Student voice is good. We should take the needs, interests, concerns, talent, curiosity, discomfort, and joy of children seriously. (pretty courageous statement, eh?)

However, if one is truly committed to making the world better for kids, “voice,” is nice, but inadequate. “Voice” absent of power is often little more than propaganda or exploitation.

While I’ve been on a brief social media “skunk at the garden party” hiatus, Dean Shareski has generously filled-in by sharing his queasiness over the “viralGoldieblox video being passed around the Web. Señor Shareski set his BS detector  on high and has provided evidence that the “amazing” Rube Goldberg machine “made by girls” is merely a commercial for a new toy called, Goldieblox.

I am shocked! Shocked!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love toys. I find buying them irresistible. I’ve been seeing Goldieblox at Maker Faires for more than a year, but have not bought a set because I think they lack extended play value (a term LEGO uses internally). I’m not one to get all outraged that a toy for girls is pink. Goldieblox just hasn’t seemed very interesting to me or the girls I work with. It’s not part of my workshop road show sweeping the globe, “Invent To Learn.”

It just doesn’t seem that Goldieblox has any chance of measuring up to the self-promotion and hype of its creator that her box of ribbon and spools is “building women engineers.” I applaud the sentiment, but if we are truly serious about improving the education of girls, it will take a lot more work than a trip to Toys R Us.

I could be wrong. I’ve recently been upgrading my initial assessment of littleBits, based on my observations of children playing with the new toy/electronics construction kit. So, perhaps I will soon fall in love with Goldieblox, but I doubt it.

Back to Monsignor Shareski…

In his post critical of the Goldidblox video, Fake and Real Student Voice, Professori Shareski awakened several repressed social media memories I had long forgotten.

I took a lot of “brown porridge” when I called BS on the very same videos of yesteryear.

There was Dalton Sherman, the “amazing” 5th grader who was coached all summer-long to give a condescending speech, written by the Dallas Schools PR department  to Dallas teachers, right before laying off 400 of them.  I smelled a rat the second I saw the video. Was called a big fat poo-poo head by teachers on social media and was right. BTW: Dalton Sherman seems to have disappeared just like those teacher jobs. So much for being the voice of school reform.

Then there was Michael Wesch (who is an important scholar) made famous by the hostage film he created in which college students decried the state of education.

Fantastic. A college class with far too many students in it (200) attempts to revolutionize the educational system by whining in a five minute web video.

I’m sorry, but count me unimpressed!

Perhaps a student should hold up a sign saying, “My professor is wasting my time and money by making me participate in a piece of exploitative propaganda in which I get to insult either my generation or the one before me just to get on YouTube.”

How did bashing our own profession become such a popular sport? What possible value could demeaning educators have in a professional development setting? Are we desperate for moving pictures or are they merely a substitute for actual ideas?

From Hey Mom! Look What I Made in College (November 2007)

Aside from their lack of authenticity, what these three AMAZING viral videos of is how children and claims of “student voice” exploit children for propaganda purposes. The Goldieblox video is a commercial selling a toy. We don’t tweet Sir Grapefellow commercials (my preferred boyhood breakfast treat) as AMAZING examples of student voice, so why the wishful thinking about Goldieblox?

Señor Shareski rightfully cites my colleague Super-Awesome Sylvia (read Super-Awesome Sylvia in the Not So Awesome Land of Schooling) as a counter example to the fake Goldieblox commercial. I have worked closely with Sylvia over the past couple of years and made her part of the Constructing Modern Knowledge faculty, not because she is cute (she is), but because she is accomplished. She knows stuff. She has skills. She has a great work ethic and  is a terrific teacher (at 12).

However, talent and achievement  did not made Sylvia immune from cynical exploitation by Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein’s education cabal as documented in an article I wrote for the Huffington Post, Shameless Shape Shifters.

So the moral of our story is…

Three lessons…

  1. As a young blogger in 1971, The Brady Bunch taught me an important lesson relevant here, caveat emptor – buyer beware. Users of social media need to “follow the money,” have a highly-tuned BS Detector, and know when and what they are being sold.
  2. Calling everything amazing or everyone a genius is lazy and counterproductive.
  3. Student voice without what Seymour Papert calls “kid power” is worse than empty rhetoric, it is a lie. Escapism is not the same as freedom.  Too much of what is offered as “student voice” offers a false sense of agency, power, or freedom to the powerless. It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. called, “the intoxicating drug of gradualism.”

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!

istock_000011751237xsmallDear Friends,

I could really use your help!

You know how passionate I am about making schools better places for children. That’s why I have submitted a proposal to speak at the 2011 South-by-Southwest Conference. This conference could afford me with a great platform for educating the creative community about the current political threats to public education, and more importantly offer a constructive, creative and uplifting message illustrating alternative approaches that build upon each child’s remarkable capacity for intensity.

