Dewey’s Wisdom

John Dewey

These are a series of quotes I’ve collected from three of Dewey’s works, two very well known, one more obscure. Collectively, they capture an essence of what this man’s thinking was all about.

(d&e) Democracy and Education, 1925

(e&e) Experience and Education, 1928

(sit) Schools of Tomorrow, 1915

*1. Social control of individuals rests upon the instinctive tendency of individuals to imitate or copy the actions of others. The latter serve as models. The imitative instinct is so strong that the young devote themselves to conforming to the patterns set by others and reproducing them in their own scheme of behavior. 40 d&e

*2. We do not have to draw out or educe positive activities from a child, as some educational doctrines would have it. Where there is life, there are already eager and impassioned activities. Growth is not something done to them; it is something they do. 50 d&e

*3. Emphasis upon the value of the early experiences of immature beings is most important, especially because of the tendency to regard them as of little account. But these experiences do not consist of externally presented material, but of interaction of native activities with the environment which progressively modifies both the activities and the environment. 93 d&e

*4. In order to have a large number of values in common, all the members of the group must have an equitable opportunity to receive and to take from others. There must be a large variety of shared undertakings and experiences. Otherwise, the influences which educate some into masters, educate others into slaves. And the experience of each party loses in meaning when the free interchange of varying modes of life experience is arrested. A separation into a privileged and a subject class prevents social interchange. 98 d&e

5. The evils thereby affecting the superior class are less material and less perceptible, but equally real. Their culture tends to be sterile, to be turned back to feed on itself; their art becomes a showy display and artificial; their wealth luxurious; their knowledge overspecialized; their manners fastidious rather than humane. 98 d&e

*6. Upon the educational side, we note first that the realization of a form of social life in which interests are mutually interpenetrating, and where progress, or readjustment, is an important consideration, makes a democratic community more interested than other communities have cause to be in deliberate and systematic education. …Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education. 101 d&e

7. It also follows that all thinking involves a risk. Certainty cannot be guaranteed in advance. The invasion of the unknown is of the nature of an adventure; we cannot be sure in advance. The conclusions of thinking, till confirmed by the event, are, accordingly, more or less tentative or hypothetical. Their dogmatic assertion as final is unwarranted, short of the issue, in fact. 174 d&e

*8. Study of mental life has made evident the fundamental worth of native tendencies to explore, to manipulate tools and materials, to construct, to give expression to joyous emotion, and so on. When exercises which are prompted by these instincts are a part of the regular school program, the whole pupil is engaged, the artificial gap between life in school and out is reduced, motives are afforded for attention to a large variety of materials and processes distinctly educative in effect, and cooperative associations which give information a social setting are provided. 228 d&e

9. Regarding freedom, the important thing to bear in mind is that it designates a mental attitude rather than external unconstraint of movements, but that this quality of mind cannot develop without a fair leeway of movements in exploration, experimentation, application, and so on. 357 d&e

*10. A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of actual experience by environing conditions, but that they also recognize in the concrete what surroundings are conducive to having experiences that lead to growth. Above all, they should know how to utilize the surroundings, physical and social, that exist so as to extract from them all that they have to contribute to building up experiences that are worthwhile. Traditional education did not have to face this problem; it could systematically dodge this responsibility. 40 e&e

11. I am not romantic enough about the young to suppose that every pupil will respond or that any child of normally strong impulses will respond on every occasion. There are likely to be some who, when they come to school, are already victims of injurious conditions outside of the school and who have become so passive and unduly docile that they fail to contribute. There will be others who, because of previous experiences, are bumptious and unruly and perhaps downright rebellious. But it is certain that the general principle of social control cannot be predicated upon such cases. It is also true that no general rule can be laid down for dealing with such cases. The teacher will have to deal with them individually. 56 e&e

*12. It is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even of activity in experience. Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had. …Hence, the central problem of education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences. 28 e&e

13. Education which ignores this viral impulse furnished by the child, is apt to be “academic,” “abstract,” in the bad sense of such words. If textbooks are used as the sole material, the work is much harder for the teacher, for besides teaching everything herself she must constantly repress and cut off the impulses of the child toward action. 73 sot

