Ok. So the Senator Alexander call starts. It’s gonna be 20 minutes long. (Hmmm…) Eight or so other “education” bloggers on the line. He’s a nice guy. Says he doesn’t want to make any speeches. Then makes a speech. A short one though. Not bad. We need to compete. Math Science. NCLB. Somebody asks a question. It’s about the bill. Something about money spent on teacher retention in the US. Great question, the senator says. Answers something about rewarding good teachers who have good students. Paying them more. Other stuff. Silence. I jump in (what the heck.) I’m a 21-year pub school educator and have been writing about this stuff for six years on my blog, I say. He says well you know more than I do about this stuff and chuckles. I say look, no real question here just two points. (My 90 second conference call pitch…been working on it.) First, in a world where we can learn anything, anywhere, anytime, we need every kid connected to the Internet. Second, we’re going to be throwing good money after bad on all this if we don’t start having a conversation about learning, not more content and skills. (It was a little better than that, I think.) Great points, he says. (A pattern is emerging.) Says the problem is that we’re not spending enough money on professional development (huh?) and that our teachers don’t know the technology. He finishes, and I about lose my lunch as the next person (who I won’t identify for fear of, um, something I can’t imagine at the moment) launches into this, this, this hair raising run-on sentence about how ya know, technology this and technology that is all a bunch of bunk and we’re getting all excited about these 21st Century Skills when what we really need are kids who can multiply 6 x 4. (Ok. I swear. I’m not making this up.) That we gotta get over this technology thing, and we better get back to teachin’ kids what they need to know. The senator says, well, actually he doesn’t say great point but he makes some other disarming comment before the next “education” blogger chimes in with a question about whether or not social studies will be made a part of NCLB. At this point, I feel whatever hope I had for all of this slipping away real fast. There is then something about the bill’s passage in the Senate, a follow up asking for a social studies test, something else…all great question, ifyaknowwhatImean. Scott McLeod who is also on the call, (and has a list of the “education” bloggers on his site) says that the bill is basically useless because there is no attention to supporting and training school leaders (and Scott, if you read this, please feel free to be much more lucid about your question than I am being here…my brain was hurting at the time.) Another basic non answer answer and mercifully the staffer who set up the call chimes in and says time’s up.
Technorati Tags: lamaralexander, future, politcs, shifts, stupidity, education
Bill Fitzgerald says
This sounds brutal.
Glad you made it through without losing your lunch, and only losing some of your patience.
Keep the faith.
Mrs. Durff says
You did your best. It may seem like there is no immediate impact, but somehow I think there will be. If nothing else, that misguided person who thinks 21st century skills are a waste of time, won’t see that train coming, and get run over. I’m not as diplomatic as you are!
Brian Crosby says
Note, no discussion – just talking points. Now whereâ€™s the discussion to go with it? Probably not forthcoming. They got someone from every educational philosophy â€“ those that feel that the instruction model where students chant reading selections while the teacher beats out the tempo with a stick (no kidding) to you. Like you said â€“ oy!
Andrew Pass says
Will, I studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America shortly after women were allowed to become rabbis. For the first few years every women rabbinical student discussed the importance of allowing women to be rabbis. They didn’t discuss 99 and 1/2 percent of the substantive issues related to Judaism. Sometimes I feel as if “educational” bloggers do the same thing. They hype up blogging, on-line collaboration, wikis, podcasts and more. But they forget that these are not end-products in their own right. Technology has to be used for something significant and substantive. People have to collaborate about more than technology. I was a part of the conversation and also left feeling frustrated. But for different reasons. I’ll write about it on my own blog.
Jim Gates says
Opportunity lost. It reminds me of the saying, “No matter which side you’re on there will be someone on your side whom you wish weren’t!” Such is the case with that person who derailed discussion with the 6×4 comment.
I also agree with Brian’s comment about there being no plans for further discussion. He’s right that you know more about it than he does, but HE is going to be making the laws. Oh my…
Thanks for trying.
I thought this was how press conferences worked. The conference call was for publicity purposes. You get a chance to ask an insightful question and then write your scoop story. In any event, this bill is far along the legislative process so it’ll likely pass no matter what we write about.
As to your comment on learning anything from the Internet, I think you need to look into some of the research on novice-expert studies to see why kids with little domain knowledge aren’t going to extract as much from the Internet as you think they will as long as they lack “content and skills.” (The short answer is that experts who know much content and have many skills learn much faster even though they have less to learn than novices who know little and have few skills even though they have much to learn.)
