© 2000 Gary
Administrator Magazine June 2000
the sadism, angst and mediocrity of middle school, two social studies
an important impact
on my development. Bob Prail has taught social studies for decades
and has touched the lives of countless children at Schuyler Colfax
High School in Wayne, New Jersey. His class was concerned more with
the intellectual, moral and emotional development of each student
the bunch o facts curriculum commonplace in similar classes. Mr.
Prails class was rigorous despite the pabulum prescribed by the
mediocre textbook, which remained in virginal condition. He excited
us about American history and our nations uneasy quest for justice.
Before multicultural education and interdisciplinary teaching were
Mr. Prail had each seventh grader read Uncle
Toms Cabin and each eighth grader read Upton Sinclairs The
Jungle. Decades before student-created multimedia was the rage,
our class produced a film of Uncle Toms Cabin. I was Harry the
imp. Being home sick for a week created interesting cinematic challenges
when my understudy, an Asian classmate, replaced me. Few middle school
students read, let alone dramatize the controversial lessons of Harriet
Prails classes were filled with
lively discussions and our content knowledge was tested by using an
electronic game show set built by the teacher. His classroom was a safe
environment for shaping an opinion or arguing one already formed. Ill
never forget how much grief Mr. Prail faced for teaching us how to
and meditate during class time. There were absurd accusations of religious
proselytizing and sorcery swirling around the school while any rational
person familiar with middle school kids understands the need for relaxation
and reflection. While I hardly remember the content of the class, Mr.
Prail taught me a much more important lesson by his example. He treated
everyone with dignity and respect
even when little respect was accorded him by the school administration.
I am convinced that my personal sense of political activism and willingness
to fight for those people and issues worthy of support may be traced
back to an intuitive sense that at twelve years old we might need to
stage a protest to ensure Mr. Prails job security. Bob Prails
lifelong commitment to doing the right thing on behalf of kids, regardless
of what the adults around him might think is a testament to the courage
and power of great teachers.
eighth grade social studies teacher, Harold "Hack" Miller, inspired me in many other extra-curricular
ways. Mr. Miller introduced partisanship, parody, humor and controversy
to the study of history and importance of politics. These are noble
traits required by a strong democracy. Ill never forget the bulletin
board decoration in Mr. Millers classroom. On it hung a front-page
tabloid photo of President Ford receiving his swine flu shot and underneath
it Mr. Miller wrote the caption, "No Brain
Mr. Miller traded "boring" subjects from the curriculum for
more engaging ones like the influence of the arts on American culture.
Best of all, he let us in on his subversion. He knew what his students
needed and taught expertly what he knew best. Mr. Miller cultivated
my love of history and passion for politics in both eighth and eleventh
high school, Mr. Miller was a behind-the-scenes instigator in our
effort to rid the school
of the sappy sexist expensive
pre-Title IX annual student dance competition. He encouraged a camouflage-wearing
school legend named Duke to seek the presidency of this august student
organization while a slate of my male pals ran to be captains of
team. When informal polling indicated that the head cheerleaders were
about to lose their most cherished position to a bunch of
boys all hell broke loose. While we were not particularly serious
leading the dance contest into the next millennium we were fighting
for important principles of gender equity and against entrenched
of discrimination. Our mucking up of the works may have been silly,
but it was also in the great tradition of the Boston Tea Party and
anti-Viet Nam war protests.
Mr. Prail and Mr. Miller taught without
the script or straightjacket imposed by the textbook. They taught from
a wealth of knowledge, a love of the subject matter and a commitment
to children. I am most grateful for the role they played in the development
of active citizens. They make me proud to be a teacher and an American.
History My Early Years of Computing
© 2000 Gary S.
An excerpt from a soon-to-be-published
book on laptop computers in education, Transforming Learning
first children I ever saw program a computer were in a third grade
classroom next to mine.
a classroom I was teaching in, but rather the third grade class I attended
in 1971. Children in Mrs. Petersens third grade class spent a
few weeks each year sharing their classroom with a timeshare teletype
connected to a mainframe computer far out of sight. I later learned
that the use of the computer had been an annual ritual in Mrs. Petersens
class for years before I discovered it.
I dont remember the site of this
amazing machine exciting me too much, it was just part of someone elses
classroom and besides, I thought Mrs. Petersen was scary. My teacher
threw weekly parties complete with dance contests and prizes, the other
kids only had a computer. No biggie.
