Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama - Clark

For whatever little it is worth, I'm with digby, put me down for Obama - Clark.

Good News/Bad News

I noticed via Doug's Shared Items that the Essential Blog actually has a syndication feed that works now. Unfortunately, it has some kind of weird comment spam bug I haven't seen before, but I suppose that isn't noticeable once you get caught up with the older items.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

David Brooks is not your Friend


This threatens the country’s long-term prospects. It also widens the gap between rich and poor. Goldin and Katz describe a race between technology and education. The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.

I'm sure you can make the numbers work this way, in particular if you want to portray inequality as primarily existing between white and blue collar employees instead of, say, labor and capital. But what's the takeaway here supposed to be again? We need a better education system so that professionals will make less and thus close the wage gap with unskilled labor?

Also, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Brooks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

World System A and World System B

While cleaning my office I came across my cache of obscure xeroxed essays not available elsewhere and thought I'd type up an excerpt or two.

Here's Christopher Alexander's explanation of the two ways of looking at the world and building in it from his quixotic article "BATTLE: The history of a Crucial Clash between World-System A and World-System B: Construction of the New Eishin Campus," from Japan Architect 8508:

System A is what we might call "The ordinary way". This is Hosoi's name for it. It is the way of building in which people who use buildings take part in creating them. They take part in laying them out. Money is used and allocated, according to the needs of the project, and according to the wishes of the people who use the buildings. The construction is managed directly, under a system of control which is close to the users. While the buildings are being built, they are adapted gradually. What turns out to be better slowly replaces what is less good. The architect or person in charge of building, is truly in charge of "building", not of paper. Things are done according to the dictates of the human heart. All in all, it is the system of common sense.

Oddly enough, this is not the system of construction which we know today.

System B is a system controlled by images. It is a system in which control of the system is extremely indirect. It is a system in which the users rarely, if at all, have any measure of control over the actual layout or design of buildings. It is a system in which big money, loanes and mortgages control the process. The dictates of big money, of permission, and of profit, create conditions in which the quality that is obtained is defined solely by images, not by real human feelings. The architects who produce these images are concerned mainly with the images they create, not with the buildings themselves. The success or failure of these images is defined by photographs in glossy magazines, not by heartfelt approval of the users. In fact the users rarely express their approval or disapproval of the projects they inhabit, except in so far that they themselves become part and parcel of the system of images, and then feel honored because the images have been made to seem important to them. Common sense is not a part of system B.

Oddly enough, this is the sytem which is in widespread use today. Its use is so widespread, and its existence so widely accepted, that most people assume that it is the correct and only way to build. They have forgotten, or most often do not know, that any other system ever existed.

Scott's History Lesson

One thing that is lost in Scott's citation of plenty of evidence that "traditional" schooling has always been dominant in the US is the fact that at this moment we are well into a period of conservative, back-to-basics backlash. It is not just that things haven't been changing, in many ways they've been changing in the wrong direction. Significant large scale reform efforts in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and innumerable other schools and districts were smothered in their cradles as this period began. Certainly my personal experience was that the seventies were more progressive than subsequent decades.

See also Sylvia's comment.


I've slagged on for, by my reading, taking pains to maintain parity between posts criticizing Republicans and Democrats, maintaining the impression that both sides are equally dishonest. So it is significant that currently 8 out of their 12 most recent posts are false attacks on Obama by McCain and allied groups. Still, their requisite fact-checks on the Democrats are relatively weak tea:

The campaign says the ad is referring to Obama's long-standing proposal to spend $150 billion over 10 years for research into alternative energy – "to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, invest in low-emissions coal plants, and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid."

Spending that money may well be a good idea, but it's not our place to judge. We do object to implying that a decade-long program, which in all probability could not even begin until sometime in late 2009, is a "fast track" to anything.

It is a mystery to me how any alternative energy proposal by a presidential candidate could begin before late 2009.

Also, the only reason McCain got asked about insuring contraceptives vs. viagra is because his surrogate Carly Fiorina brought up the issue a few days beforehand (as they note at the end of their piece ).

Anyhow, it is unclear how well an organization like, which has to strain to be perceived as neutral, can really cope with the most important type of crisis they should theoretically exist to counter, when one side in particular starts spewing a long sequence of lies and disinformation.

Dr Horrible Free Again

Apparently, Dr Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog is once again available for free on Hulu (and embeddable) for the indefinite future. I suspect that they decided they were being too stingy with the free downloads given that they don't seem to have a firm timeline for selling DVD's. This may stop working at any point, but... enjoy!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to Think Like a Computer Scientist


For many years now, we've had a silent running battle in the house. Kathi thinks the walls are too white; she finds them institutional, hospital-like. I say they have an “art museum” aesthetic—which is just a sophisticated way of saying, “Yes, they're white, perhaps even too white, but provided we have an easy justification we don't have to do anything about it”.

