Thursday, December 11, 2008

Forget Jennifer Aniston & the Talent - Now I'm Really Jealous of John Mayer!

Musician John Mayer is rich, famous, talented and has dated some of the most beautiful women of our time. I forgive him for all of that.

I am however insanely jealous of John Mayer for the photograph on his new Huffington Post blog, "Why Every Snarky Blogger Should Thank Don Rickles (and What They Still Have to Learn from Him)"

I've been thanked from the stage of the Grammy Awards, worked with movie stars, flown in a private jet, attended Hollywood premiers and just last week had Jackie Mason wave to me from a NYC diner the night before I was in the audience for Liza Minelli's star-studded opening night on Broadway. I've met a number of the world's greatest jazz musicians and have shared flights with Sam Kinison, Scott Hamilton, Bubba Smith, Jim Brown, Senator Robert Toricelli, Dave Winfield, Stevie Wonder and countless others.

One Sunday I missed the Jets game while trapped between Art Linkletter and Richard Lewis on a doomed flight that sat on a Houston runway for 4+ hours. I was dissed by Linkletter who was afraid I would sit in the seat of the woman he was chatting up and told I was hilarious by Richard Lewis after I made a very clever plate spinning reference. It was like the Continental Airlines version of the Poseidon Adventure, but with a cast of neurotic Jews.

This is all to say that I get a kick out of celebrities and have met a few in my time. As you can see in my online celebrity photo album, I am unafraid of asking for a photo - except just one time recently.

Last month, I was seated on a transcontinental flight a row in front of Mr. Warmth, Don Rickles. I LOVE Don Rickles and spent the 6-hour flight agonizing over whether I would violate the secret sacred coolness code of First Class air travel and ask Mr. Rickles to pose for a photo with me. I decided against it even after the flight attendants turned the cabin lights on so they could post for photos captured on their cellphones. I did get the chance to tell Mr. Rickles how much I enjoyed his show in Anaheim a few months ago and wished him well as he departed the plane, but I didn't get a souvenir.

That damn John Mayer has Grammys, babes, good looks, money, talent and now a picture with Don Rickles too. I hate him!

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Friday, December 5, 2008

The Banned Collection is Back - Issue 4

Two different education magazines refused to publish this article about the One Laptop Foundation's heroic efforts to produce a low-cost, rugged, low-power personal laptop computer for some of the world's poorest children. This rejection was a contributing factor to me ending my relationship with one magazine after more than a decade while a second magazine accused the column of being irrelevant to educators.

One editor was concerned that the article "might offend potential advertisers" and refused publication even after ample documentation was provided to support my claims.

Read The Best Way to Make Enemies... Do the Impossible and see what all of the controversy is about. Please share your thoughts here on my blog!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

David Thornburg to present at Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge

Dr. David Thornburg will lead two workshops at Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge January 22, 2009 in Philadelphia prior to Educon 2.1.

Read more and register here

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Computer Game Worthy of Your Attention

Genius game designer Will Wright's new computer game, Spore, is available today. Will Wrights it the inventor of SimCity and The Sims.

According to the fascinating description in Wikipedia,
[Spore] allows a player to control the evolution of a species from its beginnings as a unicellular organism, through development as an intelligent and social creature, to interstellar exploration as a spacefaring culture. It has drawn wide attention for its massive scope, and its use of open-ended gameplay and procedural generation.

The flexibility, customization and extensibility of Spore may make it truly worthy of the "edugaming" hype touted by many educators. Spore benefits from the efforts of a singular vision. It's many forms of gameplay may be attractive to a wide range of users.

Take a look at Spore here.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sneak Peek at Educon 2.1 Preconference Event

Click the graphic above to learn more about this exciting Educon 2.1 preconference event!

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Uh Oh!

As I watch the last day of the Summer Olympics, I just heard the TV host tell the American audience that China increased their medal count by 59% over the haul from the Athens Games of 2004.

Uh oh!

I wonder how long it will take before a conference speaker or professional development consultant tosses out that useless Olympic statistic to demonstrate how American teachers conspire against excellence, American students are videogame-addicted zombie slackers and principals all recite from "The World is Fat," the next pop-business BS written by the physical education equivalent of Dan Pink or Thomas Friedman.

Wake up America! World dominance in rhythmic gymnastics is at stake!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Read the rest of the article here...

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm in Edutopia!!

Read the article, Overcoming Technology Barriers: How to Innovate Without Extra Money or Support.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Crocodile Tears

Here he goes again.

Wes Fryer's latest blog post, This is why we have so few laptop initiatives in Oklahoma, is a rallying cry for the technocenctric who think schools and universities should use any and all information technology available or our children will be left behind.

Wes is a nice guy, but I must confess that I am occasionally confused by his prolific blogging. He seems to justify any application, regardless of its quality or educational practice it supports, while simultaneously working tirelessly to scare the pants off parents and educators afraid of all the "bad stuff" out on the Web.

Fryer's blog states that Oklahoma Christian University and Abilene Christian University "are among the first colleges in the United States to implement initiatives which involve ALL students in entering classes purchasing and using either Apple iPhones or iPod Touches." Then he goes on to say...
I almost passed out on the spot, but I was torn by a simultaneous urge to weep.
Question: What is Wes so upset about?

Answer: He met a professor at Oklahoma Christian University who "broke my heart"

It seems that the professor Wes spoke with was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of iPhone use in his classes. This in turn resulted in Fryer condemning the academic's disinterest in 21st Century skills (assuming they exist) and accusing the professor of all sorts of crimes against modernity.

Putting aside the generalizations drawn from a conversation with one academic, Wes' attempt to persuade the professor to embrace technology is as ridiculous as the institution's iPhone/iPod requirement.

Wes reaches into his bag of free Web 2.0 tricks and asks the professor if is aware of PollEverywhere. That's right. In Wes' world of plug kids into anything that plugs-in (as long as you remember that they may be abducted), PollEverywhere is just the ticket to "enthralled" [Wes' term] students.

On my planet, PollEverywhere sustains medieval educational practices. Thanks to Wes and PollEverywhere, a teacher can give a multiple choice quiz in class and get responses instantly via cell phone or other mobile device. That leaves me to answer, "WHO CARES?"

Justifying classroom technology use with such weak examples as PollEverywhere does not represent progress as much as it does desperation on the part of the evangelist. I am only worried about the professor if he is in fact persuaded by this argument.

Lots of institutions of higher education require students to have a personal mobile computer. Pepperdine University, where I work, required student laptops during the Clinton administration and I began working in K-12 1:1 schools before the first Gulf War. This however is not why Abilene Christian and Oklahoma Christian is being singled out by Wes Fryer. Wes is touting their requirement that each student have an iPhone or iPod Touch.

It is ridiculous to suggest that an iPhone or iPodTouch is an adequate learning tool.

These devices are great for looking up answers to easily answered questions or even blogging. However, they offer VERY little of the potential of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression.

Why does an institution of higher education make such requirements? Because these devices 1) APPEAR cheap and 2) APPEAR modern and groovy.

So, the institution doesn't have the courage to ask kids to buy a multimedia laptop. Instead they suggest an iPhone and then shift the ongoing expenses to the student anyway in the form on monthly fees.

It might also be true that Abilene Christian and Oklahoma Christian have higher priorities than "21st Century Skills" or epistemological pluralism. To quote Hebrew National commercials, perhaps they "answer to a higher authority."

No matter what you think of the arguments above, I hope we can find common ground in stating unequivocally that neither the requirement that every college student own an iPod or the fact that professors don't embrace them has NOTHING whatsoever to do with Wes Fryer's blog title, "This is why we have so few laptop initiatives in Oklahoma."

Note: Here are a few recent examples of blog interactions to support the analysis above:

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Online Introductory MicroWorlds EX Video Tutorials

Click here for links to MicroWorlds project ideas, plus four video tutorials I created for learning to get started with MicroWorlds EX and to create your first really cool Pacman-stye video game.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Thinking Out Loud

Some of my best writing is in response to other people's blogs. I must get in the habit of turning my comments on other people's blogs into articles of my own. Here is an attempt at doing so...

A recent Will Richardson blog hipped me to a teacher named Dan Meyer who videoblogs.

Does this guy have a crew? I can't find the time or bandwidth to point a tripod at my keynotes. If I do, I can't find the time to edit the video and put it online. People ask me if every one of my sessions will be uStreamed. I use my computer for presentations and unless I want to publish a surveillance video, I can't control the camera while I'm presenting either.

Keeping my content current, amusing and maintaining a sense of narrative is difficult enough. I'm not Al Franken reporting for Weekend Update from his One Man Mobile Uplink.

I marvel at the output of people like Meyer, but am not sure that I find the content particularly compelling. Questions such as the following pop into mind:

• Who is HIS audience?
• Why should we care about his day?
• Is the content interesting or the production values enviable? etc...

I'm grappling with another problem that may be related, but is causing me mental paralysis. I have too much I want to say, write and blog. This leaves me obsessing about what to do first and I don't get around to doing any of it.

I also face the questions of:

• Who is MY audience?

• Why should people care what I think?

• Shouldn't I spend my time writing my book or magazine articles?
Isn't writing a book a lousy return on investment?

• Why won't magazine editors leave my jokes and personal "voice" in my articles?

• Will I be "the mean guy" because I don't follow the herd?

• Why don't people understand that just because I debunk the shoulder-deep BS in edtech that I am an unapologetic advocate for its (largely unrealized) potential and that I get up every day to make the world a better place for kids?

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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds or Chaos Theory?

David Warlick is a swell guy and one heck of a programmer. I read his blog regularly. Tw recent blog posts caught my eye.

David Warlick recently wrote the following in his blog:

Mostly, I’m catching up on e-mail and preparing for a keynote I’ll be delivering at the Pennsylvania Music Educators Conference in State College on Monday. Don’t ask me to explain — by I’m really struggling over what to talk about.

In June, David Warlick blogged about his forthcoming featured presentation at NECC.

The session description reads:
Description: The world is flattening, and not just economically. Learn about three converging conditions that are redefining education?and providing windows to the future. In this presentation, I will seek to examine and factor together three foundational disruptive conditions that are converging on our schools, each serving to disrupt schooling as we know it, yet also providing direction as we work toward new models for teaching and learning — Learning 2.0.

Warlick then goes on to ask the blogosphere to tell him what those "fundamental disruptive conditions" happen to be.

Am I missing something? Is David being humble or are conferences booking major speakers lacking the preparation or expertise required to educate and inspire the audience?

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

I Hit the Big Time!

Big news!

I could not be more thrilled to have been invited to be a contributor to The Huffington Post. I have read The Huffington Post since the day it launched and am extremely honored to be associated with this ground-breaking publication.

My first article just went live on the Politics page of The Huffington Post. The article is called, "The Surge Against First Graders."

If the article is pushed off the main (politics) page, it may be found here:

My page for future articles is: This is in addition to my own blog at and

While checking out my article, feel free to share the love and leave a comment or Buzz-Me-Up! Education needs more critical analysis and reportage. I am humbled that the Huffington Post has given me this opportunity to reach such a large audience.


Check out Constructing Modern Knowledge
July 28-31, 2008 - Manchester, NH

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Announcing Constructing Modern Knowledge 2008

I'd like to invite you to a very special event this summer. Some of my fondest memories of teaching and learning come from summer camp and much of what I know about effective teacher professional development was gained working with Dan and Molly Watt at their summer Logo Institutes in the 1980s. It has long been a dream to create a 21st learning environment in which educators spend long periods of time immersed in creative computer-rich projects collaborating with world-class practitioners.

My dream continues....
In addition to hands-on activities, leading education thinkers would shape provocative discussions about the nature of learning, creativity and school reform in order to help participants sustain the constructive use of technology back in their schools and districts. Informal learning and conversations will occur during meals, walks and fantastic social events.

These goals led me to create Constructing Modern Knowledge, a minds-on summer institute for educators July 28-31, 2008 at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, NH. In addition to four days full of computer-rich learning adventures for creative educators, Constructing Modern Knowledge features amazing guest speakers, a BBQ at a minor league baseball game and a night on the town in nearby Boston.

Since knowledge is a consequence of experience, Constructing Modern Knowledge, is designed to create a context for remarkable learning experiences. Instead of spending a conference listening to an endless series of speakers, Constructing Modern Knowledge, enables participants to spend time interacting with educational pioneers and colleagues from around the world.

Please take a few moments to browse the web site and read the bios of our institute faculty. Alfie Kohn is one of education's most provocative speakers and bestselling authors. Bob Tinker and Cynthia Solomon are pioneers who invented some of the educational technology we use every day. Peter Reynolds is a beloved artist, software designer and children's book author. The rest of our team has expertise in creativity, multimedia authoring, student empowerment, programming, robotics and a whole lot more.

Hotel accommodation is affordable and Manchester, NH has one of the most convenient and affordable airports in the United States. Constructing Modern Knowledge is also within a reasonable drive of most cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states.

Don't miss the learning adventure of the year! Space is limited, so register today!

I can't wait to learn with you in Manchester this July 28-31.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Teach for America Marked Absent

Here is a link to my most recent blog about Teach for America failing to prepare teacher candidates at even the most fundamental level.

Read, One Lesson Teach for America Missed.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Games Teachers Play

We are cheating our students by turning reading into a game of dodgeball.

Perhaps there are many more distractions facing children today, but great teachers continue to create environments where their students want to be and to learn. The answer to bad teaching is better teaching, not another worksheet, get tough movement or quick fix. The sad truth is that schools may be better at destroying interest in a subject than inspiring it.