I dont think that I heard computers
discussed, let alone saw one again until the mid-to-late seventies when
my family and I paid a great sum of money to have a digital portrait
made of us at Philadelphias Franklin Institute. A Computer the
size of Tasmania turned our family into a series of typewriter characters
in a Stager version of the snoopy picture we were all forced to pound
through in our middle school typing class annual carpal tunnel
1976 or 1977 I finally got to touch a computer for the first time.
My junior high school
(grades 6-8) had
a mandatory computer-programming course for seventh and eighth graders.
I only had the course once since I was in the band. Kids less prone
to creative and intellectual pursuits got to take double the number
of courses in those areas ah school! More than a quarter century
ago, the Wayne Township Public Schools in New Jersey thought it was
important for all kids to have experience programming computers.
was never any discussion of preparation for computing careers, school-to-work,
presentation graphics or computer literacy. Computer programming
viewed as a window onto a world of ideas given equal status as industrial
arts, music appreciation, art and oral communications.
Jones, the computer programming teacher, was scary in a much more
Dr. Frankenstein sort
of way. Rumors abounded
about him talking to his computer and kissing it goodnight before he
went home at the end of the day. This guy could make computers do
His class consisted of mini-tutorials, programming problems on worksheets
to kill time while we waited to use the one or two teletypes sitting
in the front and back of the room. We could sign-up to do more programming
or play a computer game after-school. Text-based versions of boxing,
tennis, football and Star Trek were favorites. Mr. Jones knew how
games worked and would show us the code if we were interested. Mr.
Jones did sort of love his computer. Once I knew the odds for each
play the computer never beat me again. I could THINK LIKE THE COMPUTER!
This made me feel powerful. The scarcity of computers made this activity
highly social since we were often leaning over each others
shoulders to get in on the action.
later I entered high school where the band room and small computer
room (still no
mention of computer
labs) were a sanctuary from the cruelty and torture of secondary education.
Few classes actually used the three of four teletypes available in
computer room. Getting to school early earned you a chance to sign-up
to use a terminal during lunch, afterschool or during a study hall.
Now you could have personal access to a computer for up to 40 minutes
per day. (It is unlikely that kids have that level of uninterrupted
access in most American public schools nearly twenty-five years later.)
The high school computer room was unsupervised and was adjacent to
math/science teachers lounge. The proximity to adults working
and socializing gave the computer room a sense of professionalism.
unguarded ditto machine sharing the room with the computers gave us
a vehicle for publishing underground documents in the primitive era
between Gutenberg and home photo-quality color printers.
computer room was a place where a strong community of practice
emerged. We learned
from each other, challenged
one another and played with each others programs. We altered timeshare
games, added ways to cheat and programmed cheap tricks designed to shock
classmates. I remember when hitting a control-key would cause the computer
to say, "Hello, Gary. How are you today?" One of the non-programmers
nearly fainted when he thought that the computer knew me. I ran afterschool
classes in BASIC for kids interested in learning to program. There
several levels of classes so I developed a placement exam as well.
I was the President and Vice President of the Computer Club in successive
years, probably a first in the recorded history of electoral democracy.
Programming the computer was all consuming. I even got busted taking
the bathroom pass from biology class and running down the hall to debug
a program whose solution had come to me during the discussion of trilobites.
This was but one of many humiliating high school experiences.
never saw a manual for a piece of software although we treasured
every issue of Creative
hard to meticulously enter hundreds of lines of computer code only to
have every single program be buggy. Since we had little idea what was
impossible, we thought anything was possible. We felt smart, powerful
and creative. We took Fortran manuals out of the public library for
no other reason than to hold a connection to a larger world of computing
a world we were inventing for ourselves.
my first year of high school, ninth grade, I was invited to journey
to a far corner
of our high school to
Dr. Petersens office. This office was a secret to most of the
school and like in the Wizard of Oz the Wizard was behind the curtain.
