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.”

Your school could benefit from a bit of holiday retail therapy

I often tell education audiences that there was a week, maybe ten days, in 1987 when your school had better technology than kids have in their bedrooms or backpacks. That was a historical accident that will never happen again. Wise educators not only leverage the talent, knowledge and expertise of their students, but their stuff too. It is incumbent upon us to not only build upon what kids know and expect when they come to school, but kids also own technology that they may enhance the learning process.

The holiday season offers a chance for some educational stimulus if you’re a savvy shopper. Here’s how…

Let Santa bring the iPod
Some schools are building iPod Labs. iPod Labs! I have no problem with the iPod, I own at least eight of them and am on my fourth iPhone. However, I have serious problems with the notion of iPod labs. 1) Didn’t we litigate the issues of efficacy regarding computer labs twenty-five years ago? 2) iPod Labs? Really? Does this mean that kids lineup from shortest to tallest once a fortnight to go visit the school iPods because they would never see one otherwise?

Are they then taught how to use an iPod? Are there iPod tests? Do some kids get a “D” in iPod?

When did iPods become worthy of study?

If your school believes that iPods hold educational value, especially the those capable of shooting video and monitoring physical activity, quietly suggest to parents that they get their children one as a gift that will be welcomed by the curriculum. There is no reason for schools to fetishize the iPod or spend limited funds on what kids might already own. Besides, the iPod is the ultimate personal technology. Sharing one stinks.

Great 21st Century educators spend 30 minutes per month at Toys ‘R Us
This has two benefits. 1) You find great toys that may enhance learning; and 2) Educators gain a greater respect for the world in which their students live. Hit the toy store, read the weekend sale circulars and you may find all sorts of cool teaching aids available for a song. Past holiday seasons have led to sub-$50 digital microscopes like the Eyeclops, low-cost video projectors, programmable robots, inexpensive drawing tablet, Hot Wheels cars capable of measuring velocity and more.

Sales!
Holiday sales are an opportunity to stock up on batteries and extra LEGO. Robotics brings S.T.E.M. to life, but who wants to build an elevator without a building around it? Stores often offer buckets of LEGO bricks as a loss-leader. Batteries are often discounted too. Stock up!

Hit the red tag table
Last year’s sales duds may be just the thing you need to bring your classroom to life. That slightly sad puppet or Teddy bear may be just the actor you need for video productions. That $14 Blue Man Group Percussion Tubes set can help score a podcast or be played by a robot your kids invent. Art supplies and creepy failed action figures may be just what you’ve been looking for and at “such a price!”

Become an Amazon.com Associate
Why should kids write book reports when they can review books on Amazon.com and have their reviews actually help others? Alternatively, ask students to write reviews of their favorite books, place those recommendations on your class web site, blog or Wiki and if you become an Amazon.com Associate, up to 6% of all purchases may be earned to purchase books for your classroom library. This may motivate student reading and provides an authentic audience for their writing.

Treat Yourself or a Colleague to a Book or Two
I have assembled a large collection of books that should interest creative educators and parents for The Constructivist Consortium. Peruse the virtual bookstore and Amazon will deliver the books to you in just a few days.

I also created a list of required reading for those interested in “school reform” for The Huffington Post. This article includes fifteen or so classics on school improvement.

Use your imagination and start shopping!

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