I’ll be in Philadelphia from June 26-30th for the annual ISTE (formerly NECC) Conference. I have presented at all but one of these conferences since 1987 (also in Philadelphia). Over those 24 conferences, I’ve presented somewhere between 50 and 75 presentations and workshops. Being part of the keynote event at the 2009 NECC remains one of the highlights of my career.

Many of you know that I have been critical of the ISTE Conference program over the years and find the exhibit hall to be a vulgar distraction, but I would not miss it for anything. Why? Because I have dedicated 29 years of my life to using computers in ways that amplify the human potential of each child and this conference is the largest event in the field I love

ISTE is always an exhausting whirlwind. Please stop by one of the following sessions and say, “hi!”

The 5th Annual Constructivist Celebration

June 26, 2011 – 8:30 – 3:30 PM

Maggiano’s Little Italy
For the fifth consecutive year, this day-long workshop combines fun, creativity and computing. For a very reasonable $60, you will receive free creativity software worth hundreds of dollars from the world’s best school software companies, breakfast, snacks and lunch, and a full-day workshop led by Gary Stager and other members of the Constructivist Consortium. It’s always a sell-out, but right now there are still a few spaces left to join in the fun, so register today – you won’t regret it!

At the end of the day, Sylvia Martinez of Generation YES moderate a conversation between Will Richardson (author and king of  the edubloggers) and Gary Stager on “Digging Deeper” which is sure to be fun and thought-provoking.

SPOTLIGHT:  The Best Educational Ideas in the World: High-Tech Learning Adventures

Tuesday, 6/28/2011, 2:00pm–3:00pm     PACC 103BC
Gary Stager, The Constructivist Consortium
Join us on a tour of the best education ideas in the world! Lessons learned en route create the productive knowledge construction contexts required for a rewarding life. This presentation is a sneak peek at a forthcoming book from Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

The Fix Is In: Social Mobilization and School Reform (Model lesson)

Wednesday, 6/29/2011, 10:15am–11:15am       PACC 119B
Carl Anderson, East Metro Integration District 6067 with Scott Schwister and Gary Stager
Citizen journalism is a growing phenomena empowered by Web 2.0 technologies. Learn how to use it in your classroom to empower students.

SPOTLIGHT:  LOL@ISTE: Unlocking Your Potential to Laugh

Wednesday, 6/29/2011, 11:45am–12:45pm   PACC 201BC
Saul Rockman, Michael Jay, Roger Wagner and Gary Stager
The usual collection of punsters, jokesters, storytellers, and really terrible singers strives to explain why technology is so important in education and life.  Recommended by ISTE’s SIGGS

SIGTC Forum: So You Want an iPad? K-20 Implications and Integration

Tuesday, 6/28/2011, 10:30am–12:30pm PACC 103A

Camilla Gagliolo, Arlington Public Schools, and Craig Nansen, Minot Public Schools and Gary Stager will speak. Recommended by ISTE’s SIGTC

This PDF contains a schedule of sessions addressing creativity and computing by friends of The Constructivist Consortium.

Several years ago I helped design a fantastic project-based peer-teaching program, TechYes!, for my friends at Generation YES! TechYes!, was in an anticipation of the terrible standardized tests that were likely to dominate the quest for “measuring” student “tech skills” or “tech literacy.”

Where is the List of Tech Skills?
By Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
© 2004 Generation YES!

Some educators looking at TechYes! may be wondering where the publisher hid the list of technology skills every eighth grader should master. Look no further. There is no such checklist.

Politicians and textbook publishers impose lists of curricular objectives on teachers and they in turn burden kids with a mountain of requirements that must be satisfied. Assumptions are made about teacher competence and their ability to assess student needs and accomplishments. Such checklists diminish classroom creativity and undermine teacher professionalism.

TechYes! believes that professional teachers are best suited to make decisions regarding the educational needs of their students. No rubric can replace a teacher with an intimate knowledge of his/her students. Peer editing and collaboration contributes to a productive learning context for students and frees teachers from extra marking. TechYes! models and embraces peer editing in an authentic context.

Curriculum, by its very nature attempts to design a sequence of activities and objectives broad enough to address a wide audience. The individual needs, experience and fluency of students are often lost in the anonymity of textbooks. All of Generation Yes’ programs celebrate the talents and potential of each child.