14. No book or map is a substitute for personal experience; they cannot take the place of the actual journey. The mathematical formula for a falling body does not take the place of throwing stones or shaking apples from a tree. 74 sot

15. In another building all the pupils above the fourth grade have organized into civic clubs. They divided the school district into smaller districts and one club took charge of each district, making surveys and maps of their own territory, counting lamp posts, alleys, and garbage cans, and the number of policemen, or going intensively into the one thing which interested them most. They each club decided what they wanted to do for their own district and set out to accomplish it, whether it was the cleaning up of a bad alley or the better lighting of a street. 82 sot

16. A truly scientific education can never develop so long as children are treated in the lump, merely as a class. Each child has a strong individuality, and any science must take stock of all the facts in its material. Every pupil must have a chance to be who he truly is, so that the teacher can find out what he needs to make him a complete human being. 137 sot

17. But if every pupil has an opportunity to express himself, to show what are his particular qualities, the teacher will have material on which to base her plans of instruction. Since a child lives in a social world, where even the simplest act or word is bound up with the words and acts of his neighbors, there is no danger that this liberty will sacrifice the interests of others to caprice. Liberty does not mean the removal of the checks which nature and man impose on the life of every individual in the community. 138 sot

*18. We send children to school supposedly to learn in a systematic way the occupations which constitute living, but to a very large extent, the schools overlook, in the methods and subject-matter of their teaching, the social basis of living. Instead of centering the work in the concrete, the human side of things, they put the emphasis on the abstract, hence the work is made academic – unsocial. 165 sot

*19. There are three things about the old-fashioned school which must be changed if schools are to reflect modern society: first, the subject-matter, second, the way the teacher handles it, and third, the way the pupils handle it. 170 sot

20. Our world has been so tremendously enlarged and complicated, our horizons so widened and our sympathies so stimulated, by the changes in our surroundings and habits brought about by machinery, that a school curriculum which does not show this same growth can be only very partially successful. The subject-matter of the schoolroom must be enlarged to take in the new elements and needs of society. 171 sot

*21. Hence, the daily experiences of the child, his life from day to day, and the subject matter of the schoolroom, are parts of the same thing; they are the first and last steps in the life of a people. To oppose one to the other is to oppose the infancy and maturity of the same growing life; it is to set the moving tendency and the final result of the same power over against each other; it is to hold that the nature and the destiny of the child war with each other. 71 sot

*22. It is fatal for a democracy to permit the formation of fixed classes. Differences of wealth, the existence of large masses of unskilled laborers, contempt for work with the hands, inability to secure the training which enables one to forge ahead in life, all operate to produce classes, and to widen the gulf between them. …The only fundamental agency for good is the public school system. Every American is proud of what has been accomplished in the past in fostering among very diverse elements of population a spirit of unity so that the sense of common interests and aims has prevailed over the strong forces working to divide our people into classes. 314 sot

Teaching and Learning for Grandparents

This was just a wonderful entry that shows in a few strokes, the possibilities of fully integrated technology in the classroom setting. It’s another link from Wil Richardson’s wonderful WebBlogg-ed. I’m thinking about integration where the teacher’s ideas about what should be learned and how that “should” should be learned come first. Technology is the tool that does it. Technology is backgrounded. It is not “the point.”

Kyra’s On The Move…

A few years ago I had the honor/pleasure of attending a summer seminar on hiphop culture and its pedagogical connections at NYU. That seminar was the first time UVM had participated in the Faculty Resource Network. It was an eyeopening if not eye popping experience for me. We dug simultaneously into the real live roots of hiphop in nyc, met new practitioners, read arcane scholarship, talked, listened, danced. My world expanded exponentially as a result of that visit. My teacher, Kyla Gault, FirefoxScreenSnapz001.jpg has since published the book she was finishing at the time – The Words Black Girls Play – a cultural/historical/musical perspective of kinectic oral traditions in black female culture. Kyra has since moved to the faculty of Baruch College in NYC. She is an academic, a poet, a performing artist, a living presence personifying what it is she wants to teach and bring to the world. She writes I consider myself an organic musical intellectual focusing on people, performance, pedagogy, entrepreneurship, and public advocacy. I see myself as accountable for the possibility of sustaining affordable living and performance spaces and transforming the economic well-being and marketability of musicians of African descent in the creative economy of New York City.What an amazing model she is for walking your talk. Check out her website and blog. Politics is indeed personal.

