Saturday, June 28

Just Ramblin, No 6: Technology and K12 Education

I'm at a conference of which the focus is technology and education. The meeting I'm sitting in right now is fascinating; the day has been fascinating. So many great folks doing really great things with incredible work, passion, and ideas. Makes me almost wish I was back in the classroom full-time, faculty meetings and all, to try to implement some of this. But that's not why I write.

A colleague of mine and I had been talking recently about professional development and it seems to be that far too many classroom teachers have been conditioned to believe that professional development is something to be endured. And that if they happen to learn something, it's somehow a bonus. I've heard people talk about "forced professional development" and that's a term that makes me nauseous. And yet, it's true. Too often PD is something that is foisted on teachers so everyone can check the box that they've "done" their professional development.

I suppose it's disingenuous to suggest that those PD experiences should actually help teachers development in their profession. But somehow we've all made it much harder for teachers to experience a half-day, full-day, or extended PD experience that seems to be of any value. Or that's what they think? Or those are the folks who are complaining about PD?

I'm not sure I have a direction for this except that I've taken this to heart: a lot of what I do can be classified as professional development. It saddens me that there are teachers, administrators, leaders, and PD providers who believe that K-12 classroom teachers simply go through the motion, again, to check the PD box. But if this idea is pervasive, is it truer than we think? Or have we conditioned teachers, administrators, leaders, and PD providers to think PD is an experiened to be endured rather than a learning experience to be enjoyed, even savored, because it gives teachers the opportunity to continue to learn and improve their practice. And maybe, just maybe, they can recapture the joy and passion for teaching.

Monday, June 23

Just Ramblin, No 5: George Carlin, Iowa,

George Carlin. Like many others who grew up listening to his irreverent humor, I mourn the passing of a man with a lightning quick sense of humor who also gave us his own personal commentary on just about everything including the more mundane occurrences in life. And he didn't care if anyone agreed with him. He did his thing; you listened, or not.

Iowa. There have been many stories about flood damage in the Midwest, especially in the local papers, and the response of most of the population. I was surprised when Al Roker made mention of Midwestern resilience when he was on with Jay Leno the other night. There seems to be a "get 'er done" sensibility among most folks who are trying to find any semblance of normalcy in their lives turned topsy-turvy by the floods and tornadoes. So I was dismayed by an article by David Griesing who seemed to take the comment of two individuals and make it a manifesto of Iowans about national fundraising, about national compassion, and about, of all things, race. When I taught writing, I warned my students against generalizations. I told them to be sure to support any statement with some sort of evidence. If I were grading Mr. Griesing's paper, I would tell him that he is guilty of a logical fallacy in that he is trying to build an argument on what appears to be the statements of two individuals. At the same time, he is seemingly accusing those two individuals of feelings and perspectives that may not be theirs. He has taken one particular quote and situated without context but in a way that seems intended to create controversy. I find that kind of reporting repugnant and irresponsible. I'm disappointed in Mr. Griesing's editor who apparently think this kind of writing constitutes actual reporting.

Wednesday, June 18

Just Ramblin, No 4: Basketball and Vespa

In what promised to be a really amazing fight to the finish, the Lakers went out with a whimper. The Celtics dominated them from the beginning, subdued, overwhelmed them, just flat out outplayed them. It had to have been rockin' in the Garden, the air charged with energy, excitment, and delirium of the win, but it was painful to watch. But that win is a testimony to the heart and passion of that team, and especially to Kevin Garnett. You might want to check out Adrian Wojnarowski's article on Garnett.

It's scooter time
I bought a Vespa GTS 250 last year. Loved riding it. Today was the first day I was able to ride it to work. I've taken it out to run errands a few times since we started closing in on something like spring or summer, but with so much rain and/or unpredictable weather, and not being that experienced a rider, I decided to wait for the inaugural work ride when I knew I'd have clear weather all day long. It was in the mid 60s when I left the house this morning; one of those clear, bright blue sky days. Perfect. Of course, if I could be putting a few miles on my road bike on a day like today, that would be even better. But there is this work thing. Ah well, to glorious days and the privilege to enjoy them!

