Our Children Won’t Sleep Tonight: Part 3

4:09 AM

Just so you’ll know, I’m not against assessment, testing, reading & math instruction, or even standardized tests. I believe that we must assure that our children are learning. It’s part of teaching. I do object to my government’s obsession with high stakes testing. It is a cheap and simple solution to a very complex problem that is critical to my country’s future.

It is an industrial age solution to an information age problem!

Several years ago, I was walking through downtown Chicago. I may have been there for the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), or it may have been another conference. It was evening, but Chicago, like many cities, never seems to sleep. As I approached the old Harold Washington library building, I noticed a series of enlarged photographs that were lit up for display. Moving closer revealed them as fairly familiar photographs depicting child labor in the early part of the 20th century.

It is a point of pride in our study of U.S. History, that my country recognized the injustice of pressing children into labor for the sake of economic gain. Yet our children are now under more pressure than every before, working in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks, under close supervision! …for the sake of economic gain?

Child labor continues in the United States, as we steal the childhoods from our young.

Turning this injustice into a tragedy is the fact that high stakes testing has much more to do with political gain than economic gain.

  • As our position of prominence in technological advancement and innovation are overtaken by other countries,
  • As the intellectual infrastructure from which the Internet was invented continues to be crippled by devastating budget cuts,
  • As education funding (especially technology) is slashed at the state and national levels,

we appear to sneer at our children and their future by measure the success of our classrooms based on skills that are more appropriate for the 1950s than the 21st century.

The unique inventiveness of my country, what we used to call Yankee Ingenuity, came not from highly regimented, accountability based classrooms. It came from an education system governed by professional educators who were free to teach, assess, invent, adapt, care, and celebrate in their students’ growth. It came from giving our children a childhood, where they could play, explore, experiment, and freely experience the wondrous world they lived in.

Our children have lost their childhood to the account and punish obsession of our government.

Instead of enjoying the rich childhood that I had,


Our Children Won’t Sleep Tonight: Part 2

4:09 AM

In the dank darkness of Medieval Times, there were real dangers in the woods that surrounded the thatched houses of European villages, and our children had to be protected. Understanding the natural curiosity of young minds, parents needed a way to squelch their desires to learn what was beyond the darkness. So we told them stories. We filled the darkness with child eating wolves, witches, and ogres. We filled their dreams with dread and scared them, so that we could protect them from real and life-threatening dangers.

After centuries of advancement into sophisticated and technological civilization, our children still live with terror. I realize this as I hear from teachers about children running from their classrooms during my state’s EOGs (End of Grade tests), screaming and throwing up in the halls.

It’s not green scaled monsters or goat-eating trolls, but the boogieman is still there. Since the first days of the school year, we’ve been telling stories, urging our children’s attention to the rules of learning, or else they will fail the EOGs and be held back for another year in the same grade. Their goodness on that one day, will determine how they spend the next year of their childhood.

I blame no teacher for telling these stories. They are scared too. I know that they have shed tears and lost lunches, because of the way that we are being forced to treat our children. We are as superstitious today as we were in the dark ages, believing that the magical 3 Rs, alone, will assure our children’s success, that if they can read, write, and perform basic math, then we have been successful.

The crime of it is that this abuse of our children comes not for the sake of their safety, or even their future. It is for the benefit of important men and women, in the seats of our governments, and for the one, who sits in the White House. We steel the childhoods of our young, so that these men and women can beat their chests and say, “Look how I’ve improved education, look at those test scores rise.” Is scaring teachers and children the best you can do?


Our Children Won’t Sleep Tonight — Part 1

4:39 AM

After high school, the first jobs I held were in factories. Most of that time was spent in a chain saw factory in Gastonia, North Carolina. I worked as a machine shop operator, materials handler (driving a forklift), and setup man. The last job that I held at that factory was quality control engineer, or inspector. I got this job because I had taken drafting when I was in high school and was very good at reading blueprints.

It was a cushy job, by the standards of working in a machine shop. You didn’t spend hours at night picking slivers of steel and magnesium out of your hands and there was little risk of getting mangled by the machinery. You simply waited at the end of the line with blueprints and precision instruments, measuring the chain saw components at the end of their processing.