Dedication to Alicia

Opening Remarks

Alicia Shanks

Don McLean, a pop culture poet to at least one of the generations gathered in this room today, writes…

A long, long time ago…

I can still remember

How that music used to make me smile.

And I knew if I had my chance

That I could make those people dance

And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

This has been a most unusual year for us at UVM. With the lives taken at a sister institution in Blacksburg, VA, we end our year in tragedy; and with the taking of lives of those close to us, on August 24th 2006, and sometime in the hours between October 4th and October 6th, 2006, we began our year in tragedy. I speak of Michelle Gardner Quinn, a student of environmental studies at UVMs Rubenstein School, whose time with us is to be celebrated tomorrow in at EARTHFEST 07, and Alicia Shanks, a second grade teacher at Essex Elementary School. Alicia was a mentor to students in our professional programs in elementary education and early childhood education. Alicia was also a member of the council of advisors to our Professional Program in Elementary Education; two people who didn’t know each other, two people whose manner of living life touched those around them in ways still being discovered. We wanted to take a moment to recognize Alicia at the beginning of this honors day ceremony.

I knew Alicia personally and professionally. We worked together supervising students she agreed to mentor in the intense student teaching phase of their eled preparation. You, Alicia, would demur, I think, the honor, attention, and accolades that have accrued to you since your sudden incomprehensible death. If there was ever anyone who walked the face of this earth with feet planted firmly on the ground, it was you Alicia. You were as many have remarked, salt of the earth and you had an uncanny ability to spot anyone or any program effort that seemed to you to be putting on airs. Sooner than later one of us would get a phone call and have a little talk about what was on your mind. You possessed a constantly open heart for your school children, especially those growing up in challenging circumstances, as you did. And yet knowing you well, I think without a doubt you were the last one to let a child pull the wool over your eyes in an attempt to do less than that little girl or boy was capable of. And you were always was quite clear that you would be the judge of that “capability.”

These dispositions are a good thing to keep in mind as we head into this important and joyful ceremony of recognition. The really good teachers of this world see in us what may be unseen by us. And in their own way – sometimes inspirational, sometime provocative, sometimes downright irritating – they provide a certain urging that moves us over time in those directions. The disposition towards creating instructional environments that support the actualization of self, of becoming not who we are but who we are growing to be, is one of the hallmarks of the professional programs honoring students here today. We like to think we know something about how to do this.

I would like to suggest, that these two people did, too. I also think they knew, that even when the music dies in one place, when you can bring yourself to listen really carefully once again, when the shock begins to dissipate, what begins to awaken in our dulled spirits is the sound of other musics to be heard. John Dewey constantly reminded us as their lives did, that there is music all around us in the communal spheres in which we live. Other people’s music. The music of other journeys. And this communal music, when we finally hear it, is the music that sustains us and beckons us to move on. Ultimately, this is the music that will redeem us, this is the music that is grace, even through the thickest of tears.

So we thank you Alicia, and we thank you Michelle, and we thank all the teachers who work with us in all our programs, for walking with us on the communal journey we take with each one of our students. The journeys we celebrate here today. Welcome, each one of you, parents, students, honorees, grandparents, faculty, friends, honored guest, to Honors Day, 2007. Let us celebrate and let us feel in the deep places of our hearts, the joyful music generated by the lived lives of those we honor today.

Why Can’t Schools Be Like This?


The George Lukas Educational Foundation holds rich resources for any educator wanting to explore the kinds of learning opportunities that keep children/youth coming back for more. This film is one of my favorites. My emotions are absolutely captured every time I watch it, in class or otherwise. This story of teaching and learning at Ascend evidences the conditions that every school should aspire to if we deign to keep kids coming back for more.