That is why I submitted the proposal, The Best Educational Ideas in the World. (Find the session description below and on the voting site.)

In order for me to be invited to speak at South-by-Southwest, (SXSW), I need for you and your colleagues, friends, relatives and students to spend a few minutes voting for my session. I apologize for how clumsy the web site is. That’s why I’ve included the following step-by-step instructions below:

  1. Go to: http://bit.ly/cxq78J
  2. Follow the instructions for creating an account
  3. An email will be sent to you containing a link to click that will return you to the voting site
  4. Click the link in the email
  5. Login using the email address and password you just created
  6. Click on the Explore the Interactive Proposals » link (http://bit.ly/bk31Hl)
  7. Type Stager into the Organizer field
  8. Click the SEARCH PANELS button
  9. My session, The Best Educational Ideas in the World, should appear
  10. Click the icon of the THUMBS UP to vote for my session.
  11. If you wish, click on the title of the session, scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a message of support. Every bit helps!

I am really grateful to each and every one of you who takes the time to follow the steps outlined above and votes for my session. Reaching multiple and varied audiences is the most effective way I can influence public opinion and help kids.

Unfortunately, this IS a popularity contest. That’s why I need your assistance.

All the very best,

Gary


The Best Educational Ideas in the World

Contemporary discussions of school reform focus on the creation of obedience schools for poor children or utopian governance schemes, such as charter schools. Neither approach does much to amplify the natural curiosity, expertise, creativity, passion, competence or capacity for intensity found in each child. A leading educator serves as your tour guide for a global exploration of powerful ideas and exemplary practices. Stops on the tour include personal fabrication; Reggio Emilia; El Sistema; Generation YES; One Laptop Per Child; a juvenile prison; 826 Valencia and more.

The artificial boundaries between art and science are blurred as children engage in authentic activities with real materials, create sophisticated artifacts of personal and aesthetic value and become connected to ideas larger than themselves. Collegiality, purpose, apprenticeship, complexity, serendipity and “sharaeability” are a few of the common values. Each approach either requires digital technology or may be dramatically enhanced by it. Lessons learned en-route our tour create productive contexts for learning in which students construct the knowledge required for a rewarding life.

Alternative models of school reform in which we treat other people’s students as our own will emerge. The common principles identified in some of the world’s most creative educational practices serve as lessons for parents, teachers and policy-makers eager to help children realize their full potential.

Questions answered during the presentation:
1.    How can we create learning environments that build upon children’s capacity for intensity?
2.    Are there humane creative models of school reform based on principles of social justice where students do extraordinary things?
3.    How are disparate ideas like El Sistema, Reggio Emilia, personal fabrication, alternative prison education and One Laptop Per Child similar and offer new models for education reform?
4.    Is learning natural and are children competent? Why do so many adults think that the answer is, “no?”
5.    How can early childhood approaches be applied at the secondary level and the arts inform approaches to science?

I go back a long way with Generation YES, I used to read Dennis Harper‘s articles in The International Logo Exchange journal back in the 1980s before he contributed articles when I became Editor of Logo Exchange in the early 1990s. He brought microcomputers to schools in dozens of developing countries, had taught all over the world and was one of the earliest promoters of microcomputers in education

While Dennis was leaving his last school district position and transitioning the successful Federal Challenge Grant, Generation WHY, into a company, Generation YES, I suggested that he hire my partner Sylvia Martinez to help make the trains run on time. Sylvia is now the President of Generation YES.

Since that time I have worked on various projects with Generation YES, including a science and technology improvement project in Brooklyn, NY and as one of the designers of TechYES, the ground-breaking peer-to-peer technology literacy certification program.

TechYES

While giant testing companies sell multiple-choice tests challenging students to identify the parts of a computer – cassette drive, floppy disk, dot-matrix printer – as a way to satisfy the NCLB 8th grade tech literacy requirement and ISTE standards, TechYES starts from the premise that children are competent and can demonstrate their technological fluency through the creation of personallly meaningful projects that impress their peer mentors.

There are very few companies outside of the members of The Contructivist Consortium committed to student empowerment, creativity, collaboration and computing. It is much easier to sell products that do things to students, rather than amplify their voice and  potential. Generation YES is the rare exception.

I recently found a VHS tape about Generation WHY that includes a stunning appearance by my friend, colleague and mentor Dr. Seymour Papert, saying some very flattering things about what is now known as Generation YES and their educational approach to 21st Century student empowerment, leadership and service.

The short video clip below is well worth watching. You might even take a look at Generation YES and TechYES.

Incidentally, the host of the 1998 video (below) is now serving in the Peace Corps in Africa.

Seymour Papert on Generation YES and Kid Power from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


Related articles by Dr. Seymour Papert