Read my new article about computerized reading comprehension systems and their threat to literacy.

The Games Teachers Play
in the April 2008 issue of District Administration Magazine.

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Alternate Opinion: Corporate Involvement in Schools

District Administration Magazine has a feature in its April 2008 issue about corporate involvement in schools. Inside the feature is an interview with Billionaire education philanthropist, Eli Broad. I ask some questions about turning public schools into the plaything of rich folks.

Read Public Schools? Be wary of a gift that might squash the benefits of public education.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

The American Bigotry Hierarchy

Ask Mitt Romney about the hostility towards Mormonism across the Christian evangelical community and observe how Republicans embrace the tactic of repeating Senator Obama's (Islamic-sounding) middle name and watch widespread bigotry crawl out of its corner.

As of February 29, 2008...

The American Bigotry Hierarchy is:

• Religion
• Gender
• Race

Let's play the Family Feud!

By the way, if Barack Obama were a Muslim, Jew or Mormon, would he be disqualified to be President?

As we congratulate ourselves for voting for an African American, we ought to recognize that ignorance and bigotry remain a large stain on the American fabric.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is Pakistan More Open than Your School Network?

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's telecommunications regulator said Tuesday it has lifted restrictions on YouTube that knocked out access to the video-sharing Web site in many countries for up to two hours over the weekend.

Sure, they switched YouTube off due to an "offensive" clip, but then they reopened the system. Many school district use prior restraint and protect kids and teachers from the 21st Century.

Read the article

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Can Reality TV Get Basic Facts Right?

A kid just sang "Jailhouse Rock" on American Idol. This week's theme is music of the 60s.

Jailhouse Rock was recorded by Elvis in 1957.

A few weeks ago, "Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann," had a motown theme. Most of the songs performed were not recorded by Motown artists.

How hard is it to get such basic facts correct?

If a kid sings a 50s song during 60s week of American Idol, shouldn't they be disqualified? Surely the musical director for the show knows that Jailhouse Rock is not a 60s tune.

OK, maybe I watch too much television.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And the Children Shall Lead...

The exclusive private Choate Rosemary Hall school in Connecticut hosted that great American, Karl Rove, earlier this week. Recent Fox News and Time correspondent, Rove, denied media access to the event in which the school's wacky headmaster compared a student wearing a sweater, instead of the mandated uniform, to jeopardizing undercover intelligence agents and national security by outing Valerie Plame.

Oh, Buffy!

One student really challenged Rove. Thanks to the Hartford Courant for capturing the following exchange.

Then there was Marla Spivak.

Spivak, a senior from Hamden, was one of the students invited to have lunch earlier with Rove. That left her somewhat emboldened as she stood before the crowd and asked Rove to explain how giving gay people the right to marry would endanger other people.

Rove took issue with the way the first gay marriages came about, through the Massachusetts Supreme Court. An issue as important as the definition of marriage should be resolved by a legislature or a referendum, not a court, he said.

Gay couples could gain the legal rights of married couples through legislation without actually getting married, he said.

But wouldn't creating a separate body of legislation for gay people be creating a separate but equal system, a step back?, Spivak asked.

Rove replied with an answer about Mormons changing their views on marriage to conform with the nation's laws.

Spivak kept pressing. "You never actually answered, how does it threaten anyone?" she asked.

Rove asked, what's the compelling reason to throw out 5,000 years of understanding the institution of marriage as between a man and a woman?

What, Spivak countered, was the compelling reason for society to allow interracial relationships when they had once been outlawed.

Then Rove invoked the Declaration of Independence before Spivak interjected that its reference to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" seemed to support her claims.

Their verbal ping pong match tapered off after Rove brought up polygamy and Spivak acknowledged that she did not know enough about polygamy to answer. Rove later asked when she planned to run for political office.

The kids are alright!

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Congratulations Herbie Hancock!

I've only met him a few times and did say, "Hi," in passing at the recent MacWorld Expo, but few people have provided my life with more beauty than musician extraordinaire, Herbie Hancock. Tonight, the recording industry came to its senses and named his album, River: The Joni Letters, Album of the Year! Although this album is hardly Hancock's best or most important, it is quite heartening to see an actual recording artist honored by the Recording Academy.

My most prized possession is Herbie Hancock's classic LP, Maiden Voyage, signed by all of the musicians on the record. It took me a couple of years, but George Coleman, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, the late Tony Wiliams and Herbie autographed my album.

I've been privileged to see/hear Herbie Hancock perform live in a variety of settings, including at the Village Vanguard with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, with his own band and most recently with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Billy Cobham at Ron Carter's 70th birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall. Every cell in my body comes alive and wants to scream with joy when Herbie plays the piano.

Hancock is arguably the greatest living jazz pianist and one of the most influential in history. He is also an electronic music pioneer, Macintosh aficionado and brilliant composer. Check out his solo album, The Piano, and have your mind blown by his originality and artistry.

I missed this year's Grammy Awards telecast while I spent 12 hours flying from Los Angeles to Boston. Watching tonight's 50th Grammy Awards would have been quite a let down from last year's 49th Annual Grammy Awards since I not only got to attend last year's ceremonies and after-party, but my friend, Brian Lynch won the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year for his fantastic recording, The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project: Simpatico. I was a new media producer for the project and had the great privilege of attending rehearsals, recording sessions, the record launch in NY and was thanked from the stage of the Grammys! I'll never forget how loudly I screamed when Brian's name was announced as the winner. I cannot imagine a greater thrill. I was so proud of Brian and all of the great artists who contributed to the album.
Brian, Sylvia & I at the 49th Grammy Awards (captured on a smuggled in phone camera)

A few months later, I accepted the Jazz Journalist Association's award for "Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year," on behalf of Brian and Eddie Palmieri who were touring Europe at the time.
Eddie Palmieri, Brian Lynch & Gary Stager backstage at the Bluenote in NYC

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

MacWorld and the Death of the American Work Ethic

First of all, there seems to be some confusion regarding the governance of the MacWorld Expo. Apple Computer does NOT run the conference. They are a paying vendor, just like all others. Therefore, if your badge was not ready or you waited 3 hours to get into Steve Jobs' keynote without the line moving an inch, it is NOT Apple's fault. Blame IDG, the company that produces MacWorld.

A wise person once said, "No matter what it says on your business card, you're in sales."

If this is the case, then my two days at MacWorld Expo generate reason for concern about the future of our economy.

Sure there were plenty of iPod doo-dads, screen protectors and USB drives shaped like Yul Brenner, but it was remarkably difficult, at times impossible, to actually make a purchase. Worse yet, receiving an intelligible response to a question asked of a vendor was excruciating and frustrating.

I am not talking about the companies who hire attractive women to dispense booth-side beer. I don't expect them to provide technical support.

I do expect companies to employ folks for booth demos with communication skills, properly installed software and some knowledge of how the product works.

When I take out my credit card to purchase an item being sold to me I expect:
1) They have stock of the actual product they are selling me
2) They can work a credit card machine
3) They can make change when I agree to take a less desirable color and not use a credit card
4) I am not asked to come back in a little while, if the corporate representative cannot define "while"
5) They don't wait on 174 other people before completing my transaction

On several occasions I wished to purchase an exciting new product and the booth representative told me to go to a vendor selling that item on the show floor. Upon reaching that reseller, I was informed that the product isn't even shipping yet.

One representative of LaCie told me that I could buy one of their drives immediately while the colleague next to them told me that the product was not shipping yet. Can you folks please have a meeting before the show?

One of my favorite companies, Griffin Technology, sent me on a similar wild goose chase in which I failed to surrender moolah. Incidentally, Griffin's new Evolve Wireless Sound System for iPod, was one of the most impressive products I saw at MacWorld.

I attempted to purchase two sets of RAM and two internal hard drives from OtherWorld Computing. This required an elaborate process involving:

1) Go to one counter, complete order form and receive claim check from one employee
2) Wait on line at cash register
3) An employee gathers and bags your order
4) You pay for the order

After navigating this consumer obstacle course, I realized that they did not charge me for the two drives. I then had to wait several minutes for two people in line ahead of me telling their life stories to another employee before I was granted the privilege of surrendering another $300. That earns me good karma, correct?

Well, not so fast. Upon returning home, I realized that they only sold me one order of RAM in two packages. Therefore, I now have to call the company back and do even more business with them.

I suppose that one of the first tenets of sales technique is "Don't make the customer feel stupid." Well HP, you failed. I have been severely inconvenienced by my HP scanner inoperability since Mac OS Leopard came out in October. I check the HP web site every week or so looking for the necessary driver updates. I check other web sites as well for news of drivers.

When I went by the HP booth, I first had to find someone who "worked scanners." I asked, "When will there be Leopard drivers for the J5780?" and was told first that they don't produce such a model and then taken to two different computers to look for the drivers he was confident I just hadn't found.

The HP driver page for my scanner indicated that a software update did exist, but my suspicion was aroused by the fact that it was dated October 2007. I know that there have not been drivers available for that long. Eventually I stumbled upon an HP engineer who said that the drivers had just recently been made available. I'm not a crazy liar after all. Thanks HP!

Since I praised Apple earlier, I will now share an annual pet peeve. Apple's paranoia regarding secrecy means that their employees frequently know less about the new Apple products than the customers who attended Steve Jobs' keynote. This is a great disservice to customers and journalists, like myself who are on deadline and have questions that go beyond the name of the new product.

Hey Apple, how about having a meeting on the show floor with your employees before the hall doors open? This way you can answer our questions in an intelligent fashion.

The following questions put to Apple representatives were met with bewilderment, "I don't know," "talk to that person over there," and half-hearted attempts to make up something.

• Does the USB port on the back of Time Capsule allow for external drives to be connected and accessed?

• Is there any way to connect Apple TV to a composite (regular) TV so it may be used in hundreds of thousands of classrooms without them purchasing HD televisions?

• Does the $1,000 solid state drive upgrade for the MacBook Air increase the performance speed of the laptop?

The last question was answered with responses like, "I imagine that it should."

I spoke to a person who was introduced as an iPhone expert and asked, "When can we expect copy/paste and searchable contacts?" The answer I received was, "We receive a lot of suggestions from customers." Being able to copy and paste is hardly a cure for cancer. If they can make GPS work on the iPhone, surely making apps behave as they have for 20 years should not be too difficult.

It would also be great if you could design the booth in such a way that customers can actually see the products. It would also be helpful if you had help desks where a few representatives could answer sophisticated questions, rather than making me play 20 questions with dozens of Apple reps. By the 2nd day of MacWorld, Apple personnel had a look of defeat in their eyes and they were of even less assistance than when the show began on day one. Perhaps they're being overworked, uninformed or under-motivated.

The best customer service I received at MacWorld came from the following companies.

Xtrememac where a mechanical engineer not only did an enthusiastic and expert job of demonstrating new products, he seemed generally interested in our thoughts. They need to hear from educators who need the superb MicroMemo recording peripheral to continue being produced. Incidentally, their new Luna X2 iPod clock radio is a brilliant piece of engineering and design.

VMWare, maker of Fusion - software that allows you to run Windows and other operating systems on your Mac with full drag-and-drop functionality.

Prosoft Engineering
whose data protection and recovery products save my life with all-too-frequent regularity.

Solio - makers of solar-powered recharging devices. I bought one!

Boombags - the one piece of hardware I could not live without. I have used their luggage with integrated speakers, mixer, amplifier and subwoofer for three years all over the world. They keep making the product better too!

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Herb Kohl - Landscape of a Lifetime

The publication of his outstanding new book, Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth, provided me with a rare opportunity to spend time with legendary educator and author Herb Kohl. Kohl has published more than 40 books about education since the 1960s and has made enormous contributions to progressive education and social justice.

My interview with Kohl is finally in-print in a District Administration Magazine cover story, Landscape of a Lifetime: Herb Kohl Reflects on Education Today. While the hard copy looks gorgeous, you can also read the article online here.

I am most grateful to Herb Kohl for decades worth of inspiration and for the generosity and patience he contributed to this editorial project.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's Official... Google IS Evil

Google's much-lauded corporate motto has been "Don't be evil."

As the company grows and its stock price approaches a squillion dollars, the company slides ever closer to the line between good and evil.

Let's put aside kowtowing to the repressive Chinese government and look a little closer to home.

The Wall Street Article, "Google Takes Aim at Wikipedia," describes how Google is creating its own site, Knol, where users can contribute expertise on any subject. Those entries will of course be presented alongside ads, Google's core business.

Picking on a non-profit global volunteer effort such as Wikipedia is really low. It reminds us that Google is a giant corporation with quarterly goals to meet and stockholders to please - not just a great big sandbox with salad bar, video games and massage chairs.

This is worth remembering as educators go gaga over the largesse of Google's "free" tools.

As my great grandmother used to say, "There's no such thing as a free search."

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Them! The technology that killed reading

The following is a response to David Warlick's blog, Expanding the Definitions of Literature… Are We? Should We?

Of course, new media should be respected, enjoyed, analyzed and criticized. It's also worth acknowledging the remarkable prophylactic effect school has on the reading habits of many children.

I know of many places, including Australia, where children are offered rigorous "Film as Text" courses where moving stories are treated as forms of literature. However, even in such courses, the canon selected is subject to debate and criticism, as it is in paper-based literature courses. With a great teacher, a student may learn a lot about analysis and criticism even if the texts might be considered dubious.

Sordid personal tales of film "scholarship"
The only time I received less than an A or B n high school English was for a quarterly-elective entitled, "Science Fiction." During class we watched "The Blob," "Sleeper," "Fahrenheit 451," "Brave New World," "2001," "Them" and other classics of the genre.