Well, we've been attacking the walls for some time now, and gradually reducing the whiteness. We've mostly just removed one white wall per room, but even that has made a dramatic difference (indeed the most, as any incremental changes would have diminished marginal value).

No Secret Software

Bray on Christine Peterson:

It’s simple: when data is gathered and used for the people as part of civic processes (voting is a good example), processing it using secret software, especially if it’s a private-sector secret, should be totally out of bounds.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lessons from Leading Edge Small Urban High Schools

Regis Shields emailed me to let me know the final version of Education Resource Strategies' report, Strategic Designs: Lessons from Leading Edge Small Urban High Schools, which I referred to earlier, is now available on their website. She also wrote: "It is our goal to make most of our tools available free to the education world. I think if you check on our site every now and then that we will begin posting our methodology, frameworks and coding, and eventually the more technical web-based tools on our website," so... fingers crossed.

This Always Seemed Obvious to Me

Clay Burell:

And that leaves me wondering if local collaboration - within a school (and my, does that hurt Mr. Unschooly to say), or a comfortably snug geographic zone like a town or city - might be more engaging for the students. Face to face is possible across town, and less so around the globe - and face to face seems, if I get danah right, to matter more to teens.

It is also a question of scale. Is one global collaborative project a year from grades 6 - 12 sufficient? If so (and I'd say "yes," give or take), it is a nice feature, but not any kind of structural shift.

What Happens When Ken DeRosa Assumes?

To review, Ken DeRosa, with the purest of intentions, decided to survey the Science Leadership Academy Family Night Curriculum Book. To everyone's surprise, he was deeply disappointed with the first example of student work he found and decided to write a post enumerating the flaws in the assignment's design and the student's writing.

DeRosa's critique of the assignment is based on how he imagines the Dred Scott decision ought to be taught in a US History class. Had he asked before writing his missive, or bothered to read the History and Social Studies section of the Curriculum Guide, he would have known that his entire frame for critiquing the assignment was incorrect, because this was not an assignment for a US History class (taken in 11th grade at SLA), but an African-American History class. In this context, what is important is the decision's impact on African-Americans and the abolitionist movement, not the balance of power in the great game between the North and the South in which the African-Americans are seen as mere pawns. Perhaps in 11th grade US History, the pre-war balance of power dynamic will be emphasized.

I would note that Chris Lehmann told me that he left a comment on Ken's blog explaining this oversight on Ken's part, but for whatever reason, that comment has not been published as of this date.

Beyond Ken's unhappiness of the framing of the decision and the assignment, his criticism of the student work itself is not based on any knowledge of the kind of work 14 year olds typically do. As a piece of writing, the letter in question would stand up admirably against the anchor papers used in any 9th grade writing assessment in the country, if not the world. DeRosa never questions the accuracy of the student's historical information.

I have no doubt that, given accurate and complete information, that Ken DeRosa could not find plenty to kvetch about at SLA. Teaching African-American History to all ninth graders, for example. Or the poster... A POSTER, that is the second piece of student work in the curriculum guide. What is clear is that to DeRosa, the facts, any objective evidence, and are beside the point. Guessing and attacking the first thing he sees is sufficient.

Plopp > Second Life

Using Plopp Second Life you've got a free as in beer, extremely kid-friendly interface for making Teddy-style 3d models you can import into Second Life. Not that I'm a fan of Second Life, but I do like Plopp.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For the Love of the Game! Or Not.

NY Times, July 22, 1884:


This really defies summary... you have to read the whole thing. Thanks to Rick Stattler for the link.

Evidence! When it is Convenient.

For some reason Ken DeRosa thinks that quoting an out of print, 13 year old history text written by an infamous Bush crony demonstrates something. Funny how staunch advocates of "scientifically based research" just start making bald assertions, completely unencumbered by even anecdotal evidence or first-hand experience, when it is convenient to them. Is there any reason this text leads to the kind of analysis DeRosa apparently expects of ninth graders? Dead reckoning, indeed.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Off the DL

My finger injuries have recovered enough to participate in a classic Providence Grays Insane Base Ball Overdose Weekend. We played 34 innings over the weekend. Underhand (1864) and overhand (1884) games against the Bridgeport Orators on Saturday and then a ferry ride over to Long Island to play the Brooklyn Atlantics on Sunday. We won both games in Bridgeport and then withered before the Atlantics, losing two.

Wearing wool from head to toe I almost coughed up a lung and keeled over on Saturday and survived on Sunday through not moving any more than necessary (not that difficult in the outfield a lot of the time), staying in the shade (the tree in right field helped with that) and pouring a bottle of ice water over my head after every inning. Despite the heat and the fact that I had only had one desultory batting practice in two months, I was hitting like crazy, going 8 for 9 in the two overhand games, with a double and two triples.