(And, then we have Brian’s preferred pedagogy full of rainbows, lollipops, and happy talk and in which many kids fail to learn how to read. I guess that’s why he thinks learning is so messy. I’ll take the stick.)
sylvia martinez says
Great blog post!
Seriously, this particular 20 minutes may have been a waste of time from your point of view, since it was obviously intended to pull you onside and make you feel special, not a way to really gather input. But it does give you the opportunity to continue contact with this senator and his staff. If you do, maybe in the future, someone will look to you when they need an advisor or a committee member.
â€œIf you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friendâ€ – Abraham Lincoln
John Martin says
Will, you did your best given what you knew going in. And now you know more about the process as a result.
Politics isn’t about the quick fix, it’s about the long haul. One of the problems I see is that we have too many seemingly lone voices in the Internet wilderness and it is far too easy to dismiss individuals than it is a cohesive and organized force. Sylvia is right when she points out that you are now a name and a face to the Senator. The question is, how do we get more folks like yourself in his face and in the face of others who have the power to make decisions?
While it may seem frustrating now, this is a great first step. But the challenge for all of us is to take the Read/Write web and add to it a new facet – REACT. We can continue to be individual voices or we can choose to create a unified voice, one that carries greater weight with those who jobs and experiences have conditioned them to respond to those voices.
I apologize if this seems a bit of a ramble but it seems that we are on the verge of something that I can’t quite see but I am beginning to feel.
You have found yourself in a terrific position to begin to effect change. The question is whether we are ready to take the next step. We began our journey as readers of the web, we continued it as writers, are we ready to become Reactors, agents of change on more than a local scale?
Thank you Will!
Alice Mercer says
It’s sounds like there was a lack of a coherent message. Look, my background before teaching was in a number of interesting things, among them community organizing, and public opinion polling. When you asked in January or so about a manifesto, there were lots of agreement, but there was no plan there. There is nothing wrong with the amen corner, but if you want this to move out and to get momentum, you need a policy, and talking points, and a plan for people repeating them. So that when you leave a meeting like that, even if everyone else is incoherent, your coherent points are being “telegraphed” throughout the web on blogs by the rest of us. This would create movement/momentum. You’d look like someone with a plan, and a constituency behind you. So what if the pol was using you, you could use his meeting (press conference) to make your point.
Here are your points:
+ We need to look at what we are teaching, and how students learn to make our instruction and their learning effective.
+ Bridge the digital divide NOW!
+ The Web provides us with some incredible tools for teaching students meaningfully, and having them make meaningful content, but we should be teaching students to think and create, not read and regurgitate.
We need a change in education policy (frameworks/standards), teacher training (to reflect framework). I would also include something about access to computers and high speed Internet in the home (maybe $200 laptops, and a lifeline service like with land lines).
If you don’t like my points, by all means, come up with your own. Then ALL of us so go to as many blogs on news, policy, etc. that will take comments, or links, and post to them, link to them, etc. with a link to your points so that is the message, not Mr. Alexander’s press release (or Mr. 4 x 6’s).
A wiki might be a better organizing tool for this, but you know more about the Web tools than I do.
BTW, thanks for fighting the good fight.
Rob Darrow says
Every interaction with a legislator is an opportunity to educate no matter how long. Change takes time. Glad you are a voice for many of us.
Carolyn Foote says
It’s conceivable that the (unfocused?) arrangement of the call was as much to blame for the chaos of the conversation as anything.
I mean, what was their purpose and was that clear to all participating before the call? Had that been clearer, it certainly would have focused the conversation somewhat.
As far as talking points, that’s a great idea, but in this particular case, it sounds like the participants were from all sides of the educational aisle in which case it’d be hard to have the same talking points.
And personally, I think that technology is discussed because it is a transformative learning tool, and it’s not as though bloggers expect that the tools alone will change students ‘ lives, it’s what educators and students can do combining the tools and the content to create an engaging learning experience.
I’ve been thinking a lot tonight about global connections. I got a chance to attend SXSW music festival in Austin tonight and heard bands from South Africa and the UK, which was fun and fascinating, which led me to think about how that same sense of universality but novelty applies to global connections that our students make. All of which is to say that I think technology affords all of us experiences and discussions we haven’t had the opportunity to have before. (like this conversation here….)
I’d be very curious to know what the intent of the call was, exactly….if it was strictly p.r., it doesn’t sound like it was very effective in that regard.
Thanks for the effort to send a coherent message.
(and to others who did also….)