The course was enormously popular among seniors who used to get ready for the "freaky" films over lunch-hour at the local Polynesian restaurant.

I did not imbibe, but did earn a D for the course because in addition to watching movies recorded by the teacher on an early reel-to-reel video deck, you were supposed to read four or five high-quality science fiction novels at home and pass a test on them. I "forgot" that requirement.

I also earned a D in a Rutgers University history course entitled, "History and Film." I hoped that the course was about the history OF film. My bad! Classes consisted of the professor showing a collection of films starring Ursula Andress. These films were chosen less for their historical significance than to satisfy a professorial fetish. In betwen screenings, the professor would pace the length of the classroom while screaming, "...and the Prussians" so that students in the front row required rain gear. Then came the essay-based exams about Otto von Bismarck.

Who knew? I had been "studying" Ms. Andress.

Can't we all just get along?
Instead of choosing X media to replace Y media, it is ALWAYS a good idea for knowledge to exist in multiple forms and for the literate person to choose the appropriate medium. Some films are great works of literature, while just like with books, some are not. There may be compromises required by adapting a novel into a screenplay and storytelling that is impossible via the printed word.

A current example - the "Catholic League" is boycotting the film, "The Golden Compass," not because of what has been exorcised from the film, but because they don't like what was said in the original book. The head of the organization's outrage machine refuses to even see the film.

My students read books in which experts explore powerful ideas with a level of depth, breadth and passion unlikely to be matched on the web. They also read web-based articles, share their work online and reflect upon their learning experiences synchronously and asynchronously. Most importantly, my students are engaged in using computers to construct knowledge by immersing themselves in active experiences that are either greatly enhanced by the availability of a personal computer or impossible in its absence.

Why must one medium or technology win while the other loses? This question is especially relevant when the resulting change in pedagogical practice is likely to be imperceptible?

Piaget said, "To understand is to invent," while Papert embellished this to say, "If you can make things with a computer, then you can make a lot more interesting things." If you believe in project-based learning, computers make a greater range of projects possible.

I know that we like to talk about emerging technology, but this discussion is really focused on very little, ie... "How should I receive or transmit some content?" I've said it before and will say it again, learning is about a whole lot more than delivery or reception of information. Besides, 98% of these discussions are limited to language arts (perhaps with a bit of social studies) instruction.

The entire discussion of whether will kids read or watch or have standardized test answers surgically implanted in their lower intestine sheds little light on what educators should do right now to make schools more productive contexts for learning.

Hint: Identifying a new transmission vehicle isn't the solution.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Help! I don't know how to blog!

I'm often at a loss in how to "participate" in the "community" that is the "blogosphere."

I struggle constantly with the problem of what I call "the quick and the unread." If you don't respond to a blog quickly, almost at twitch speed, your comments have little chance of being read. Taking the time to thoughtfully respond to a blog often results in the original blog being supplanted by a new one. Once the blog you wish to respond to gets pushed down the page, the likelihood of discussion rapidly approaches zero.

My current dilemma is this.

Lenny writes a blog full of facts or advice I dispute. Squiggy leaves a comment on the blog, but provides a response I disagree with.

What should I do when I disagree with the premise of a blog or the facts within and one ore more commenters provide feedback that should also be challenged? Do you respond to the blog AND the comments? If so, should this be in the same comment or in multiple posts? Will other readers be confused by more than one point being made in a comment?

Add to this scenario the fact that many bloggers view criticism as "being mean" regardless of the merits of an argument. Other blog readers simply ignore complex arguments or those longer than a couple of paragraphs.

Should I ignore the other person's blog entirely and write a blog on my own site? How many readers will I lose by moving the conversation?

I'm confused.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Recommended Books for Holiday Gifts

For kids of all ages:

George's Secret Key to the Universe

by Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2007) Curious George's author, H.A. Rey, was an amateur astronomer and friend of Albert Einstein. Now Stephen (this generation's Einstein) and Lucy Hawking have accepted this generation's challenge of explaining the universe to kids. If you haven't been able to finish A Brief History of Time, this book, written for children ages 9-12, might help.

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

by Dr. Seuss (Picture Lions, 2001) This book was published posthumously and completed by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith. In addition to being a fabulous ( and timely) fable about the dangers of reducing education to test prep, the second half of the book is an exploration of Dr. Seuss' creative process and a behind-the-scenes look at how the book was created.

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure

by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rotraut Susanne Berner, and Michael Henry Heim (Owl Books,2000) Imagine a whimsical novel, plus math, and you get the picture of this book, which can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Pippi Longstocking

by Astrid Lindgren (Author), Lauren Child (Illustrator), Tiina Nunnally (Translator) (Viking Juvenile, 2007) This classic children's book has been illustrated by popular contemporary illustrator and children's author, Lauren Child.


Educational technology:

Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms

by Will Richardson (Corwin Press, 2006) District Administration columnist Richardson explains the emerging technologies of blogging, podcasting, wikis, social networking and other innovations based on RSS.

The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer

by Seymour Papert (Basic Books, 1994) The "father of educational computing" provokes us to think hard about the incredible potential to construct knowledge using computers.

children's machine

Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning

by Bob Johnstone (iUniverse, 2003) A fascinating history of educational computing from WWII through the laptop revolution of the early 1990s.

MySpace Unraveled: What it is and how to use it safely

by Larry Magid and Anne Colliermagid (Peachpit Press, 2006) takes the incredibly novel position of suggesting that you know what you're talking about before setting policy at home or in school. The book teaches adults how to use so that they may more rationally discuss social networking with children.

Internet & Computer Ethics for Kids: (and Parents & Teachers Who Haven't Got a Clue.)

by Winn Schwartau, D. L. Busch (Illustrator) (Interpact Press, 2001) This terrific book should be read
by every parent, educator and teen.



Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth

by Herbert Kohl (Bloomsbury, 2007) Herb Kohl's poetic meditation on life, art, teaching and learning is a gift that keeps on giving.


The Book of Learning and Forgetting

by Frank Smith (Teachers College Press, 1998) Smith may have written the most beautiful and thoughtful book about learning in the past decade.

Raising children:

Come on, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors

by Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint (Thomas Nelson, 2007) Cosby and Poussaint explore the problems plaguing child rearing in our poorest communities and offer no-nonsense practical advice for adult caregivers and educators.

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

by Alfie Kohn (Atria, 2005) Popular education author Alfie Kohn focuses on parenting in an informative book that might make Supernanny crazy.

Reading instruction:

Reading FAQ

by Frank Smith (Teachers College Press, 2007) This book poses the countless questions educators and parents have about reading, and answers them succinctly and in plain English.

School innovation:

The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone's Business

by Dennis Littky and Samantha Grabelle (ASCD, 2004) Now on his fourth decade of successful school reform, Littky demonstrates how it is possible to create successful schools for the 21st century with innovations that are replicable.

The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach Advanced Reflections, 2nd edition

by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman (Ablex Publishing, 1998) American educators of all grades can learn from the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. This book explains their educational ideas better than any book.

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In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization

by Deborah Meier (Beacon Press, 2003) A fantastic book about creating learning communities within the four walls of the school and beyond by a Macarthur Genius


Teaching in these times:

Letters to a Young Teacher

by Jonathan Kozol (Crown, 2007) For more than 40 years, Kozol has given voice to the voiceless children in our cities. In his latest book, he uses the literary device of writing to a new teacher in Boston as a vehicle for exploring issues of pedagogy, politics, social justice and the joy of teaching.

Stupidity and Tears: Teaching and Learning in Troubled Times

by Herbert Kohl (New Press, 2005) A terrific collection of essays by the legendary educator and author.


Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade

by Linda Perlstein (Henry Holt, 2007) Perlstein, a celebrated journalist, chronicles the story of a school that raised test scores dramatically by exploring the sacrifices made and whether continued progress is possible.

The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial

by Susan Eaton (Algonquin Books, 2007) Eaton writes an in-depth analysis of the crises plaguing urban education through the story of one school in Hartford, Conn., over a period of 18 months.

The Game of School: Why We All Play It, How It Hurts Kids, and What It Will Take to Change It

by Robert Fried (Jossey-Bass, 2005) Fried offers thoughtful critiques on the state of public education and what we might do to improve matters.

Vision, leadership and management:

Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do about the Real Crisis in Public Education (2008 Election)

by Carl Glickman (Teacher's College Press, 2007) This collection of essays by leading educators and citizens offers unsolicited advice about education policy for our next president of the United States.

Selling the Dream : How to Promote Your Product, Company, or Ideas-And Make a Difference-Using Everyday Evangelism

by Guy Kawasaki (Collins, 1992) Kawasaki has inspired countless readers to gather and sustain support for their products and innovations.

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency

by Tom DeMarco (Broadway, 2002) A management expert, DeMarco makes a compelling case for granting employees some much needed time and space.

The Inner Principal

by David Loader (Routledge, 1997) Loader, one of the world's boldest and most accomplished principals, lets readers inside his head and heart as he does his job.

inner principal

Predict education's future by reading about the past:

The New Education: Progressive Education One Hundred Years Ago Today (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Scott Nearing (New Press, 2007) Originally published nearly 100 years ago!

How Kindergarten Came to America: Friedrich Froebel's Radical Vision of Early Childhood Education (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Bertha von Marenholtz-Bulow (New Press, 2007) Read about the inventor of kindergarten, his radical ideas from a book originally published in 1894 and the fascinating story of how his ideas came to America.

The Public School and the Private Vision: A Search for America in Education and Literature (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Maxine Greene (New Press, 2007)

From - "Maxine Greene, one of the leading educational philosophers of the past fifty years, remains "an idol to thousands of educators," according to the New York Times. In The Public School and the Private Vision, first published in 1965 but out of print for many years, Greene traces the complex interplay of literature and public education from the 1830s to the 1960s—and now, in a new preface, to the present. With rare eloquence she affirms the values that lie at the root of public education and makes an impassioned call for decency in difficult times, once again a key theme in education circles. A new foreword by Herbert Kohl shows how the work resonates for contemporary teachers, students, and parents."

A Schoolmaster of the Great City: A Progressive Education Pioneer's Vision for Urban Schools (Classics in Progressive Education)

by Angelo Patri (New Press, 2007)

From - Angelo Patri's eloquent 1917 chronicle of multicultural education in the inner city remains as relevant today as it was ninety years ago. Long out of print, A Schoolmaster of the Great City illustrates Patri's commitment as a long-time principal at a New York public school to integrating all backgrounds into the classroom and to nurturing a community that extends beyond the school yard. The New York Times Book Review called it "an inspiring and an aspiring vision, an ideal of a force that would be a greater power in molding and Americanizing and democratizing American life than it would be possible to find in all other agencies together."

The Progressive Education Movement: Is It Still a Factor in Today's School?

by William Hayes (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2006) 3/4 of this textbook is a terrific history of progressive educators and its unsung heroes. The chapters on the modern era are of less value.

Books by Pulse Contributing Editors:

Gerald Coles

Ken Goodman

Alfie Kohn

Etta Kralovek

Stephen Krashen

Susan Ohanian

W. James Popham

Roger Schank

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Monday, December 3, 2007

My new DA column is online

My most recent District Administration Magazine column, "Arts for All," is available at The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate.

See you there!

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Holiday Gift for Thomas Friedman

What could you possibly buy Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, after he sold truckloads of books and aroused so much concern in countless school leaders?

I found the perfect gift during today's trip to the local Costco warehouse store.
Are the Chinese or Indians enjoying such technological innovation?

Only American ingenuity is capable of producing Batter Blaster - pancakes and waffles in an aerosol can. It's organic too!*

Batter Blaster advertises, "Just point, blast and cook!" What could be more American than that?

America, the pride is back!

*may also be used as a floor wax.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Way Cool New Technology

Those evil geniuses at recommended I take a look at the Eye-Fi Card, Wireless 2GB SD Memory Card.

Apparently this 2 gigabyte SD memory card not only stores your photos and videos, but can magically send them via Wi-Fi to your personal computer or directly to your favorite photo-sharing site. So, as you take photos, they automatically appear on Fotki, Shutterfly, dotPhoto, webshots, phanfare, Picasa Web albums, flickr, TypePad, Wal-Mart, snapfish, VOX, smugmug, facebook, photobucket, Kodak Gallery, or Sharpcast.

Very cool!

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I Still Don't Like "The World is Flat!"

In my new column, I once again question educator's awestruck devotion to The World Is Flat and paralyzing fear of globalization. Here are a couple of excerpts from the new column.

I continue to meet colleagues who apologize for not having found time to read Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat. They long to read what they've been led to believe is the instruction manual for 21st-century living. I await the book's children's edition and the Saturday morning cartoon in which a ragtag bunch of American AP students are outsourced to India and are forced to use Microsoft Vista.

I have not moderated my 2005 appraisal that The World Is Flat is chock-full of sloppy facts, simplistic reasoning and dopey rhymes. My greatest concern is that school leaders are much more apt to quote from books written by men who have never run a business than from those written by educational innovators. An administrator's quest for a quick fix and misplaced faith in the advice of charlatans is much more alarming than Mr. Friedman's ignorance of technology, education or policy. He just wrote a book. We bought it.

Read the entire column, Lessons You Can't Learn in a Book.

Discuss it here!

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An extremely effective use of YouTube to explain complex issues

The Writers Guild of America is using YouTube to educate the public about the cause of the recent writer's strike. These short films are clear, concise, informative and entertaining.