What a College Student Should Know About Dred Scott

The AP US History Exam is the closest thing we've got to a national standard for history knowledge (history teachers chime in if I'm missing something). Now, the original premise here is that passing the AP exam in high school merits college credit, so AP History isn't even the measure of what a high school graduate ought to know, it is a measure of what a college freshman should know after a semester of collegiate level US History. Here's a Google Books except from a test prep book by a major publisher (the overall quality of which I can' vouch for) summarizing what a student should try to remember about Dred Scott while walking into the exam.

You can try to extrapolate back from that what a reasonable standard for a freshman level high school history class might be.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gotcher Back

For those of you who worry that ed-tech bloggers are too much of an echo chamber, you might check out Ken DeRosa's critique of, well, not so much Chris Lehmann and Science Leadership Academy in general, as much as a particular example of student work from SLA's website.

What is truly mean-spirited about DeRosa's analysis is that he focuses much of his scorn on the students work -- "superficial analysis," "unaware," "fixates on inflammatory language," "fails to cover any of the important issues" -- without seeming to notice that the student's response perfectly fits the assignment. In fact, DeRosa doesn't seem to notice the assignment at all. He presents his example of what he thinks "a decent high-school level analysis of Dred Scott" would look like, but his work would not be an acceptable response to the prompt. He doesn't answer the question.

Now, he may think that the prompt was lousy. Fine. But go after the adults, not the kid. The student read the assignment and fulfilled it, with panache. DeRosa didn't.

OLPC & GNOME Politics

As I've mentioned before, Sugar isn't built on the GNOME desktop, but it is built out of the same components (GTK+, DBus, etc.), so the big crisis in direction GNOME & GTK are having right now will have a serious impact in the long term architecture of Sugar. Chris Blizzard (formerly of OLPC) has a good analysis and you can trace links backwards if you want more background.

Chris writes:

...I think that GNOME has evolved into two different projects, each struggling to share code and be successful. One is the “classic desktop” as we used to call it at Red Hat and the second project is built around servicing the mobile and highly-specialized desktop experience market. These are not the same thing, not by any stretch. Different audiences, different goals, different players and different revenue models. As a result you can feel some measure of friendly, but sometimes misunderstood confusion in the GNOME project because the underlying change isn’t fully understood. [...]

...That’s also why I’m calling this a duality. Two projects existing as one. One without a great deal of success, but an end-user identity and brand and goals, and another with a chance to succeed but without much identity or end-user goals. It’s going to be a rough ride and I think that in order to find success we have to find a way to merge the two into a single set of goals. The desktop isn’t going anywhere, but the mobile project isn’t going to produce GNOME-visible results either. GNOME will be well-hidden behind someone else’s branding and experience. And maybe that’s fine, but it’s not the way to lead and win in the end.

Anyhow, read the whole thing if you want to peek into the baroque politics of advanced open source projects.

Ideally, strong development on the "mobile" thread will be good for inexpensive computing for students, including a more robust back end for Sugar.

So You Want to be a School Reform Star?

I'm about half-way through my copy of Mike and Susan Klonsky's book, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society, which arrived yesterday. It is pretty much a book length take on the issues Deborah Meier and Doug Noon blogged about yesterday (and Mike blogs about all the time).

Specifically, the book is about the collision between the original strain of progressive small school reform (affably personified in the ed-tech blogosphere by Chris Lehmann) and "Ownership Society" neo-con reforms typified by NCLB and privatization schemes. Interestingly, the Ownership Society has no figure in the ed-tech blogging ghetto, but it defines the ground (e.g., a certain kind of crisis mentality) in ways the community has trouble perceiving.

It is genuinely difficult to pick apart the overlapping tactics and rhetoric these two groups employ, and the Klonsky's do an excellent job of explaining the history and philosophy of the dueling "small schools" movements.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

SchoolTool News (from the mailing list)

Ignas, Alan and I held a three day sprint in Vilnius, Lithuania in conjunction with the EuroPython conference last week. We used the face to face time to plan out the remaining significant changes to be implemented before our beta release in October.

Ignas presented his plans for re-organizing the data structures around school years and semesters/trimesters. The basic design sounded very solid, so we spent most of the next two days sketching out the UI implementation and various details.

Most of the remaining time was spent designing and beginning to implement an event log that can be used for basic integration with external server applications. Basically, a log of changes to persons and sections will be created which an external process can periodically scan and propogate changes to a Moodle, Drupal, etc. database. It is not the ultimate in data integration, but a simple, practical step in that direction.

