Category Archives: responsibility

Bank Failure?

As we watch the markets and bemoan our losses, I always wonder if I should feel badly or positively about the changes.  I always have this unfortunate feeling that the little guy loses and the big business wins regardless of the corrections to the market place.  I have started to read the Guardian as a feed.  It helps me see the global picture when my CBC feed doesn’t cover it.  This article by Alfred Gusenbauer gives a little hope.  Perhaps if we, citizens of capatalist democracies, can see the truth in the need to protect the weakest from ourselves, we can make a change to our structures.  Failures are learning opportunites, right?

Photo by : http://flickr.com/photos/odalaigh/2331570645/

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Children’s Culture – bias and sterotyping

Each text has a point of view and angle.  Non-fiction will take a particular stance on a subject.  Children’s literature tends to portray the world as a simple place, a happy place, a homogeneous place, a stereotypically diverse place, a place of constant obvious values and hope.  What does it mean if this is the reality that we share with children?  If all families come from clean and spacious homes, if all teenagers look like Barbie, if boys are strong and dangerous and girls are pretty and decorative?

Nodelman and Reimer suggest that in presenting children’s literature we can both use the familiar texts and biases to help to trouble these waters.  Do these characters look like you?  Do they live in a similar way?  How does that compare to what you know of the rest of society?  How true are these stories? Who is powerful and who is weak in these stories?  Are these stories good stories?  We will always have bias in text, we need to teach students and children ways of asking questions which challenge the texts they read and the media they consume.

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Childhood – appropriateness and censorship

What do we let children read? When do we let them read it? I am a regular censor of the materials I let my own child read and particularly watch on T.V. I have done this censoring deliberately to frame the world for my child in the ways I believe will make the world a better place. We don’t watch violent movies and that word ‘violent’ is fairly broadly drawn. On the other hand, I gladly read “Heather has Two Mommies” to my son and “Tango makes Three“. Within my own family, I make my own choices and develop the reading repertoire of my son, my own way. How do I take that to school?

At school, I choose books to read aloud to my students, would I choose “Heather has Two Mommies” or Tango makes Three” or for that matter later “Stitches“? I would include them in my collection if I was choosing, but would I use them in the classroom? I don’t know. I would talk to my principal first and I would analyze my reasons. I do think the same values that I hold up for my son as important are ones which would benefit my students but do I want to open that can of worms? I feel weak in my convictions and I wonder what my division would do if push came to shove. Would I be required to make an apology if I offended parents or community members? I have no idea. I have never made that kind of controversial decision.

Can kids handle it? I believe that they can. In fact, I think my son has a more open understanding now than perhaps he will as a pre-teen. In my unscientific observations, children in Kindergarten and Grade One are more open than students in Grades Three to Eight and then it seems to start to reverse again. Generalizations I know. Right now my son is willing to say that families can have a mom and a dad, a mom, a dad, two moms, two dads, or any other variation on ‘normal’. I don’t know whether that will stick or not.

There are taboos in public education and it certainly affects the literature that we use in school. Spirituality and religion are a big no-no these days. I know I tread carefully around the idea of God and different religions. Students will ask if I go to church. I will say yes. I try to deliberately expand the religious calendar to include less dominant events (in this part of Canada) such as Diwali, Ramadan, Hannukah… I am not very good at it yet. I am not sure how far down the road I can go before it offends someone.

In our neighbouring school division the taboos are different. It is a Catholic division. They have to tow the line on homosexuality, birth control, family structures… I don’t know if I would trade them. We each have to walk around our own eggshells.

Each of the school divisions have had to face some of the challenges brought on by Harry Potter. Can the children handle the books? Do we need to protect them from books with unusual content? At what point do we let the children decide and then simply discuss the content with them. These are certainly questions I will face as a parent and as a teacher. It is easier with my own kids. I am allowed my own bias with my own kids. When my son starts to want to see the films that everyone else is seeing, we will need to make that choice. I remember wanting to see Grease in 1978. I was eight, my sister was ten. The answer was NO. I saw the movie later at about 16. I confirmed their choice. It had not been appropriate for me at eight, I thought. Now I wonder. Would it have harmed me to see the values which would not and still don’t match my own?

How do you choose?  What do we prevent kids from seeing?  Do we need to?