Tuesday, June 17

Just Ramblin, No 3: Romanian politics, Chicago politics, online education

Politics of change?
I love this story. As reported by Reuters, the residents of a Romanian deliberately chose to re-elect a dead man rather than vote for his opponent for what seems like a sort of mayoral election. The gentleman who was elected posthumously had been in charge for about 20 years and died just after voting began, which explains why he was on the ballot at all. One of the voters was quote as saying, "I know he died, but I don't want change."

Clearly the now-deceased Neculai Ivascu was a good leader, good enough that the village wanted to maintain the status quo. Tough mandate for his opposition, Gheorghe Dobrescu, who was awarded the position because he is, well, alive. There is no word about the Dobrescu's platform or position, but this is a message from the people he doesn't want to ignore.

You talking to me?
Meanwhile in Palatine, IL, there was a rather contentious meeting last night when Cook County President Todd Stroger deigned to show up. He'd been invited to an earlier meeting held by the northwest suburbs, but canceled at the last minute and made some comment about being scared and confused when driving all the way out to Palatine. There have been rumblings of secession from Cook County for a while (there was talk in the 1970s about creating a new Lincoln County, but the volume has been turned up with the latest tax hike.

Stroger has been under fire since he assumed the mantel of Cook County Board President from his then ailing father. He has been accused of nepotism and corruption as well as ineptitude, but no one seems to do much more than whine and complain. However, he may be pushing the limit of what people are willing to take, especially given the economic climate.

The northwest suburbs have a healthy tax base and it is not as though the local governments are unaware of services provided by the county. I can't imagine they haven't already begun to investigate how they would provide county services if they were no longer a part of Cook County. So Mr. Stroger's comments about how local governments are unaware were disingenuous at best.

Now I didn't go to the meeting itself, but I did see quite a bit of the video and what struck me was Mr. Stroger's demeanor. As angry taxpayers are telling him they don't trust him and the government, he is giving pithy responses that people don't trust politicians--no attempt whatsoever to create a bridge. More significant to me was the smirk on his face. What he said and did simply punctuated that smirk--he was completely dismissive in his comments about the taxpayers' concerns, about business owners concerns about people going across the county line to Lake County to shop and do business, etc.

Most of the villages and towns don't use as many of the Cook County services as Mr. Stroger might think they do. Villages are responsible for plowing and maintaining their own streets, most of them have their departments for police, fire, animal control, and health. Most people in the suburbs are not served by the county hospitals. It was clear that most suburban residents of Cook County believe that the board serves the residents of Chicago and doesn't much care about the suburbs. Mr. Stroger did nothing to dispel that impression when he met with suburban government officials and residents. If anything, he may have further impelled them to find ways to secede. And the suburbs may be only a referendum away from that very act of rebellion.

Educators can be really dumb
The typical college class meets for about 50 minutes if it on that traditional Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. Classes can meet longer for alternative schedules, of course, but let's work with that 50-minute time frame.

Over the past decade or so, educators have been talking a lot about active learning, cooperative learning, engaging learners, constructivism, but apparently mostly for the K-12 students. For some reason, college professors seem to think that they can talk for 50 minutes and retain the riveted attention of their students. Not really and probably not ever.

There was a recent story in the Chronicle about a popular lecturer who decided to videotape his lectures. He was surprised to learn that his 50-minute talks were not as interesting online as they were in person. Duh. The fact is that his persona in front of a camera in a studio is not at all like that of his presence when he lectures in person to his students. There's no audience interplay and I'm going to guess he doesn't lecture, non-stop, for the full 50 minutes.

Now there is the rise of the mini-lecture so instructors are videotaping shorter segments, possibly including PowerPoint slides to break up the monotony of the talking head. Okay, so let's think about movies for a minute. People will plunk down a chunk of change to sit in a theater for a couple of hours, but there is more than one person talking and there is likely to be action. Even in a Merchant Ivory film there is action. Not blowing-things-up-saving-the-world action, but more than watching some guy talk to a camera.

I've been working in the online education space for a long time and it comes as no surprise to me that students are bored out of their skulls having to watch some guy yammer on about something. You know they stopped listening about 10 minutes into the segment because they are doing something else on their computers. So here's the deal, give them something else to look at--demonstrations, pictures, video clips of what you're talking about, even the dreaded PowerPoint slide--and have your lecture as a voiceover, like a documentary. That way they are more engaged and on multiple levels.