One might imagine them being used as examples of short video production for students (particularly "Why We Fight"). They certainly explain the unintended consequences associated with the Web revolution and highlight contemporary intellectual property issues.

If the video clips below do not play, click on the link below the video to go to YouTube.

Why We Fight

The Office On Strike

Lost and Desperate

How Greedy Can You Get?

Garry Marshall un-Happy Days

Read the United Hollywood blog.

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Mark Cuban's inspired thoughts on the digital generation gap

I've long been concerned by the educational technology pundits, Web 2.0pians as I like to call them, who herald every new web app as not only an earth-shaking revelation, but the end of school as we know it.

In the social upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, young activists used to say, "Never trust anyone over 30." It seems that popular middle aged ed tech keynote speakers and bloggers have embraced that slogan as a form of self-loathing. The Digital Natives/Immigrants cliché and other similar nonsense is built on the assumption that Twitter (or whatever replaces it an hour from now), somehow makes you smarter, a better citizen and reduces the chances of male pattern baldness. Such ageism makes me a bit queasy.

But, what the heck do I know? Maybe I'm wrong.

Well, Mark Cuban (Internet billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks) agrees with me in his recent blog, Never Friend Anyone Over 29.

There seems to be some delusion that all technology and applications are new. Invented from a cloudburst with no historical context. That as new, the technology is the province of the young, with anyone over 29 too old to understand and too confused to actually use it.

Thank you Mr. Cuban. You were robbed on Dancing with the Stars!

PS: I learned to program in 1976 (in a school class that now teaches keyboarding), connected to a mainframe via acoustic coupler from my bedroom around 1978 and have been online since 1983.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Are We Impressed Because College Students Can Use Google Docs?

David Warlick is the latest person to go all "digital immigrant" and proclaim that we should all take a good hard look at the hugely popular YouTube video, "A Vision of Students Today."

Fantastic. A college class with way too many students in it (200) attempts to revolutionize the educational system by whining in a 5 minute web video.

I'm sorry, but I'm unimpressed!

Perhaps a student should hold up a sign saying, "My professor is wasting my time and money by making me participate in a piece of exploitative propaganda in which I get to insult either my generation or the one before me just to get on YouTube."

How did bashing our own profession become such a popular sport? What possible value could demeaning educators have in a professional development setting? Are we so desperate for moving pictures or are they a substitute for actual ideas?

Is showing these types of videos the conference speaker equivalent of the teacher running the filmstrip to eat up class time?

One valuable lesson you should learn at university is that the world is full of people smarter than you and wondrous things to learn. This video and the mindless kudos afforded it make just the opposite point. Hey kids, you have cellphones! You've played Halo and excerpted someone else's blog which in summarized someone else's blog which excerpted an article on a magazine web site. THEREFORE you are master of the universe and every educational institution should abandon scholarship and discipline and any text longer than a screen.

I've wanted to tell the Web 2.0pians the following for some time.

Observation is not insight.

Factoids are not knowledge

Talk (in this case, mime) is cheap.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

I'm Thrilled & Honored

The National School Boards Association has named me one of "20 Educational Leaders to Watch for the Next 20 Years."

I am extremely proud to accept this award from such an important and high-quality organization. NSBA members are on the front lines of supporting America's public schools.

This week, I will be making several presentations at the Annual NSBA Technology + Learning Conference in Nashville. T+L is one of my favorite conferences each year. If you're at the conference, stop by and say, "hello!"

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Apparently This Group of Tech Execs Has a Crystal Ball

Oh, if only we could see the future...

In fact, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a lobbying organization dominated by the high-tech industry can not only see into the future, but they alone know that in the 21st Century, schools will need to teach 21st Century Skills. This is all very heady stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, David Warlick, cranked his outrage machine to 11 and wrote I'm Not Teacher Bashing...

I had a conversation with a teacher the other day. She was taking a graduate course on literacy in the digital media age, and had been, as part of the class, introduced to the framework for 21st century skills from the Partnership for 21st century Skills. The framework has been adopted by the state governor, school board, and department of education for this teachers state — one of the first states to adopt the program. However, she said that when a poster of the framework was recently given out at a faculty meeting at her school, she was the only teacher who had ever heard of it. She also said that nothing more was said about the initiative by the administrator who was leading the meeting.

At the time, I responded to this alarm in the following manner...

I know I’m going to start a firestorm, but…

C’mon. Why should anyone be expected to take such a commercial piece of propaganda seriously. The document is virtually content-free and filled with corporate buzzwords and feel-good slogans. Some of the doublespeak can cause whiplash.

There must be more serious issues about what teachers know/don’t know and do/don’t do then keep up with pamphlets created by the high-tech industry.

Don’t 21st Century Skills include “Follow the money…,” “Who is the author?” or “Critical analysis of text?”

Today, the Oracles at "The Partnership," released the results of a survey in which parents remarkably believe that schools should "incorporate 21st Century skills." I suppose that means curtains for the butter-churning elective.

On October 12th, David Warlick dutifully shared this press release with his audience of educators.

This is my response....

Joel (a commenter on the blog) is COMPLETELY correct. "21st Century skills" is a vague grab-bag of "skills" wealthy parents expected for their children in the 19th Century.

I defy anyone reading such propaganda to identify anything new, different or that requires the use of a computer.

Where are the poll questions regarding what the public is willing to sacrifice, stop teaching or pay for this new handful of magic beans?

The press release itself is a textbook case in saying absolutely nothing yet maintaining an inflated sense of importance.

The recursive republication of such drivel does very little to advance the process of improving the lives of children.

Once again, I suggest that you look at the Members section of the organization's web site and consider the source of these pronouncements.

At NECC 2002, David Thornburg, Peter Skillen, Norma Thornburg and I led a standing-room only session entitled, "Standards! Up Yours!" During that presentation I read aloud from the doublespeak in "The Partnership's" just released document, Learning for the 21st Century. First I asked how many members of the large audience had looked at the document included in their conference bag. No hands were raised. It seems that just as few people take these pronouncements seriously in 2007 as they did in 2002.

One of my favorite passages from the 2002 "report" reads as follows.

A Nation at Risk also called for computer programming to be included as a "new basic," but since then, the world has gone through a technology revolution. This revolution has led to the need for all students to be technologically literate. Recognizing this, No Child Left Behind requires that children be technologically literate by the end of eighth grade.

OK, I'm confused. I understand that "The Partnership" supports No Child Left Behind, but nothing else makes any sense to me. Are students capable of programming computers technologically literate? If so, why is programming invisible in the ISTE NETs and all future "reports" from "The Partnership?"

While the work of "The Partnership" is short on specifics for improving schools, there is no doubt that the organization's support for No Child Left Behind is unwavering.

Obviously, NCLB plays a critical role in any thoughtful approach to improving the college readiness of today’s high school students. To that end, P21 has developed a set of principles to provide guidance for strengthening the Act in terms of its approach to accountability and integrating 21st century skills for today’s students. ...P21’s framework for 21st century skills already is consistent with the metrics and accountability emphasized in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act... Aligning NCLB, high school reform and 21st century learning is an issue of urgent importance. (NCLB, High Schools and College Readiness Letter (2006))

Imagine if mighty corporations like Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon Texas Instruments (and others) really wanted to make the world a better place for learners and teachers. They could use their influence, millions of dollars and glossy brochures to actively oppose the destruction of public education represented by No Child Left Behind. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills even persuaded Sesame Street and the National Education Association to be cheerleaders for NCLB. (They too are members of "The Partnership.")

Imagine a future in which cute cuddly Elmo and the largest union representing teachers speak out against federal legislation that oppresses teachers and turns classrooms into unimaginative test-driven Dickensian sweatshops. Maybe we'll have to wait for the 22nd Century.

Help us Elmo! Bring Ernie and Bert too!

The thoughts in this blog represent the personal views of Gary Stager, Ph.D. and do not reflect those of his various clients or employers.

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You Will NOT Believe This Story!

I just wrote the following for The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate...

The New York Times reports that New York City Public School teachers accused of wrong-doing or incompetence are made to spend 181 days per year in one of twelve "reassignment centers," commonly referred to as the "rubber room."

A room designed for 26 people routinely warehouses "upward of 75" (one report said, 100) from 8 AM until 3 PM each day. The windowless rooms don't even have a clock.

“From our perspective, it’s not punitive,” said Andrew Gordon, the director of employee relations at the department.

Read the rest of this unbelievable article, Where Teachers Sit, Awaiting Their Fates (NY Times 10/10/07)

Here are a few quotes from a similar New York Post article (9/30/07)...
"David Pakter, 62, has been in a rubber room for a year for buying a plant for his school and giving students watches he'd made, he said...

Pakter, a former "teacher of the year" honored at City Hall during Rudy Giuliani's mayoral tenure, just bought a new Jaguar with his $90,000 salary for 'doing absolutely nothing.'"

"Yet another, an Army reservist who spent almost 3½ years in a rubber room before he retired, begged to be able to go to Iraq instead of staying in DOE Siberia."

"The union now counsels its members to avoid becoming too involved - including even in breaking up student fights - because it could land them in a rubber room."

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm Worried About America

School shootings, lynching nostalgia and attacking sick kids for political purposes. The news worries me about my country...

Read the rest of this provocative essay here.

There are a bunch of great new articles to be read at The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I placed my order!

Wi-Fi sniffing t-shirts!

America, the pride is back!

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

President Announces "Childrens Do Learn"

Just when you thought Presidential expectations could not be lower, Mr. Bush announced "Childrens Do Learn."

"As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured," he said.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

My New Reality Show

Riding on the coattails of CBS’ new program, Kid Nation, I’ve been mulling about ideas for my very own “reality” show about education.

Read the complete article here from The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No Double Half-Caf Venti Low-Fat Mochaccino Left Behind

Originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of District Administration Magazine...

A challenge for school leaders
By Gary Stager

There's some serious thought behind the Frappuccino. It is no accident that people are willing to pay over four bucks for a cup of joe and that the average Starbucks customer visits eighteen times per month. Ever see a Starbucks go out of business? Of course not. Starbucks has grown from 1,000 to 13,000 stores in a decade, with 27,000 more planned for the next five years.

Starbucks is an unqualified success. Right? Not so, according to a corporate memo sent by founder and CEO Howard Schultz on February 14:

Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have led to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand.

Many of these decisions were probably right at the time, and on their own merit would not have created the dilution of the experience; but in this case, the sum is much greater and, unfortunately, much more damaging than the individual pieces. For example, when we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines ... blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista.

Schultz also complained about the stores feeling "sterile and cookie cutter" like, losing "the warm feel of the neighborhood." Starbucks' merchandise is "more art than science," he said. The menu addition of hot breakfast sandwiches has allowed cheese to burn in the oven and overpower the essential aroma of fresh coffee.

Such attention to detail is the reason customers love Starbucks. Schultz based the company on a desire to combine gourmet coffee with Italian café culture. Starbucks stores are your "third place." There's home, work and Starbucks. It's the American pub. Their products are carefully designed to tell a story about lifestyle or the exotic lands where your drink originated. Their motto is that "geography is a flavor."

This scenario has everything to do with the state of public education. The change in course Schultz advocates acknowledges that the attempts by Starbucks to homogenize, or in school parlance, "teacher-proof," their processes for short-term gains may have destructive long-term consequences. Is our quest for multiple-choice miracles and reduction of children into aggregated data destroying the educational experience? If so, what will you say in the memo to your "partners"? What is your school's story?

Since 2004, 25,000 "partners" have graduated from an optional Coffee Master course in which they learn to discern the subtleties of regional flavor with rituals similar to wine tasting. Distinctive aprons and business cards honor their learned expertise. How many teachers in your district have business cards?

Schultz stated boldly that Starbucks' "problems are self-induced" and that success is "not an entitlement." He concluded, "I take full responsibility myself, but we desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it's time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience."

Will you have the courage to lead a change in course, or will the stench of burnt cheese waft through your corridors?

Dr. Gary S. Stager,, is senior editor of District Administration Magazine and editor of The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Jonathan Kozol Fasts Against NCLB

Legendary author and child advocate, Jonathan Kozol, explains to The Huffington Post why he is fasting over No Child Left Behind.

This morning, I am entering the 67th day of a partial fast that I began early in the summer as my personal act of protest at the vicious damage being done to inner-city children by the federal education law No Child Left Behind, a racially punitive piece of legislation that Congress will either renew, abolish, or, as thousands of teachers pray, radically revise in the weeks immediately ahead...

...The only member of the Democratic leadership I have been unable to get through to is the influential chairman of the education panel, Senator Ted Kennedy, who, one of his colleagues told me flatly, will ultimately "call the shots" on this decision. I've asked the senator three times if he'll talk with me. Each time, I have run into a cold stone wall. This has disappointed me, and startled me, because the senator has been a friend to me in years gone by and has asked for my ideas on education on a number of occasions in the decades since I was a youthful teacher and he was a youthful politician.

Read Kozol's open letter: Why I am Fasting: An Explanation to My Friends

You may also read my two interviews with Mr. Kozol at:

Jonathan Kozol Takes on the World (January 2006)
Jonathan Kozol Speaks Out (September 2000)

Isn't it time that we all spoke out?

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Shaq's Big Challenge

The gentle giant is schooled on schooling.

One-on-one, Shaq is no match for the lunch lady!

Read my current column for District Administration Magazine here.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Last Back-to-School Sale Ever

What if we could stop wasting our money on crap and really improve education?