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Feedback – the double edged sword

I got some excellent feedback today. Hurt like hell. I’m not good at receiving feedback. Lifelong battle to be perfect, I suppose. I have been pleased for the most part with the positive welcome I have received by the people in the blogosphere and somewhat surprised at the lack of connection blogging has given me with my own community. In the first weeks of my blogging experiment, I was talking to two teaching friends of mine from other divisions than my own. I invited them to come and take part inthe conversation. I didn’t know how to create traffic on my blog and assumed that most of the people coming to it would have to be people I actually knew. Who else would be interested? How else would people find my site in the millions. The irony has been that for the most part I work in a strangely bisected world, not set off to its best advantage by my current status as a teacher on educational leave. I feel as if I have no real time connections. Meeting some of my blogging compatriots in person, gave some feedback as do comments but they are on the same road in a similar frame of reference.

And now, my feedback came from the home front. Not in person but not in a comment on my blog but an email in reference to my blog. I was surprised that I even had one reader in my home division. Now I find I have I am pleased and surprised. And I have offended her and some others. I find myself wondering now what. I am glad to have heard from her. It was most enlightening. I have been myself again. I am a put-my-foot in my mouth kind of girl. I have strong opinions. I don’t always think twice before I say and write things. I had an interesting conversation with Donna on ‘putting yourself out there’ and her own experience of backfire.

I need to go back and think some more about Doug’s pointers. I need to think of an appropriate response to the picture of me that is forming in the minds of readers. Stay tuned…

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Environment, technology and making a difference

I really want an ipod, well an mp3 player. I have been thinking about it for a year or so now. The last time I really thought about it I decided that the cd players and tape players that mostly sit dormant in the t.v. unit were probably still sufficient to the task. I try to pass of my ‘need’ for this piece of technology as a necessary part of my professional development. How can I know the potential of a tool that I do not use myself? Yet deep down, I’m pretty sure I don’t need one today, any more than I did yesterday.

I have a personal fight going on between the ‘need generating maching’ we call public relations and advertising and my own conscience. I have three computers, the old one, the newer desktop and the newest laptop. I’ve had the opportunity to become reacquainted with Macs this year and I regret buying my laptop PC. I really like the Macs. My civil libritarian wants to use Linux. I don’t think I know enough to go that route, so I’m stuck in the slavery of pc or mac machinges and applications. And truth be told, the machines I have now will do.  I need not ‘need’ a different one.

I want to make a difference, that is why I teach, perhaps that is why any teacher teaches. I’m wondering how I bring together these disparate forces. I’m excited by the possibilities for real learning that technology may afford. I believe that bringing these technologies into the classroom is one of the ways to ensure that students without at home access have a chance to break into the power circle which already has access. But does using technology with its endless ‘need’ for upgrading and improvement really contribute to the kind of society that I wish to see in the world. Will I be “living the change I want to see in the world” (Ghandi)?

I am thinking about these dichotomies a la Clarence Fisher; technology or literacy, environment or technology. I keep thinking that the answers are really somehow – both/and rather than either/or.

We’ll see. I’d still like an ipod.

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Copyright, plagiarism and school

It is interesting how copyright, free speech and plagiarism are connected. I don’t think I had thought about them as being in a package before. I am trying to make a diagram of it in my mind. I keep thinking back to Lawrence Lessig’s presentation that I’ve mentioned before. How do we balance free speech and free culture in an over copyrighted world? I think one our the cultural responses that we are seeing is that of less respect for copyright materials. People can readily download, cut and paste, manipulate and mash and re-broadcast materials. I had a teen tell me that she regularly views her favourite shows as a “fansub” on YouTube before they are released into the US market. I suspect that she is not aware that a “fansub” is in fact an illegal copy of the show. Is this a lack of respect or ignorance? I’ve read on my feed lately that the legal arm of the music companies are trying to pressure universities to take responsibility for the music being file shared through the univeristies’ computer systems. Yet Lessig mentions that file sharing is not actually taking much of a piece from the overall sales of the music industry. He seems to say that we need to rethink copyright. What implications does this have in school?

I teach in elementary schools. I have heard teachers say “Don’t ask me where I got it,” with regards to music used in assemblies or for phys.ed. As a potential teacher librarian, I feel I want to support the teachers’ use of materials in legal ways. I want us to be able to download and pay for the songs we want to use in class. But I also then wish to be able to use them in an assembly or class. From what I have read, using the song in an assembly is a public broadcast not covered under ‘fair use’ in Canada. This is ridiculous. How can I then say to teachers – I will help you get a legal copy of that music and then I will support you using it in an illegal fashion? If the rules are going to be that complicated and inappropriate,why buy the music to use in the first place if the end result is an illegal act anyway! It is frustrating. This is where I believe that Lessig is correct in asserting that the unregulated uses of material have been taken away. Playing music that I have purchased for a small school audience is great advertising for the music. Playing a song in school should be an acceptable, unregulated use of the material.

