Listening to Vivian V.


I’m at the “Redefining the World” conference in a small town in Upstate New York. The children’s book author, Vivian Vande Velde, is talking to a large group of school library media specialists. She has already talked that one of the challenges of writing books is the limited amount of influence authors typically have on the post production of their books. She said that she has had a better experience than others, but I can vouch for that problem.

As I’m sure I have reported before in the blog, I am now publishing books using an online service, where I have complete control over the layout, illustrations, and even the price. Vivian is showing pictures from her books and talking through stories related to the book and stories from her life. She is an excellent and amazing story teller, and I look forward to reading some of her books.

By the way, many of you have realized that my blog has changed. I finally realized how much time I am spending troubling ongoing problems with the RSS files that my homemade blogging tool was generated. So I gave it a try, and sure enough, I had WordPress installed on my server in less than five minutes, and the theme laid out in less than 30 minutes more. I like it, and the RSS files seem to be dependable.

It’s getting close to time for me to do my presentation on weblogs and RSS. Great fun!

Education as Conversation

3:48 AM

I travel today, and to be honest, I’m kinda looking forward to it. The glamor of airports, tiny coach seats with the back of the seat in front of me too close to my face to even hold a paperback book, and those delicious pretzels. I so savor all seven of them. It still has has the aroma of glamor to this man who was 40 years old the first time he rode in an airplane.

So I’m up early this morning, planning to move some of my web Blogmeister and EPN over to the web server on my laptop, so that I can demonstrate them to my audience of librarians tomorrow in upstate New York, without having to depend totally on a working network. “Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups,” I always say.

book coverStill, I’m spending the first moments of my morning blogging, and today its a news story that was waiting in my aggregator, from The New York Times, A Town’s Struggle in the Culture War. At issue is a book, The Buffalo Tree by Adam Rapp, and its removal from the schools. I see this struggle over culture and values in schools as extremely counter productive. While our classrooms languish in the industrial age and much of the rest of the world catches up and passes us by, what brings passion to those who govern education is the brief reading of a passage from the book by a 16-year-old student. Read completely out of context, the delivery still provoked the school board to unanimously vote to ban the book from the High School curriculum less than an hour later. (Two board members were not present.)

Now what’s bad about this? Is it the exercise of political power over the curriculum experts — their teachers? Is it the vast waste of time and effort that the controversy is costing? Is it a right/left thing as the number of challenged books rises 20% after the re-election of George Bush (a connection made by the American Library Association).

What woke me up this morning was the beginning of a new Podcast program, swirling around in my head (that’s how ideas start for the A.D.D.). The concept is education as conversation. We traditionally think of education as being the delivery of skills and knowledge, depositing stuff into the heads of our students. What does education look like, if we start think of it as more of a conversation than a delivery?

How might the controversy above play out? Would controversial ideas be considered differently by the community if they thought of their classrooms as places where students consider, evaluate, adopt or reject, and build on knowledge; as opposed to a place where students are taught.

I’ve not read The Buffalo Tree, so I may be way off target here. But I still think there might be something to thinking about education as conversation. I think you might hear more about this from me, and I’ll expect to hear from you.

Network? or Netblock?

5:48 AM

I’m trying to lighten up a bit here at the end of the school year, but my mind keeps getting drawn into these issues. I just looked at my vanity search that I have installed in my aggregator and found that the name of my podcast had been used by Chris Harris, a “Director of a School Library System in Western NY”. He laments that he can’t listen to my “excellent educational podcast” at school, because all media downloads at are blocked. He continues to explain that resources at SourceForge are blocked because they are tagged as games, Google is tagged as a “loophole”.

Yesterday, Will Richardson posted another entry about the alleged school newspaper closing in Georgia, referencing Steve Dembo’s podcast where he predicted that…

…in a couple of years just about every school will have at least one student blogging away on his own time and space about what was going on at the school.

I jumped in with a comment from my reading (years ago) of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the point being that people/customers are going to network, and as a result are going to know more about what’s going on in your school than you do. My point was that information will find a way. Does it do us more good to try to control/block the network, or facilitate it?

Two other comments were posted, both missing my point completely, issuing in on blocks and filters on the school networks. Well it wasn’t Bill and Bud who missed the point. It was me. I’m out here, way outside the box. Inside, it comes down to whether you can access that web page in the classroom that you selected at home last night, play that animation or video, access that open source wiki engine.

Bill pointed out that according to a recent survey at his school, less than 20% of students regularly use the technology provided in schools, where more than 80% have access at home, and that in most cases, the performance capabilities at home exceed those of the school computers and networks.

For the sake of protecting our “behinds”, are we shoving learning out the doors of our schools?

I know that this is a serious and complex issue that concerns teachers, but also extends far beyond the classroom. It has to do with staffing resources, community sentimentalities, government regulation, and the presence of truly dangerous content on the net. But we must solve this problem and be willing to invest in solving this problem.

Because when the students see their network as a wall between them and information, then that school is no longer being a school.