Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Internet Town Hall

December 8, 2008

Last Saturday, I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by www.internetforeveryone.org/. This was the first or second of a series of national meetings to gather data about internet accessibility in order to assist the government in setting a responsible, comprehensive policy for web access for everyone.

There were a bit over 100 people in a downtown hotel with an interesting demographic. 97% of the people there already had access to the web (that is how most people heard of the meeting). Most of the attendees were men, with the main ethic groups being white and African-American. This became important because as the meeting and discussions progressed, the majority opinion was that there should be a partnership between government, local communities and corporations to provide internet access to all, especially the under- served communities (rural, minority, low-income). This means two things- that the initiatives of the large telecom companies such as ATT and Verizon to control and charge for broadband access need to be held in check and monitored, but also that the communities who most need access were actually under-represented. There were several speakers and videos shown at the meeting who were interesting, but did not present anything that really added to the conversation. The exception was a 13-year old Latina girl who spoke about the problems of not having internet access, especially in relation to her studies and the lack of future opportunities that are created by this lack of access.

We broke into groups and discussed open internet, innovation, budgets and who should be responsible for development and maintenance of internet technologies, access to computers (such as the One-Laptop-Per-Child initiative. These are important conversations that need to be happening across the country, but with a more diverse set of attendees to better represent the constituents and users. We (USA) were once on top of development and usage of these technologies, but we have fallen behind Europe and Asia. Perhaps we should look out for more and better inspiration and guidance for our own policies.

One final note about the meeting. I learned that supposedly, several years ago the LADWP laid fiber optic cable throughout the city of L.A. to provide broadband internet access to everyone. But it remains dark, primarily because of the lobbies of the telecom companies and internet providers because it will cut down on their revenue. Hmmm- data and knowledge for everybody that can only assist the nation (and corporations), or continuing to keep large profits for a few while limiting our ability to provide work and opportunities for the masses. Perhaps I have missed something.

More rants on education and teaching

December 2, 2008

As I read about Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. city schools, I was impressed on a variety of levels. I am excited and happy to see someone actually taking action in school reform, especially after reading (again) about the problems besetting the L.A. city schools and the push to remove the superintendent, a well-meaning man with little or no experience at all with city schools. At first reading, Rhee comes across like the proverbial breath of fresh air, blowing across the garbage of public education. But the more that I reflected about her and her methods, the more concerned I become. I do believe that a merit based pay system is a good idea, as is removing the semi-instant tenure programs for keeping teachers in their jobs. I also believe in the need to push students to excellence. But I am concerned that her focus is only on teaching and not on educating. Teaching is important- it gives students foundations for all topics. Need to do any type of math? Well, you need to learn the multiplication table by heart. Want to write like Faulkner? Then, you need to learn grammar and punctuation. Want to draw or paint like Pollack or Picasso? Then learn to draw like a draughtsman. Basic skills are acquired through teaching, but the ability to see the spaces in between disciplines and create meaning happens through education.

I am worried that Ms. Rhee may be focusing on teaching at the expense of educating. She also downplays the importance of creativity. She says  “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.” I agree that part of the job of a teacher is to teach a child to read. But it is also important to teach the child to understand and crate connections to enable them to understand if what they are actually reading is crap (or not).

The article in Time magazine describes her as curt, direct and more able to speak with children than with adults. This last trait is incredibly important in the education process- to be able to speak with a person on their level of understanding without a condescending attitude. Yet, when affecting major change, it is also important to be able to communicate with all parties involved (often a more difficult path). In the end, I am impressed with the work that Ms. Rhee is doing- it extremely important to create actual change and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with teacher merits. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage crativity and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with merit-based salaries and new ways of defining tenure. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage creativity as an important element of a true education. The future truly requires multidisciplinary, cross-thinking and collaboration and the schools are good place to begin.