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Monday
Sep122005

A Differently-Abled Son

The cartoon of the navel-gazing blue skunk created for this blog was drawn by my “differently-abled” son, Brady - one who has taught me a great deal about meeting the needs and interests of different kinds of learners.

My child number one, Carrie, was (and remains) an academically-oriented student: early reader, good writer, terrific researcher, top grade earner, great test-taker, and maybe even a bit of the teacher’s pet. You looked forward to her parent-teacher conferences.

Child number two, Brady, was an (ahem) indifferent student. He disliked reading for school, did the minimum in class to keep him from failing (mostly), hated any kind of test, and did everything he could to keep the teacher’s attention directed away from him. Let’s just say parent-teacher conferences were interesting.

Yet, both my kids are very bright, good natured, talented, sweet as can be, and wickedly funny. It’s just that one like learning from books; the other liked learning by doing. One pursued a college degree in linguistics; the other is in art school.

Here’s the thing. We as educators have to recognize that both kinds of kids (and probably other varieties as well) need to be excited about school and learning. While traditional education served my daughter very well; it failed Brady to a large extent, except for his art and technology classes.

I know the Bradys are often tougher to teach, to connect with, to motivate - especially for those of us who are ourselves more academically oriented.

But here’s my plea to teachers everywhere. Do what you can to reach those who may not love to learn by reading and listening and worksheets.

I love my son Brady no less than I love my daughter Carrie - I don’t think you should either.

At the end of a hot, muggy exhausting Monday afternoon. - Doug

Sunday
Sep112005

Balancing Work and Life: The Climb to Eagle Mountain

eaglemt.jpgOne of my best buddies, Cary G., and I took a couple days this week to head to Minnesota’s beautiful North Shore to hike what passes for mountains around here. We conquered Eagle Mountain, Minnesota’s highest point. At 2301 feet, this may not seem like much of a challenge to those of you from less vertically-challenged states like Colorado or Alaska, but we felt the five hours spent on rough trails to get to the top and back was pretty good for a couple of old guys.

The trip itself, of course, was an excuse to have long manly talks about kids, careers, politics, books, movies, and writing. And yes, the subject of women came up a time or two. We’ve been friends long enough that most of our stories are not new, but all the more enjoyable for the re-telling and embellishment. It’s wonderful how past adventures get more dangerous and past loves get more beautiful the further they recede into the past. We are both settling into our role as long-winded geezers very nicely, thank you.

One topic that seemed to be new this year, however, was how we were both attempting to (and are both confounded by) trying to establish some balance between our work and our personal lives. While we both have day jobs, we also do a good deal of writing, consulting, volunteering, and other sideline work that seems nearly as consuming as the day job. We marvel at friends and relatives who work only to earn the money they need to pursue hobbies, and wonder if they’ve made a better choice than we have.

This certainly hit home when I opened my e-mail this morning after being gone a few days. Over two hundred messages with very few of them being spam. (The shoemaker’s elves once again failed to appear!) There were questions regarding school business, of course, columns to be edited, the fall school media conference I am chairing, state technology issues, national library discussions, updates on upcoming events at which I will be speaking, and even about Kiwanis and Lake Association events. I’ve been replying to e-mail now for about three hours, and still have the toughest knot of about a dozen replies yet to go. It’s nearly lunchtime, the sun is shining, the boat beckons, the lawn needs mowing, and I feel like I already need a nap.

In a very real sense, I am very fortunate since my “work” gives me genuine satisfaction. Giving up a beautiful Sunday morning, to take care of business isn’t as painful as it sounds. (It’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else.)

And I know I am not alone in finding that work spills out of work hours, especially among educators. It’s the rare teacher, librarian or techie who doesn’t carry home papers to grade, books to read, professional journals to skim, or software to learn. Most professional organizations rely heavily on volunteers who do things for the good of the group on their own time. I get plenty of business e-mail sent by other professionals either late at night or early in the morning.

So what is the secret to balancing one’s work and leisure time? What parameters do you set for yourself? Should you count work that you enjoy as play? Does all work and no play really make Jack a dull boy? Should a person be able to take a few days off to go hiking knowing that the e-mail won’t get answered in a timely manner? Or is it egotistical to think the world can’t get along without you just fine for a couple days?

Let me know. I could use some help.

Wednesday
Sep072005

Does AASL need to lead a movement for “consideration” policies?

I have always been so thankful that ALA/AASL and their local affiliates once led the charge for all school boards to adopt formal “reconsideration” policies and procedures to be used when educational materials have been challenged.

I know in our district, simply asking a parent, teacher or community fill out a form that begins an official process after s/he objects to a book or other resource has really separated those with a genuine concern from those without. We have kept many books available to kids that would not be there had not a reconsideration policy been in place. And that there is a mechanism for books that don’t meet true “community standards” to be seriously discussed and dealt with.

I have used this same policy when there has been a request to block a website as well. The requestor has to go through the same process as if s/he were challenging a book.

Lately, however, I’ve been hearing about a different “intellectual freedom” threat - the capricious blocking of websites without any due process in place for making the decision to do so. And equally troubling, there seems to be no official recourse in many districts for a teacher, librarian, parent or student to challenge a decision made to block a particular site.

While CIPA’s guidelines for what should be filtered are often broadly interpreted, they can (and in my mind, should) be very narrowly interpreted if one truly believes in the concept of intellectual freedom. Sites to be blocked to meet CIPA guidelines must be “obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors.” Reading that, it seems to me that the law covers only sites of prurient interest or that are illegal. “Harmful to minors” is so vague that it is meaningless. Choices of all other sites to be blocked are left to the individual district.

If a district has chosen to block sites about evolution, games, webblogs, hate groups, birth control, homosexuality, web-based e-mail, or who knows what, does ALA/AASL offer language that could be included in board policy to challenge this blocking? In other words, is there a formal “consideration” process that a district can and should adopt that would keep control of website access out of the hands of a single individual or small group in a school? Where, like with a book challenge, a standing committee of a variety of stakeholders would review the material that a teacher wants access to, and then makes a recommendation to the school board for a final disposition ruling?

Perhaps there is and I just don’t know about it. I’d be grateful if someone would educate me about this. If there isn’t, what ALA/AASL committee ought to tackling the issue?

Does your school have language in its board policy for a method of challenging the blocking of web sites? Is so, I’d like knowing about it.