Originally published in The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate

I nearly forgot that it was Labor Day until I walked into my local office supply superstore and was assaulted with memories of back-to-school shopping. As a kid, getting new cartoon pencils or bookcovers reduced the horror associated with another school year. As a parent, I resented buying materials the public school should provide and wasted too many brain cells trying to remember if "Trapper Keepers" were required or banned this year. The hole in my wallet resulted from satisfying the fetishes of teachers who (it seemed) each required a different color of ink, or no ink at all. Why should I have to remember which teacher required a spiral-bound notebook and which one required a looseleaf? Oh yeah, last year's metal looseleaf binder is now verboten because a kid in Omaha figured out how to turn it into a radio so he could listen to the World Series during class.

Why must we engage in this orgy of consumerism?

Well, we don't have to.

I know some of you must be thinking, "But Dr. Stager, how can my child possibly take a job away from an Indian student without my investment in glitter pens?"

We could work smarter and buy every schoolchild in America a personal laptop computer. The laptop is the protean device. At the most primitive level it's crayons and pens and paint and calculator and notebook and index cards and protractor all in one package. However, the laptop performs all the functions of those tools better and in combinations previously impossible. The sum of the parts is greater than the value of the parts themselves.

Most importantly, traditional school supplies do nothing to make school more relevant or modernize the learning experience for today's students. Pens, papers and notebooks reinforce educational practices of a bygone era and don't require teachers to rethink their practice. Ubiquitous computing has the potential to change everything. With the money spent on school supplies why wouldn't we at least try to make schools better?

You ask, "But Dr. Stager, doesn't a laptop cost even more than a pair of sneakers?" Yes, a bit, but in most school districts a laptop costs less than your kid playing football (not including personnel costs). It has long been the case that the cost of a full-function multimedia Toshiba or Apple laptop - including bag, insurance and extended warranty - costs less per month, per student, than the cost of a trombone rental. We have long valued the investment in a musical instrument and schools know how to provide an instrument for a child who can't afford it.

At the recent EDUCOMM Conference, Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation President & Founder Bruce Dixon presented a vision of how the complete student laptop package can cost less than $20/student per month today. I've long proposed that states could offer generous tax credits for parents who buy their children a laptop and relieve schools of the burden of being in the computer business.

Think I'm crazy? According to the National Retail Federation, Families with school-age children will spend an average of $563.49 on back-to-school merchandise - $18.4 billion in total. That's the equivalent of between 18-20 million full-featured student laptops at current retail prices, before a volume discount. The National Retail Federation reports that the average student will spend $94.02 on school supplies. Add the cost of a calculator and the One Laptop Per Child Computer is paid for immediately. Chuck a few textbooks and we actually save money. Since laptop costs are usually amortized across three to four years, we could revolutionize education by next year's back-to-school.

Photo by Vlada Lazerien - - Creative Commons Non-commercial, attribution & no derivative works license.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

My sessions at the Learning 2.0 Conference

The sessions I have selected to present explore the use of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression. I will share video-based examples of students from 5-adult learning in remarkable ways with computational material and encourage you to reflect upon your own practice.

It is my sincere desire to add a unique voice and perspective to the important discussions about to commence in Shanghai. I look forward to learning with all of you.

Ten Things to Do with a Laptop - Learning and Powerful Ideas
A paper entitled, “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer,” was published in 1971 by Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon. Few of today’s schools, with or without laptops, satisfy the goals of that thirty-five year-old document. This keynote invokes the challenging vision of the earlier document, updates it and presents ideas for using laptops in ways that offer unprecedented learning adventures across K-12 and various subject areas. A broader vision of using computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression is equally appropriate for educators with one or one hundred computers in their classroom.

Way Beyond Web 2.0
Blogging is undoubtedly cool and has captured the imagination of many educators. It can even be an effective classroom tool. However, the irrational exuberance granted blogging and other Web 2.0 tools perpetuates the dominant view that computers are best used for research purposes and that learning is about information. This misunderstands the nature of learning and underestimates the potential of computing in the intellectual and creative development of children. Such thinking deprives students of rich opportunities to construct modern knowledge in a wide variety of domains. We must explore a more expansive role of computers in areas such as math, science and the arts where learning opportunities abound yet elude far too many children.

We best serve our students when we teach them how to solve problems we can’t even anticipate. This presentation will illustrate how the web may be used for rich authentic intellectual inquiry in order to solve sophisticated problems in an increasingly complex world. Teachers will be inspired to look for such opportunities in their daily lives and demonstrate how a good prompt or interesting observation can lead to sophisticated thinking. Recommended software environments will be demonstrated along with strategies for getting a greater return on investment out of school technology. Examples from actual K-12 classrooms will be shared. Bring your laptop to join in the learning adventure!

Papert Matters - Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas
Seymour Papert, often referred to as the "father of educational technology," is arguably one of the most important thinkers of the past half-century. His work and ideas influenced Jean Piaget as well as the fields of artificial intelligence, computer science, mathematics, educational computing, learning and school reform. On a tangible level, Logo, LEGO robotics, constructionism, the $100 laptop, Hypercard, Squeak, Scratch, laptops for Maine students and many of the best ideas in educational technology were shaped by Papert's vision of children constructing modern knowledge. This session presents just a few of Professor Papert's most powerful ideas about children, computers and learning through his own words and rarely seen video. The presenter worked closely for Dr. Papert and was the principal investigator on his most recent institutional learning project. Educators new to Papert's theories will be challenged to think deeper about learning. Veteran educators will be inspired to reinvigorate their practice and challenge the status quo.

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Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai

On November 14-16, 2007 I will be speaking at The Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai, China. Alan November, Jamie McKenzie, Will Richardson, Wesley Fryer, Chris Smith and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach are also on the program.

The following is some information about me for people who might attend my presentations.

About Gary Stager, Ph.D.
Occupation: Teacher educator, journalist, speaker, educational consultant, editor, professor, Executive Director of The Constructivist Consortium
Turn-ons: Expertise, people committed to making the world a better place for children, social justice, jazz, NFL football, Aussie Rules football, robotics, programming, politics, passion, constructionism, books
Turn-offs: Standardized testing, empty rhetoric, adult non-learners, technology standards, doing nothing, instructionism
Clients: Disney, Universal Studios, Apple, Toshiba, Microsoft, LEGO, LCSI, Tom Snyder Productions, FableVision, Claris, Victoria (Australia) Department of Education and Training
Proudest achievement: Being part of the production team that won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Recording of the Year: The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project - Simpåtico

Computers not only offer opportunities for children to learn things that we have always wanted them to learn, perhaps with greater efficiency, efficacy or even comprehension, but their real power lies in providing productive contexts for learning things that were impossible to learn just a few years ago. Computers are the material with which learners may construct modern knowledge.

Over the past twenty-five years I've been fortunate that hard-work and intuition have allowed me to be at the right place at the right time.

I first learned to program in 1976 as a 7th grader and led computer clubs and after-school workshops throughout high school. Then it was off to Berklee College of Music where I hoped to develop as a jazz musician. In 1982, I created one of the first computer camp programs for kids anywhere. Within a year I was leading professional development for teachers and soon after that I was the Director of Professional Development for a consortium of 150 computer-using school districts. I led and organized hundreds of teacher workshops and chaired the first seven New Jersey Educational Computing Conferences.

In 1985, I attended my first two Logo conferences, at Pepperdine University in California and at MIT. I was blown away by the level of creativity, passion, intellect and embrace of newcomers I found within the thriving Logo community. It was around that time that I first met Dr. Seymour Papert and I began consulting with Logo Computer Systems. Soon after LEGO TC Logo was released in 1986, I became one of LEGO's consultants and evangelists. I led hundreds of robotics workshops for teachers and helped design subsequent products. Around 1989-1990 I helped the Scarsdale, NY Public Schools develop a collaborative online creative environment for project-work built in LogoExpress, a version of Logo that allowed collaboration via dial-up modem. (My first modem was purchased in 1983 and I was a member of Compuserve and Applelink for years until Apple sent us a bill for a bazillion dollars.) It may be Web 2.0 to others, but it's like Web 25 to me.

In 1990, a boyhood dream was realized when I traveled to Sydney, Australia in order to present a paper at the World Conference on Computers in Education (I've since presented papers at the past for WCCEs). Many of my Logo friends (Seymour Papert, Brian Silverman, Mitchell Resnick and Steve Ocko) were also in Sydney for WCCE. Alan Kay was the opening keynote and Papert closed the conference. This was very heady stuff for the kid from Jersey.

I met great Aussie educators who knew of my work via The Logo Exchange and other publications. I count many of these people as my best friends to this very day. A multi-day pre-conference workshop prior to WCCE featured students and teachers from two Australian schools where every student had a personal laptop computer. This was extraordinary since I was a computing professional and neither I nor any of my colleagues owned their own laptops. The "laptop schools" embraced the technology as a way of turning schooling inside out and the best vehicle for realizing the ideals of Papert and other progressive educators. A 12 year-old girl and I spent a couple of days building a working fax machine out of LEGO during the pre-conference. By the time WCCE began, my mind was spinning and my life was forever changed.

Three weeks later I was back in Australia leading professional development at the world's first "laptop schools." I spent countless months in such schools over the next several years and have made approximately 30 trips downunder. My work has taken me to countless schools in every state and territory. I've also keynoted countless conferences in "Oz" including being the keynote speaker following Seymour Papert and Maine Governor Angus King at a 2004 conference to launch Apple Australia's school laptop initiatives. My 1:1 efforts are chronicled in Bob Johnstone's history of educational computing, Never-mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers and the Transformation of Learning.

I began teaching at Pepperdine University's Graduate School of Education and Psychology in 1993. My colleagues and I began teaching online around 1995. In 1997, I proposed offering an online masters degree program. The Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program began a few months ago and has graduated nine classes of leaders since.

Seymour Papert, referred to by many as the "father of educational computing," invited me to join him in creating a high-tech alternative learning environment inside Maine's troubled prison for teens. That work was the subject of my Ph.D. research and documents Dr. Papert's most recent institutional research projects. That work has inspired me to work in disadvantaged schools with the most severely at-risk students in order to create models of alternative learning environments and advance my motto, "Things need not be as they seem!"

I've had the good fortune to be a collaborator in the MIT Media Lab Future of Learning Group. In that capacity, I've helped lead immersive one and two week-long professional development institutes for hundreds of Brazilian and Mexican educators. My work has taken me to six continents.

Since the late nineties, I have also been an education journalist and columnist. Close to 100 of my articles and papers may be found at

In 2006, I launched The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate at

My personal blog is at

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School Leaders Could Learn from Apple & Starbucks

A few months ago, I published an article, No Double Half-Caf Venti Low-Fat Mochaccino Left Behind, in District Administration Magazine. That article offered leadership advice for school administrators inspired by the phenomenal success of Starbucks.

Both Starbucks and their new partner, Apple, really understand the Experience Economy.

In an article I wrote years ago, Everything I Know About Reading Instruction, I Learned from Oprah Winfrey, I pondered what Borders and Barnes and Noble know that school librarians seem to be missing. Both of these bookstore chains know how, dare I say, to engage children for long periods of time in positive civil activity. Starbucks does as well.

Since so many kids already do their homework at school, perhaps Starbucks should open their own schools. Just a thought.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy Birthday to The Pulse!

It's hard to believe, but Labor Day weekend marks the first anniversary of The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate. That's like 365 days in Web 2.0 time!

I can remember how exciting it was when the site went live and librarians all over the world took umbrage with Dr. Roger Schank's article, The Library Metaphor. It was an auspicious start to a great year of publishing.

I am incredibly grateful for the remarkable contributions from some of the brightest thinkers in education.

Stay tuned for a site redesign and new contributing editors in the near future. In the meantime, join us online at The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate!

You may of course subscribe to the entire site or a specific author's work via RSS.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My August District Administration Magazine Column

Here is my August 2007 column from District Administration Magazine...

My Plan to Fix NCLB

Save a seat on the bus for me!

Photo by Andrew Vdill

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mind-mapping What?

Will Richardson's blog reminded me to share some thoughts I've been ruminating over for several years. Will does an outstanding job of spotting and sharing new software tools, particularly those of the Web 2.0 variety. Some of these tools demonstrate human ingenuity, many make a small improvement on existing software and one or two may even make a real splash, in either social impact or as a commercial product. Will's recent blog posting, Mind Mapping Love, discussed new online tools for brainstorming, mapping and planning.

Upon reflection I felt compelled to ask, "After all of this mapping, brainstorming and planning, what do the students actually do? Is it better than what they wrote, filmed, acted, composed or constructed before such tools existed? What's the point?"

I began asking such questions a few years ago when I keynoted a national educational technology conference overseas. The walls of the convention center corridors were lined with display boards containing student work. One would assume that this work exemplified the most extraordinary efforts from this nation's classroms. However, upon further inspection I saw walls covered in three bubble Inspiration maps. Plants need... Water, Sunlight, Cool-Whip... That sort of stuff.

I was horrified. Why would we display such crap on the walls of a national conference?

This is like publishing an outline of a novel, without the novel, except it is worse than that. What I routinely see in schools is the equivalent of publishing the first three words of the outline of a novel without ever writing the novel. It's then printed in fancy fonts and framed by brightly colored construction paper before affixing to a bulletin board. I've seen it a zillion times in classrooms all over the world. The pride educators gain from such incomplete work is an acute example of what Seymour Papert calls verbal inflation.

Again, what's the point?