Marian C. Diamond teaches anatomy and neuroscience at the University of California at Berkeley and worries that shorter presentations might also be simplifying the material. But it's not about simplifying the lecture to make it less daunting. It's about helping students make connections and seeing the relevance.

I'm going to guess that Dr. Diamond has students asking for longer classes, not longer lectures. And I'm going to guess the reason for that is they recognize and see her passion when she teaches and I'm going to guess she does way more than stand behind a podium and yammer about her subject matter.

This isn't rocket science. This is a call for good pedagogy and helping college professors, who know their content but so often don't really know what makes good teaching, become better teachers rather than better lecturers.

Wednesday, June 11

Just Ramblin, No 2: Big Oil and Congress

So Congress is after Big Oil. Again. Congress has been after Big Oil for a while and hasn't been able to implement much change. Apparently Big Oil is responsible for rising gas prices, rising food prices, and probably has something to do with my split ends, too.

I don't disagree that Big Oil is making scandalous profits. And I think big companies should be required to pay taxes and should not be gifted with all sorts of tax incentives (translation: reason not to pay taxes) for any variety of reasons. I understood why Chicago gave Boeing lots of tax incentives to move to Chicago--the company brought people and jobs and somehow all of that will magically offset the absence of taxes that help pay for public services and schools. Of course, it hasn't, but that's a different story. So I think that in a democratic society that relies on taxes to pay its bills, corporate citizens should pay their bills, too. But I'm also in favor of a flat tax.

I wanted to write to each and every member of the Congress about going after Big Oil. Sure, go after Big Oil. Make sure that corporations don't gouge the public citizenry. But don't do it for the spectacle because you think that will somehow satisfy the apparently ignorant public. Keep in mind there are a lot of other factors; it's never that simple. Especially in a convoluted economy like ours.

For example, why not put some actual controls on the stock market and the banking industry? I mean, our economy seems to be driven more by the speculation that occurs on Wall Street that just about anything else. I was appalled when I heard a report that the stock market was opening flat the other day because Wall Street "bet" that Bernake would report something different. Bet? As in gambled with the US and world economies? Really? Is that such a good idea?

I know we have all sorts of technological whizbang gizmos to help people make decisions, but it's people making decisions about investments and people speculating on investments. And didn't speculation contribute to the Crash of 1929? Are we really okay with other people--who don't really have the best interests of anyone but themselves at heart--betting with our money, with our economy? Quite frankly, I'm not.

So members of Congress: if you're going to go after anyone about the state of the economy, take a look at Wall Street. And as you are doing that, make sure those lobbyists and special interest contributors aren't shoving coin in your pockets. I know you like to call those "contributions," but any time anyone makes a contribution and then expects something in return for it, it's no longer a "contribution." If there are expectations tied to it, some belief that you will do something to favor the contributor in return for the contribution, that's a "bribe" or a "payoff." And because most of your constituents can't afford to make large "contributions" and can't afford to have a "spokesperson" (translation: highly paid lobbyist representing a particular organization or a particular sector of the economy), your constituents just hope you remember to represent them as well as try to represent the best interests of the country. Of course, if you're more politician than public servant, your constituents will be waiting a long time.

Monday, June 9

Just Ramblin, No 1: General Miscellany

Bush-whacked. I learned on the news this morning that Bush had launched his farewell tour. President Bush is going to try to solidy relationships with the countries he visits, press for more support in Afghanistan, and insist that Iran is a problem. You know, Iran might very well be a problem because of its uranium enrichment. But who in the world is going to listen to President Bush express concern about the dangers of Iran given the debacle of our handling of Iraq. We may never know the real story about the intelligence we did or didn't have and how decisions were made, but in the aftermath of Iraq, I fear it will be a long while--and not just 7 months because the new president will have to prove himself--before the Americans have much credibility about potential threats in certain areas.

Marriage notes.
I also learned this morning--it was an exhausting drive to work today--that living together is becoming increasingly acceptable as an alternative to marriage. Apparently the US is the most marrying country of those studied in the the National Marriage Project. So here's a weird point: for a nation that's supposed to be as advanced as we are, we are amazingly behind in many things, but is that good or bad? I'll think on that for a bit, but my point about the whole marriage thing is that the timing is no small irony. Just earlier this month the California Supreme Court determined there should be no barrier to same-sex marriage. Gay couples who have lived together for years, some for a decade or two, can now--at least until November--marry legally effective June 16.

