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EdTech Update





Palin and censorship

The Blue Skunk tries to stay as apolitical as possible (weak stomach) but when this came across the state listserv this morning, the intellectual freedom fighter in me couldn't resist sharing it.

Excerpt from:

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin's first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. "They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her," Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to "resist all efforts at censorship," Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were "rhetorical."

Wouldn't it be ironic if the books Gov. Palin was trying to get rid of were on sex education for teens?

I guess I will have to break my pledge to vote for the first hottie to run for Prez.


End of a season; end of an era

Brady at Cry of the Loon Resort, Labor Day 1993

My friend Cary and I have been bringing our families and friends "up nort'" to a small resort nearly every Labor Day weekend since 1993. Over the years, it become tradition. (See 2006 and 2007 reports.)

But next year the tradition ends. Bill and Nancy, the owners of Cry of the Loon, are retiring and will rent no more. Knowing this, I spent an entire weekend with a lump in my throat. And I am not a particularly sentimental person. Or maybe I am since I've been spending lots of time thinking about tradition and its importance to kids.

When I was a little boy growing up on the prairie, my family's traditions centered around the big holidays - primarily Thanksgiving and Christmas, every year going to the same set of grandparents, eating the same sorts of food, and pounding on the same set of cousins. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins all lived within driving distance and the terms "blended" or "nontraditional"  family were not in our vocabulary or experience.

Cary's and my kids did not have the "traditional" holiday experience. More than two sets of grandparents often living at great distances ruled out much consistency in how they spent Thanksgiving and Christmas. But for our kids, the Labor Day pilgrimage each year to Cry of the Loon became the tradition.  Each year we religiously:

  • Arrived on the Friday night and left on Monday morning.
  • Took a bike ride around Lake Itasca.
  • Climbed the park's fire tower (making it to the top was a rite of passage).
  • Had malts served in the big steel cans at the Douglas Lodge.
  • Watched the Tom Hanks movie Big.
  • Grilled burgers and dogs.
  • Braved the cool lake waters for a "last summer swim," pretty much regardless of the weather.

I have always been surprised at the vehemence with which our kids held the weekend's events sacrosanct. Staying in a different cabin or even sitting at a different table in a favorite restaurant was met with protest. New food items were held in disdain. Order and sameness and regularity were the rule and violation from it was a sin.

As we were packing up to leave this morning, 7-year-old grandson Paul asked, "But Grandpa, aren't we going to watch Giant before we go?" I could not figure out what he was taking about. I told him that the movie Giant was for adults and he wouldn't like it and if he was thinking of Iron Giant, the cartoon, the lodge didn't have it. Finally in frustration, Paul explained the plot: "You know, Grandpa, it's where the boy wakes up grown up and dances on the piano in the toy store." Ah, it was Big, not Giant, he wanted. A new generation demanding tradition as well.

I also believe tradition is as (or maybe more) important to us older people. I realized on my drive back that I always take the back roads, the Blue Highways, from the lodge to home. It started because I wanted to avoid the holiday traffic mess on the popular roads, but yesterday I had to admit that I just plain get pleasure from driving in the country past the small lakes and old barns and little towns with little intakes of breath at how beautiful our state can be. Back roads add an hour, perhaps, to the 250 mile trip. But it is an hour well-spent.

Rob Rubis is struggling with the conflict between the traditional and the new in his school and library program at ISB, as I am sure many of us are. Are we too quick to dismiss the traditions in our schools and in our practice? Do both our students and our staff genuinely need some continuity, some sameness, even if it seems dated, in their speedy, changing lives?

Do we offer enough traditions for our kids? And how do we build these routines and beloved practices? Something I will be thinking about as our students roll back in tomorrow.

Last swim. Paul at Cry of the Loon, Labor Day 2008.


Little Brother and Creepy Treehouses

With the passage of the Patriot Act of 2009, all electronic communication devices used in schools will have a Mind Police chip that automatically sends logs to the school’s office of testing and assessment, the vice-principal’s office, and the Department of Homeland Security for data-mining. Of course, all students have discovered how to disable the chips. Turning the Page (E-books and their impact on libraries) School Library Journal, November 2004.

On Tom Hoffman's recommendation. I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's intriguing book Little Brother (free dowload here).  Authored by a former director for the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the book is a cautionary/action/YA novel about a young San Franciso hacker pursued by the Department of Homeland Security after the Bay Bridge suffers a 9/11-type attack. Caught in their sweep, detained and humiliated by their officers, and concerned for a friend who was not released from "Gitmo-by-the-Bay," Marcus uses his hacking and gaming skills to foil the heavy-booted authoritarianism that descends on his city.

I really enjoyed Doctorow's Department of Homeland Security villains. No monstrous Ian Fleming psychos here, but the post-graduation "good" sorority and fraternity Buffys and Kips from Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. These are the same Young Repblicans sent to rebuild Iraq and run the Department of Justice. Clean-cut patriots who Doctorow has very believably waterboarding Americans, patriotically and without remorse. Very scary indeed.

I also was fascinated by rhe technology Marcus's near-future school uses. His heavily monitored school laptop well fits into the category of a "creepy treehouse" technology - a term I've just recently stumbled across. (Sorry, I forget where.) One of the term's definitions is:

n. Any system or environment that repulses a target user due to it’s closeness to or representation of an oppressive or overbearing institution.

Marcus, of course, simply boots his machine with a monitor-free OS from a flash-drive to avoid unauthorized use detection. He avoids the "gait-recognition" software of his school's video monitors by putting pebbles in his shoes. He and his friends create their own network using GameBoy-like devices running an OS called ParanoidLinux and using unsecured wireless networks around the city. I suspect it will be the adult readers, not teens, that will be amazed by any of these "hacks."

There is no political subtlety about this book. It's an outright condemnation of the fear tactics used by current politicians. Doctorow effectively argues that the terrorists win when we lose our personal Constitutional freedoms. It makes a great companion novel to Anderson's YA novel Feed. In Feed, the teens are controlled by their digital networks; in Little Brother, the teens use the network to fight against control.

And it's fun and fast-paced. Buy it (or download it) for your YA fiction readers. And maybe slip it to any security obsessed tech directors you know.


I found it interesting that while Little Brother is a Creative Commons download in a host of e-book formats, Amazon does not sell the book for its Kindle. I wonder if that was the author's or Amazon's decision?