That’s the way that work was done in the industrial age. Men and women stood at their tables and machines, applying processes, and machining steel and plastic, installing their portion of the manufacturing. The inspector, at the end of the line, looked at each part, measuring their size and shape, making sure that they all met specifications — that they were all exactly alike.

That’s still the way that we educate our children. Teachers stand in their classrooms installing math, installing reading, installing science, on our children who move down the assembly line of the school year. And at the end of the line are the inspectors, with their tests to measure each child, making sure that they meet the standards, that they all know the same things, think the same way, solve problems with the same processes.

In the industrial age, this made sense. You wanted people who could work in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks, under close supervision. You wanted workers who knew the same things, thought the same way, and followed instructions.

Not today! It is not how much you are like everyone else that will bring value to your endeavors. It’s what you know that is different, how you think that is different, the ways that you solve problems inventively that will bring value to your endeavors. Yet, this week, our children will continue to the end of the assembly line and be measured. And if they pass, it will be because they are just like everyone else in their class.


Yes! What a World

I just received an email from an educator in Michigan, saying, “What an amazing time we live in! For the first time ever, I came back from MACUL (Michigan’s outstanding educational technology conference) free of technolust. All of the good stuff — blogging, wikis, rss — is free and can be explored via a laptop and wifi right there in the convention.”

It is, indeed, one of the exciting things about blogosphere developments, that it is so accessible. If you have a computer on the Net and understand what this stuff is about, then you are there and participating, after only a few mouse-clicks.

He also corrected me on page 151 of “Classroom Blogging…” where I say that the most popular feature of Archive.org is The Wayback Machine. It is actually the 2,789 live Gradeful Dead shows that can be downloaded as MP3 files, “…approximately 80% of all the shows performed by the Dead and various side bands over the last 40 years.”

Now lets think this through.
Don’t you love Inspiration(TM)?

…larger than just machines

I got some interesting comments from yesterday’s weblog about teachers excusing themselves from learning to use and teach with new technologies — or as I prefer to put it, to teach from the new information environment. Both Jim and Joe made very good points that I could not agree with more. By the way, it was great to see Joe Webb again at the SRTTC Conference in Greenville last week. I knew Joe well back during my days at the State Department of Public Instruction.

One of the problems with blogging is that you never say it all. But that’s really a good thing, because what you leave out is the catalyst for conversation. And that’s what blogging is about, Conversation.

Also last week, I attended the MEGA meeting in Raleigh. I know that I have described MEGA before, but briefly, it is an organization of technology using educators in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area. Last week was their showcase meeting where a number of schools and other organizations demonstrated what they were doing to promote appropriate uses of technology in the classroom. I took my iPod and iTalk along and plan to include some conversations during upcoming podcasts.

The featured presentation was moderated by the director of instruction for Green County Schools, a very small, rural school district in Eastern North Carolina, that has invested heavily in a 1 to 1 initiative. Before the tech facilitators got up to describe laptop use in the elementary, middle, and high schools, she relayed that at the beginning of the project, the district’s superintendent told the IT staff that if the network went down, they should treat it like the school was on fire.

This is the way that we should be looking at technology in our schools, from teacher assistants through the superintendent to the board of education and county commissioners. In the schools that adequately prepare our children for their future (and ours), the information infrastructure is as critical as heating, electricity, water and all of the other infrastructures that call technicians to action.

I agree, Jim. 21st century schools require Technology, Time, and Training. It requires a different kind of classroom, a different structure to the school day, and teachers who ARE life-long learners.

Bill Gates recently said that companies like Microsoft are having a tough time finding enough qualified Americans to hire. He also said that immigration policies are threatening our competitiveness. H-1B guest worker visas are now limited to only 65,000 per year. For 2005, they were all taken the very first day of the government’s fiscal year. It is no wonder that IBM, Intel, and Microsoft are now setting up research centers in India and China. China is graduating four times the number of engineers each year as the U.S. Japan, a country with less than half the population of the U.S., graduates twice the number of engineers.