Building Classroom Relationships: Putting the Amygdala To Rest…

I’ve recently had the opportunity to collaborate with some of my Senior students during their most intense teaching internships and I have a new understanding of the importance of relationship building. I’ve be able to spend time with them, watching and commenting on the goings on in their professional field site. The site is quite unique. It is a small school, and it is a tough school to become a teacher in, especially after relationships have been formed. Relationships have a fragile place in the teacher education literature. Their announced importance seems to come and go. When we are forced to employ high stakes measures to assess academic outcomes, the centrality of relationship to the teaching/learning process seems to fade. When the emperor’s new clothes of high stakes testing is revealed as it inevitably always is, the importance of relationship in a child’s grounding in school reasserts itself. We are in a time of reassertion. In this time, I have been reading more about the art of changing the brain, helped mostly by a book of the same title by James Zull. But first, a little more about the school and how relationships are central to its inhabitants.

The school is filled with children from mostly challenging backgrounds…resettled refugee families newly arrived, resettled refugee families who have been here a while, families challenged and battered by short and longer term conditions of poverty, families where dysfunction is normal, where being on guard is what gets you through the night, into the light of the next day. Even if you are six years old. The children I am most concerned with are the children whose ears are assaulted by negative comments far in excess of positive ones. Research by Hart and Risley confirm negative to positive comments running at least at the ratio of 2:1.

In the teaching world, the teachers who work in such schools do so because they have no other choice, they are on their way to someplace else, or they feel called to do so. Those who feel called, and maybe some of those other categories, share a common language about the importance of relationship. The share a belief that it is important to spend copius amounts of time building relationships with “these” kids especially. These kids can be very hard on you. They are fractious, suspicious, easily adjitated, and in some cases, dangerous. Their on-the-edge emotions are often hair triggered and it doesn’t take much to cause the explosion. Others don’t explode as easily. This latter group just keeps after you. They seem to have no fear, they have walls all around, and their best defense is a strong, often coarse offense. I saw it this morning. One particular girl. Wasn’t doing her work. Loud and obnoxious, dressing down the teacher. When the teacher kept up her quiet insistence that it was time to do her writing, she stormed out of the room and waited just outside the door. When the teacher didn’t come out after her, she came back in, tossed a few more epithets her way, and walked out again, purposefully knocking over a couple of chairs in the process, all in a primary grade setting.

In later processing, one of the gentle veterans of this place said, “That’s why I spend so much time in the early part of the year building them up. It’s funny, but just putting stars on the board next to their name seems to work. They seem to need the assurance and evidence over and over again that I like what they are doing, that I mean my praise, and that they can do things that earn it consistently and lavishly. That’s how I build them up, that’s how I establish my relationship with them, each one of them, that’s why its so hard for them now, to give that trust to another person when I move out and turn the classroom over. You’d like to think that trust transfers. But it doesn’t. It has to be earned. That building up process has to start all over again until they know you are there for them, each one of them.

This trust thing has been with me a long time. I’m old enough to remember Carl Rogers

imploring us to see our relationships with kids as helping relationships and helping us understand what time it took to establish these connections. Unconditional positive regard, active listening, being there now with our kids, all this was central to how I came to understand the vital firm underpinning of the student/teacher relationship. All this and a good deal of solid planning and firm guidance when needed.

With Zull’s help, I see the process with a whole new layer of understanding. 2007, meet 1972. Here’s what the trust component means to me now.


“These” kids, the children in this school, the ones I’m talking about with my students and their mentor teachers, grow up in environments that are unpredictable with respect to dangerous events. I’m talking about psychologically dangerous events. Events that scare them, put them on guard, force them to develop defenses that lash out before hurt can get to them. The reality of course is that by the time hurt is perceived, it is too late. The amygdala has already lept into action.

This vital part of the brain, buried deep in the midbrain, has been with us for a long, long time. We can probably credit our being here in current form to its existence and its successful functioning. The amygdala is the flight / fight / freeze early warning system of our perceptual apparatus. Its operative powers are immediate, unencumbered by more sophisticated frontal reasoning. The body perceives danger, it reacts. Instantly. Period. Muscles tense, adrenalin flows, perception narrows, cognitive processing stops, reactivity dominates, all to alert and ready the organism for combat in whatever struggle is to occur. Eons ago, it was the creeping of the saber-tooth in the night that triggered the amygdala’s functioning. Now, it is the strident voice tone of an unfamiliar person signaling potential damage or danger on the way.