This will be the last sprint we'll hold at a Python convention for the foreseeable future. It has been a useful strategy the past couple years, given the rapid pace of change in Python web development and Zope. We've had to assimilate eggs, WSGI, paste, buildout, and other new (and advantageous!) technologies over the past couple years, and attending talks on the subjects and discussing them face to face was helpful.

With a beta and 1.0 release on the horizon, it will make sense to switch to holding sprints at schools and educational technology conferences, as we switch our focus from technical issues to user feedback, fit and finish.

In other news, Jeff Elkner is in El Salvador, and he managed to stumble upon Douglas Cerna, who may be the only Zope 3 developer in the country, if not all of central America. Jeff is also working with a school down there, and with an interested local developer, we migh be able to get a pilot going.

Also, CanDo has seen some major work on its data model to clean up some nasty deep bugs. Last year's crop of interns are doing very productive work this summer.

How is that Leisure Coming?

Paul Goodman, 1964:

The future--if we survive and have a future, which is touch and go--will certainly be more leisurely. If that leisure is not to be completely inane and piggishly affluent, there must be a community and civic culture. There must be more employment in human services and less in the production of hardware gadgets; more citizenly initiative and less regimentation; and in many spheres, decentralization of control and administration. For these purposes, the top-down dictated national plans and educational methods that are now the fad are quite irrelevant. And on the contrary, it is precisely the society of free choice, lively engagement, and social action of Summerhill and American Summerhill that are relevant and practical.

Thus, just as with Dewey, the new advance of progressive education is a good index of what the real situation is. And no doubt society will again seek to abuse this program which it needs but is afraid of (Compulsory Mis-education, p. 59).

What Are These "Fantasy Sports" You Speak Of?

Is it better or worse that David Warlick seems to be out to lunch about everything, not just education?

I really don’t understand the endeavor (fantasy sports), other than you bid for players (playing cards), and then play your teams statistically against each other. Strategies vary, and they told of at least one professional baseball team that successfully carried over some of what they learned about playing/working the statistics into their field game strategies.

Minorities: Surprisingly, Still in the Minority

Not to say that this proves anything in particular, but it is important (especially if you are, say, a social studies teacher) to note, as Matt does, that Americans of all stripes tend to be way, way off in their perception of the current racial breakdown of the US. Specifically, we tend to significantly underestimate the percentage of white people and overestimate the number of minorities. Try it with your classes (I used to).

For example, in this poll, over 40% of people think blacks make up more than 30% of the population, when in fact they are only 12% or so. White people are still around 70%. While on one level race doesn't exist, it is just a construct, etc., I do think this mis-perception has all kinds of weird and subtle distorting effects on how people understand the political facts on the ground in this country.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not Your Parents' TFA

Paul Goodman:

...The so-called Northern Student Movement is a group of college-students who take a year off from college to tutor urban underprivileged kids referred by the public schools; but the NSM has now declared its policy not to restrict itself to the curriculum and aims of the school system. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee is about--I am writing in June 1964--to go down to the deep South, primarily to help in the voter-registration of disenfranchised Negroes, but also to try out little colleges for adolescents, with 5 graduate-students teaching 25 teenagers a curriculum relevant to their economic and political advancement. Accompanying the numerous school-boycotts there have sprung up "Freedom" schools that started as one-day propaganda demonstrations but have been lively enough to warrant continuing.

In my opinion, the highly official Peace Corps has the same underlying educational significance. At present it is rigidly selective and super-collegiate; indeed it is, by and large, an operation for upper-middle class youth and well-paid professors and administrators: it costs $15,000 to get one youngster in the field for a year. Nevertheless, the whole conception is unthinkable except as dissatisfaction with orthodox schooling and with the status-careers that schooling leads to. (Compulsory Mis-education, pp. 57-58)

Free to Freedom

Sylvia asks:

So you have to ask yourself, is “buzz” plus “free” driving educational practice and planning? Are you building a future on this premise? Are educators walking into a trap set out to attract any and all users, just so venture capitalists can make a return on investment?

Here's how this ought to work. You've got a certain group of ed-tech early adopters who are always going to be chasing the next big thing. They can't help it, and that process has been supercharged by the fact that they no longer need purchase orders or their own money to try most of the hot new things, since they're on the web and free (as in beer). No sense complaining about this, it is just the way things are and will be for the foreseeable future.

What we do need to change is the relationship between this group and, in particular, the way schools do IT.