There remains much incongruity between our rhetoric and our teaching practice. Adults boast routinely of how “children are so competent with technology,” how “they know so much more than us – are more confident, fluent, knowledgeable.” Then we treat them as, well, children incapable of finding the return key or saving a file without our intervention.

Tech skills are like a camel, a horse designed by committee. Traditional approaches to computer literacy instruction diminish the intellectual and creative potential of this most powerful knowledge machine. When faced with the challenge of preparing students to be technologically literate by the end of eighth grade teams of well-meaning adults embarked on a process of determining what an eighth grader should know. This inevitably leads to the construction of a bottomless pit of arcane tech skills in checklist form.

Schools have the option of purchasing curriculum that turns using scrollbars into a four-year scope and sequence. Proclamations that all children will use a mouse leads to the inevitable questions, “one or two button?” “With or without a scrollbar?” Worst of all, such curricular approaches are needlessly technocentric. The focus is on the learning of isolated tech skills rather than on the application of tech skills to learn everything else.

Put away your number two pencils. TechYes! offers an important alternative.

Rubrics offer students a minimum standard they must transcend to satisfy someone else’s assignment. TechYes! students demonstrate technological fluency by constructing personally meaningful projects. These projects value audience and purpose, a quality lacking in more traditional forms of assessment.

I fully anticipate that TechYes! projects will exceed the modest expectations of No Child Left Behind and the ISTE NETs. Many will be creative, complex and inspirational. Most of all, I hope the projects will be useful. When concerned with educational excellence, I always bet on kids.

The Constructivist Consortium is hosting its 5th annual Constructivist Celebration in Philadelphia, June 26, 2011 – the day before the ISTE Conference begins.

Join colleagues from around the world in a day-long minds-on celebration of creativity, computers and constructivist learning.

The Constructivist Celebration features project-based activities geared towards K-12 educators, administrators & teacher educators.

This year’s theme is HARD FUN! Educators completing a difficult year deserve some HARD FUN!

The day ends with a conversation with Will Richardson.

After a kickoff keynote by Dr. Gary Stager, participants will select challenges using the open-ended creativity software provided by Constructivist Consortium members, including LCSI, Tech4Learning and Inspiration. In addition to your mind and spirit, you body will be nourished by continental breakfast, hot lunch and afternoon snacks courtesy of our Maggiano’s Little Italy! Last year’s participants could not stop raving about the food!

Representatives of Generation YES, LCSI, SchoolKiT and Tech4Learning will lead challenges and support project development.

The day ends with time for project sharing and reflection followed by a conversation, “Digging Deeper,” with Will Richardson and Gary Stager. I am most grateful to Will for his generosity and willingness to participate!

Best of all, the entire day – software, an endles feast and a spa-day for the mind costs only $60!

Register today! Past Constructivist Celebrations have been extremely popular and space is limited.

Click here for more information!

There’s chatter from time-to-time within the edtech community about the lack of women in prominent roles. Yet, some of the most important pioneers in the field are ignored, overlooked or marginalized by the very same educators seeking representation and role models.

If Seymour Papert is the “father of educational computing,” then Dr. Cynthia Solomon is its mother. Cynthia was one of the three primary inventors of the Logo programming language for children and she introduced many of the metaphors used to teach programming to children. She is the author of one of the field’s seminal books, Computer Environments for Children: A Reflection on Theories of Learning and Education. How many of you have read this book first published in 1986?

Nearly 50 years ago, armed with a history degree from Harvard, Cynthia took a job as Dr. Marvin Minsky’s secretary because she wanted to learn how to program computers at a time when that wasn’t an option for young women. A few years later, she, Wally Feurzig & Seymour Papert created Logo and started the educational computing revolution. Watch the recent interview in which Cynthia & Wally recount the birth of Logo.

Wally Feurzig, Cynthia Solomon, Gary Stager

Cynthia Solomon is also the co-author of Designing Multimedia Environments for Children (with Allison Druin) and Logoworks: Challenging Programs in Logo by Cynthia Solomon, Margaret Minsky and Brian Harvey. She most recently put the full text of  Computer Environments for Children: A Reflection on Theories of Learning and Education and Logoworks… on the Web for free.