School, in amygdala-speak, is a crowded place of many people. Some of these people are known on the streets and avoided. School is perceived to be a place where you need to be on guard, a place where danger lurks, a place where you have to be ready for the affront, the attack, the challenge that can come at any moment. This ever present perception of danger triggers the response of readiness and it is a stressful, hyper-aggressive, highly focused state. This is the given when most of these kids walk in the door. This is the given when something out of the ordinary occurs. This is the given, when a teacher’s voice tone signals an attack that must be protected against. This, for these children, is the natural, biological response.

The good teacher’s know that what has to happen for these children is to structure a setting where the amygdala can lapse into a restful state, almost going to sleep; a state that tells the rest of the brain’s early warning network that all is well, do not beware, be off duty, it will be okay. I think that’s what happens when the stars go on the board. I think that’s what happens when the first six weeks of school is spent in relationship building. I think that’s what happens when children get to know each other on a far deeper level that what we ordinarily think is necessary. The conditioning dulls the arousal functions of this survival center; the conditioning literally grows a neurological pathway through the reactive system that causes the fire alarm not to ring. What it looks like on the outside is the formation of relationships and “classroom community.” What it looks like on the inside is the construction of neurological pathways that lets the sleeping amygdala lie. Until someone new takes over.

When someone new takes over, someone new like my students, the environment changes immediately. It looks different, and more significantly, it feels different. It is intuited differently. New players assert themselves in new ways. The room sounds different, the comfortable routines change, and if I’m one of “these” kids, I’m not getting the comforting assurance I once had learned was there that everything will be alright. That new teacher may speak the same words as the old, familiar teacher; they may even see themselves as equally if not more secure and comforting as my old number one teacher, but words are only words and every other internal warning light is now flickering off and on in my perceptual apparatus. My fire alarms buzz loudly. I am once again on guard! It isn’t personal. You did nothing wrong to me except replace my teacher, the person I’d learned to trust would not hurt me or let anyone else in this classroom hurt me. The person whose stars on the board reassured me that I was liked and that I was capable of being recognized for doing good things. You can’t just tell me you like me. Lots of people had said that very thing and then hurt me or violated me or abandoned me. That’s why I’m now once again on full alert status. Take me through the calming process. Once again. Take me through that process with you. Teach me I’m okay in your eyes. It will take some time to put my guard down, to teach my early warning network not to be aroused in your presence. It has nothing to do with how you see yourself. It has everything to do with how I learn you learn to see me.

How does that happen? Show me. Show me you know me. Show me you see me doing good things. Show me you see it when I dare to show you I’m competent. Put a star next to my initials when I read my book. Put a star next to my initials when I ignore Sean giving me the finger, put a star next to my initials when I decide not to shove my way into line, put a star next to my name when I pick up Abdulabakar’s pencil. Speak in softer tones. Smile genuinely. Let us laugh and have fun even if it means Harry will take it too far. We all know that. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Greet me when I come into the classroom or when you see me ready to walk in the front door. Tell me you are glad I’m here. Remember Hart and Risley? It’s going to take a lot of positive comments to help me not expect the negative. That note you put inside my desk this morning? No one has ever written me a note like that. It was nice. Thank you. Are you going to stay and be my main teacher? Did we drive our old teacher away? I’m only trying to protect myself the best way I know how. You changed the game on me.

Give me a chance to figure out that it’s going to be okay.

Telling Grandma about IMg


Younger Than Thou: Instant Messaging

  by Dan Pourhadi <>

[Adam here. I recently turned 39, and as much as I don’t feel old physically, there are times when reading about how teenagers use technology – the stuff I’ve been writing about for 17 years! – make me feel simply ancient. Oh, I understand how the technology works; I just don’t always get why these people – all of whom are much younger than I am – find it so compelling, to the point where a recent study found that teens use electronic media for more than 72 hours per week. I don’t think I spend 72 hours per week doing anything short of breathing.

