Paranoia in Education Strikes Again!

03/26/2012
cover shot of Children of Paranoia

cover shot of Children of Paranoia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work for a paranoid school district.

It doesn’t trust students.

It doesn’t trust teachers.

It doesn’t trust administrators.

It doesn’t trust parents.

It doesn’t trust the public.

It is afraid that students will learn things that aren’t in the curriculum.

It is afraid that students will learn things that haven’t been approved in advance.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of the internet.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of social media.

There is a lot of good educational content on YouTube and YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let students access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let teachers access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let school administrators access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let principals override the filters that prevent access to those and other useful websites.

This can only be because it does not trust us. Any of us.

It does not let students, teachers or school administrators access Facebook in school, even though there is a lot of educational content on Facebook.

Even though we are required to teach students how to use social media responsibly.

Soon we won’t even be able model social media use for students.

The City is going to ban teachers and students from interacting over Facebook.

It doesn’t trust us.

Not at all. I bet the City would love to figure out how to stop teachers and students from interacting in the supermarket, the Laundromat, the shopping mall.

Heck, they’d probably even like to find a way to keep us from interacting in the classroom. Everyone knows how much trouble we can get into there.

There is an old adage that says you should treat people the way you want them to be. If you want young people to act like adults, treat them that way. That’s what I try to do in my library.

But the NYCDOE treats me and my colleagues like little children.

They are illogical.

They are insulting.

Or am I being paranoid?

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The Dull Edge of Education

11/03/2011
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - JANUARY 5:  A screen shot ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

New York City bans all student electronics from its schools.

No cell phones, no iPods, no Blackberries, no iPads.

Yes, the city that cannot provide enough working technology in classrooms to allow more than two students use computers at a time in most classrooms has decided to maintain its stand against students bringing their own technology to school.

According to our chancellor and his boss, the billionaire mayor, who really runs the schools, education is teacher-delivered and nothing should distract from that one-way flow of knowledge.

Isn’t odd that this city that likes to think of itself as being on the cutting edge of finance and fashion is so far behind the times when it comes to education? Isn’t it odd that the man who fancies himself the savior of education has such an old-fashioned view about how it happens?

Last night reporters for Schoolbook, the new collaboration between WNYC radio and the New York Times, confronted chancellor Walcott and asked him if he would consider changing the rule regarding student-owned technology. He said no.

When the reporters commented that some believe cell phones could be useful in education he reportedly replied, “And cellphones can also be not useful in class as well.”

And another door slams in the face of our students.

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The Education Story the Media is Missing

10/01/2011

Teachers are lazy,
Teachers don’t care.
Teachers lose interest.
Teachers are complacent.
Teachers teach because they aren’t smart enough to do anything else.

That story is all over the headlines; how the schools would be so much better if they didn’t have those terrible teachers gumming up the works.

Sure.

Edcamp Philly Organizers

Image by kjarrett via Flickr

In late January 2010, a small group of teachers in Philadelphia and its surroundings had an idea:

Let’s put on a free event at which teachers, on their own time, will teach what they’re expert in to other teachers. The presenting teachers will do it for free. 

We’ll call it EdCamp. 

On May 22nd, that first EdCamp drew a couple of hundred lazy, complacent teachers who gathered together and learned from each other.

A movement was born.

Energized by what they saw at or read about EdCamp on Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the social network other small groups of teachers in other communities organized EdCamps. Before 2010 ended there would be six more EdCamps, all following the same model, in Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Kansas, Florida and New York City.

Today we held the second EdCampNYC. It was the 34th EdCamp this year, there are 14 more scheduled before the end of December and there are already eleven scheduled for 2012.

All of them organized by lazy teachers who don’t care anymore. All of them free. All of them attended by more than 5,000 complacent teachers and administrators, some driving more than five hours to attend.

Let me make this absolutely clear. There is a rapidly growing national movement of teachers and administrators taking it upon themselves to organize and attend free conferences at which teachers and administrators freely share knowledge, resources and ideas with the sole purpose of becoming better teachers and administrators.

Impressive, isn’t it?

So why hasn’t the general media noticed? Why aren’t you reading about this in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or USA Today. Why isn’t it showing up on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN or any other network?

Perhaps because they are too busy listening to the billionaires and the politicians make the same complaints, mouth the same platitudes, and push the same, stale ideas to notice the people who do the job every day working hard to do a better job.

But now you know.  Help spread the word.

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Are You Paying Attention? Is Anyone?

03/08/2011
July calendar

Image by Vanessa Pike-Russell via Flickr

Sometimes I wonder if logic has totally departed from this world.

Example 1: The NY State Board of Regents

This well-educated group of fifteen or so individuals who set education policy in the state seems to have lost touch with logic. At a time when almost everyone, including teachers, is saying that the school system as we know it needs more-or-less radical change, the NY Regents are proposing four more weeks of school per year.