Ken Kahn, Seymour Papert, Cynthia Solomon & a kid at Logosium '99

We go way back

In 1985, I traveled to MIT for the first time to attend the Logo ’85 international conference. I was 22 years old and had no academic credentials. Memory suggests that the instant I stepped out of my cab, Cynthia Solomon and a handful of other great scholars and educators said, “Hey kid, come to dinner with us.” I’ve been lucky enough to have Cynthia Solomon as a friend, colleague and mentor ever since.

My annual summer institute, Constructing Modern Knowledge, would be unimaginable without Cynthia on the faculty. She returns to CMK 2011 this July 11-14th for the fourth time in four years.

Cynthia Solomon (right) teaches at CMK 2010

There is still room for additional registrants at this year’s Constructing Modern Knowledge institute! Register today!

I’m in the Sierra Mountains skiing where the altitude has replaced sleeping with hallucinating.

So, unable to sleep, I read Will Richardson’s latest blog post at 4AM. Will expands upon a blog post by David Weinberger in which Weinberger asks breathlessly,

“Why did the world shatter at the touch of a hyperlink?”

Weinberger is a Web philosopher, so one can expect that in his world view, the universe is made of “the Web.” It is the answer to every question. He also makes the mistake (IMHO) in believing that human behavior, culture and institutions may be reduced to information access.

Weinberger, admittedly one of the smarter “Web philosophers,” nonetheless uses the bits vs. atoms analogy first expressed by Nicholas Negroponte in his 1996 book, Being Digital, not to predict technological innovation, but in order to paint a dystopian vision of the present in which “every discipline” is now “a fiction.”

Will Richardson expands on Weinberger’s theme and writes the following:

“And I’m wondering, deep down, have we known all along that this idea of an “education” was really a fiction, something we created out of necessity with the implicit understanding that in a world limited by atoms, it was never really the end all, be all, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances? And if we didn’t know that, can we admit that now?

The circumstances have changed. We’re no longer constrained by atoms. For 125 years we’ve been making the learning world small, and now the world is all of a sudden big…huge. All of a sudden, the walls have been obliterated. Learning is unbound, and “an education” is next.”

I fully appreciate Will’s impatience with the educational landscape, but I think I disagree with his thesis.

There was no omnipotent power forcing us to make learning small. Besides, some pretty great freakin’ stuff was invented over the past 125 years – including the World Wide Web. Diseases were eradicated and great social movements triumphed. The past century gave us Dewey, Patri, Papert, Malaguzzi, Piaget, Kohl, Kozol, Kohn, Sizer, Littky, Meier, Holt, Postman and countless others who reinvented education.

The 1826 book, “Last of the Mohicans,” was the most popular book in America at the time of its publication, but is barely readable by literate Americans today. 100-110 years ago, millions of Americans could read and play Ragtime sheet music on their piano. That feat surely “atomizes” the ability of a lot fewer people to demonstrate a whole lot less talent with a much simpler instrument like Garageband today.

We might turn President Obama’s recent proclamation, “We do big things,” into the question, “We do big things?

It’s weird playing the role of the conservative, but isn’t there a hell of a lot we (all) can do to make schools more productive contexts for learning? Can’t we teach interesting things in meaningful ways? Can’t we develop genuine expertise and share it with our peers and the next generation? Can’t we be receptive to the intentions of young people and learn from them – if not skills and facts, perhaps intensity?

It seems to me that the “blow up the past,” “extinguish everything that brought us here (good and bad)” stuff is really a cheap parlor trick – pure rhetoric.

Kids may discover how to play with a cello on the Web, but they’ll never become a cellist that way. We see how well factual knowledge is obtained when half of America is sympathetic to birtherism. We live in a society where most Caucasians don’t know someone of a different race, yet we embrace the “diversity of the blogosphere,” which is less diverse than a public bus. How does culture sustain itself and progress? Democracy?

So many questions…

Why do we congratulate ourselves for using Skype? Why do we limit children’s computing to keyboarding instruction, Internet research or burping into VoiceThread? Is nothing fixable? Do we need 21st Century skills to supplant time-honored intellectual processes?

Why do we so lack the capacity for self-correction. Why is it safer and more comfortable to behave in a way contrary to the interests of ourselves and the kids we are supposed to serve? Why has the slightest act of disobedience against the curriculum or administrative edict taken on biblical significance? What’s wrong with US?

