Saturday, November 24, 2012

Late Night w Barack #2

More of Barack...meeting Simon Letgo at the Late Night Studio
Let's listen in...

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Dilemma of Our Own

In the old b/w 1930's Frankenstein movie with Boris Karloff as Frankenstein there is a scene in which Frank, already activated, is wandering the countryside.  At one point in his travels he comes upon an old blind man who plays the violin in his quiet little cottage.  When Frank is attracted by the music wafting through the window, the blind man, who is terribly alone, hears a rustling outdoors.  He calls out, "friend, friend?"   This somehow seems to resonant with me as I look at the post-election landscape.
Okay, so Barack is elected and really, it is so much better than waking up to find R/R and the WMZG heading to the Whiter House.  But now we need to be a little more clear-headed and put the real issues surrounding public education  into the forefront of discussion.  The assault on public schools in the name of the Rhee-form movement has by no means diminished.  Oh, if R/R had won then the issues of unionization, evaluation, merit pay, charter schools and the on-going teacher demonizing would have been clearly on the table.  But with Barack in charge we need to step back and really examine the policies being promoted.  We want to believe that the Democratic Party and the UFT/AFT share the commitment to the ideas and principles that support the teachers in their day-to-day engagement with the country's most valuable resource.  I think most of the teachers were in agreement with the union endorsement; most; but not all.  I mean on the surface, it looks like support and perhaps, for most members, that appearance is sufficient.  However, if you have reason to call upon your trusted union for a policy issue  like the status of ATR members, then you would begin to see that "all is not what it appears to be" at home. Is the same true for the White House, even with a Democratic president? Well, with Arne Duncan we are getting the same wrong-headed policies and it is not easy convincing non-teachers what is wrong with the RTTT.
 If the issues at hand were as clear as you would find in some other unions, I imagine productivity on an assembly line or the evaluation of the end product would all be pretty much clear-cut.  A widget is a widget is a widget. But teachers and the teacher's union are totally different.  I can't think of another endeavor where the dictum "the means is the end" is more appropriate.  Complicate this a little further: consider that the developmental trajectory of twelve-year old kids is somewhat universal though the expression of that development is individually moderated by the influencing culture. This is the teacher's "assembly line" and these are the "widgets".  The anti-union sentiment is loud once you step out of the teachers' blogosphere.   And this is no big surprise.  How many people outside of the teachers union would really understand the implications of such as simple a poster as seen during the Chicago Strike --" your child's school environment is our working environment".   Does Arne Duncan even understand this simple message?  If you deprive a struggling school of funds as some form of punishment, and design a system that self-destructs it kind of becomes apparent that an agenda is at work.  When the people who are most directly involved in the education of children are left out of the policy and direction of PUBLIC education then again, an agenda is at work.  When the terms and source of systemic failure is made into a political issue, the vilification of the weaker is on page two of the agenda.  Friend, friend?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tech, tock, tech, tock

Lately, there have been a growing number of articles on the role of technology in the classroom and many seem to pose the question whether today's students are wired differently and/or can you possibly reach digital natives with obsolete tools?   By obsolete tools I mean textbooks, and I  am really not trying to start an argument.  I am, personally, a bibliophile but I teach a computer class to 6th and 7th graders, and I can see what engages them and how they interact with the given tool of their time (think Kubrick's 2001).  The shift has already begun and much the way the printed word replaced pictorial representation as the vehicle to transmit knowledge, so will the digital world's entertainment arm be equipped to be the repository/dispenser of knowledge.  When I send my students to a site that displays a virtual animal cell, I find their engagement self-propelled, their learning self-directed, and their wonder genuine.  That is not to say that they can just be pointed to a site and let the site do the work.  Hey, ya still gotta teach.  But I am pretty sure that if you have one table of kids fulfilling an assignment, each reading separately from a textbook (the tool provided)  and another table with a computer (tool provided) displaying the subject of study in a 'virtual environment', the ohhs and ahhs coming from table two should make you at least take notice.  This is the world we are in and you cannot turn back the clock on technology.  The only real option is to use it and to use it smartly.  Don't you think the day of the poster-board display of the Harlem Renaissance is a bit dated, especially when your students know you can create a Glog and you can design a multimedia poster of the historical period including soundtracks, videos, interviews and so on.  These are the tools of the project. But you cannot stop there, as much as your students may like you to.  It's only the beginning since you want your students to not only THINK about  what they read, but also what they heard and saw.  This opens the door to learners who are not strong readers.  I personally make the students write about the influence of the Harlem Renaissance on the Civil Rights Movement. But the options are plentiful if we only take the time to find the free resources and make them  relevant to the students' interest, and connected to the school's curriculum.  Do the students learn any more about the Harlem Renaissance by  researching and listening to the music of the period than by reading about the music? Do they get to "feel the culture" by watching videos of the famed Cotton Club instead of reading about it? I contend that they do, and I don't think I need a "study" to verify.  Yet (to digress a moment),  I am explicitly told not to ever let the students listen to music...ever. Do not use the built-in features of our school's new computers --no camera, no recording, and again, no music! Brilliant I say, what a decree worthy of the Taliban. I don't believe I even have to address how inane that decree is. I think that if we keep in mind that the new technology is a tool and not a substitute for actual instruction, then the focus on the role of technology in the classroom remains clear. And who do you think is the caveman now?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

El Bronx

The New Bronx Beach
Vacation in the Bx. Tropics

Fun with Photoshop. Teachers report to your empty school tomorrow and please bring your own mop.