When this is our culture, cut and paste; download and view; copy and share, how do we reinforce the need to protect people’s intellectual property? In my class on Information Technologies for Learning, we are talking about plagiarism and its impact on schools. This may seem unrelated to the copyright and free speech discussion but they are woven together for me. I think the confusion on a societal level about unregulated uses, fair uses and copyright has contributed to the level of plagiarism that we see in our classrooms. If students see or participate in file sharing, regularly watch ‘fansubs’ and otherwise manipulate digital media in their ‘real’ lives, they will have difficulty seeing the problem with doing that for a school assignment.

We need to be planning projects and assignments which are difficult or impossible to cut and paste. There are many teachers and media specialists and teacher librarians working to make a change in what their students are doing and how they are doing it. I believe that when we begin to do things differently, we will see students who know how to show off their own intellectual property and credit the work of others. Clarence Fisher has talked about how teaching is changing for teachers working with digital tools. We aren’t just doing things differently; we are in fact doing different things. I think plagiarism and copyright and intellectual property are ideas which need to come home to schools. Just as I have taught my toddler that when she uses someone else’s toy she needs to ask first and then say thank you, I need to teach my students that when they use something on the internet for a source they need to check first and then if they have permission, say thank you by giving credit. When the process of giving credit becomes natural and easy, people will do it. If more students become aware of copyright, copyleft, creative commons and open source, then we will be on our way to freeing our society. I believe it is our job as educators to start to change society. Teaching students to share their work, give credit where credit is due and be creative with their assignments, hmmm, not a bad solution to plagiarism.

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Free Speech?

When I first began to think about setting up my blog, I had to contemplate the public nature of the format and the impact that could have on my work life and my personal life. These wonderings take sharper focus when I hear news clips of folks who’ve lost their jobs due to the discussions on their blogs.

As a free speech advocate, fledgling member of the teacher librarian community and current member of academia, I chafe at the need to watch what I say. There are always issues requiring attention and advocacy at a local level, must I be silent on the issues which concern me most? I think about the classroom that my son is in and the issues that I find as a parent and teacher, also a tricky balance. Can I speak about those issues – as a parent, on my blog?

I guess I have answered myself with my actions. I do not speak about my employer, expect when it is positive, my son’s classroom except to say that he is happy and is being taught by a professional who takes her role seriously and does her job well. Is this careful speech still free?

Doug from Blue Skunk, addressed this issue very well today.

“Write assuming your boss is reading.” Good advice. I don’t think my boss has been here yet, too busy. I sent her an invitation the other day. I guess I’m not too afraid of what I have said. As my husband and I start to think about setting up a blog for his classes, I wonder how you frame this for students. Write as though your grandmother was reading? Write as though your future job was on the line? Probably better yet, write assuming I, your teacher, am reading, which of course I am.

“Gripe globally; praise locally.” There is much to praise in the local context. Sometimes it is easier to see the downfalls of the system that you sit within, but hearing from the global community can give a frame of reference. In one of my courses, I am in contact with teacher librarians mostly from within Canada but some more global contacts. I realize how fortunate my colleagues and I am to be working in a division with personnel resources, computers and bandwidth which far and away outstrips my online acquaintances. One can see the room for improvement but it is also good to see the ongoing benefits of one’s home.

I’m glad I can join a broad chorus of educators in taking a stand against standardized testing and business model application to the educational setting. I can say from the safety of my Canadian home and school, that NoChildLeftBehind is not good for students or teachers and that there is a growing body of evidence and experts voicing their discontent. I hope that my provincial bureaucrats and my school administrators are watching and carefully weighing what they see. Let’s look for models which are not based on the current American model. There are other ways to view education.

“Write for edited publications.” Here is a new challenge. I have set as a goal for this year to publish something. Now I have to decide what and where!
“Write out of goodness.” I hope that I write for a change in education. I named my blog ‘What Counts” because I fear that we count the things that are not important and ignore the things that are important. The quotation attributed to Albert Einstein, which ‘what counts’ come from is as follows – “Not everything that counts can be counted, not everything that can be counted counts”. I hope that to speak for the things that count is ‘to write out of goodness’. I don’t know if that is protection against the powers that be. Surely if you were to look at some of the great persons in history who wrote and spoke ‘out of goodness’ – Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King; they were not saved by their goodness. I do not put myself on a par with their goodness or their influence, nor do I expect that I will suffer their fate. It is something to ponder.

I will blog. I will say what I believe in my manifesto. I will tell you that we need to play more, listen more, change more, try more, laugh more and test less, sit less, measure less, enforce less. I often think of Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

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