In this case, the Wizard was the Hewlett Packard 2000C/2000F mainframe
computer. Dr. Henry Petersen, the husband of Mrs. Petersen, was the
districts math supervisor who in the early 1960s convinced the
school district that computing was a serious intellectual pursuit to
be engaged in by children. He paid for his folly by selling timeshare
services to other skeptical school districts.
his cluttered, air conditioned office/storage closet Dr. Petersen
deputized us as systems
operators. This meant that
we were responsible for changing the magnetic tape each morning, backing
up the systems storage (I still dont understand octal
code) and running the console. The console was a large foreboding
that looked like a prop from the Wild Wild West TV show. The console
would give us complete control over the timeshare network. We could
create accounts, delete users and perhaps even create mayhem. We
Petersens office gave us an even
better place to hide from the pressures of high school and his secretary
would take messages for us. Can you imaging anything cooler than being
a ninth grader with a secretary? Since Dr. Petersens office was
off-limits to mere mortals, we could stay in it much later than the
computer room that closed at 4PM. I remember many an evening when Dr.
P said, have fun, see what you can learn, lock up when youre
in 1977, I programmed a primitive chat system that allowed me and
a kid in another school
away to exchange messages in real-time. I felt like Alexander Graham
Bell. Another time I wrote a hack that told users that they did not
login correctly so that they would re-enter their passwords. When
did so my program would capture them invisibly in a file. I dont
remember why the file was invisible, but I know that the only way to
decipher the password was to print the file onto papertape and then
manually "read" the wholes on the tape. This tedious process
was much more interesting than looking up the password in the notebook
kept on our console.
This ingenious hack (I later read that
a KGB spy was unsuccessful trying the same strategy in The Cuckoos
Egg) did get me into a bit of trouble. A 12th grader
concerned more by competition than computer crime dragged me to Dr.
Petersen to rat on me. After hearing about the horrible program I had
written, Dr. Petersen said to the snitch, "at least HES thinking." That
may have been one of the seminal moments in my life as a learner.
school had one or two portable teletypes we could take home over
weekends and connect
to the school computer
via an acoustic coupler that never seemed to work. In actuality, it
was not much bigger than a laptop. It did however require being connected
to a TV, although it had no graphics. This was my introduction to
although I never thought of it as communicating. It was simply a way
to use the school computer from home. In eleventh or twelfth grade
computer club got a TRS-80 Model 1 complete with tape drive and monitor.
It too could be taken home on select weekends and I had it in my
at least one entire summer. This allowed me my first real opportunity
to spend dozens of hours programming and waiting for the programs
tape to load. The end of the school year required being picked up by
station wagon since I often had the schools personal computer,
vibraphone, electric piano, bongos and euphonium checked-out to me
were to be used to make things at my high school, not as a subject
of study although
I did earn a grade
of D in a course entitled, "Algebra 2 with Computers." The
computer part was cool. I still dont understand a thing about
algebra 2. There was very little discussion about computing as a career
because it was obvious that a kid with a D in algebra couldnt
possibly study computer science. There was never a mention of computer
literacy and owning a computer was unthinkable. The school computers
were a place to lose ourselves in powerful ideas.
off to study music at Berklee College of Music and gave no thought
whatsoever to using
a computer again until
at age 18 1/2 I was hired by a well-established day camp to create
one of the nations first computer camp programs for children. Before
I was old enough to buy liquor, I had my own staff, budget and was running
a computer center for kids. I never realized this before, but nineteen
years ago Deerkill Day Camp in Suffern, New York was my very own dot.com
startup. I was hired for my expertise and energy, rather than my résumé.
My slightly older peers, Bill Gates and
Steve Wozniak were involved in similar little ventures at the time.
In fact, many of the computing visionaries who changed the world had
similar early experiences with computers. I remember the explosion of
thinking and creativity I experienced and try to recreate the spirit
of that computer-rich learning culture in every school I visit.
bore you with the details of my tenure running a computing program
a camp-owned horse trailer
adjacent to the 6-inch deep boating pond and really mean goat except
to say that the kids in my care always used computers to make things
and write their own programs. Boys and girls participated equally
fell in love with the magic of computing.
Administrator Magazine June 1999
The challenge of telling one school story
is a formidable one. I have so many to share. My colleagues urged me
to tell the stories of the felonious teachers who taught from lawn chairs,
led ethnic relay races and committed other hideous crimes against children.
I could also tell the story of learning to love computing in the 70s
because of imaginative trusting educators. Hopefully, I will have such
opportunities in the future. This is the tale of music teachers who
brought beauty, humor and a sense of place to my life.
