I saw my first personal computer in 1981. At that time, the closest you could come to a computer store (where I lived) was a back corner of the local Radio Shack store. There you found models of their TRS-80 computers, offering all manner of unimagined possibilities – but almost no software. Ready to buy and load (via audio cassettes) were a basic word processor (Scriptsit), a spreadsheet program (Visicalc) and a handful of games, including Galxian, Asteroids, Targ and Zork.
But we didn’t buy computers because we wanted to play games or even to word process. Have you ever seen the print from the early dot-matrix printers? We bought computers because we wanted to learn about this new thing that was “going to change everything.”
Unsurprisingly, we had to go to print in order to learn and a few early magazines was the bast place to go. Even then, the gestation time of new books was way to long to be reliably up-to-date. New issues of zines were frequent and regular, and among them were BYTE, PC, Compute and even Family Computing.
We learned the latest that was known about these early TRS-80, Atari, Apple and Commodore computers. But better, was the programming tips we could learn by typing code that was included on the zines’ pages.
Of course, the programs never worked the first time. It was impossible to key the code in without mistakes. So we spent as much time going back and decoding the programs, OR we taught ourselves how to write our own programs.
Attending a meeting yesterday, regarding Western Carolina University’s College of Education and Allied Professions, I learned a new term, twice-exceptional.
In education’ese, “exceptional” children are usually students with some learning difficulty, such as A.D.D., dyslexia, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance – or are academically talented in some way.
When I asked, the speak explained that a “Twice-Exceptional” student is one who has some learning disability but is also academically and/or intellectually gifted.
I suspect that this describes a lot of extraordinarily accomplished individuals, who later admit to being poor performers in their school experience, i.e. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and Steve Jobs. Sadly, this also, more than likely describes a lot of wasted talent caused by our assigning opportunity-limiting labels to children who are simply divergent learners, children who are not suited to regimented learning environments.
This book played a huge part in my childhood. It was probably the most leafed-through book in my house. The last I remember it was so tattered by use that I dared not pick it up.
My parents had no idea at their wedding in 1950, that they would spend the first year of their married life in New Mexico. The Korean War recalled my father back into the Air Force, where he was the only PFC in the management offices of Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
They both developed an interest in Indian culture. One of their neighbors was the son of the chief of the Jemez Pueblo tribe a short distance west of the city. My parents were invited to a number of tribal ceremonies and became good friends of the prince and his wife, a Bostonian. I suspect that it was the friendship that stimulated their interest in Indian lore, and it’s probably when they bought that copy of Indian Crafts and Lore.
I thought about that book many times since and several times, I looked for a copy on eBay and Amazon. The last time, a couple of weeks ago, I found it on Amazon. Leafing through, I can recall studying every picture and every description.
My chapter titles are a bit cryptic, so I am adding some explanation to better anchor the reference points.
A Rough Start
I admit that there are some biases in my book. What’s a revolution without biases. To provide some context for my particular philosophies about schooling, I spend about 19 pages describing my pre-(technological)revolution education, including my less than spectacular career as a student.
TRS-80 Model III, the first personal computer I ever laid my eyes (and hands) on.
Here, I describe my first experiences with personal computers, starting with how I was knocked out of my seat by an idea.
Leaving Kansas, Apples & Kindred Spirits
In 1983, I moved from teaching Social Studies in rural South Carolina to leading an instructional technology program in rural North Carolina. I also joined a users’ group (MICRO5) and transitioned from monochrome Tandys to color Apples – dazzling.
Networks Open the Gates
My first experiences with modems and learning to use computers to communicate. Project based learning (PBL) became our modus operandi – using computers for collaborative learning.
A Line is Drawn
Moving to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction I learned what a small team of passionate and imaginative professional educators could accomplish. I also learned how little could be accomplished from inside the system. I have to note here that what hindered us was not the nature of state government, but the nature of state politics, and a manipulative narrative that sought to demonize government.
New Education Models
After leaving NCDPI, I lucked into a project instigated by Allan Weis and Advanced Network and Services. It was called ThinkQuest and it showed us how we could make students active learners by making them innovative teachers.