Yes, you read that right.

They want to do more of what isn’t working.

I often tell my students that if the approach they’re taking to solve a problem isn’t working they should try something else; that doing more of what isn’t working in the first place and expecting a different result is a form of insanity.

I think the air conditioning in their offices is making the Regents stupid because they now think that having school until the end of July is going to produce smarter kids. I guess it is possible.

The problem is that the Regents won’t recognize the real smart kids. They’ll be the ones who refuse to spend the summer sitting in sweltering classrooms doing the same stuff that hasn’t helped them learn during the previous ten months.

Example 2: People who still want to be teachers.

Teaching requires more education for less pay than almost any other job. Plus it has the added benefit of getting blamed for all of society’s current problems and, likely, all the ones in the next 50 to 100 years should society last that long.

The paperwork is overwhelming, and you’ll have to pull money out of your pocket to pay for supplies, some of them very basic, that the taxpayers either can’t or won’t pick up the tab for.

Teachers put in long days during which bathroom trips need to be scheduled in advance, then take work home in the evenings and on weekends, all the time listening to people who have never done the job and probably couldn’t tell you how easy it is.

It is said that teachers tend to come from the bottom of their graduating class. I can prove it. Despite all the attacks and everything else, people still want to become teachers.

There’s got to be something wrong with them.

I once proposed that people who want to be President of the United States should be disqualified from the job because their egos are too big.

I now think that people who want to be teachers should be disqualified from the job because their egos are too small.

Example 3: You

You’re still reading this, after all.

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My New Thinking About Tenure

08/22/2010
Girls in classroom, Traveling Library at Publi...
Image by New York Public Library via Flickr

My school has an old librarian.

I have no idea how old she is but I’d guess she’s well into her 70s.

She’s a lovely lady with beautiful script handwriting. She’s lively, opinionated and completely out of date.

She’s so out of date that she has become one more obstacle in the way of my students’ success.

Renovations completed a year or so ago doubled the size of our library. There are more shelves, more tables, more room to move, some computers and a printer or two.

We also have a big, wooden, card file with those narrow pull-out drawers. It is not maintained, but it is the only way to find out what books may or may not be on the shelves.

We may have the only library in NYC still using a card file. I hope so.

Two years ago I went to the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians because it was in Manhattan and because I was a member of the group.

At the meeting they have a smallish trade show for history book publishers to show their wares and for history-related organizations to try to entice new members.

One of those organizations was one of school librarians. They were showing the latest technological innovations in their field. I was drooling.

I told the woman behind the table that I wish my library were more technologically advanced but that we still use a card file.

“How is Mary,” the woman asked. “Hasn’t she retired yet?”

No, and she shows no signs of planning to any time soon.

I go to other schools where the librarians are using computers to teach students how to research beyond Wikipedia, how to tell a legit web site from a bogus one, and how to create a web page.

I go to other schools that have librarians who teach students about blogging, podcasting and creating animations.

I’ve only taken one class of students to our school library and that was six years ago.

I thought I’d arranged for a lesson on how to do research.

Mary decided to teach them cursive writing.

My students thought I was nuts.

My principal thinks it is time for Mary to move on.
I think it is time for Mary to move on.

All the students think it is time for Mary to move on.

Come the first day of school Mary will be in the library.

Mary doesn’t think it is time for Mary to move on.

Sometimes tenure sucks.

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Doing the Right Thing Because It Is Right, Not Expedient

07/30/2010
Remembering 9/11/01
Image by Raúl! via Flickr

I usually write about education but this post will not be about that.

It will be about courage, morality, fear and self-interest.

I was born in New York City.

For most of my life I have lived in New York City and I work there now.

No matter where I go or where I live, New York City is home.

I don’t know about people in the rest of the country or the rest of the world, but every single New Yorker knows precisely what he or she was doing when airplanes flew into the towers of the World Trade Center.

And every single New Yorker knows what he or she was doing when the towers fell.

And every single New Yorker is grateful beyond measure that there are people in this city who daily put their lives at risk protecting us.

Thousands were killed on September 11, 2001, but they were not the only victims.

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...
Image via Wikipedia

Among the thousands of dead were fearless men and women of the fire department and police departments who we had relied on to protect us.

Despite the courage they showed, they could not protect us from those planes and the results of their criminal impact though they gave their lives trying to.

It was a horrible crime and watching the towers fall was a horrible and sickening sight.

WORLD TRADE CENTER ATTACK
Image by Coast Guard News via Flickr

Fear is a debilitating thing. More on that in a moment.

After the towers fell hundreds, perhaps thousands of men and women: police officers, fire fighters, ambulance workers, sanitation workers, and construction workers from the city and many elsewheres near and far worked long hours searching for possible survivors.

When it was clear that there were no survivors left they searched for remains so that they could later be identified and buried.