Back in the 1970s, the Wayne, NJ Public
Schools offered me the opportunity to fall in love with music and pursue
it with abandon under the tutelage of spectacular teachers, Bob Simpson,
Rocco Patierno, Ted Anderson, George Hicswa and Dick Lukas. Our fluid
teacher-student, teacher-teacher, friend-friend to fellow artists
My high school supported
my desire to take four years of music theory and four years of performance
classes (nine in all) without missing a single "important" academic
through high school, George Hicswa, a professional jazz musician,
achieved his goal of
offering a daily
Jazz Improvisation course. The class would be concerned with jazz theory,
history and performance. Few universities at the time offered such
class. This was the perfect venue for a man of Mr Hicswas considerable
idiosyncrasies, humor and talent as a musician. This class was quite
comparable to the Brazilian Samba School Seymour Papert describes in Mindstorms, as an optimal environment for productive learning.
The thing that strikes me today is how
the course was so learner-centered. I remember the excitement of calling
classmates on Sunday night to plan which records we should bring in
to analyze on Monday and Tuesday. At the time we joked that Mr. Hicswa
was lazy and that we were teaching his class. I now understand that
a great teacher connects his/her wisdom and experience with the interests
of students. We always felt that there was great gravity to the work
we were doing in this class. After all, we were studying an American
art form not taught in American schools. This was a music of the blues
- of the struggle for civil rights, being performed reverently by white
kids from the suburbs.
course epitomized an interdisciplinary curriculum making connections
musical performance and
the mathematics used to learn improvisation. It was a multi-age class
you could take for credit year after year. How could that be possible?
Because there was always something to learn and new ways to grow.
strong community of practice existed in which we could learn by "playing" together.
remember the shock on the faces of judges as we took the stage
for a jazz
of those obscene oxymorons
invented by schools). We would follow paramilitary "stage bands"
wearing white platform suits and zoot suits as they faithfully recreated
"In the Mood." The stage band is a musical amalgamation with
no analog outside of school.
small jazz combo would be garbed in dashikis, kimonos and "bebop helmets." I
once performed on gong. Our repertoire consisted of works by Thelonious
Monk, Lee Morgan,
Horace Silver, John Coltrane and student composers. We honored ourselves
and our musical heroes by sharing our individuality through collective
It was never clear if Mr. Hicswa liked
teaching or even liked children. What he loved were musicians - even
people trying to become musicians. He created an environment in which
personal growth was possible. For that I will always be grateful.
Logo Exchange Fall
back! As we begin another school year its only fitting that we take a moment to remember and celebrate
our teacher heroes. Recent weeks spent teaching Logo in several Australian
schools renewed my admiration for teachers (even ones who dont
use Logo). Besides all of traits we know teachers possess - poise,
wisdom, patience, kindness, creativity... - I was reminded that teachers
also require the stamina of triathletes. Teaching MicroWorlds to 120
laptop-toting seventh graders (at once) was quite an ordeal.
I started thinking about the greatness
embodied by teachers recently when the world lost two giants of the
profession. Jazz singer, Betty Carter, passed away in September. She
was one of the greatest vocal improvisers and teachers who ever lived.
Betty Carter felt a personable responsibility for keeping the music
she loved alive and ensured just that by working with young musicians
throughout her stellar career. She was committed to filling the world
with music of the highest caliber.
dont know if "Ms. BC" knew
of Logo or even owned a computer. What I do know is that every Betty
Carter performance was a samba school. She collaborated with her
young musicians and made them better through improvisation, humor,
praise, gestures, a whisper in the ear and her example. Betty Carter
for the teaching she did via countless clinics in public schools and
an annual intensive week she led for aspiring musicians.
the best sense possible, every performance by her ensemble was
the embodiment of mutual growth,
and swing. I last saw the Betty Carter Quartet live in New York this
past April. During the introduction of the band members, Ms. Carter
said, "remember the faces of these young men because in a few years
you will hear them again somewhere and think to yourself, my how
they have improved." At the end of the last set of the week
she invited one young musician after another to come up from the audience
and sit in with her band. Her scat-based battle with these musical hopefuls
made them dig deep within themselves and perform beyond their expectations.
When the number of aspiring students began to snake around the nightclub,
Betty Carter passed the torch to the next generation. She turned to
the young sweating drummer and said, "Its yours baby. Lets
see how you get out of it." Betty Carter sat down in the audience
and laughed out loud, visibly proud of her students.