Rather than curmudgeonly harumph around about the good old days of scouring BITNET for joke files and extracting 400K floppies from Mac Pluses, I’ve instead recruited an actual teenager, college freshman Dan Pourhadi, to write about how and why teenagers use the technology they do. Dan last wrote about choosing a Mac to take to college on a $2,000 budget, an assignment he carried off with aplomb, so I figured he was the perfect person to explain his generation to those of us who actually remember the Soviet Union and East Germany (see Beloit College’s Class of 2010 Mindset List for other facts about today’s college freshmen). To kick things off, I’ve asked Dan to explain instant messaging to his grandmother, but I’d like to open this sporadic column up to suggestions from you. If there’s something about how young people (we’re talking 15 to 25 here) use technology, send me or Dan a note and we’ll see what we can do.]

“Hi, Danny dear…”

Hey, Grandma!

“What are you doing there?”

Oh, nothing, Grandma. Just talking to my friends online.

“Hi, Danny’s friend! I’m his grandmother!”

No, no, Grandma. I’m instant messaging them. We’re not on the phone.

“Oh, you’re typing to him? Like the emails. Who are you talking to? That girl you introduced me to yesterday? She was nice.”

Yeah, Grandma. Her, and my friend Mike, and Kim, and Jennifer.

“You’re talking to all of them? Right now?”

Yep, we’re all having separate conversations. See, this is my buddy list on the left. That shows all of my friends who are at their computers right now. I can send messages to anyone I want, and they can respond and we can have a conversation right here in this window – it’s free and there’s no telephone or anything special needed. And I can talk to as many people as I want.

“That is amazing. But it seems kind of complicated.”

It’s a pretty great tool, really, once you get the hang of it. Imagine being able to talk to multiple people at once, while going about your other business. The more you IM, the better your typing becomes, and eventually typing messages becomes second nature – holding a conversation online feels nearly as natural as speaking on the phone.

“That’s crazy.”

Crazy, Grandma?

“Crazy. What if you want to show yourself as sad or happy? How can you know what the other person is thinking if you can’t see or hear them?”

Well, I’m sure that was first said about the telephone – how can you gauge emotion if you can’t see his or her face? Simple: contextual clues and talk patterns. If you upset someone on the phone, they’re likely to pause a few seconds before answering. Once you’re a phone-speaking veteran, understanding the tone of the conversation is simple.

The same applies to text-based instant messaging. When I’m talking to my friends, we use various techniques to relay feeling and tone through the conversation. Ellipsis can mean confusion or uncertainty; a fast typist who’s responding unusually slowly is probably unhappy; italics emphasize words or phrases; capital letters typically denote yelling or excitement. There are also the smiley faces that help broadcast a particular feeling.

“But how do you know they’re not lying? Someone could be lying about how they feel.”

Very true, Grandma, very true. And that happens a lot. But the more you talk to certain people, the better you’re able to understand their real tone. It’s hard to hide emotion, in any medium.

For example, I have a friend who unknowingly adds a period at the end of every message when she’s upset. Most folks I know don’t really use periods in instant messages (sentences are typically separated and sent in separate messages) – so when periods are used, they tend to have a special meaning.

Everything is manipulatable online. Take laughter: if you’re trying to show that you’re amused by something, you’ll typically type “lol” (short for “laugh out loud”). If something is funnier, you might type “hahaha.” The funnier it is, the more “ha”s you add. If something is freakin’ hilarious, you might go all out with a bold “HAHAHAHA.” Capital letters add emphasis, see?

Strategic use of speed, pauses, capital letters and italics, emoticons, punctuation, abbreviations, even word choice – an IM veteran reads and understands all of that to mean something, and that makes IM conversations as natural to them as anything else.

“Um, Danny…”

Yes, Grandma?

“Your friend sent something to you. Why aren’t you answering?”