When the early adopters find web applications that work and stick, before they flit off to the next bauble, there needs to be a hand off to the people who handle actual implementations in schools. In some cases, like GMail and Google Apps, the vendor may decide to actually address education as a market, thus allowing schools to act as a more or less conventional customers. In other cases, once a service has demonstrated some value to schools (for the sake of argument, let's say Twitter fits this definition, although that's a major stretch), what should happen is that the ed-tech geek says to the IT geek, "OK, we need to be able to do this" and the IT geek does a little Googling around and says, "Alright, let's try piloting a Laconica server." That is, the IT side insists on an open source solution to provide stability, privacy and consistency, but they actually see it as part of their job to at least try to provide such a thing.

This is as good a time as any to give an overdue shout out to Jim Klein for the work his district has been doing with elgg, which is an example of at least part of this process in action.

A lot of this comes down to not taking seriously the difference between not being forbidden from trying something and actually recommending or requiring its use to a formal grouping of teachers. If something is likely to change substantially over, say, the next three years, I don't really see the point in pushing it on teachers (well, except in extraordinary cases, like perhaps OLPC). Three years is forever on the web right now, but in schools it is an eyeblink, and it is practically an eyeblink in the education of a kid. If you have to transition from, say, one photo sharing/publishing application to another before a class of freshman makes it to graduation, you're wasting everyone's time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Goodman on Dewey

Paul Goodman, 1964:

Historically, the intent of Dewey was exactly the opposite of what the critics say. Progressive education appeared in this country in the intellectual, moral, and social crisis of the development of big centralized industrialism after the Civil War. It was the first thoroughgoing modern analysis of the crucial modern problem of every advanced country in the world: how to cope with high industrialism and scientific technology which are strange to people; how to restore competence to people who are becoming ignorant; how to live in rapidly growing cities so that they will not be mere urban sprawl; how to have a free society in mass conditions; how to make the high industrial system good for something, rather than a machine running for its own sake. [...]

The thought of John Dewey was part of a similar tendency in architecture, the functionalism of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, that was trying to invent an urbanism and an esthetic suited to machine production and yet human; and it went with the engineering orientation of the economic and moral theory of Veblen. These thinkers wanted to train, teach--perhaps accustom is the best word--the new generation to the actualities of industrial and technical life, working practically with the machinery, learning by doing. People could then be at home in the modern world, and possibly become free. [...]

But the school, (Dewey) felt, could combine all the necessary elements: practical learning of science and technology, democratic community, spontaneous felling liberated by artistic expression, freedom to fantasize, the animal expression freed from the parson's morality and the schoolmaster's ruler. This constituted the whole of Deweyan progressive education. There would be spontaneous interest (including animal impulse), harmonized by art-working; this spontaneity would be controlled by the hard pragmatism of doing and making the doing actually work; and thus the young democratic community would learn the modern world and also have the will to change it. Progressive education was a theory of continual scientific experiment and orderly, nonviolent social revolution. (Compulsory Mis-education, pp. 50-52).

I'm not interested in any new vision of education which does not harmonize with a new urbanism.

Zope 3 + Grok + RDF = Intriguing

Martijn Faassen:

Jasper Op de Coul and I worked on a package called megrok.rdf. Jasper is very familiar with RDF, so his experience there was invalabule. The megrok.rdf package uses the approach from megrok.rdb to expose RDF content as a first-class citizen in Grok. It was surprising and satisfying to see how well the approach fits RDF-based data as well. The megrok.rdf package will make it to soon. If we can form a group of interested contributors around this package Grok can grow a powerful way to build web applications on top of an RDF triple store.

The practical drawback of not having as much social time at EuroPython, due to repeatedly falling asleep as everyone was assembling for dinner and doing our sprinting at POV HQ instead of the hotel, is that I didn't find out about this while I had face to face access to the involved parties.

I Don't Want To Be Part Of Any Media Revolution That Does Not Include Joss Whedon Writing and Producing Musicals

Why wasn't I informed of this sooner? I missed weeks of quivering with anticipation.

Don't dally, offer expires after one week.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Paul Goodman on the NSF and "Discovery" Learning

More amusing quotes from 1964:

...there is an exactly contrary theory (to strict grading and weeding out an elite as a response to Sputnik), propounded by the teachers of science, e.g. the consensus of the Woods Hole Conference of the National Science Foundation, reported in Professor Bruner's The Processes of Education. This theory counsels practical learning by doing, entirely rejects competition and grading, and encourages fantasy and guesswork. There is no point, it claims, in learning the "answers," for very soon there will be different answers. Rather, what must be taught are the underlying ideas of scientific thought, continuous with the substance of the youngster's feelings and experience. In short, the theory is Deweyan progressive education.

To be sure, Professor Bruner and his associates do not go on to espouse democratic community. But I am afraid that they will eventually find that also this is essential, for it is impossible to do creative work of any kind when the goals are pre-determined by outsiders and cannot be criticized and altered by the minds that have to do the work, even if they are youngsters. (Dewey's principle is, simply, that good teaching is that which leads the students to want to learn something more.)