Who can we trust to invent a future when so few of us have the courage to teach as well as we were instructed the first night of teacher-ed? The only reason for despair is if we are truly “the change we’ve been waiting for.”


If you’re interested in learning more from the wisdom of our predecessors about how to “educate” better, check out this collection of books provided by The Constructivist Consortium.

You should also check out The Daily Papert and Constructing Modern Knowledge!

I just read with horror that Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emmanuel has appointed Rochester, NY schools superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard to be the new Cathie Black of the Chicago Public Schools (the nation’s 2nd largest school district). This continues FOO’s (friends of Obama) full-scale assault on public education and teacher unions begun months before President Obama was even elected.

Apparently, large city schools superintendent is the only job for which references are not checked.

Jean-Claude Brizard is an Eli Broad disciple whose singular genius was creating in-school suspensions where kids waste time doing nothing in school, rather than outside of school. (video news report here) That’s some reform!

Since coming to Rochester in January 2008, Brizard has pushed for his own brand of reform: instituting a contentious in-school suspension policy, and moving problematic teachers out of classrooms into what some New York City teachers call “rubber rooms.” (Rochester City Newspaper – March 17, 2010)

In February, more than 95% of Rochester teachers voted no-confidence in Brizard. Now that’s quite a recommendation and cause for a promotion!

Just like Rahm Emmanuel used the “punch a hippie” strategy while in the Obama White House, his appointment of Brizard is a form of “punch a teacher.”

In an April 19, 2011 article Chicago Tribune article “Our Kind of Guy to Lead Chicago Schools,” they write the following about Brizard.

Can Rochester, N.Y., superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard pad a payroll? Skirt the rules? Spend frivolously? Distort statistics to make himself look good? Infuriate his constituents with a high-handed style?
Check, check, check, check and check.

Mike Klonsky has done some fine writing on the Brizard appointment and Rochester, NY television station WHAM 13 (ABC affiliate) reporter, Rachel Barnhart, has assembled an indispensable collection of articles about Brizard’s record in Rochester, so you may fact-check his record for yourself. It is too bad that Mayor-elect Emmanuel did not heed the advice of George W. Bush and “use the Google” before subjecting Chicago school children to Jean-Claude Brizard.

I wrote the following about Brizard in 2008 for my Good Magazine cover story, School Wars. Alas, it was cut from the article.

Where do they grow these guys?

The new Superintendent of the Rochester, NY Public Schools, Jean Claude-Brizard, has a dream. He wants to create “Dream Schools” in his urban school district. Here is how the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle News described his dream.

…the plan calls for bundling troubled schools together in a special group to be called “Dream Schools.”

Those schools would be mandated to teach a uniform curriculum, devote longer blocks of time to math and reading, offer after-school tutoring — and face closure if they fail to improve over time. Schools would be selected for the distinction based on state test scores.

“We are going to put them in a box and tell them what they need to do to get better,” Brizard said. “After intense intervention, if there is no improvement, guess what? We’ll shut them down.”

The Democrat and Chronicle news article later reports, with no sense whatsoever of irony of contradiction that new Superintendent Brizard’s plan, “would both strengthen and relax centralized control of schools.”

Right, you have all the freedom you want at the local school-level to treat teachers like robots and teach a standardized curriculum!

A few weeks later, Superintendent Brizard announced his plan to spend $1.2 million to save the Reading First program in Rochester. The announcement was made the very same week that the US Government declared that Reading First didn’t teach children to read.

As I read the news I could not help wondering to myself, “Where do they grow people who think like that?” The answer is simple. You learn that ideology trumps even common sense at the Broad Academy, an intensive program in which future school leaders are trained to think like their mentor Eli Broad.

In September 2008, District Administration Magazine published an article I wrote in which I explored how Jean-Claude Brizard appeared reality-impaired and driven by ideology. The text of that article follows:

Who Ya Gonna Believe? (2008)

The ongoing battle between facts and mythology

It has long been accepted that good teaching requires a mixture of art and science. Outstanding teachers possess a solid knowledge of learning theory, human development. That content knowledge is brought to life by personal gifts, creativity and craft. Sadly, education news stories suffer from a lack of critical analysis or follow-up questions and educators too often justify questionable practices on the basis of personal beliefs, even when such beliefs are contradicted by evidence.