I have no reason to doubt that Will Richardson was an amazing teacher who inspired his students to express themselves with a clarity and fluency beyond their years. With Will's guidance mind-mapping, brainstorming or outlining resulted in exceptional writing or journalism. But what about his protegés? Do the students of Will's many followers produce work they can be proud of? Do their efforts justify the investment in hardware and software? Based on my observations, I fear not.

I often wonder why the package, Inspiration, has been such a runaway success. Almost every school with a computer owns a copy, while countless schools have it installed on every computer. One would think that all of this planning would lead to an explosion in creativity and dramatic improvements in student communication abilities, but aside from small anecodotal examples, no such evidence exists. Admittedly, my inner cynic gets curious whenever large numbers of educators are suddenly excited about anything. I like to know why.

Perhaps the enthusiasm for pre-writing tools, such as the Inspiration and the ones Will writes about, is based on the fact that schools hate process. Pre-writing/planning/brain-storming represents the first stage of a four or five part writing process. In order to gain benefit from this process, each stage must be completed. No step of the process is more important than another. They are equally critical. Well, at last that's the theory.

The reality of school is that teachers routinely cherry-pick the part of the process which best suits them or fits within their time constraints. This has a lot to do with why "whole language" was vilified. Teachers embraced the invented spelling aspect of the pre-writing and writing stages, but never got around to actual editing or publishing. Putting invented spelling on the wall or in publications that leave the classroom is asking for trouble.

Some teachers focus on an essay's cover, word count or fonts used while others brainstorm, but never get around to having the children write anything of substance.

This might be because writing is so hard and teachers are insecure about their own writing. An even more likely hypothesis for why the writing process rarely leaves the starting gate is time. It takes a wizard or decathelete to edit 150-200 pieces of student writing, so why require it? Even orchestrating effective peer-editing procedures takes time few teachers enjoy between the bells and other structural distractions of the modern school day. So, we skip a few steps. Favoring one step over the others tends to undermine the entire process.

We all had at least one teacher who required that an outline be turned in, even if it was written after the essay. Such requirements are profoundly indifferent and disrespectful to each distinct learner. With modern outlining tools the curriculum is too often on identifying the form of brainstorming or the shape of a mind-map, rather than on what should be the product resulting from the tool's use. Too many teachers focus on the mechanics of these tools at the expense of developing articulate creative students. Not every writer requires an outline and most "real" writing results from a much more fluid process.

Another potential reason for the emphasis on brainstorming and mind-mapping is that the activity lends itself to being teacher-centric. I've seen countless demonstrations of pre-writing in which the teacher solicits ideas from the class (with differing degrees of coercion) and then creates the visual representation on the board or computer via projection. The locus of control shifts away from the learner to the teacher. The proliferation of expensive "interactive" white boards ensures that the teacher will never relinquish control or stop dominating the life of the classroom.

Writing is inherently learner-centered. Great writers know that writing may only really ever be taught mano a mano. Effective teachers use a bag of tricks to distract the rest of the class or create peer editing situations, but writing is a recursive process of continual writing and revision. That's MUCH harder to do than make a diagram, print it out and stick it on a wall (or web page).

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Found Community at the Simpsons Movie

Educators, especially those who blog, throw the term, "community," around a lot. While it is of course possible to create, sustain and build thriving communities online, I got a taste of the old-fashioned variety at our local movie googleplex during a showing of The Simpsons Movie.

When Homer Simpson walks his pig, Plopper, upside down on the ceiling and begins to sing the hauntingly addictive "Spider Pig" theme, the majority of people - kids and adults - in the theatre began to sing along spontaneously.

Yes, it was a 15-second long impromptu community choir right there at The Simpsons Movie!

It's worth noting that film trailer does not feature the entire (albeit brief) song. The audience either read/heard it online, guessed or enough people saw the film already.

The other extraordinary example of community in the credits of The Simpsons Movie. The credits revaled the hundreds, if not thousands of artists, writers, technicians and actors who made the film.

For those of you wondering... Yes, there is a Wikpedia entry for "Spider Pig!" That is where I leanred that the pig's name was Plopper. (I wasn't taking notes during the film.) It's on the page detailing the countless animal characters (it's own Wikipedia entry) featured on The Simpsons. YouTube also has the entire Spider Pig sequence from the Simpsons Movie, but this must be a copyright violation. Below is a clip from the film trailer, also found on YouTube.

"Spider Pig, Spider Pig, does whatever a Spider Pig does. Can he swing, from a web, no he can't, he's a pig. Look out, he is a Spider Pig."
(found at

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Creative Commons ≠ Free

In David Warlick’s blog post, It’s Going to Happen Without Them, Mssr. Warlick makes a wide-eyed prediction that the Creative Commons (CC) is going to put the textbook industry out of business. Unless they do what? Should the for-profit textbook industry begin to give away their products (and profits). Now that’s a formula for corporate success!

Warlick writes:
My take is that if the Textbook industry does not work really fast to reinvent itself in the image of a more participatory, reader directed, and people connecting information environment, then it’s going to happen without them.

OK, let’s say I agree that learning should be more participatory, learner-centered and collaborative. What does that ideal have to do with the Creative Commons?

The Creative Commons isn’t about making all content free. The purpose of the Creative Commons is to provide creators with more control over the copyright and subsequent use of their creative output.

Don’t believe me? The top of the CC homepage states its mission as:

“Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."

We must stop wrongly conflating the open-source movement with free. They are not the same thing.

I believe that the purpose of Warlick’s post was to pass along news of the Creative Commons’ new project, ccLearn, the education division of the Creative Commons. Right away I have problems with underlying assumption of this project. Such initiatives are based on the flawed premise that education equals access to content (information). Once again, this falls prey to what I call the information fallacy. Knowledge is constructed as a result of experience. Access to information represents, but a small piece of the learning process.

Besides, how does a teacher reconcile a desire to make all content free and accessible with schools’ ongoing obsession with plagiarism and cheating? I’m OK since I haven’t given a test or quiz since 1990, but what about the sheep-like teachers for whom textbooks are created?

Faulty assumptions

There are three deeply flawed assumptions underlying the notion that the latest CC scheme and its competitors, such as Curriki, will reform education.

1) No amount of groovy new wave talk of mashing-up or remixing of content can disguise that this is yet another form of tabula rasa education wrapped in a web page. This latest initiative Creative Commons initiative is about access to arbitrary educational content. This is a fancy way of saying delivery of information to students.

2) Just because a space is created for the sharing of educational “materials,” it is unlikely that many teachers will actually do so. After all, teachers do not share lesson plans. They may share ideas, but ideas are hardly what we mean by “educational materials.” Look at any of these “sharing” sites and you’ll find lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations and worksheets. Great teachers are not dependent on such static artifacts created for other students and weak teachers are unlikely to improve if their job is reduced to finding pre-chewed materials.

I suspect that the same sorts of teacher who think their worksheets are better than everyone else’s will publish “digital resources” for other teachers. A few will make a bit of money, but these materials will have zero impact on the daily practice of most teachers and even less positive influence over the education their students enjoy.

This fantasy is hardly new or dependent on Web 2.0. Your local bookstore offers countless workbooks and backline masters for sale. Do we want to extend this tradition to the powerful medium of the Web?

Look at Curriki and see the profoundly dull, random and mediocre materials being touted as a way to revolutionize learning. Can you tell that a billionaire finances Curriki? Who owns the content? Why would educators wish to write textbooks when there is so little to gain and when primary sources abound, both on the web and in convenient book form? Many of these sites look like a garage sale of content far beneath the exacting standards of even Frank Schaffer.

Textbooks are a technology that has had an enormously deleterious affect on learning. They are filled with homogenized factoids, written by anonymous committees possessing dubious qualifications and are designed to enforce a uniform teaching experience regardless of individual student differences. Textbooks are by definition one-size-fits-all approaches to teaching in which learning is at best an accidental side effect.

I’ve seen countless cases where a school district has gone to extraordinary lengths in order to fund new textbook purchases. In one case, science teachers were fired so the district could afford new science textbooks. Politicians get elected promising new textbooks and under-funded schools beg for textbook money.

This is the golden age  of (real) publishing. I like to take teachers to the local bookstore and demonstrate that there are better trade paperbacks on any subject at every conceivable developmental level than a textbook. Yet, states spend billion on such backpack ballast and add insult to injury by requiring that the books not be updated for five, or in some cases, ten years.

3) It is fantastically naïve to suggest that teachers sharing worksheets online endangers the textbook industry in any way. They are a multi-billion dollar industry most Americans (and certainly politicians) equate with education. They’re as American as spelling tests and handwriting instruction. The textbook industry is not going to roll over and play dead just because some teachers are blogging.

The keys to success in textbook publishing are simplicity, uniformity and compliance. Textbooks are about control (real or imagined) of the public school system. The companies make it very easy for school districts to buy and rollout new textbooks like clockwork. Nobody buys a textbook because it’s good. They do it because it’s quick, easy and asks nothing of teachers while promoting a public image of progress.

Recent trends like the Open Court Coaches (snitches) employed in Los Angeles and other districts; along with scripted curricula like “Success for All” demonstrate the destructive power textbooks hold over classroom instruction. These models also demonstrate how willing decision-makers are to enforce compliance and homogeneity on their teachers.

In too many cases, textbooks are weapons used against learners. It hardly matters if the weapon pointed at children is created by teachers for free on the web or by multinational conglomerates adroit at separating taxpayers from their treasure.

Textbook companies are incredibly nimble. Emphasize authentic literature and the next textbook series will have literature included. The problem is that the 32 page Sarah Plain and Tall will be abridged and each paragraph will be followed by a multiple-choice comprehension question that destroys the narrative and distracts the reader.

The Zelig-like shape-changing ability of the textbook industry has found a way to wreck every new technology that may render it obsolete. Now students can be bored with incomplete misinformation not only by reading a hardcover text, but on their iPod and laptop as well. Yippee!

Throw a new technology at textbook publishers and they’ll turn it into a textbook.

Underestimate the power of the textbook industry at your peril. Where do large district superintendents work after they retire? Textbook companies. Why? They are hired for their rolodex and access to other superintendents (re: customers) Visit Austin, Texas and see the textbook publishing offices walking distance from the state capital. Coincidence? Hardly!

Three foreign conglomerates control the vast majority of American textbooks. Why isn’t Tom Friedman or the Congress upset about turning our educational system over to foreigners? These same companies control standardized testing and test-prep. Their dominance is formidable and likely to be with us for a very long time.

Textbooks even play a role in our history. Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository, not the Creative Commons.

Lawrence Lessig can afford the luxury of eating his own dog food by giving his books away. He’s a world-class attorney and tenured academic at Stanford.

Is David Warlick giving his most recent book, Classroom Blogging: A Teacher’s Guide to the Blogosphere, away for free?

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Friday, July 27, 2007

A Whole New Mind?

A review by Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

I have long been uncomfortable with how eager school leaders are to embrace popular business books. It seems odd that educators would seek inspiration from business authors rather than other educators. When I attended a conference where five consecutive speakers quoted from Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, I was inspired to write the controversial article, Reading Fads: Why Tom Friedman Does Not Compute.

That article not only discussed the bizarre conclusions and sloppy logic presented by Tom Friedman, but also explored why school leaders are so drawn to business self-help books. Surely there are lessons to be learned from actual educators who can inspire educational practice.

As more and more educators discuss their craft in the blogosphere a remarkable number of them quote from business how-to manuals while very few ever mention the work of notable educational theorists and practitioners. The concise nature of the blogosphere takes already oversimplified principles and abridges them to fit the grammar of the medium.

Inspired by members of the online community I read the dreadful Everything is Miscellaneous and observed countless discussions of The World is Flat, A Whole New Mind, HOW We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), Wikinomics and Informal Learning. Not wanting to be left out, I rushed to the bookstore but felt queasy on the way to the cash register. With so many unread books about education sitting on my desk I could not bring myself to give any more of my money to these business authors.

Eventually I purchased and read Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. I did so in order to be able to discuss the book thoughtfully on various blogs and in professional development settings.

What business gurus like Don Tapscott, Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins have in common is that none of them actually ever ran a business prior to hitting the bestseller list offering business advice to others. Most of them have never been the night manager of a Seven-Eleven let alone launched or managed an innovative business venture.

They are fancy talkers

That is their skill. Several are evangelicals. Faith or pseudoscience, along with a dose of prosperity theology, is used to advance their arguments.

Their audience is adults who dream of being rich or increase their personal productivity. Neither goal is analogous to the education of children.

There’s trouble right here in River City

I’ve observed that the fancy talkers tend to have three or four good stories, perhaps as many as seven, they use to captivate their readers. If you see the author on Charlie Rose, you hear the three stories. Google an interview and you’ll read the three stories. Read the book and the three stories will appear verbatim. There is a polish to their schtick that often masquerades a lack of depth or thoughtfulness.

Many of these authors are linguistic jugglers. They can turn a phrase (or at least a handful of rehearsed ones) brilliantly. I compared Thomas Friedman to Nipsey Russell in my review of Friedman’s book due to his penchant for reducing complex ideas to puns.

Ultimately the success of these books is based on the authors’ ability to reduce complex concepts to simplistic binary dichotomies or playground rhymes. Such books are filled with numbered rule-based advice with little room for nuance. Issues are either black or white. The principles apply to any situation.

Obviously, lots of people buy these books. Some even read them. Many of the readers are hooked on this genre of business book and purchase lots of them. Ironically, the people who don’t read these books are successful business leaders. The New York Times article, C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success, tells us that most successful business leaders, the people self-help book readers wish to emulate, do not read business books. They read poetry and novels and great non-fiction written by experts. In short, CEO libraries are tributes to a great liberal arts education. Now that is a lesson school leaders should learn.