The compromise of the National Science Foundation on this point is rather comical. "Physical laws are not asserted; they are, it is hoped, discovered by the student"; "there is a desire to allow each student to experience some of the excitement that scientific pursuits afford"--I am quoting from the NSF's Science Course Improvement Projects. That is, the student is to make a leap of discovery to--what is already known, in a course precharted by the Ph.D's at M.I.T. Far from being elating, such a process must be profoundly disappointing; my guess is the "discovery" will be greeted not with a cheer but by a razz. The excitement of discovery is reduced to the animation of puzzle-solving. I doubt that puzzle-solving is what creative thought is about, though it is certainly what many Ph.D.'s are about.

Paul Goodman, Compulsory Mis-education, p. 53-54.

What are Political Blogs Good For?


...having a relatively unpersuadable audience is, I believe, common to all explicitly political media. Only people who like following politics would tune in to Meet The Press and people who like following politics usually have strong views about politics and are thus unlikely to be swayed by things they watch there. But there are more questions to be answered than "should I vote for the Democrat or the Republican in November?" Blogs are much more likely to persuade people on issues like "John Edwards or Barack Obama" or even more so "as someone who doesn't even live in Maryland, should I care about the Al Wynn versus Donna Edwards primary?" or "is the telecom immunity provision of the proposed changes to FISA a big deal?"

Blogs are a niche medium for political obsessives, so they tend to impact readers' opinions on questions that normal people just wouldn't bother having opinions about at all. That's not the same as saying that no persuasion happens and it's all preaching to the choir. It's more like the members of the choir talking about choir-related issues that others may not really care about.

For me, this means giving money to the congressional candidates Atrios tells me to, which I've done the past few election cycles, and figure to do into the indefinite future. I feel comfortable doing this because I've been reading about 10 posts a day from him for the past five years or so, and I know our views on the world are very closely in sync.

Have Your IT Guys Take a Look at This

Adeona: A free, open source system for helping track and recover lost and stolen laptops. Linux, Mac OS & Windows. Via /..

Almost the Quote I'm Looking For

I'm pretty sure Paul Goodman says this somewhere else slightly better, or at least more concisely, but I can never find it:

I can put my difficulty as a teacher as follows: It is impossible to convey that Milton and Keats were for real, that they were about something, that they expected that what they had to say and the way in which they said it made a difference. The students can (not brilliantly) tell you about the symbolic structure or even something about the historical context, though history is not much cultivated; but, if one goes back more than thirty years, they don't have any inkling that these poets were writers and in a world. (Compulsory Mis-education, p. 142.)

The present moment in progressive education

Paul Goodman, 1964:

The program of progressive education always anticipates the crucial social problems that everybody will be concerned with a generation later, when it is too late for the paradisal solutions of progressive educators. This is the nature of the case. Essentially, progressive education is nothing but the attempt to naturalize, to humanize, each new social and technical development that is making traditional education irrelevant. It is not a reform of education, but a reconstruction in terms of the new era. If society would once adopt this reconstruction, we could at last catch up with ourselves and grow naturally into the future. But equally in the nature of the case, society rejects, half-accepts, bastardizes the necessary changes; and so we are continually stuck with "unfinished revolutions," as I called them in Growing up Absurd. Then occur the vast social problems that could have been avoided--that indeed the older progressive education had specifically addressed--but it is too late. And progressive educators stoically ask, What is the case now?

From Compulsory Mis-education, p 49.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


I didn't bring any strategy to my sleep management on this trip to Lithuania, and I've just been completely jetlagged the whole time. Last night was the first time I was able to sleep more than two hours at night without waking up feeling wide awake. I was still up before 5:00 AM, though. Anyhow, flying home Saturday...

...I mean, Sunday. Did I mention I'm jetlagged? Also, I'm just missing Bjork, who is playing Sunday night here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

School Reform & EPIC FAIL

I think amplifying and exemplifying this point by Chris is important (despite my snark yesterday):

The big problem is that we never, ever have a low cost of failure. When schools fail, kids lose. Shirky writes in Chapter 10 about how in a traditional business infrastructure, there is a natural disincentive to innovate because "more people will remember you saying yes to a failure than no to a radical but promising idea." (p. 246) I'd argue this is more true in education than in traditional businesses, again because the stakes are so high. So the educational establishment sticks to safe ideas and traditional schooling because we know that while the outcomes may not be amazing, they are predictably mediocre at worst.