There is perhaps no greater educational battleground in the fight between ideology and fact than reading instruction. In fact, No Child Left Behind went to great lengths to redefine “science” when it insisted that every classroom practice adhere to “scientifically-based research” to the exclusion of evidence that interfered with their belief system. The underlying assumption of NCLB’s Reading First program was that every child learns to read through a program of “highly structured, systematic sequential explicit phonics instruction.” Research and common sense challenges that belief system.

First of all, not everyone learns everything the same way. Second, if the only way to learn to read is this form of alphabet sound connection, how does one explain the billions of people who read languages such as Chinese or Hebrew that don’t have such written language systems? How do deaf people read?

The Department of Education’s May 2008 report on the efficacy of Reading First concluded, “Reading First did not improve students’ reading comprehension.” Wow! That’s fairly unambiguous. The creators, funders and enforcers of a national reading initiative announced that it did not work. Surely, a reading method that failed to improve comprehension would be tossed on the dustbin of history, right? Not so fast.

Let the spinning begin. “On the plus side, researchers found that Reading First teachers spent more time emphasizing phonics and other aspects of what many experts consider solid instruction — about 10 minutes more a day, or nearly an hour more a week. “Teachers’ behavior was changed,” Institute of Education Sciences Director Whitehurst says.

Fantastic! Teachers are spending more time doing what doesn’t work. Just as the program was declared ineffective and long since its corruption was made public, Rochester, NY Schools Superintendent Jean Claude-Brizard, proposed to spend $1.2 million dollars of local funds to “save” Reading First in his district. Truth makes some educators emotional. The Arizona Republic recently wrote about educators who “mourn” the passing of Reading First. Barbara Wright of the Casa Grande Elementary District told the paper, “This was good, solid, research-based information, and we implemented it in all our schools at the time, even though only two schools were funded.” She said that despite the probable death of the ineffective program that it will “continue to guide the district’s reading program.” I’m sorry, you should not be allowed to claim something is solid or research-based when it has been proven ineffective. Such claims are not scientific. They are religious.

It’s not just reading

In the April 2008 issue of District Administration, Long Beach California Superintendent, Christopher Steinhauser, proudly boasts of his use of grade retention. The Broad Foundation even rewarded him for it. Like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Jeb Bush, Steinhauser embraces making students repeat a grade as an effective policy tool in the face of an overwhelming mountain of evidence that it does more harm than good.

Other professions have a term for when you put your personal belief ahead of facts – malpractice.

Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Joe Biden have often said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” This is excellent advice for educators who continue to eliminate recess, impose zero tolerance policies, cut arts programs, maintain agrarian school starting times, “teach algebra” at younger and younger grades and spend months each year testing or preparing students to take high-stakes tests. Conventional wisdom too often goes unchallenged and ineffective practices become myths. These practices are justified by personal beliefs.

The great philosopher Stevie Wonder reminds us, “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer. Superstition ain’t the way.” In education, adult superstitions cause children to suffer.

Published originally in the September 2008 issue of District Administration Magazine.

Gary S. Stager is Senior Editor of District Administration and Editor of The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate.

The ability for anyone to publish on the Web is a good thing. Many voices can contribute to the marketplace of ideas when they may have otherwise remained unheard. However, the democratic promise of blogging is often illusory or counter-productive.

Anecdote 1

For several years I spent several nights and hundreds of dollars to attend a public affairs lecture series sponsored by the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. I saw Bill Clinton twice, Al Gore and a host of Israeli Prime Ministers speak (my least favorite sessions). The best evenings were spent when multiple experts shared the stage. Some of the most memorable evenings included:

  • Newt Gingrich and John Edwards
  • James Carville and Mary Matalin
  • Bill Maher and Dennis Miller
  • Ann Coulter and Al Franken
  • Simone Peres and Henry Kissinger (Kissinger was profoundly boring and Peres quoted President Polk in a sentence)
  • Bill Maher and Tony Snow
  • Wolf Blitzer, Cokie Roberts, Charlie Rose and Tim Russert
  • William Bennett and Mario Cuomo
  • Arianna Huffington, Paul Begala & Tucker Carlson
  • Maureen Dowd, Donna Brazille, Michael Murphy
  • Anderson Cooper and Walter Cronkite (Cooper was a buffoon)
  • Prime Ministers Jose Maria Aznar (Spain), Ehud Barak and Sir John Major
  • Terry McAuliffe (DNC) and Ken Melman (RNC)
  • Gwen Ifill, Judith Miller, Cokie Roberts and Helen Thomas
  • Bill O’Reilly and Alan Dershowitz

Aside from the opportunity to hear experts and leaders speak, the format of these events made them quite special. Each speaker had 20 minutes to speak and then they sat down together for a conversation, often moderated by the President of the university who asked the sort of questions one might expect from a Talmudic scholar. When the university received complaints about the off-color language used by Bill Maher and Dennis Miller, a University spokesman quoted a disturbing Pew poll indicating that a majority of Americans thought it was fine for government to censor newspapers and affirmed the university’s commitment to presenting ideas in the authentic voice of the speaker.

Anecdote 2

As a keynote speaker, I take my obligations to entertain, inspire and inform quite seriously. That is why I decided a few years ago not to take questions at the end of my keynotes. I urge conferences to provide a space for me to engage in conversation with attendees for as long as they’re interested after the keynote, but in a separate venue. My experience led me to conclude that taking questions during the keynote results in one of the following undesirable results:

  1. The “my principal is a jerk speech”
  2. Insane pronouncements like, “The Jews were responsible for 9/11,” from the floor
  3. The deadly sound of crickets as nobody speaks up

Any of these outcomes has a deleterious effect on the session and is the last impression left with audiences.

So, what do these two anecdotes have to do with social media?

Plenty!

Read MacArthur Genius educator Deborah Meier’s brilliant essay, More Villainous Than Hypocrisy, in the Bridging Differences “blog” she writes with Diane Ravitch each week. Bridging Differences routinely includes the most thoughtful discussions of education policy to be found anywhere. Ms. Meier, one of America’s leading educators and successful urban school reformers, deserves a lot more credit for the role she played in Dr. Ravitch’s recent conversion.

Like a great lecture, play, film, concert or art exhibition, Meier’s recent essay provides enough “food-for-thought” to nourish you for a week – that is until you click the “comments” link on her blog post. The potshots, political manifestos and attacks leveled at the author and her ideas is nauseating and adds nothing whatsoever to the issue.

Education Week provides a great public service by publishing Bridging Differences. They would provide an even greater service by allowing the work to stand for itself and turn off comments.

The lesson I learned during the fantastic lecture series discussed above is SHUT UP! Let the experts speak and converse without being interrupted by crackpots with an ax to grind. You are not their equal just because you bought a ticket or can use a Web browser. A handful of miscreants do not have the right to diminish everyone else’s experience.

Even if not disruptive, most blog commenters (IMHO) offer very little value to the “discussion” or consider the comments of others. Flame wars are much more likely than insight.

I first sensed that blogs were BS back in 2003 when I found myself sharing absolutely brilliant, earth-shattering, election-winning advice for Governor Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. With each passing day, I was increasingly disappointed to not receive a phone call from the candidate or have my suggestions result in dramatic strategy changes.

Then suddenly I realized why nobody was reading my profoundly erudite blog comments. I wasn’t reading any of the other thousand commenter’s brilliant comments. Nobody else was either.

If you wish to critique something someone else published on the Web, perhaps you should share your views on a personal blog and let the work of others stand for itself.

What do you think? You may flame me below. Riff-raff welcome.

Feeling overwhelmed by unrest in the Middle East, the economic crisis, threats of nuclear annihilation, teacher layoffs, union-busting, the firing of the Aflac duck or potential for a President Donald Trump?

Well, I’m here to spread the good news and tell you that there is something you can do to help yourself and return balance to a troubled planet. Yes, you my friend can take two minutes and vote for Gary Stager in a Tech & Learning Magazine poll!

Never heard of Tech & Learning Magazine? Nobody else has either. But, through the power of social media you can make a difference and help me win what many people refer to as the Nobel Prize for educational technology. I recently had the courage to write an article for this fantastic magazine urging readers not to buy interactive whiteboards, the magazine’s number one advertiser. Surely, that deserves my vote!

