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The Critical Friend Views & news on learning
Innaugural Issue - Back to School 2005

The Critical Friend is a new online newsletter for 21st Century educators published free-of-charge by Gary Stager. It offers unique perspectives on important educational issues, debunks hype and confronts special interests all with a sense of humor. This newsletter analyzes trends and challenges the status quo. Thoughtful educators, parents and decision- makers will be inspired to rethink their educational beliefs and practices. The Critical Friend will blow the whistle on superficial education journalism and attempts to put the latest “crisis du jour” into perspective.

In this issue
  • Around the World Once or Twice
  • Kozol's New Book is a Must Read!
  • A Somber Back-to-School
  • What I'm Reading
  • You Can't Make This Stuff Up!
  • Gary's Upcoming Workshops and Conference Presentations

  • Kozol's New Book is a Must Read!

    The only thing that brings me more joy than reading Jonathan Kozol's powerful writing is having the privilege of knowing him. For the past few months I have checked Google and Amazon to find out when his next book would be out. Well, I don't have to wait any longer. The book was released September 13th and it is a must read for any American concerned about children in our nation's public schools. Kozol gives voice to the most vulnerable in our society and is a fabulous author.

    A Somber Back-to-School

    This year's Back-to-School excitement is tempered by the horrible tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina. While there is hardly any good to be found amidst the death and destruction, the aftermath could create opportunities for the children of the Gulf region. Rushing to merely rebuild the schools lost to Katrina would compound the tragedy. This bandaid approach will do little to help children in the long-run because it reinforces the poverty of their lives. The three hardest hit states have had failing schools long before the Federal government made failing schools "cool."

    What I'm Reading

    MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld follows his terrific book When Things Start to Think with Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop - From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication. Fab imagines a future in which you will be able to email a bicycle, but supports what sound like wacky predictions with stories from Gershenfeld's course, "How to Make (almost) Anything," and Fablabs around the world that use personal fabrication technology to create the technologies that improve lives in their communities.

    I recently re-read Seymour Papert's seminal book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, and was blown away by the profound ideas within. If you never read Mindstorms, or haven't read it in a while, you should so immediately.

    The fearless Alfie Kohn has published three stunning new articles worthy of your attention. Fortunately they are all available on the web.

    Alfie Kohn's new book, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason, offers terrific advice!

    You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

    It's good to know that FEMA prepared for Katrina and Rita by creating a web site complete with idiotic pictures to color, disaster trivia quizzes and a FEMA rap you must hear to believe.

    PBS airs a new Hedrick Smith documentary, Making Schools Work, this October. However, the schools featured are joyless test preparation factories where poor children are drilled, threatened and led in chants of meaningless slogans. Work (the verb) is apparently defined as temporary increases in standardized test scores. The "experts" featured in the program are the usual suspects who prescribe schools for poor children that they would not impose on their own children. Shame on PBS!

    At the intersection of public relations and compassion, a New Orleans private school tells parents that they must continue to pay tuition after Hurricane Katrina even if they are homeless and the school remains closed. Read the article.

    How do you follow-up your refusal to repay $2 billion "borrowed" from the public schools of your state? Governor Schwarzenegger is attacking tenure in a futile & expensive ballot initiative and launched a web site where the public was encouraged to bash teachers. Read more here & here.

    Gary's Upcoming Workshops and Conference Presentations

    It's another busy fall on the road. I hope to see some of you at the following events.

    I'm a guest speaker and closing keynote at the 2005 eLearning Symposium in Rochester, NY on October 13-14. I will be making the following presentations:

    • Can I See Your Class? An Alternative View of eLearning
    • Podcasting for Educators: A Mobile Audience for Your Students

    The National School Board Association runs my favorite annual technology conference, in Denver, October 26-28. I will be making the following presentations in the Thornburg Center's dedicated room, plus participate in a special panel discussion. Neil Gershenfeld, author of Fab, is one of the keynote speakers. Hope to see you in Denver!

    • Beyond 1:1 Computing – An Expert Perspective on What Students Might Do
    • A Joyful Noise – Digital Audio Across the Curriculum
    • The Thornburg Center Mathematics Project – The Need to Reinvent School Math (new session)

    I'm a featured speaker in Kentucky at the Independent Schools Association of the Central States Annual Conference in Louisville, KY, November 3 & 4.

    • Nurturing Munchkin Mozarts, Monets and Michelangelo
    • Digital Reggio: Reinventing Elementary Education for the 21st Century
    • Making Mathematics with Computers
    • The Case for Computing

    I will also be speaking at the Second Annual 1:1 for All Symposium in Irving, Texas, November 11 & 12.

    I will be working with schools in the Victoria, Australia Department of Education in late November/early December.

    Around the World Once or Twice

    Wow! What a summer!

    My summer began with an Improvisational Robotics Workshop, followed by a paper session and town-hall discussion with ISTE CEO, Don Knezek at the National Educational Computing Conference in Philadelphia.

    From there I flew to South Africa to present two papers and a workshop at the World Conference on Computers in Education. I've been privileged to present at the last four of these conferences held every five years. We visited Soweto, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years) before heading to Botswana for two amazing safaris in the Okavango Delta and along the Chobe River. From there we went to Victoria Falls in Zambia before heading to Paris, Cairo, Seoul and Japan - all in one action packed month. Read the article I wrote for District Administration Magazine sharing the lessons of such a trip for education here.

    The next morning I traveled to the Stanford Jazz Residency to learn about learning, immerse myself in beautiful music and tackle the trumpet after a twenty-year hiatus. Read an article about last year's experience here.

    The day after Stanford I flew cross-country to be a leader at a fabulous week-long curriculum camp run by the Cattaraugus/Allegany BOCES in upstate NY. Later in August I led a two-day staff retreat, featuring LEGO problem solving for the Willows School of Los Angeles.

    I then flew to Warsaw to be a plennary speaker at EuroLogo 2005 and share ideas with old and new friends. Poland was followed by a quick trip to Vilnius, Lithuania to take a look at the land of some of my ancestors and a even quicker visit to Kracow and Auschwitz.

    Amidst all of this I resumed teaching Learning and Technology for Pepperdine University continued writing and worked with We Learn at Home clients.

    Global thoughts (article)....
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