Just after the California Supreme Court made its ruling, a measure was certified for the November election that would allow voters to define marriage as a heterosexual activity only. Except the heteros don't seem to be so keen on marriage any more. So you know the arguments are going to be drawn along religious lines and this is just going to get uglier than it has been.

That reminds me that I've just started reading Dan Merchant's Lord, Save Us from Your Followers: Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing America? Like Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis, the author dares to ask questions that will undoubtedly tick off a lot of so-called evangelicals. As an evangelical I'd like to say this to the ticked off evangelicals: Good. Be ticked off, but stop simply reacting and think about what you're saying and what you're doing. But more on that later.

Witnessing his/herstory, Part I

Earlier this month, the United States witnessed what some thought would never happen: a black man as candidate for the country's highest office. I have a colleague who thought white America would never vote for Barack Obama. He's an intelligent, well-traveled African American man who firmly believed that white America talks a good game but doesn't walk the talk. I don't think he realized how polarized the country might be in its view of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I'm fascintated by political pundits. They will flip-flop on their prognostications faster than you can say "flip flop." I'm sure they call it "redefining their positions" or "shifting their paradigms based on more complete information," but it's flip-flopping all the same. You know, the same thing politicians do on occasion and for which the pundits have no tolerance and for which they have unlimited scathing commentary.

Anyway, Hillary has given what may have been the best speech of her campain in her concession on Saturday. I've read many a commentary by folks who also see that speech as one of her best and wonder why in the world she didn't campaign with that sort of rhetoric. She will undoubtedly spend a lot of time reviewing ther campaign strategies--what worked and what failed miserably. My guess is that any woman who chooses to campaign for president in Hillary's wake will have learned a lot from Obama's approach and from hers. There are some who say she tried too hard to be gender neutral or not be too female. I have to shake my head at that, but I understand what they're saying. For some reason this country is not yet ready for a woman is both a leader and a woman. It seems to make some people (read "men") edgy. But if they really stopped to think about it, and thought about the strong women they know, they'd realize how ridiculous they're being.

But thanks to Hillary Rodham Clinton and all of the other women who perservere in public and private service, seeking office as mayor, governor, senator, CFO, CEO, and other key positions of leadership, perhaps the path to those positions got a little easier to navigate.

One of the best lines from Hillary Clinton's speech is this one "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it." Of course, you have to wade through a lot of blah blah blah politicospeak to get to it, but it's there. The next best lines are these: "So I want to say to my supporters, when you hear people saying - or think to yourself - 'if only' or 'what if,' I say, 'please don't go there.' Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward. Life is too short, time is too precious, and the stakes are too high to dwell on what might have been."

On the other hand, perhaps because of Hillary Rodham Clinton, some will be more reluctant to vote for a woman in the future. They will remember too many campaign fiascos as she worked so very hard, so very desperately to become the candidate for president. Perhaps they will remember her husband's occasional campaign faux pas. On the other hand, perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton will serve as a sort of guideline for the kind of woman this country does or does not want in the White House.

I've made no secret of my distaste for Bill Clinton and the nausea I felt whenever I contemplated him remotely close to the White House again. And though I wouldn't mind seeing a woman in the White House, not that woman--not Hillary Rodham Clinton and for a very long list of reasons that suggest to me I would most definitely not want her picking up the phone at 3 a.m. to respond to a crisis.

I do hope the fact that she campaigned will in fact encourage other women to go into politics, though I think the endless political posturing is one of the reasons women become part of organizations that simply do rather than talk about doing. But perhaps if more women were elected to political offices we could also change the way we do politics and perhaps we would eventually have governments--local, state, and federal--that really do the work of the governments rather than assign blame when there's a scandal or talk about governing rather than actually govern.

But I have to say that I don't think political change is the sole purview of women. Obama has talked a lot about change and I know there are many who wonder what he really means by that and how much change he might really be able to introduce. I think there are plenty of idealistic men and women who enter politics with the hope and expectation of making a difference, of instituting real change that improve peoples' lives. And I think there are far too many of those idealistic men and women who become disillusioned when they are told that's simply not the way things are done.

Well, if we get enough folks in positions who are not willing to accept the status quo, and who remember the reasons people voted for them rather than the people who made large political bribes, er, contributions to their campaigns, then maybe, just maybe we'll begin to see some real political change that returns some dignity to this country. Ah well, it doesn't hurt to dream.

