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Wednesday
Aug312005

Reading the Future: Science Fiction

I’ve liked reading about the future ever since I could read. As I remember, My Weekly Reader would often run small articles like “Your Own Personal Helicopter by 1980″ or “People of the Future will be Eating Bee-burgers.” I couldn’t wait!

While I am still waiting for both my personal helicopter and bee-burgers, I still like reading about the future - especially when the future comes packaged as science fiction.

I’m sort of fussy about my sci-fi. While I was once held in thrall of bug-eyed aliens and death rays, I’m more interested in the writers who forecast the social ramifications of technology in the near term. Interesting things happening because of information technologies seem much more likely than flying saucers zapping my garage.

Here’s a short list of my all time favorites in the “social” sci-fi category:

Neuromancer by William Gibson was my first look at a cyberworld that felt as real as the physical world. (I need to re-read this.)

Enders Game by Orson Scott Card demonstrates learning through gaming. (One of my all-time favorite books on lots of levels.)

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson explores the possibilities of real e-book on a child’s life.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale and Oryx and Crake. Atwood is the worthy successor to George Orwell in describing dystopias - made by either religious fervor or science gone awry. (She’s why I say a silent thanks every time I drive by the adult bookstore on my way to work.)

Futureland by Walter Mosely (of Easy Rawlings mystery fame) is a series of linked short stories exploring corporate power taken to the extreme.

I have to say I’ve been devouring Dan Simmons’ Hyperion/Endymion and Illium/Olympus series, but mostly for the fine writing, action, and imagination. I suppose the social commentary is there, but it’s not at the forefront. Oh, if you start Simmons’ books, be prepared to make a long-term commitment. There are four books in the first series and two in the second, each averaging about 600 pages or so. I don’t regret having spent the time on them in the least.

I would be most grateful for any recommendations for high-quality science fiction that lets me peer into the future - at least a little ways.

Tuesday
Aug302005

Back to school and bullies

It was our big “back-to-school” day here in the Mankato Area Public Schools. It’s always wonderful to see all the teachers back, refreshed and raring to go (for the most part.)

Part of our district’s tradition is to have a whole staff meeting in one of our high school auditoriums where the superintendent gives a short welcome message (always peppered with a few lame, but well received jokes), the school board president cheers us on, and usually a fairly lame “motivational” speaker makes us glad we as teachers are usually the ones boring others rather than the ones being bored. The worst “motivator” was a guy we got for $5 who said “Work hard or get fired.” Nah, just kidding, but there have been some doozies.

This year was a welcome change of pace. Nationally recognized speaker and educator, Barbara Coloroso, spoke eloquently, humorously, and movingly on bullying - what causes it and how to reduce it. She shared that nearly all students who were involved in school shootings had a common characteristic - they were bullied. Frightening. Anyway, if you get a chance to hear Ms Coloroso - do!

While Coloroso mention it in passing, I feel I need to also help warn my teachers that they need to be watching for signs of cyberbullying as well. With kids spending more time online than watching television (about 3 hours a day), the virtual world can also be a hostile environment.

I will certainly be directing my teachers and parents to Nancy Willard’s extensive work on cyberbullying. The educators’ and parents’ guides available on her website are excellent.

Welcome back to all teachers this fall. Please remember that there is a more important thing to worry about than a crashing computer - a safe, supportive and welcoming school environment for every kid.

Any good ideas for getting the cyberbullying message out to parents and educators?
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2 Comments »
Cyberbullying and too candid blogs have brought the issue of privacy and free speech to new review. Students have been suspended from school for online bullying–and nasty (libel or free speech?) remarks about faculty and administration. Are their rights being abridged if such remarks are made on home computers, not school computers?

In the recent  Time Magazine cover section on being 13 (8/5/05), there is a story on pages 52-55, “You Wanna take this Online?,” which includes the statistic that a Clemson University study found that in the preceding 2 months, 18% of middle schoolers had experienced cyberbullying. The article had a few tips for parents; can you suggest a few for teachers and librarians?

Thanks for bring this issue forward as school starts.

Comment by SaraKellyJohns — August 31, 2005 @ 6:57 am

Sara, good article in _Time_ August 6, 2005 issue. Thanks for recommending it.

This is the list of “What Parents Can Do About Cyberbullying” from “You Wanna Take This Online?”

1. LEARN Be sure you know how to use the Internet before you let your children go online.
2. BE AWARE What do your children do online? Do they have a Xanga, visit chat rooms or use instant messaging?
3. TALK A good ongoing dialogue with your children will help them feel comfortable telling you if something bad happens.
4. TEACH Instruct your children in good netiquette. What they wouldn’t do off-line, shouldn’t be done online either.
5. TRUST Snooping and secretly reading their e-mail are obstacles to openness. A balance of safety and trust allows teens the Net’s benefits while protecting them from most of its dangers.

Now I have to look up Xanga!

Comment by dougj — September 1, 2005 @ 2:36 pm

Monday
Aug292005

And I quote…

I hate quotation. Tell me what you know. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I assume, that like many readers, I am a hopeless quote collector. Like spice in a soup, a memorable “bon mot” thrown in an article or presentation drives a point home. And while I don’t always read e-mails as well as I should, I always check the signature line for a good pithy statement.

I’ve made a collection of probably close to 200 of my favorites available at
www.doug-johnson.com/quotes.html . No order, no theme, and no great effort at ascertaining the authority of any quote. These come from heaven knows where. If you were to judge a person’s personality based on the quotes they collect, I’m afraid I’d come up a bit on the cynical side. How surprising.

I started collecting quotes as a building librarian for my “Quote of the Day” sign in my library media centers. Amazing how many teachers would drop by just to read it!

Oh, one of my favorite Internet sites is The Quotations Page - sort of a mega-search engine of lots of collections of quote pages on the web.

Anyway, enjoy. And please, add your own.