Does this mean that we need to hunker down and start pushing technology and math. I don’t know. But it does seem that something needs to change — FAST.

This information came from a reference to a May 5 Wall Street Journal editorial. I do not have a subscription, so could not verify. But here is a news (RSS) feed to references in the news to Bill Gates and H-1B.

RSS Chicklethttp://www.justinpfister.com/gnewsfeed.php?q=%22gates%22+%22H-1b%22

Technology Is…

Radio Shack Model IA couple of weeks ago, listening to the NCQ podcast, I heard of a quote made by Christine Dowd. She had said, as part of a keynote address, that “…Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.” I immediately thought, “What a clever thing to say, this makes so much sense.” Then I started thinking, “What good is this quote, beyond seeing teachers nod their heads with understanding and satisfaction.”

I’ve finally come to conclusion on what bothers me about this quote. It’s an excuse. When personal computers first appeared in radio shack catalogs, I had already been teaching for a number of years. Computers (technology) had nothing to do with what I taught, how I taught, and what I thought of as the definition of being a teacher. According to this quote, I can lump computers, handhelds, the Internet, my mobile phone, even my digital watch (I closeted my digital watch when I took up the mobile phone) under the category of Technology, and excuse myself from deeply examining their impact on what I do and why, and simply try to integrate it into my existence.

I don’t believe that this is an excuse. I believe that it is a problem, that lumping new inventions together, just because we are challenged to make sense of them as part of our living and working is a waste of some enormous opportunities. Open up folks. Celebrate our time of rapid change. It’s exciting. If we know, understand, use, and dream, then we can embrace and leverage change for a better world.

2 cents worth!

Illegal in France

Things have slowed down just a bit, enough so that I can start a little blogging again. I hope to podcast again real soon.

A story just passed through my e-mail queue about a recent ruling of a French Appeals court to remove copies of David Lynch’s film “Mulholland Drive” from video shelves, because it has an illegal device attached — copy prevention software. France, and apparently most of the EU, have a different view of copyright and intellectual property, or at least a different sense of the balance between the rights of information producers and information consumers.

cdThis is an issue that I’ve paid a lot of attention to lately, but I remain enough on the fence not to get involved. As an author, I am sensitive to my rights of ownership, my rights to expect compensation for my work. I suspect that this is not in question though. The issue seems to be the corporate media industry’s desires to protect their hold on media, buy holding back or locking down the technologies that are evolving and changing how media flows.

One concept that is central to all of my talks and workshops is the fact that the nature of information is changing. And with a generation coming up whose experience is so defined by information, I do not believe that change can be bridled. We need to turn around and look forward. That direction is a lot more exciting, and our imaginations are our only limits.

Another Day of Server Life Saving

Things are finally beginning to settle a bit. We off-loaded Citation Machine yesterday to an other hosting company (my third) where we are paying for the highest bandwidth available (192 GB) without going to a dedicated server. We calculated that we could serve 70,000 citations a day without going over our quota, so I wrote some code that would switch CM off after 70,000. Well, it switched off after just five and a half hours. Bummer!

We’re going to think this through and maybe run it by half day, 35,000 in the morning and 35,000 in the afternoon. I’m not sure yet how we will work this.

The long term solution is distribution. We have to get Citation Machine on many servers. So I am currently rewriting the code so that it can easily be downloaded from my server and installed on a school or media center web server and made available to local students. CM will be design this time so that citations are described in a code that I’m calling citation mapping. Essentially, you will be able to add citation styles that you use regularly (say government documents) that were not included in my Citation Machine. Brenda is currently coding the citations, and she’s never programmed before. That’s N E V E R. So you have a tool that you can grow locally.

We will be licensing CM. A lot of work is going into this, and we have taken on extra expenses splitting our tools out to other servers so that they will run more reliably — and those efforts continue.

Anyway, it’s been a tough few days. I just wanted you to know that my wits and humor are still with me. ar ar ar ar ar ar ar ar ar!