It is the great insecurity of wannabes that drives the sales of popular business books. I am of the opinion that educators with limited time should not squander it studying to be CEOs. This is especially true when these books are written by charlatans and touted by educational gurus who themselves are fancy talkers.

Education should be about doing, not talking. Education leaders should be well versed in the literature (past and present) of their chosen profession.

Which brings me to Whole New Mind

Alan November, Will Richardson and other well-respected educators are fans of Daniel Pink’s 2005 book. I had not read the book until recently. Recently, David Warlick wrote in his blog about how excited he was to be speaking at the same event for school leaders as Daniel Pink. Warlick is obviously a fan of Mr. Pink’s work.

I asked Mr. Warlick, “Just wondering. What are Mr. Pink’s qualifications for speaking about learning and school leadership?”

David Warlick answered my question by restating the same question. “I’m just wonder! What kind of qualifications does he need?”

Surely, an “expert” earning large sums of money for the privilege of speaking with large groups of educators about learning and leadership should know something about learning and leadership, right?

So, I broke down and bought A Whole New Mind. What follows is my initial review. I intend to elaborate on this analysis as time permits.

The Review (version 1.0)

Pink's entire thesis falls apart in the book’s opening paragraph.

"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind - computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind - creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people - artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys."

This argument reeks of the cheapest form of populism - playing on the economic insecurities of Americans to reiterate the horrific prospect of Indian and Chinese children destroying our precious way of life. OK, lots of fancy talkers make this case (re: Tom Friedman). Pink's basic thesis is much more objectionable, he uses pseudo-science unconvincingly to advance what is otherwise another pop business book. The first paragraph of A Whole New Mind is a hideous slur against every man and woman working as what new-school Pink defines as old-school knowledge workers. It is simply not true that the kind of people he dismisses (programmers, lawyers or MBAs) either have a different kind or mind or lack any of the more desirable traits he blesses in the next sentence. These are the words of a man who never used "that" kind of mind, because if he had he would understand that scary smart people are also creative and compassionate. Programmers are not pattern recognizers or creators? Give me a break! Ways of knowing are not mutually exclusive.

These caricatures and simplistic dichotomies not only devalue the "minds" of millions of people, but do great violence to education. Pink's work will be viewed by educators (and textbook publishers) as license to move students from the old mind to the new one - I guess like deprogramming gay people. How does this reconcile with ideas such as multiple intelligence theory? (Which also is too often interpreted as finding a child's dominant intelligence and then teaching everything or nothing to a child in that way. Both approaches are wrong and counterproductive.)

One gets the sense that Pink doesn’t even really believe the right-brain/left-brain ideology he advances in the book. However, real scientists who actually study the mind dismiss such simplistic models. Marvin Minsky of MIT, and author of The Society of Mind, calls the right/left brain stuff the “dumbbell theory.” Mind and brain researchers possess a humility that allows them to acknowledge the great mysteries associated with science. Daniel Pink leads readers to believe that he has a handle on how the mind actually functions.

The need for brain-based justifications for treating humans individually and with respect demonstrates the weaknesses in thinking Pink seeks to overcome. A reliance on junk science and mechanistic explanations of unexplainable mental phenomena does little to advance the quite simple proposition that all sorts of talents and aptitudes should be celebrated.

A Whole New Mind is full of factoids woven together to conjure up grandiose theories. For example, Pink’s assertion that MFAs are more valuable than MBAs suggests a zero-sum causality that simply does not exist. The fact that fewer MBAs are being hired by the McKinsey consulting firm, responsible for Enron’s creativity, while more MFAs are hired is neither statistically significant nor interdependent. The premium on design and aesthetic Pink uses to justify the development of “new mind” employees is based on economic prosperity. Rich people want goods and services of a higher quality. Advances in transportation have more to do with these trends than a “new mind.”

By the way, if you embrace Pink's two categories of minds/thinkers/workers, where would you place teachers? I know. We'll place ourselves in the good pile of people. 

Pink can't keep the differences between mind and brain straight, but admits that the whole discussion is only a metaphor anyway. His ignorance of the "old kind of mind" is unrivaled by his ignorance of the "new kind of mind." Once again, terms like symphony are used as metaphors without the slightest regard for what a symphony is or how it's created. The fact is that there are numerous similarities between writing a symphony and programming a computer. But that's in the real world, not the "new" world Mr. Pink predicts based on his experience as a Gore speechwriter, law-school grad who never practiced and latrine digger in Botswana. 

At the end of the day there is nothing revolutionary or even new about what Pink presents as “new.” The book not only plays loose and fast with facts, but the traits ascribed to the evolved human workers of the future can be found in any good salesman of the past century.

This is personal

Many of my colleagues in the blogosphere and on the speaking circuit mean well. They honestly want schools to offer what Sarason calls, more “productive contexts for learning.” However, their embrace of pop business gurus and their methods do little to advance this noble agenda. Learning is personal, diverse and complex. Reducing learning to a handful of teaching tricks does nothing to advance education or improve schools.

A Whole New Mind cannot be reconciled with my own scholarship and twenty-five years worth of thinking about learning. My personal experience obliterates the firewall Pink builds between the two hemispheres of the brain. Several bloggers conflate Pink’s advocacy for increased arts education with his frivolous claims about the mind and economic success. Grand proclamations about the future are offered as substitutes for doing the hard work required today. Neither mind nor future economic prosperity are sufficient arguments for arts education. Students should enjoy rich, diverse and bountiful arts experiences because it is what makes us human.

However, too many of the Web 2.0/School 2.0 community have given up on the promise of school. Media mashups and video games are discussed as substitutes for the discipline and powerful ideas required to play an instrument, write a novel, build a mathematical model, design a computer application, construct a robot or make sense of a rapidly changing world.

Music education enriched my life in innumerable ways. Studying music (up to three periods per day) with professional musicians (expert mentors) in the Wayne, NJ public schools laid the foundation for both my Ph.D. in Science and Math Education and being the new media producer for a Grammy Award-winning project this year. Learning to program computers in the 7th grade, where it was required of every student as a rich intellectual pursuit, helped me develop the habits of mind that serve me everyday.

The seeds of my social activism and vocation were planted when at the age of 18 I saved school music from the budget ax. Devaluing the arts is not new or the exclusive fault of NCLB. The nation began losing its soul and sense or priorities decades ago. Pink offers scant advice for reversing this trend.

Although school was often a mind-numbing, soul-killing experience I learned to play an instrument, love the arts, program computers and compose music in the public schools.  I wish that every child may enjoy a plethora of rich learning adventures. Jingoism and junk science offer insufficient justification or motivation for educational progress.

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Why Should Software Be Free? (version 1.0)

Bits for the poor

Wesley Fryer’s recent blog, A digital playground of dreams?, makes the case for play and then discusses what would/should be in a digital playground. I think the logic is that if  real playgrounds are good for kids, so are digital playgrounds.

OK, so far so good. But then the article assumes that software (at least software for kids) should be free. Why is free the criteria?

Why is software so devalued that a growing number of people believe it should be free?

Balls and playground equipment are not free. Hardware is not free. Spelling books and standardized tests are not free.

Why not have free teachers? You could all work voluntarily.

Is the quest for free software rooted in the low self-image of educators? Why should teachers depend on charity? This emphasis on “free-ness” seems sad, needy and symptomatic of powerlessness to me.

It’s one thing to be a good bargain hunter on behalf of your students. I too have learned to wait around conference exhibits waiting for vendors to give me books and PE equipment they don’t want to ship back to the office. However, that seems qualitatively different from the lonely teacher I see shuffling out of the half demolished exhibit hall carrying armloads of free bags full of other bags. Should educators be reduced to bag ladies? Is software the new free ballpoint pen?

There’s no such thing as free software

Software development is paid for by either of the following:

  • Consumers/customers
  • Government agencies via grants to research and development institutions in higher education or the K-12 bureaucracy (for example, The National Science Foundation or the military)
  • Universities
  • For-profit companies spending investor funds and tax credits to make charitable contributions to education
  • A programmer working alone or with his/her friends who want to share their software

In all, but the last (and least common) case, the free software you are using cost you as a taxpayer or someone else, as a stockholder. You just didn’t use a credit card at Best Buy to pay for it.

It is certainly the case that educators embraced Microsoft Office as what kids should do with computers. I've been on-the-record against children playing Donald Trump dress-up in computer labs for decades. For Pete’s sake you can satisfy ALL of the ISTE standards with Office alone. The new appeals for creativity and innovation are mere lip service.

Even with productivity tools (what an awful term for children) you could do with fewer features. Such streamlined design would reduce costs and make software more usable and developmentally appropriate for children. This does not mean for one instant that I believe that preschoolers are incapable of using Office. What I do mean is that the false complexity implied by too many menus, submenus and dialog boxes ensures that the teacher’s focus is on features and the software’s peculiarities rather than on its creative use.

Don’t believe me? Look at the number of district tech plans that make using scroll bars a nine-year scope and sequence? How many 700-page books are published to teach you to use a web browser or word processor?

I love inexpensive software, but I'm weary of digital handouts. Some of the most ingenious pieces of software I use regularly are shareware. I pay a reasonable fee to a clever person who provided me with a great service.

The fact that districts, states and national governments surrender too much public treasure to Microsoft is not an argument against hardworking software designers and programmers earning a living. Some countries (more so than in the USA) often subsidize the development of software and materials for schools that compete directly with the open market. You'd be hard pressed to identify three such products that were worth what the government invested.

You get what you pay for

Sure, it’s relatively easy for programmers to knock-off free copies of existing software – paint programs, word processors and even operating systems fall into this category. Occasionally some of these programs are even better than the commercial originals. However, the hard expensive work of invention has already occurred.

It’s expensive and incredibly hard to invent (after all software design is a form of invention) productive contexts for learning; what Seymour Papert called microworlds. Microworlds facilitate creativity, problem solving, divergent thinking, debugging and encounters with powerful ideas. It takes educational experts and gifted software designers to create such environments for children. If such software packages are developed, their sales potential is extremely limited since their market is almost exclusively K-12 schools. The same customers that expect software to be free.

Have you noticed that the educational software industry is nearly dead? This is one reason why I organized The Constructivist Consortium. The Consortium brings together publishers of creative open-ended learning materials so they may stand out in a sea of “smart” furniture, multiple-choice clickers and testing software while giving voice to the fantastic educators who work every day to provide constructive creative learning opportunities for their students.

Even in the hey-day of Reader Rabbit and Math Blaster, the school market was just viewed as a way of lending legitimacy to dubious software packages for sale at the local Wal-Mart. Schools never bought much of the software, but the publishers were able to point to classroom use as a way of convincing parents that the software would “teach” their children something.

Small creative educational software companies, such as Logo Computer Systems, Inc., (LCSI) now in its 26th year of creating powerful software environments for learning, have worked tirelessly to make high-quality products available to American students, but they are no match for the white board pitch-men and the integrated “learning” systems companies.

Many of you may not remember this, but it was LCSI, a 100% educational software company, that invented the site license with the release of LogoWriter in 1985. Such brilliant software grew with the learner and could be used creatively for years cost very little. However, its developers deserved to feed their families and invest in the development of future software like LEGO TC Logo and MicroWorlds EX.

It was also LogoWriter and later, MicroWorlds, that fueled the education renaissance in Costa Rica.  (see articles here and here) Teachers began to see themselves and their students’ potentials through fresh eyes and not only were Costa Rican schools improved, but the nation’s economic fortunes rose as well.

The fatal flaw in the $100 laptop

As the person who led professional development in the world’s first laptop schools back in 1990, I have spent nearly two decades as an unabashed evangelist for every student owning a personal portable full-function computer.

I am an unapologetic supporter of the $100 Laptop initiative and refuse to be drawn into petty squabbles over hardware features, price-point or whether or not the project honors teachers sufficiently. I believe that putting millions of PCs in the hands of children does hold the potential to change the world and may offer the first opportunity in generations to rethink teaching and learning.

That said, my greatest disappointment with the One Laptop Per Child project is that the principles involved do not think that it is difficult to develop high-quality intellectually expansive software for children and they refuse to pay others to develop it. Without such software, the potential of the $100 laptop will be severely crippled. Children will be able to consume information and chat, just like American kids. They just won’t be able to create or be the mathematicians, scientists, composers, engineers, filmmakers or computer scientists they could be if the “smart” adults behind the development of the hardware had more respect for software development.

A great robust developmentally appropriate programming environment, like MicroWorlds EX, would be a welcome addition to each $100 laptop. However, Redhat employees cannot develop such software during their lunch break. It requires expertise and insight into learning that they (and even MIT students) lack. It’s too bad since such an environment would add sustainability to the creative and intellectual use of the device and allow students to create software themselves.

I fear that if fewer children have experience programming computers and expressing themselves symbolically, then software will cases to have any value at all. Wes Fryer’s blog paraphrases Alan Kay about “inventing the future,” but the actual quote is “The best way to predict the future is by inventing it.” I’m confident that Dr. Kay believes that one way of inventing the future is by constructing knowledge and new tools via computer programming. The future does not look very bright if as Seymour Papert pointed out, we deprive children of the opportunity to understand and control the technology so central to their lives.

Footnote #1

Why not call software an invention? People don’t expect inventions to be free?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I Guess It's the Thought that Counts

It's my birthday! ("Hooray!" the voice in my head screams in the absence of any acknowledgement from actual humans.)

I love love love my two nephews, ages 8 and 10, but they just sent me a birthday eCard - yuck!