Here are a couple of examples of what it looks like when things go pear-shaped in a permissive, progressive school:

  • My first year of teaching I was working in a sort of 70's holdover, a permissive alternative program. The district had just acquired a dynamic new superintendent who began her tenure by visiting every school in the district to get a first-hand impression. The afternoon she came to visit, about 95 out of 100 students decided not to come back from lunch. In the traditional schools, the kids may not have been learning any more, or less, but at least enough were trained to show up to maintain some pretense of an educational process.
  • A friend of mine was recruited to work at an internationally known progressive high school. He's a street-wise poet and English teacher who grew up in the neighborhood. In his first year, one of the 15 kids he advised and worked with every day stole his car. Obviously, your car can be stolen under other circumstances as well, but the point is intense, student-centered programs can have the side effect of drawing you too deeply into the drama and trauma of the kids lives, and the net losses may outweigh the gains.
  • An student uses the opportunity to read her poetry on the Brown student radio station to call out her neighborhood rival. In a regular school, the same incident would probably just happened in the hallways, not over the airwaves.

These kind of incidents are not some kind of counter-proof against school reform, but they're important to understand when you're considering why school change is hard. And yes Pollyanna, they are "teachable moments," but costly ones.

Traditional schools fail gracefully (as institutions). It is one of their primary features.

One final thought -- stories like this have a huge impact locally, which is the level that actually matters in running a school. People being people, these are the stories that circulate and determine how the local community responds to its schools.

Shorter Lehmann on Shirky

We can organize without organizations, but changing schools requires organizations. [link]

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Understanding the Role of Chris Lehmann in the Universe

Me, via email, 6/26/05:

I'm just heading out for NECC, and I realized I forgot to ping you to see if anyone from (influential "high tech" progressive high school) was going to be there.

Chief Academic Officer of said school:

i am sad to say i do not even know what NECC is, let alone going to it!

I'm happy my friend and colleague Chris Lehmann and his school, Science Leadership Academy, have been picking up a positive buzz, particularly after NECC last week. Nobody and the world knows more about the combination of running a high school and using the web effectively than Chris. But here's the thing: it is the combination that is unique.

There are hundreds of schools in this country that are similar to SLA, and I'd bet thousands that explicitly are trying to do similar things, right now, today. It is just that they aren't blogging, and in particular, their principals aren't blogging, and they aren't going to NECC. In what, if any, sense is this a problem?

It is not like these schools are trying to keep their work a secret. You can read whole books about them! And articles in magazines about education and features in newspapers. And they have websites. And their own organizations and their own conferences. Many are actively working to spread their models to other schools and other cities with the help of philanthropic and venture capital. You can open one yourself!

Chris has taken a different approach in promoting SLA because a) he's Geek Boy, b) he likes to write, and c) SLA's sugar daddies are a fiscally suspect city government and a non-profit, not the Gates Foundation and CVS. Blogging, giving keynotes, hosting EduCon, etc., all make it less likely that SLA will be undone by fiat in the next wave of Philly's ongoing budget crisis, but the more common approach is to go talk to New Schools Venture Fund, not tech coordinators and consultants at NECC.

For the ed-tech audience, Chris is the tip of a school reform iceberg which otherwise requires just a little more effort to seek out. It is not blogging and twittering, but it is out there.

Fuzzy Situation

Apropos of Will's regularly scheduled handwringing, I'm feeling like a little community Future Problem Solving might be genuinely helpful. I mean, the level of wheel-spinning in the K-12 ed-tech blogosphere is indicative of a failure to define your problem correctly -- something FPS taught me to do before I hit puberty.

The first step would be to define what they used to call the "fuzzy situation."

So, my challenge is this: write a paragraph defining not the problem itself, but just the "topic." Use these for examples of the desired structure and style.

Also, since nobody reads this blog, if you think this is an interesting idea, you might mention it on your own blog.

Monday, July 07, 2008

If Only David Warlick Had Some Platform for Expressing His Ideas About Education


The problem, in my opinion, began when we started to consider and to treat our students as our future workforce. When it became our industries that were at stake, rather than democracy, then we had no choice but to mechanize education, to turn it into an assembly line, where we install math, and install reading, and install science, and then measure each product at the end to make sure that they all meet the standards — that they all know the same things and think the same ways.

The sad part is that this theme of class as future work force is just about too firmly entrenched to turn around in the short months and years we have, before it’s too late. I’m finding myself promoting the creative arts skills for the sake of the economy, rather than a richer life for our children. But even within that story, I think that we can retool our classrooms in a way that does help our children inside and outside their work experiences.

Everything about David's construction of time, history and change makes no sense. In particular, this idea about having "short months and years... before it's too late." If time is running out, it has already run out, we just don't fully appreciate it. Or, time isn't really running out, it just seems like we're living in the end times, because people always think they're living in the end times.

Anyhow, I think everyone would be better off if David would say what he really believes and had enough faith in his own beliefs that he didn't have to couch everything in these bogus historical/futurist wrappers.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Annual State of Open Source at NECC Report

I usually write this, but I didn't go this year, so someone else will have to. If someone does, let me know.