I need your help! Heck, I’m not too proud to beg for your vote!

If you care to learn more about me, check out this recent bio.

When you vote, please enter the following information or make up your own crackpot reasons for electing me.

Gary Stager

Executive Director: The Constructivist Consortium

feedback2@stager.org

Reasons for voting:

  • Pioneer in 1:1 computing & online learning
  • 29 years of work in edtech
  • Fearless
  • Committed to creativity, computing and children
  • Charming
  • Using computers to amplify human potential
  • Carries the torch for progressive education
  • Gary creates unique learning experiences for teachers, such as Constructing Modern Knowledge
  • The devil made me do it

If there’s anything social media teaches us, it is that we have entered an era of mob rule. No mob rules more than my Twitter followers and their several thousand friends!

Fight truth to power! Stick it to the man! Waste a few more minutes online! Whatever you do, VOTE FOR ME!

On behalf of a grateful nation, I humbly thank you for your support!

Gilbert & Me - 3/3/11

Yesterday, Wes Fryer published a blog post, Digital Citizenship Lesson from Gilbert Gottfried: The (former) Voice of the Aflac Duck.

While I understand Wes’ desire to teach kids (via their teachers) that they should be careful what they say online, I take great exception with the conclusions drawn in the post.

“…it highlights the very REAL consequences rash words can have, shared on Twitter or elsewhere.”

Wes suggests that Gottfried’s tweets were “rash.” I disagree. Gilbert Gottfried is a professional comedian who entertains his audience via Twitter, clubs, televised roasts, films, The Howard Stern Show and many other venues. All of this builds his brand and enhances his professionalism.

“It also brings up issues about professionalism and image, for individuals as well as organizations. Like it or not (and since he was apparently pulling in a six figure income for his work, I’d say he liked it) Gilbert was officially representing Aflac.”

Ok, where to start?

  1. Mr. Gottfried has a right to earn a living. In fact, I paid to see him live earlier this month and have purchased multiple copies of his DVD, Dirty Jokes, for myself and friends.
  2. He does not represent Aflac. He is the voice of a duck in its commercials. He is not the duck’s voice in Japan, the subject of his comedic, to some unpleasant, tweets.
  3. 99% of Aflac’s customers have no idea who voices the duck. In fact, the sort of person who gives their money to Aflac probably believes that ducks actually do talk.

Wes Fryer ends his post by asking, “What discussion questions might be good to use with students for this “teachable moment?” While I disagree that this story is about digital citizenship, here are some of the lessons I might share with students.

  • Gilbert Gottfried is a comedic genius – one of the great artists of our time. He is considered a “comedian’s comedian” and held in great esteem by his peers.
  • Aflac became a household name and likely earned billions of dollars due to Gottfried’s ability to quack the company name.
  • Gilbert Gottfried should be admired and respected for his drive and determination to become a working comedian who can support himself and his family. He began working as a comedian forty-one years ago at age fifteen.
  • Gilbert Gottfried’s comedy brings great joy to countless people.
  • Humor is a great way to overcome tragedy.
  • Humor is subjective.
  • Talking TV ducks are not real.
  • Adults are allowed to enjoy things not suitable for children.
  • We live in an age of fake outrage where people’s livelihoods and reputations may be threatened my much less talented or accountable executives. Want to see a more disgusting example of this, see how the jerk who runs TED decided to smear comedian Sarah Silverman. Apparently, he lacks the digital citizenship required to “use the Google” before booking one of the nation’s most popular comedians for his annual smugfest.
  • Gilbert Gottfried doesn’t go to the Aflac offices to tell executives how to rip-off consumers. What qualifies an Aflac executive to determine what is or isn’t funny?
  • Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Surely they teach that in Sunday School, right?
  • The Aflac executive who fired Gilbert Gottfried called more attention to the tweets than they would have received otherwise.
  • It seems as if every infraction, not matter how minor, has become a death-penalty offense.
  • Rich people and corporations have ultimate power and can break contracts with impunity.
  • I just saw the new Aflac commercial where they capitalize (profit) on the firing of their duck voice.

Since Wes Fryer connected the tweeting duck controversy to digital literacy, perhaps students should use the Google and investigate Aflac. Doing so could lead to quite interesting G-rated discussions:

Does Aflac pay insurance claims to customers?

