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BFTP: Gifts that keep on giving - 2014

Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your own children.
                                                                                  Erma Bombeck

Christmas morning. The house is quiet. Something that smells of cinnamon is in the oven. The tree is lit. The snow outside is very white and very deep. The LWW and I will head off to her parents' house in a couple hours. Our children and grandchildren will be invading next week for a few happy days.

I will admit that I can't wrap a package to save my soul, so the LWW spent hours yesterday gettting the robots and bicycles and LEGOs and underwear and books and computer games and noisy baby toys ready to be un-wrapped in seconds. You really have to be a grandparent before the old saw, "it's better to give than to receive," genuinely rings true. I don't believe our grandkids are any more or less greedy than other small children, but they do love presents - and their excitement is a gift to this grandpa returned many times over.

Material gifts for these boys are easy. A list from their mom, one's cash card, and the local Target store is all that's needed. I have no illusions that 90% of what the boys receive will be lost, broken, or forgotten within weeks. A few things might stick - a book that becomes cherished, a computer game that will engage, a special toy that will become "alive" and so escape the garage sales. But as I sweep the lost StarWars figures up from under the couch next week, I'll have to remember that material gifts are just this grandpa's shallow means of making his affection visible.

Were I able, I'd wrap these gifts up for each of my grandchildren with these cards attached...

  • Health. While about 95% of your health is due to genetics, for good or for bad, the other 5% that you can control is pretty important. Strike a balance between risk paranoia and complete disregard for your bod. Eat a candy bar now and then, but have the good sense to walk it off.  I hope you like the color and the size. To a large degree, the shape will be up to you.
  • Passion. The luckiest people are those who find something that really interests them. What that something is makes little difference  - computers or hockey or inorganic chemistry or etymology or entomology or library science or whatever.  Wear this every day.
  • Compassion. OK, this one is a little odd, but it's important, kids. The capacity to feel for others will give your life meaning and purpose. People who are best at handling the occasional blues do so by finding others to help. This one is polar fleece for the soul.
  • Adventure. Here is the courage to take a risk now and then. Eat a new food. Travel to a different country. Accept a challenge to your physical strength and stamina and comfort. Read something by someone you don't agree with or completely understand. Do at least one thing every year that none of your friends has ever done. Take pictures. The people with the best stories, not the most money, are life's winners. Wear this hat even when it seems a little scary.
  • Appreciation. Never forget how truly lucky you are to be born to loving parents who can afford to feed you, clothe you, and take you to the doctor. Remember that you live in a country that is free of political violence and gives you both freedom and protection. Be thankful that you can get an education that will let you become just about anything you want to be. Even when things may not seem to be going your way, wear these glasses and you will recognize that you are still more fortunate than 99% of the rest of the world.
  • Problems. Yes, I am giving you lots of problems as a gift. You may be an old man like me before you come to appreciate this package, but it may be the most valuable one you receive. Problems engage our minds. Problems make us creative. Problems (and finding solutions to them) give you self-worth. Problems keep life from getting boring. Problem make life fun - really! When you put these in your pocket, it may feel like a burden, but they are boosters.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Winter Solstice or whatever flavor holiday you celebrate.

Original post December 25, 2010


The PTO dilemma

No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth. —John Heywood, 1546.

Our school district is blessed with active, involved parent/teacher organizations. These groups of dedicated parents raise funds and then use those funds to supplement district-purchased resources. And trust me, we as educators are grateful.

The problem comes when there is also a district goal to create equity among buildings, especially in regard to technology access. Disparities arise when different PTOs have differing abilities and desires to raise funds and when they have different priorities for how those funds are spent. Some buildings become quite technology-rich with the help of their parent organizations, while other buildings get by on what the district and building budget can provide. 

Too often people view resources acquired through means other than district funds (grants, foundation gifts, PTO donation, fund raisers) as "nice extras" not as essential. If educational technology is viewed only as a "nice extra," I suspect many teachers and administrators will not regard it as a serious educational tool. If we genuinely believe technology can help students learn, why would we provide technology to some students, but not to all?

So when PTOs offer to purchase technology for a building, how should we respond? Are there some tech purchases that can be made but allow us to still maintain equity of access for all kids across the district? What if...

  • All PTOs contribute to a single district-wide project or resource. Were all PTOs across a district to put their funds into a single pot which then could be used for district-wide purchases, equity would be increased. Let the PTO support e-book collections that are accessible to all kids. Let them contribute to an initiative that puts more student devices in all classrooms. Let them fund equipment for maker-spaces in all libraries. (In my experience, PTOs are not likely to accept this kind of plan.)
  • PTOs fund technologies that the district is planning to purchase in the near future. If the district is planning to put voice amplification systems in all classrooms over a period of years, PTOs could contribute to doing this in individual buildings so kids get the benefit of the technology early. Possible, but not likely.
  • PTOs fund staff grants for innovative uses of technology. I have a teacher who wants $600 to use Mindcraft stuff to investigate collaboration. Cool project, but there is no pot of district money to support such a project. What if PTOs were to fund well-articulated grants that had stated goals, metrics for measuring success, and means of diseminating the lessons learned from the funded projects. I think I like this one best.

Often times parents have a greater faith in the power of technology to help educate than do educators themselves so they encourage the use of PTO donations to acquire it. It's happened for the past 25 years in my experience and I doubt it will go away soon.

How do you handle PTO offers of technology purchases in ways that maintain equity of access?


Who speaks for Intellectual Freedom in schools?

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. ALA
Who in your school understands and values the concept of Intellectual Freedom (IF)? What percent of teachers and students could define it and argue either for or against its main principle?

With the loss of school librarians, I fear what I suspect are the already low numbers of educators who understand and value intellectual freedom will fall. I have no faith that programs that train network and computer support people will address this issue. Are college degree programs in educational technology addressing IF? (I really don't know.) A quick search of the ISTE website provided no hits on the topic.

AASL has long been trying to promote IF. Helen Adams, an active advocate and retired school librarian from Wisconsin, writes "... while I was chairperson, the AASL Intellectual Freedom Committee created an IF brochure in 2008 and revised it in 2010. ... parts are out of date, but it could be repurposed."

Description from the AASL website:
Brochure created by the AASL Intellectual Freedom Committee available for download, duplication, and distribution. It describes why intellectual freedom is important in a school library program, the difference between selection and censorship, what to do before a challenge occurs, where to obtain assistance during a challenge, why schools filter and how it affects students intellectual freedom, and how the ALA Code of Ethics affects school librarians.

As I see school librarian positions being replaced or rebranded as "digital learning specialists" or "technology integration coaches," I worry about three real very real losses. The first is that teachers and students will lose a source of information and leadership on powerful reading improvement strategies focused on individualization of reading materials and personal interests. The second is that staff and students will no longer have access to experts who can teach information literacy skills.

But most of all I worry that the sole proponents of intellectual freedom for both students and staff will be eliminated. 

There has never been a more critical time to understand and support intellectual freedom. The news media is highly politicized on both the left and the right. Technology allows us to select and read only the articles and columns that support our own opinions. Critical thinking takes a back seat to "basic skills" in many students' classrooms.

I hope ALA re-writes its brochure to address:
  • Internet filtering issues as much as it does materials in print format
  • freedom of expression of opinion, not just freedom of access
  • enlarging the target audience to include all educators, not just librarians, and
  • ALA working with other professional organizations in its efforts to promote IF. 
Thanks to Helen and all hard-working proponents of IF. I am worried you have your work cut out for you.