Next Year's NECC, Today

Mark Bernstein:

The next big thing in IT technology is amost always a buzzword, standing for a concept that everyone knows to be sound or that never has or will exist. So it hardly matters what it will be called; it won't mean much.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Advanced White People

On stuff white people like:

It's all about ranking. It's essentially a contest. It used to be that bottled water was a status symbol. You drink Evian, or you drink Fiji, or what is the most expensive water.

But advanced-level white people, the higher-ranking white people, realized that they were creating a lot of waste, and so they switched over to the Nalgene bottle.

This was the one thing that baffled me when I arrived at Brown. What's up with the fucking water bottles?

Side Note

Just for reference, Steve Hargadon does get paid some money (not enough) to help maintain the K-12 Open Tech website, of which Pearson is a sponsor. I don't think this was a factor in their asking him to record at edubloggercon, and I don't think is a subtantial conflict of interest, but it would give him some incentive not to tell them to go pound sand. That and the fact that he's a really nice guy.

Anyhow, the upshot of all this would seem to be that Steve should have more help organizing things next year, which he'd probably appreciate anyhow.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I Can Sod It For You Wholesale

One of the perks of living in Rhode Island is the easy access to abundant sod farms. There's no reason to ever try to grow grass from seed here. If you just need a little, drive down to the farm and throw some in the back of the station wagon. Or have a couple of pallets delivered straight from the farm. Either way, the sod is fresh, surprisingly cheap and as close to instant gratification as you can get in your yard or garden.

So yeah, I laid down almost 1000 square feet yesterday:


Looks pretty good notwithstanding the abandoned house in the background. This is the best "before" snapshot that happens to be already uploaded to Flickr:


That's a few years old though. Note the wide, deep gravel path along the right side of the picture. While I appreciate that it is accurate to the period of the house, getting rid of that gravel was a massive pain. Luckily, we had a big hole to put it in after my pond liner gave out and my fish died a couple months ago. This picture is looking across where the pond used to be, towards a derelict carriage house. You can also see our new tulip tree.


Here's a view from the sidewalk:


Also, the back of the house is getting a fresh coat of paint, completing a painting project which spanned two summers:


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Future of Digital Content

After reading Scott's post, I feel inspired to spit out some bullet points of my own.

Here, in condensed form, is what we need:

  1. XO-style hardware in every kids hand. I'm still down with the Trojan Horse strategy. It is fine if most people think of it as an ebook/filmstrip/probeware/calculator/typewriter, as long as the platform is open and can be expanded to do cooler things. It is essential that the cost be entirely offset by the mundane uses, though.
  2. Technical infrastructure for free content. Licensing is pretty well understood now; distributed revision control exists for programming but hasn't quite been adopted by this community yet; robust and extensible metadata strategies exist but basically we lack the expertise to implement them, so we'll have to muddle through.
  3. High-quality free curriculum, a la Tinker. On occasion this may be funded by industry, see, but basically, eventually government and philanthropy just has to realize that in the digital age they only need to pay for content once. Instead of buying copies of content year after year for every kid, they can just pay once to have it written and then distribute and re-use it as much as they want, sharing and spreading the costs among increasingly larger pools. It is about cutting out the middle-man.
  4. Protection from legal liability. There needs to be actual legislation clearly delineating and limiting the potential liabilities of school employees for disciplinary issues arising around the use of technology. Unfortunately, this seems like the least likely piece of the four.

Is there any reason this should be expensive? No. Would it dismantle most of the textbook industry (*cough* Pearson *cough*)? Yes. Would it seriously disrupt the educational technology market and put a serious dent in a number of US-based corporations? Yes. Are many other countries already taking these steps? Yes.

The Role of Liberal Blogs


One of the primary reasons that blogs emerged over the last seven years was as a reaction to, an attempt to battle against, exactly this narrative which the media propagated and Democratic institutions embraced -- that it is the duty of every Democrat to repudiate and attack their own base; that the truly pernicious elements are on the "Far Left", whose values must be rejected, while the Far Right is entitled to profound respect and accommodation; that "Strength" in National Security is determined by agreement with GOP policies, which is where "the Center" is found; that Seriousness is demonstrated by contempt for the liberal masses; that every Democrat must apologize for any statement over which Republicans feign offense.

Plenty of Beltway institutions already existed for the purpose of cheering on any and all Democrats no matter what they do. If that's all that blogs are supposed to do, then there is no need for them. From the beginning, blogs have been devoted to opposing Democratic complicity and capitulation -- to the lack of Democratic responsiveness to their supporters -- every bit as much as opposing GOP corruption and media malfeasance. That role is at least as important as the others.