While I was never good enough to play with
Betty Carter, I was good enough to play with Richard Lukas. In fact,
thousands of junior high school students in Wayne, New Jersey had the
opportunity to perform with him over three decades. Mr. Lukas was my
junior high school band director. He taught me to play the trumpet,
to swing a tennis racquet and he became one of my oldest friends - despite
his early advice to my parents that they make my trumpet into a lamp.
Tragically, Dick Lukas died of a heart attack in September of this year
at only 54 years of age.
Lukas stage and tiny office were
hothouses where less conventional students were cultivated. He was underappreciated
by his superiors, misunderstood by his peers and disparaged by parents
who didnt want their children to become musicians, but perform
familiar ditties at two concerts per year. His ensembles always played
music thought to be above the heads of students, but we were constantly
rewarded by triumphing over challenging compositions. I remember the
senseless controversy caused when Mr. Lukas decided to dedicate some
of band time to the learning of music theory and history. He rightly
believed that the school band served many purposes, among them was
to learn all about music, learn through music about ourselves and become
studied privately with Dick Lukas on and off through college and
the rare privilege
of becoming my
teachers teacher when he enrolled in a series of my LogoWriter
courses. My teacher/student became an avid computer enthusiast who
one point had an Apple IIgs with thousands of dollars worth of RAM,
drives and interface cards. We used to joke that his IIgs supercomputer
could run a small country. Over the past couple of years he asked me
about the net and I sought his advice regarding instruments for my
high school children. We had come full circle. Everytime my son asks
me about his mouthpiece, I will think of Mr. Lukas. I am grateful for
his wisdom, humor, friendship and guidance. He too filled my life with
In honor of my great teachers I thank you
for your dedication to improving the lives of children. Your daily heroics
deserve much respect and appreciation. While schools become more reactionary
and regressive, you dare to challenge your students and the system with
Logo. Your students will remember you fondly.
Drop Everything and Read!
© 2001 Gary S. Stager
To be published in the June, 2001 issue of Curriculum Administrator Magazine
There are but a few reading memories I have from my childhood. I loved McCloskeys Homer Price, The MAD Adventures of Captain Klutz, Woody Allens Without Feathers, D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and was rather fond of the Uncle Remus stories. There was a big brightly illustrated picture book series by J.C. Caldwell called, Lets Visit Australia, Lets Visit Stamford
that made me dream of travel to faraway lands. I also remember using Battle for the Planet of the Apes (the novelization) when my 12th grade English teacher required oral interpretation of a novel.
Fourth grade was a year of revelations for me. I realized that if I painted everything black I could get the child study team to come in and evaluate me on a regular basis. Rorschach Tests were MUCH more interesting than copying lists of spelling words. I also continued my crusade to become a G-Man just like my boyhood hero, J. Edgar Hoover. If forced, I might have chosen to grow-up as Evil Knievel, although there were more jobs for crime-fighters than daredevils.
There was a series of books in the school library that captured the imaginations of my boyhood friends and me. I remember what the books looked like. Most had red covers with black and white photos consuming the bottom half. The author was C.B. Colby. Thanks to the World Wide Webs ability to archive bizarre ideas and products Ive been able to track down a few of the actual titles of these literary masterpieces.
- FBI: The G-Mens Weapons and Tactics For Combat
- Six-shooter: Pistols, Revolvers, And Automatics, Past And Present
- Two centuries of weapons, 1776-1976
- Jets of the World: New Fighters, Bombers and Transports
- Fighter Parade: Headliners in Fighter Plane History
- First Rifle How to Shoot It Straight and Use It Safe
- Musket to M-14 Pistols, Rifles and Machine Guns
- Leatherneck : The Training, Weapons and Equipment of the United States Marine Corp
And my personal favorite
Art and Science of Taking to the Woods
I checked these books out of the library by the armload although Im not sure I actually read them. The photos contributed to my world of fantasy play. Being seen with the texts of Mssr. Colby was as important to gender identity as were water pistols, cap guns, plastic guns that fired rubber pellets and the Boy Scouts all military artifacts which I enjoyed as a child.
One can imagine the smell of C.B. Colby books being incinerated by schools in the post-Columbine era. I dont own a gun, despise the stain on American history left by J. Edgar Hoover, am a champion of civil rights for all and have shot very few people despite having read the violent manifestos of C.B. Colby. I must have turned out alright because Marilyn Manson and the web didnt exist when I was a child. Or perhaps it was because I had adults around who I could talk to?