See, that’s another great aspect of this whole thing: If you’re talking face-to-face or on the phone, you’re forced to answer right away. An IM conversation is completely controllable. You can pause a few seconds to think of an answer, type “brb” (be right back) and take a few minute break, or just a simple “g2g” (got to go) to high-tail it outta there. You tailor the conversation to your liking.

“That’s terrible!”

Why’s that, Grandma?

“It’s rude! Leaving someone like that, in the middle of a conversation. Imagine!”

Grandma, what’s rude on the phone or in person isn’t necessarily rude online.

IM vets tend to follow certain etiquette rules that make conversations manageable for both sides. You shouldn’t leave a conversation, for instance, without first saying “brb” or “g2g”; if you’re not at your computer or if you don’t want to respond to IMs, you put up an “Away” message – something that’s sent automatically when you receive a message, like “I’m away from my computer.” so your buddies know not to expect an answer.

When everyone follows those rules – which honestly are pretty common-sense – then rudeness is all but eliminated.

“That’s not so bad I guess. So what do you talk about?”



I’m kidding, Grandma. We talk about anything and everything. School work, work work, regular friend stuff. As odd as it sounds, I tend to be more open talking online than I am in person. Sure, doctors may say “that’s not healthy,” to which I’d respond “YOU’RE not healthy!”, but really, instant messaging is a lot easier for people like me. You have those extra seconds to analyze what’s being said and to plan your response; you can still convey and judge emotion; you can scroll up to re-read what’s been said; there are no awkward silences or odd looks or funny noises accidentally coming from your mouth.

Looking at it from a conventional, face-to-face-talking-is-the-best perspective, it may seem insincere and fake – a tailored, analyzed conversation – and it probably is, a little. But it reduces the risk of misspeaking and miscommunication, and it promotes honesty by making a conversation a lot more comfortable.

“You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?”

I have, Grandma.

“So you’re talking to four people right now?”

I am.

“Doesn’t that get confusing? Saying all those different things to different people?”

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? It’s a habitual thing, like driving. When a newbie driver gets behind the wheel, he’s blown away by all the different tasks he’s supposed to accomplish at once – keeping his eye on the road, measuring his speed, watching for signs and anticipating other cars’ behaviors. It seems impossible to the poor sap.

But the more you drive, the more each task becomes habit, the easier it all becomes. The very same concept applies to instant messaging: At first, managing even one discussion is a hassle. But the more you do it, the more you’re able to compartmentalize the conversations; you learn to take clues from context and previous messages to know where you left off. Before you know it, you’re having conversations with ten or more people at once without batting an eye.

There is always the case of the mis-sent Message, though. Happens all the time: someone clicks the wrong conversation and sends a message that was supposed to go to someone else. It’s not necessarily a result of confusion: just acting before thinking.

“I’d never be able to do so many things at once. How in the world do you get anything done?”

Well, that’s when the Away message comes in handy. If I have work to do or TV to watch (both of which share a spot on the priority List), I’ll put up an Away message, hinting that I’m busy, unable, or even just unwilling to talk. I might talk with one or two people, but the Away message keeps other people from IMing me and helps to prevent distraction. It all has to do with willpower: if IM gets distracting, you shut it off. It’s not really a new concept – you probably thought that Mom talking on the phone got in the way of her homework. The solution – shutting down the distraction – is the same.

“Yes, she spent way too much time on the phone when she should have been doing her homework. But this all seems pretty neat to me.”

It really is. And there are all sorts of other cool features of IMing that make it an addictive form of communication: you can send pictures and files to your buddies; you can have IM chat-room conversations with two or more people; you can stay connected with people all over the world for free; it takes very little effort to initiate or participate in a conversation, which is great for lazies like me; there’s always the comfort of privacy; and it has what I call the “iPod Appeal”: you can enjoy it without making it the center of your focus. It’s entirely possible to have a serious meaningful conversation in the background while doing other things.

Case in point: I’m talking to you right now, Grandma, while writing a paper and talking to four of my friends. I’m obviously focusing on our conversation the most, then the paper, and then I’m answering my friends whenever they send me something. It works amazingly well. Try doing that on the phone, or even in person. I bet you couldn’t.

“Nope. You kids and your ‘younger than thou’ attitudes.”