My First Flat Experience
I was so embarrassingly naive on my first trip to Asia.
A Bad Day for Education
Our work toward using technology to encourage more progressive styles of learning ground to a halt on January 8, 2002. No Child Left Behind successfully shifted the aim of public education from active learning by doing, to passive learning by memorizing facts to pass tests. Computers became teaching tools instead of learning tools.
This became my most passionate mission, promoting a model for literacy that addressed the changing nature of our information experience. As information became increasingly networked, digital and abundant (and social), merely reading and writing (and arithmetic) were no longer nearly enough to be truly literate.
The Day that Education Almost Became Fun
As video games became more sophisticated and social networks became places that our students visited and collaborated, we started to recognize the unique skills that they were developing – that much of their play was actually the hard work of learning. We began to look for ways to structure classroom activities to trigger the same learning practices that our students were gaining outside of education.
The Evil Empire Strikes Back
As technology became more prevalent in our schools, investors saw a “golden moment.” There was an opportunity to use that technology to “profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.” This has become, in my opinion, the greatest threat that public education has ever faced.
The “Perfect” Technology
Apple’s iPad. It didn’t surprise anyone. But is it so “perfect?”
I end with a few pages of casual predictions of where education might be ten years from now (2014, when I started writing this book). This chapter mirrors the first chapter that I wrote in Redefining Literacy, describing education ten years from then, 2014.
I will be producing little 2-minute videos over the next few weeks to promote my new book, The Days and Nights of a Quiet Revolution. This first one sets some context. When I was in high school, computers were giant machines that were installed with forklifts. My father use to take me to his work, a trucking company, to show me their Honeywell computers.
Even after I graduated from college, computers had nothing to do with education. I had no reason to believe that teaching would be changing in any substantial way over my assumed 30 years as a history teacher.
Novelty UFO at the visitor's center in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada.
When I was out in the world promoting modern ideas about education, I frequently suggest for several reasons that students should be studying science fiction literature in English classes along side Milton, Melville and Faulkner. But This was not one of the reasons:
I had a chat yesterday with my neighbor, Paul Gilster (Centauri Dreams), who is an expert on all things outer space, and especially the latest that is known or suspected about the nature of the universe. He was telling me about ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object (not from the Solar System) that we have detected passing through the Solar System. It was discovered with the Pan-STARRS telescope, which is the only instrument on Earth that could have seen it. Pan-STARRS first came online only eight years ago.
Our classification of the object has changed as astronomers have learned more about it, ruling out various theories. One of the few speculations that has not been disproven is that ‘Oumuamua is some sort of autonomous space craft, built by a technologically advanced civilization, and sent out to encounter star systems and gather data about their planets and moons, perhaps to be “phoned home.”
Personally, one of my favorite moments in movies is from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” when Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie, not Keanu Reaves) lands his flying saucer on a baseball field in the middle of Washington, DC. Are we ready to meet our neighbors? What’s the etiquette?
This, and other discoveries, have more and more scientists suggesting that we should be making people, our Earth’s inhabitants, ready for the possibility / probability that we may well discover hard evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations in the near future.
“..I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I … take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”
The 116th U.S. Congress dramatically illustrates something that I believe about America, that it is a work in progress. It is constantly struggling to be a better place to live for ALL citizens, than it was a decade or a century ago.
The revered authors of our U.S. Constitution masterfully worked together to re-invent government here. I suspect that this feat could not have been accomplished by anyone else, at any time since. But their work was just a start, as evidenced by the fact that 127 members of today’s congress did not even have the right to vote in 1789, because they were women; and 59 because of their African ancestry, and 4 because of their American ancestry. Today they serve in an elected body that wields the balanced power to govern this magnificent country.
The one aspect that seems less evolved to me is the influence of wealth in my country’s governance. Property is no longer a prerequisite to vote, but money is a requirement to become a member of Congress. According to the FEC, candidates had to spend an average of more than a million dollars – winners and losers [calculated from https://goo.gl/pz7nBu]. According to OpenSecrets, 89% (88.8) of races for the House of Representatives and 86% (85.7) for the Senate were won by the candidate who spent the most money [https://goo.gl/SJoqa8].
