller until squirrels ate them.)
  5. Stephen Abrams at Stephen's Lighthouse

 Ok, I actually have 68 subscriptions in my Reader and if all of them didn't make think at least once in a while, I wouldn't still be subscribed. Thanks to everyone who writes and shares...



Two good posts this week with more realistic takes on Internet dangers:

Worth reading and sharing with the person who controls your Internet filter.


And finally, I'll leave you with this inspirational quote

Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Give a fish a man, and he'll eat for weeks! - Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, authors of Animal Crossing: Wild World