Tech Forum – Chicago

I’m sitting the Chicago for a couple of hours, and this will probably be my best opportunity to write for a while. I just wanted to make some comments about the Tech Forum conference that I worked yesterday. The keynote speaker was Chris Dede, and my first chance to hear him. The over all message was that students are different today, and we need a different classrooms to address their needs. Dede did a very compelling job, calling up experiences from watching his own children.

I too, get a lot of insight about education in the 21st century from my children. I worry about about where I’ll get it when they’re both off. My son will be a high school senior next year.

Dede played a wonderful video by Panasonic that showed students in their natural/native information environment (video games, media players, mobile phones, laptop computers), and contrasted those images with students sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher and watching her write on a chalk board.

Dede said something in his talk, and again at lunch that disturbed me. He believes that our society does not have a will to invest in computers for schools. He is promoting more research in handhelds for students, for this reason. I hope, and believe, that he is wrong. Society will invest in what they are convinced to invest in. If we do see children walking into our classrooms five years from now, with computers under their arms, it will be because lots of people were talking about it today.

Another idea that Dede shared was a dissatisfaction with the value of learning styles and multiple intelligences. He was taking nothing away from the research in these areas, but preferred to work with Media-Base learning styles, which “Talk more about how people are similar!”

Afterward Dede, Matt Brown, and I did a futures panel. I Dede talked about gaming, Brown about GIS, and I talked about RSS and the three S flow — Syndicats, Subscribe, and Send.

More Later!

More News on Landmarks

I wrote this on the plane Thursday, and only now got a chance to post it.

I have certainly enjoyed the last weeks at home. Periodically, my business is such that I have a lull in the travel. It’s not good from a business stand point, but it’s a very good thing for retooling my message with new discoveries, and trying out some ideas on the web and writing. Since Christmas I’ve built up BlogMeister, a classroom blogging tool, that enables teachers to assign writing tasks for students, assess and publish their works as public or semipublic blogs.

I’ve also written a 4th edition of Raw Materials for the Mind, and a new book, Classroom Blogging: A Teacher’s Guide to the Blogosphere. The last one was actually fun. Lots of truly interesting things going on with the emergence of the great digital conversation.

But now, the travel is picking up. I’m currently at about 27,000 feet heading into Central Standard Time, and the beautiful city of Chicago, for the Technology & Learning Magazine’s Tech Forum. I’ll see lots of great friends, old and new there, and I’m sure I’ll be talking more about them soon.

The bummer is that I am heading into this travel period with a web site that is on the verge of collapse. Let me give you the whole story. When I left the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction to start my next life as a consultant, I purchased a Mac web server to run my new website. I knew of Blast Internet Services (then called EMJI) from their work with Chatham County Schools, just west of Raleigh, They had completely wired the schools and even hired a tech facilitator for the county to help teachers learn to integrate Internet technology into their teaching. I was extremely impressed with the company’s dedication to the community and it vision. So I went to Blast to host my server.

Eventually, that server became too old and slow for the growing sofistication of web sites, and since I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to keep buying web servers, I switched to a number of companies that rented server space. This worked fine, except that I was just doing business with them. There was no sense that they cared about what I was doing. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect that, but I did.

I eventually went back to Blast, and after a couple of years of running my site on their cohosting servers, the placed Landmarks for Schools on a dedicated server, that they had. Of course, with that kind of power and my love of programming, the site grew, and grew.

Well that old server got older, and over the past few weeks it became increasingly unstable, finally necessitating a new home for Landmarks. They moved my site over to their state-of-the-art server, that was also running a number of other non-profit sites and Blast’s home site.

For the first five minutes, it worked great. I could hear the “ting” of the web pages slapping up against the glass of my computer display. But then, it got slower, and over about a two minute period, the site ground to a halt, bringing 14 other web sites down.

Since then, we have tried many combinations of services to try to economize Landmark tools so that the server will handle it, but there now appears to be no way. I am working on some options to obtain a dedicated server for Landmarks, so that we can get these popular tool back up and into classrooms all over.

If anyone has suggestions, please let me know via e-mail. And do continue to have positive thoughts about Landmarks and its return.