Type in an email address and voila! Your loved one has to watch a crappy animation that takes too long and conveys no real emotion.

I hate eCards!

Off to Disneyland...

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Skip the 600 Words. Write the Review First!

My articles in District Administration Magazine and The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate often elicit strong letters from readers, but today's mailbag reached a new low.

Someone read an online synopsis of a recent article and sent me a screed full of personal attacks.

The email and my response follows. Enjoy!

The email message I received:
I see that you have nothing better to do. Jealousy! What can you do about it? There are more important issues than Oprah and her money. What's your contribution to how we tackle illiteracy? What else have you written? What research have you conducted? As the old saying goes, You're a part of the problem. Where is the solution?

Record: 1

Title: Oprah's Edifice Complex.

Authors: Stager, Gary

Source: District Administration; Jun2007, Vol. 43 Issue 6, p84-84, 1p

Document Type: Article

Subject Terms: *EDUCATIONAL leadership

*SCHOOL buildings

*SINGLE-sex schools


Geographic Terms: SOUTH Africa

Abstract: The article discusses the author's perspective on the establishment of the school Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. He cites that the $40 million school established by TV host Winfrey has been subjected of controversy which some people are offended that it features fine china and trillion thread count sheets. He admits that he already read and watched about the school but still asks the educational philosophy of the school and the learning theories that excite Winfrey.

ISSN: 1537-5749

Accession Number: 25585814

Database: Academic Search Premier

The link information above provides a persistent link to the article you've requested.

Persistent link to this record: Following the link above will bring you to the start of the article or citation.

Cut and Paste: To place article links in an external web document, simply copy and paste the HTML above, starting with "<A HREF"

If you have any problems or questions, contact Technical Support at or call 800-758-5995.

This e-mail was generated by a user of EBSCOhost who gained access via the WALDEN UNIV account. Neither EBSCO nor WALDEN UNIV is responsible for the content of this e-mail.

I responded as follows:

Dear Anonymous Card Catalog Reader:

Thank you for your email. You may read my dozens of publications at and my qualifications at While there. You can actually read the article that seems to have offended you.

All the very best,


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Bookstore Adventures - Part 1

I just returned home from one of the major book superstores near my home. While waiting to pay for a boxed-set of Flat Stanley books for a five year-old coming to visit, I overheard the following conversation between the bookstore cashier and a nervous acquaintance of his.

Customer: Did you get the email I sent?
Cashier: No, why?
Customer: I did a speech on evolution.
Cashier: Not for it I hope?
Customer: Of course not.
Cashier: Where?
Customer: At ____ (the local community college)
Cashier: I thought you stopped going.
Customer: Nah (with a shrug)

Cashier: A lady was telling me that I had to read this great book by Christopher Hitchens
Customer: Who?
Cashier: He's this dude who wrote a book, "God is Not Great."
Customer: Shakes head

Cashier: Do you ever read anything from the other side just to see what they think?
[Gary thinks to himself: Things may be looking up.]

Customer: Not really

Now, I'm all for religious tolerance and the free exchange of ideas, but by people who can support their arguments with evidence. After all, I'd hate to live in a country where scientific decisions were being made by lethargic part-time community college students.

The shy creationist exits the store and I wonder if I should say something to the cashier.

Frankly, I can't resist.

I approach the cashier and say, "You really ought to read Hitchens. He's one of the smartest guys around. You don't have to agree with him on every issue. In fact, I think his support for the War in Iraq is dead wrong." The cashier admitted having seen Hitchens on Hardball. Perhaps he'll actually consider the perspectives of people who don't agree with him. That's the kind of citizen, neighbor and bookstore employee we need.

Note: The full title of Christopher Hitchens' best-selling book is, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The complete title is required if one is to begin to understand the author's thesis.

Click either book cover for more information or to purchase.

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Studying? Cheating? Why Both Represent the Status Quo

David Warlick wrote a blog this past weekend, Games • Learning • Society [classroom strategy guides?], in which he discussed gaming, the use of cheat sites by gamers (kids) and the obvious question of whether this phenomena has any implications for school.
"It occurred to me that study guides for tests are a lot like strategy guides for video games," wrote Mr. Warlick.

My response may seem a bit radical...

Studying, which in school parlance really means memorizing, is based on the assumption that learning is unnatural. This is categorically untrue.

"Learning" a computer game cheat code from a web site is a very low-level of learning. It's just looking something up, like much of what schools misrepresent as student research. This activity bares little resemblance to "studying" the violin or "studying" to be a brain surgeon.

Some educators marvel or recoil at students finding cheat codes on the web, but that's only because ingenuity is so rare within the school curriculum. Classroom mischief may offer the richest or exclusive contexts for ingenuity.

If school wasn't based on right and wrong answers, studying would be unnecessary.

Cheating is only necessary when it's viable. Assessment schemes, like tests, are only necessary when teachers are not respected and when teachers don't trust their own instincts.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Wikipedia's Numero Uno Editor

Smith Magazine (whatever the hell that is) has a really interesting story about Richard Farmbrough of Stamford, England. The Wizard of Wiki is an interview with the man with the largest number of entries in the history of Wikipedia.

You know what? The more I look around Smith Magazine, the more I actually dig it. I may bookmark the site or add it to my RSS feed.

Smith Magazine reminds me that the dream of my own magazine, Stager, may be within reach.

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What's a computer game?

It's always kinda weird and creepy when adults, particularly academics, talk about computer games. It's a bit like your grandparents saying, "groovy." That said, your roving reporter David Warlick reports on a presentation by Dr. Angela McFarlane in which she shares some impressive data about teacher attitudes towards the use of computer games in U.K. classrooms.

Dr. McFarlane is an old friend of mine for whom I have the greatest respect. We met at a workshop I led at NECC 1990 and worked together several times in the early 1990s. She is much wiser and more competent than 90% of the folks blabbering on about the educational potential of computer games. (I write about this issue recently in Edugaming - A Bad Idea for All Ages)

Unfortunately, I was unable to hear Dr. McFarlane speak this week, but I suspect that what she means by computer games, may differ substantially from what we Americans mean.

I just wrote the following on Warlick's blog...

You might wish to investigate what the UK considers computer games. As it’s been said, the UK and Australia have long used games in their teaching even if those games (and their formats) would be completely alien to Americans. I don’t suspect that “off the shelf” means Grand Theft Auto or even Math Blaster.

Another old colleague of mine, Mike Matson, had a company, 4Mation, in the U.K. that created graphic adventure games for children. (read about him and his work here. Two of his most famous titles were Granny’s Garden and Flowers of Crystal.

We’ve had graphic adventures in the United States, but they never took off in classrooms. On the otherhand, Matson’s masterpieces sold LIKE CRAZY and were used widely in Commonwealth Countries. I hardly ever visited an Australian or New Zealand school without seeing or hearing about one of Mike's adventure games being used. They weren't simulations as much as they were digital literature.

There are two important facts worthy of your attention:

1) Kids didn’t just play these graphic adventures on the one computer in the back of the classroom. Teachers used them as a catalyst for storytelling, map building and countless interdisciplinary projects. These games were the basis for long complex thematic units. Walls were covered with art and student writing related to the “game.” Classrooms became fantasy lands where students could imagine being inside the world of the computer games.

I fear that few American educators would find the educational benefit in such fantastical sustained classroom excursions. I could imagine such activities being dismissed as fanciful or frivolous.

2) American software publishers could not and would not understand the success of 4Mation’s products. My colleague Sylvia Martinez can tell you about the stunned looks of disbelief on the faces of her colleagues at America’s most popular educational software company (mid-90s) when she brought Mike Matson in to discuss the possibility of working together.

However kids and enlightened imaginative teachers (unmolested by NCLB) recognized the magic.

4Mation is still in business. I believe that Matson has moved on, but the company’s web site features drill and practice titles. Perhaps that’s the American influence on Britain.

Additional Resources

MicroWorlds EX, my favorite software environment in which kids can make their own games and learn what the adult software developers have been keeping for themselves.

Scratch is worth looking at as well. It's not nearly as rich as MicroWorlds EX, but it has many fine qualities. (I'll write an in-depth article about
Scratch soon)

Sylvia Martinez has forgotten more about game design, gaming and the commercial tensions involved in game development than most people will ever know. Sylvia holds a Masters degree in educational technology, was an aerospace engineer, Executive Producer at Davidson and Associates and Knowledge Adventure, created and was VP of a game development company that created platform games for the Gameboy, Playstation and Xbox.

Sylvia has written some terrific articles about why its not that simple to place your faith in educational games as a vehicle for educational progress.

Here are a few articles by Ms. Martinez, President of Generation YES...


Discussion of above article

Game-making with students - resources & rationale from Australia

Game design as an educational activity

Games and learning

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That Damn YouTube!

For a decade, new Masters and Doctoral students in educational technology at Pepperdine University have experienced a "learning adventure" I created. Groups of relative strangers with diverse backgrounds, expertise and talents randomly draw a complex robotics challenge out of a hat. They then must design a robot to solve the problem on their sheet, program it in Logo and reflect on the learning experience.

The strength of this "learning adventure" lies in the following elements:
• The improvisational quality of the LEGO materials with which a bug causes you to reflect on your thinking, attempt new strategies and make adjustments while success inspires you to test a larger theory or expand on your invention.

• The activity creates a "level playing field" where despite differences in expertise, few adults are LEGO robotics champions.

• The activity is wildly interdisciplinary.

• The activity requires students to engage in math, science, engineering and computer science in a playful context.

• This is no mere "team building" activity. Collaboration is natural within the context of learning and constructing something of common value.

• Members of the community may learn from one another and achieve great results even when multiple projects are underway. In other words, it is NOT necessary for every student to be engaged in exactly the same task for the capacity of the community to grow.

• Students' eyes are opened to the larger potential of computers as intellectual laboratory and vehicles for self-expression.

For several years, students were required to videotape key moments of the invention process, edit the video and include it, along with a reflective journal of their learning process on the web. In other words, mid-career professionals could learn to engineer a robot, program it, shoot video, edit video, upload it to the web and create a web site complete with a reflective narrative, digital photographs and video clips - all in approximately 10 contact hours WITHOUT BEING TAUGHT.

How could that be? It's taken some schools 25 years to get teachers to check their email.

I'm developing a pedagogical theory to describe my work with children and adults in contexts like the robotics challenge. I call it, "A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words."

That means that with:

1) A good challenge (ideally self-selected but in this case provided at random in the interest of time)

2) Substantial materials (not only bountiful in quantity, but possessing the quality of "objects-to-think-with)

3) Sufficient time (Stay up all night if necessary. Work again tomorrow...)

4) A supportive culture free of coercion, sorting, labeling and judging

It is possible to solve problems and do work of higher caliber or level of sophistication than you might otherwise have thought possible.

Every single person who has ever worked with me in such a context has collaborated to solve the problems in a way they can be proud of. That goes for five year-olds and 50 year-old doctoral students.

That Damn YouTube
I am reluctant to share examples of past student projects with current students for any number of reasons. Some students freak out and are overwhelmed. Some think the task is beneath them. Others might take steps to seek a competitive advantage and worst of all, "finished" projects from the past imply a correct answer or strategy. This limits creativity, divergent thinking and reduces the learning benefits of the activity.

I led a group of new Pepperdine doctoral students through the random robotics challenge today and something new occurred. Student teams had been given their randomly-chosen prompts (challenges) a few days ago so they could start thinking about execution strategies. During that time, a number of students searched YouTube for finished examples of such LEGO robotics projects. Remarkably, such video clips exist. This (mis)led several teams into thinking that they had "the correct answer" and may have dimished the richness of the learning adventure.

I don not consider this cheating. I encourage students to use any resources that help them learn. My world is open-book. They may just be cheating themselves.

Just because one solution is on YouTube hardly means that it's the best solution, but school conditions us to get done quickly and have THE right answer.

The Good News

This class of mid-career professional students solved complex robotics engineering and programming projects in just a few hours with no direct instruction. I didn't use a white board, black board or projector once. I did a 5-minute intro to the materials, answered questions, collaborated in brainstorming sessions on a team-by-team basis and suggested they ask other teams for assistance once those teams learned to solve similar problems.

One team even used YouTube in a personally meaningful way. They published a video of their magnificent invention. I just hope that the next class that comes along doesn't think that their solution is THE right answer!

My collection of LEGO challenges
Useful LEGO robotics reference materials
A small selection of videoclips from past student projects
A paper in which I explain the theory behind "learning adventures" and how I teach online - Towards a Pedagogy of Online Constructionist Learning

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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

What are the rules of engagement in the world of Web 2.0?

Joel Stein wrote a hilarious and provocative op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times. It raises important issues regarding the nature of creator and audience in the Read/Write World.

This is a must read...

Have something to say? I don't care
Don't bother sending anything to that e-mail address below -- because I don't care.

Here is an excerpt from this timeless piece of satire...

Here's what my Internet-fearing editors have failed to understand: I don't want to talk to you; I want to talk at you. A column is not my attempt to engage in a conversation with you. I have more than enough people to converse with. And I don't listen to them either. That sound on the phone, Mom, is me typing.

Some newspapers even list the phone numbers of their reporters at the end of their articles. That's a smart use of their employees' time. Why not just save a step and have them set up a folding table at a senior citizen center with a sign asking for complaints?

Where does this end? Does Philip Roth have to put his e-mail at the end of his book? Does Tom Hanks have to hold up a sign with his e-mail at the end of his movie? Should your hotel housekeeper leave her e-mail on your sheets? Are you starting to see how creepy this is?

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