American government continues to favor the wealthy.
At the end of the American Civil War, 21 African American soldiers had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. American soldiers with dark skin earned Medals of Honor in every subsequent war until, strangely, World War II.
As a child, Edward Carter Jr, an African American, lived in Shanghai, China with his missionary parents. At 15, he joined the Chinese Army and rose to the rank of lieutenant before it was discovered that he was a child. Discharged, he enrolled in a Shanghai military school where he received extensive military training and learned four languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Hindi and German.
During the Spanish Civil War, Carter joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a volunteer unit fighting General Franco’s fascist regime and his NAZI allies. After that he insisted in the U.S. Army, just months before the Japanese attack on Perl Harbor. Some time in 1942, a counterintelligence service put him on a watch lists because of his service in Spain. The Lincoln Brigade’s administration had socialist leanings – and he spoke Chinese. In 1944, he was shipped to Europe but delegated to supply duties, in-spite of his military experience. Later that year, General Eisenhower, running short of combat soldiers, instituted the volunteer Ground Force Replacement Command. Early in 1945, 4,562 darker skinned soldiers, were serving in previously all white units, including Staff Sargent Edward Carter. He came to the attention of General George Patton who selected him to serve as one of the general’s guards.
Later Carter relinquished his rank so that he could enter combat duty as part of the general’s “Mystery Division” and he was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his superiors. Instead the Army gave him the second highest honor, The Distinguished Service Cross. After recovering from wounds and being re-promoted to Staff Sargent, Carter finished the war training troops. By that time, Staff Sargent Edward Carter had received the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and numerous other citations and honors.
When he tried to re-enlist, the Army barred his enlistment without explanation. Carter died of Lung Cancer in 1963, a result of shrapnel that was still in his neck.
In 1997, Sergeant Carters body was exhumed and taken to Washington where he was moved in a horse drawn caisson and full military honors to a finally resting place in Arlington National Cemetery and President Clinton posthumously award the Congressional Medal of Honor to Carter’s son, Edward Allen Carter III.
A few days ago, while walking around Shelley Lake in Raleigh, I saw a bald eagle flying high over the water. I pointed up, trying to get the attention of a group of teens who were walking toward me. Finally I yelled to them, “There’s a bald eagle!” They turned, looked up then turned back around and continued walking and talking.
This puzzled me, until I realized that they are not aware that several decades ago, the majestic birds were almost extinct. Some of you may remember when you’d never seen a bluebird? So many people simply do not know how badly these birds and other occupants of our planet were driven to the brink in the first half of the 20th century.
What brought eagles, bluebirds and so much else back from the precipice was a government that started to regulate the industries that were polluting the environment of all living inhabitants of the Earth. This is why I want to share that..
while Trump has been focusing the attention of his base on immigration and respect for the national anthem, he and his administration has been dismantling those environmental regulations at the behest of billionaire industrialists who are tired of environmental protection cutting into their profits.
Fake news and the effects of its wide acceptance has concerned many, including the U.S. Army [https://goo.gl/cx6hAC]. Recent research at Yale University (described in PsyPost) has added to our understanding of why people believe things that are not true. The author of the study, Michael V. Bronstein, says, “Some false beliefs are relatively harmless (e.g., children believing in the tooth fairy), while others might cause significant distress (e.g., incorrectly believing that others are trying to hurt you) or may be potentially harmful to society as a whole (e.g., false beliefs about global warming or vaccines).”
I have long maintained that analytical/critical thinking should be considered a core part of basic literacy and that we should help our students to habitually practice these habits of mind in every subject and throughout their schooling. But Bronstein’s study has found that people who are not actively open minded or dogmatic by nature are more likely to believe fake news than people who are open to alternative explanations and evidence that revises their beliefs.
If true, this speaks poorly for the homogenized curriculum being legislated for our classrooms and regulated with high-stakes standardized tests. There’s not much room for being open minded when each question has only one acceptable answer. Aren’t we teaching students to believe what their told, when they’re only told what is acceptable to the state standards-based tests.