Wow, Grandma. That’d make a great name for a column.

“I’m sure. So what about that paper you claimed you were working on?”

Sorry Grandma, g2g.


Auto-Response: I’m away from my computer right now.

My Doggy Zappa


Adult Perspective: All of a sudden she’s drawing representational figures.

Cianya’s Perspective: I’ve finally got the control of how to make these lines go where I want them to. This is Zappa, my doggy. I’ve even got those dark eyes exactly where I want them! (Cianya is just four years old. This picture was drawn perhaps two weeks into her fifth year on earth.)

Wil Richardson on Marco Torres

Marco Torres is the film maker that Martha Nichols wrote to me about. He is a brilliant teacher in LA and was hired by Apple to do a series of films with kids on schools where technology (iLife06) is change the way of learning life. The films are brilliant and brought multiple lumps to my throat. They show kids and teachers in stereotype-busting schools embracing inquiry and learning and having fun doing it.

When Martha wrote, I had no idea who Torres was and I indelicately wrote him and asked. Tonight, I find Wil Richardson’s blog on Torres speech last Spring at the K-12 Online Conference. I clearly have to learn more about this man’s work! Here’s his speech.

Marco Torres–”Quit, Complain, or Innovate”

So I had the distinct pleasure of getting a chance to chat on and off with Marco Torres the last few days and to watch and listen to his scintillating keynote yesterday. Let me be clear: there is no one “out there” right now who delivers the message about how schools need to change better than Marco. No one. He’s a teacher, a learner, a father, a visionary…I can’t say enough good things about him. And he just totally gets it in a way that we all have to get closer to.

His kids and his work are, I think, as close to the new story as we come. And it’s rooted, I think, in the way he looks at what he asks his kids to do. As he says, whatever it is that they create, “it must have wings.” As far as I can tell, there is no work for the teacher in his classroom. Instead, it’s work for the community. Work for the world. Real, purposeful stuff. So different from the way most of us look at our classrooms. And he does it in difficult circumstances. At his school of 5,000 kids, only about 650 graduated last year. Eighty percent of the state of California does better than his school. “Teachers can either quit, complain, or innovate.” Guess which he chooses.

Marco had his kids list all of the ways they have to receive, produce, share or broadcast information. The list, as you can imagine, is long. Then, he had his kids call school districts from around the country and ask for the age of the principal or the chief school administrator and they found the average age to be 48. Finally, he had them list the ways those administrators had to receive, produce, share or broadcast information when they were 16. The difference in the lists is telling, and the moral obvious. The world has changed drastically, and we just are not taking advantage of all of the other ways that we now have available to assess what our students are learning. Marco speaks with passion about finding a student’s “channel” for learning. He tells the story of asking a group of professors to write down the events that have had the biggest impact on their lives, and they wroted down things like the Vietnam, the Challenger accident, 9/11, all things that they had seen. Nothing that they had read. A lot of our kids know it by seeing it.

And, “learning is not just how you receive information but how you produce it.” He tells the story of how his Socail Studies department a few years ago took three weeks to decide that the appropriate number of pages for a research paper was 15 pages. That was frustrating, he says, because it’s all about process. “Work has to fly.” Then he showed this video, “The Power of One.” “If I passed out all the A papers,” he said, “it would not have had the same impact. Could the classroom be the stage for the world? It’s been a risk for me, but making sure that my target audience is not just my principal but instead the community and business makes it relevant.”

Some other ideas in short order:

* If you can be replaced, you will be. Creativity is what is going to set you apart.

* A lot of my teachers are like skiiers, they want smooth ride, no bumps, no ice. But if you change the perspective and become a snowboarder, bumps and ice can be an awesome ride. We need to be snowboarders.

* Make it relevant, make it meaningful, make it applicable.

* It’s all about your network. Who is in your “now” network?

* We need to connect students and family. We have to include them. (See this video as an example.)

* It’s not about technology. It’s about creativity, about a business plan. Are you aware of your target audiences? Who are you going to market to? How will you assess it?

It was just a great, great talk that has me motivated to want to learn more and more and more. Those are the best kind, I think.