Thursday, June 5

History in the making: 2008

It looks as though the United States has made some serious history with Barack Obama as the likely candidate of the Democratic party. Quite honestly, given the messy state of racial tension in this country, I think it far better to have a black man as the candidate than a white woman. Sure, women can and will argue that we have a long way to go for any kind of equity in industry, in politics, in just about anything. But the fact is that people of color have a longer way to go because the US still hasn't gotten to the point of being blind to the color of a person's skin, deaf to an individual's accent, and unfazed by a person's ethnicitiy or religious or sexual propensities.

I've been giving all of this a lot of thought and realize that the more I think about various issues of color, accent, ethnicity, religious, sexual preference, the more complicated it becomes. I'd like it to be simple, but I know we can't make it simple. There are too many variables and considerations, and it certainly doesn't help that communities within communities can't agree. I mean, how many variations of Republicans and Democrats are there these days?

I'm sure there was a time when someone could say "Democrat" or "Republican" and everyone knew what that meant. The party position, the platform, everything was clear. Today there are Democrats along the political continuum--liberal, moderate, and conservative Democrats, and lots of spots in between, I'm sure. Then there are social Democrats who are fiscal Republicans. It's the same with the Republicans and maybe even worse. I'm also amused by the "Reagan Republican" phrase, and only partially because I don't quite know what that means.

So I laugh right out loud when I hear Clinton and Obama talk about party unity. There were Clinton supporters howling about Obama and how they would never vote for him. Well, never is a very long time and might come sooner for some than for others. Some of the exit polls have indicated that a percentage of voters won't bother to vote in November 2008, which isn't a news flash. But this doesn't seem to be about typical voter apathy. That disinclination to vote seems more about a complete and utter dissatisfaction with either of the parties, perhaps a confusion about what either of them seems to stand for any more. In other words, gathering the party faithful or even somewhat inclined is going to be hard because too many who might call themselves "Democrat" or "Republican" seem disenfranchised.

So as fractured as both major parties are right now, seriously, good luck with that party unity thing.

Sunday, June 1

Of politics and pundits

Like many Americans, I am weary of this election and there are months of pontification and punditry yet to endure. I think we should all get some special award for surviving this election.

Hillary Clinton. It's hard to discuss this election without discussing Mrs. Clinton. I read a marvelous editorial in Saturday's Chicago Tribune. I want to send the writer a thank you note. She is in her early 50s as am I. Like me, she wants to see a woman in the White House. Like me, she does not think that Hillary is that woman and gave a marvelous list of reasons. Unlike me, she does not seem to be concerned that with Hillary comes Bill; she seems less concerned about having him pursue his own affairs of his own state. Like me, she does want the first woman in the White House to be one who has pursued her own path and can claim her own achievements, one who is considerably less controversial and considerably less strident. The woman I want to see in the White House will be less nakedly desperate about her own ambition, less about manipulation and political machinations, and considerably more about restoration of this country to what has made it great and can make it great again.

Political "contributions". There have been a lot of conversations about limiting political contributions and there are even laws in place. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (
States commonly place limits on contributions to candidates from various sources, and also on contributions to political action committees (PACs) and political parties. Just five states - Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Virginia - place no limits on contributions at all. Another eight states - Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas - have minimal contribution limits. Missouri prohibits monetary contributions to candidates by political parties (in-kind contributions are permitted), and the remainder of these states limit contributions by corporations and/or unions. Contributions to candidates from all other sources is unlimited in these eight states.

The state in which I now live, Illinois, is one of those with no limits. Our fine legislators may have just given themselves another extravagant pay raise and apparently passed a budget that may or may not be balanced and then skedaddled to leave the mess in the governor's hand, which is fine because he is quite familiar with political mess though generally those of his own making. Anyway, I'd just like to point out that when there are no limits on so-called contributions, other people call them bribes.

I am appalled that Illinois politics remains such a game to most. That far too many politicians in Chicago and in this state seem to think that because Illinois is known for political corruption, it simply cannot be helped. That's the way things are done.

This may be a novel thought for most Illinois politicians, but try this on for size: govern as you would like to be governed. One day you will not be in a position of power; like the former Governor Ryan, you might as deservedly be in jail. What goes around always comes around, and often when you least expect it.