Raising A Truck: Early Stages of Clean Up at G...
Image by Viewmaker via Flickr

They moved tons of rubble, breathed tons of what turned out to be highly toxic dust that hung in the air for weeks.

These men and women showed courage, too. Disaster sites are dangerous in ways those of us who have not worked in them cannot fully grasp.

These men and women worked for weeks, breathing that toxic air daily.

Now, nearly ten years after that date that will echo for decades, these men and women are getting sick.

They are suffering unusual rates and forms of lung disease, heart disease and nerve damage that did not show up immediately.

There is little doubt that these diseases are the result of their work at what quickly became known as Ground Zero.

Survivors of those who died in the attack have received monetary compensation for their losses of income, companionship and parenting from those who died in the immediacy of the attack.

Those people who rushed in afterward to search for survivors, remains or relics of the lives that were have losses, too. They have lost their health. Many have been told their lives will be truncated by the diseases they now have.

Morality demands that the rest of us take care of those who take care of us.

That same morality demands that we take care of the health needs of those who searched through the destruction at Ground Zero.

This does not seem to be a difficult concept to understand yet Congress doesn’t seem to get it.

Morality demands that one do the right thing even when it is not convenient or easy.

ESPECIALLY when it is not convenient or easy.

NYC - Ground Zero Cross
Image by wallyg via Flickr

Congress has put politics ahead of morality, ahead of doing the right thing for those men and women who sacrificed so much so willingly.

Congress has refused to pass the bill that, if enacted, would pay the health care costs of those men and women.

We are not talking really big numbers here. The costs of this health care would not approach the billions of dollars given to banks or the billions of dollars given to automobile manufacturers.

But it should not matter if it would be that expensive. Taking care of these people is merely the right thing to do.

Congress should be ashamed but they are not.

Congress does not have morals. Congress members operate on the basis of self-interest and on their fears of not being re-elected.

If you are a teacher, teach your Congress member how to recognize moral obligation and what to do about it.

If you are not a teacher write a letter or make a phone call.

Write lots of letters.

Make lots of phone calls.

Get Congress to act now.

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I Screw Up & Come Out Ahead

02/23/2010
Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, at Place ...
Image via Wikipedia

I believe in failure.

I believe in taking an intellectual risk and falling flat on my face.

I believe in taking something apart in order to learn how to put it back together the right way through a process of putting it back together the wrong way first.

I believe in failing by doing something you shouldn’t have and learning the hard way why you shouldn’t have done it.

I failed today.

I did the wrong thing and had it go as badly as it possibly could have.

Even so, it may have been the best thing I’ve ever done in my continuingly evolving struggle to connect with my 8th grade social studies class.

My school, like the rest of the schools of the New York City Department of Education, has an ironclad rule against students using personal electronic devices like games and cell phones no matter how smart they are. This was repeated to us in a staff meeting after school yesterday.

Please don’t respond to this post with information on how the computers students all carry in their pockets can be utilized in the classroom. I’ve heard it. I believe it. I just can’t convince the NYCDOE to change their policies. I’ve tried.

So here’s what happened.

I’m in the middle of teaching my eighth grade social studies class, a class I’ve had a lot of difficulty engaging.

It is sixth period, right after lunch, usually the worst period of the day for all teachers.

For a change, my usually extremely rowdy class is actually working at creating cost-benefit analyses of the late 19th – early 20th Century investment NYC made to build schools.

I’m walking around the room, checking progress, helping enhance understanding and all that good teacher stuff, and then I spot it.

Way in the back, where the rowdiest students sit, it is strangely quiet. Two of the boys seem to be staring into their lap, the sure sign they are looking at a verboten screen.

I can move surprisingly quickly and quietly for a big guy and I’m on them in a flash.

This is where I make my big mistake.

I reach down and try to snatch the phone out of the hands of the boy holding it.

In the process the phone flies and breaks when it hits the floor.

The boy who was holding the phone was distraught; it turns out the phone isn’t his.

I calm him and say what turns out to be the magic words:

“I take responsibility for my actions. I will pay to replace the phone.”

Silence.

I say it again.

I tell the boy to go tell the assistant principal what happened.

I repeat my pledge to replace the phone to him, and he tells me to go talk to the principal.

I tell him that I will replace the phone and he tells me what I already knew: I screwed up when I tried to grab the phone.

He warned me not to do it again, I assured him I wouldn’t and returned to my class.

I walked back to that back group and the boy who was holding the phone said, “Are you really going to pay for it?”

I repeated that I take full responsibility for my actions and that I would pay for the phone.

“Wow.”

For the rest of the day, different students wandered into my room and asked me to repeat what I had said.

Each time they shook their heads and looked at me with a mixture of awe and puzzlement.

Finally, two kids came to me and pulled me aside.

“People think what you did was dumb but what you are doing about it is awesome.”

Then they shook my hand and walked out.

Cost of the phone: $200

Benefits from the screw-up: immeasurable.

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