  • Do Aflac employees have to pay for their own training, supplies and offices, often with no income or health insurance? (Here and elsewhere)
  • Why do Americans need what Aflac sells?
  • Are the numerous attacks on the integrity of Aflac found on the Web truthful? How would you verify them?
  • Why do Americans spend so much on health insurance?
  • How many Americans have no health insurance?
  • How many of your classmates cannot afford medical care?

Uber-edublogger Will Richardson recently published a blog post entitled, Valuing Change. In the article, he reiterated the frequent lament that teachers don’t “consider” or “value” change especially when the Web allows students to “connect outside of the classroom.” The who, what or why of connecting isn’t discussed.

Will’s article illustrates a teacher’s unwillingness to embrace change by showing how a topic like gerrymandering could be made more engaging through the use of information technologies. Will recognizes the challenges facing teachers and offers an olive branch by suggesting that we can “do both” – teach what will likely be on the test and do so more meaningly.

It should come as no surprise that I disagree, especially given the example used.

As I write this, there are two dozen comments in addition to the few I contributed. Either blog commenters don’t consider the ideas of other commenters or my argument was not clear enough.

Perhaps, as much as you would like it to be otherwise, the incrementalism of “doing both” is really the problem.

Why would you Skype someone involved “in the process?” What process? Who? State legislators? What are they likely to tell a student that can’t be found out in a book or article?

The connections you speak of, now matter how much you yearn for them may be as inauthentic as the task itself. Perhaps they just make a task nobody cares about even more arduous. The “you can use Google ____ or Skype with someone” suggestions have become as automatic and meaningless as when a politician says, “We need to pay teachers more, but hold them accountable.”

One of the lessons I learned from Seymour Papert (http://dailypapert.com) was that you cannot transform school just by changing teaching practices or even the technology used. You must rethink, challenge or reinforce the content of the curriculum. The “what” has a great deal of impact on the how and the why of learning something.

Papert once asked me, “What are you thinking about doing with the students next?” When I replied, “We were thinking of doing some geography…,” he shot back with, “And what can they DO with that?”

“Whatever you ‘teach’ kids should have a high liklihood of leading to the construction of a bigger question or a larger theory (NOW – not later), otherwise, why bother?”

Like so much of schooling, the topic of gerrymandering is really just a vocabulary exercise. Memorize the definition and move on. I’m not sure you can put lipstick on that pig.

I do not believe that it is possible to make schools more productive contexts for learning (the how we teach) without calling the curriculum into question (the what we teach).

When Will requested “The Stager Plan,” I replied…

If I wasn’t clear enough above, a substantial aspect of “The Stager Plan” includes expending some serious effort at every school to determine what is worth being taught.

Pedagogical strategies should reflect the content and the learning styles of students.

The ideas proposed for making gerrymandering more engaging only add false complexity to what is a vocabulary term, likely taught in isolation as the curriculum whizzes by.

My other concern is how we tend to reduce education to information access (or trading information) and how the emphasis on using computers as information appliances reinforces the status quo while depriving learners of authentic experiences.

In addition to commenters reminding us of the wonders of Web 2.0 technology, the author repeates the familiar cliché, “We need to use technology to get kids engaged in the curriculum, not just in the technology.”

Why is this so? Should teachers be so compliant and teach anything they’re told to, regardless of context or value?

Also, why is engaging with the “technology” so quickly dismissed as being inferior to the curriculum?

Here’s a thought experiment…

What if we DID do everything in our power to engage kids in the technology? (I don’t think you can engage someone else, but I’ll leave that aside)

This might be the first real engagement kids experience.

Learning computer programming might actually lead to different thinking, different thinking about thinking, student agency and provide a window for teachers into the intellectual capabilities of kids.

I wish there was a way for me to run a hands-on workshop for every teacher in the world during which they could experience the intellectual rigor and creative joy experienced while computing. Not only is this workshop necessary for teachers who don’t use “technology” in the ways Will’s post urges, but educators excited by Web 2.0 would do well to expand their computing fluency as well.

Educators interested in spending four days on creative computing projects with a world-class faculty and amazing guest speakers this summer should check out Constructing Modern Knowledge. Act quickly, this very special event may sell-out!