Gary Stager says
Will, I agree with Sylvia (above) and welcome the opportunity to speak with anyone who might listen, especially if they are in a position of authority.
However, Lamar Alexander is a bad guy. He did bad stuff to schools while Governor and Secretary of Education.
I always struggle with the decision over whether to be “at the table” or keep my hands clean so I am not implicated when something goes awry. It’s often a 60/40 proposition.
Scott McLeod says
Will, it was an interesting phone call. I think we expected this given the makeup of the group, the short time period allotted, and the uncertain purpose of the call.
Like Gary Stager, I agree with Sylvia Martinez’s comment: I think it’s critically important to be in the game. Despite my law background, I continue to be mystified by the complexities surrounding the formation of federal/state law and policy. The Senator is playing in an arena in which folks like you and I really understand very little. Like all of our elected federal and state representatives, he’s juggling multiple issues, and multiple constituent perspectives, and multiple deals with other politicians at all times. That said, he clearly has his own personal and political beliefs, represents a certain type of constituency, and will listen to certain voices and perspectives over others. Again, though, we all have to try and play in this arena whenever we can, and take whatever opportunities we can get to interact with policymakers, regardless of whether we agree with their individual or political party belief systems. Otherwise our voices never will be heard and our chances of seeing the changes we’d like to see diminish accordingly.
Short as the time was, at least we each had a chance to voice our thoughts. You got to talk about access for disadvantaged kids and a new learning paradigm. I got to express my concerns that, like most other initiatives of this ilk, the school leaders that will be in charge of making this stuff happen have been completely left out of the training, implementation, legislation, policies, funding, etc. Neither of us may have gotten the answer we would have liked (“you’re so right, I’ll work to make those changes in the legislation immediately!”), but at least we had a chance to have our say. The more chances we get like this, the better, and I hope we have many more. As Alice Mercer notes in her comment, we need to be actively involved with our political representatives and we probably need some help knowing how best to do that (I know I do!).
For those of you who are curious, the gentleman Will refers to said: “I’ve been using technology in the classroom since the 1980s. . . . The thing that makes me nervous about this whole 21st century learning and technology emphasis is that, in my experience, this translates into buying lots of cute toys and computers for classes and spending more time on programs that the data show do not work. I mean I don’t think technology is the question. I think that actually teaching kids to know that 4 x 12 = 48 is the answer.” The Senator then noted that, of course, technology can be used effectively to help students better learn required course material.
Andrew Pass and Ryan Boots also blogged about this conference call:
And some of the other participants may as well:
Carolyn Foote says
I’ve been thinking overnight about Sylvia’s comment, which I think is true–and maybe one take away is that education bloggers were called in the first place. There’s some concern there, obviously.
I’ve also been thinking about the talking points–not so much per this call–but in general, about a group of influential writers coalescing around a vision statement that is “identifiable,” concise and unified in the language that is used. Interesting idea.
Alice Mercer says
Carolyn, I wouldn’t right off the meeting from the Senator’s point of view. While Will has bragging rights about being called in, the Senator can now cite Will when he calls for more teacher professional development. IMHE even at the local level, these events are not about a coherent policy discussion. That meeting was what it was, I still think there is a lot to take from it and that ed web 2.0 folks can do with it. Scott McLeod has an excellent post on his site now where he asks us to make the argument for web 2.0. IMHO, this can’t be a manifesto or a blue-ribbon report, it needs to be the bullet points, and we need to ring it loud and clear.
My question Scott and Will is, did I have your bullet points? Are we still discussing what we need? Then, the next step is making the why coherent, which is what Scott is asking on his blog.
It’s like when you are putting up you objectives for a lesson with students. Make it clear, concise, and easily understood.
Alice Mercer says
Woa, there was a typo, right off the meeting should be write-off. Gotta love those homophones.
Dan L. says
Will, and others on the call.. thank you for sharing your experiences!
Perhaps it is time for another summit in Washington similar to the Secretary’s Conference in 1995 (Making it Happen – http://www.ed.gov/Technology/TechConf/1995/index.html
, where educational technology leaders were invited to speak and demonstrate on particular topics. That summit, with its avowed purpose of beginning a National Long-Range Plan for Educational Technology, was quite influential since Mosaic had just been released and we were able to demonstrate our first attempts at creating meaningful educational web sites etc.
We are at that same juncture again, and we should be lobbying people such as Senator Alexander to ask the Ed. Dept to host another summit to UPDATE the National Educational Technology Plan that resulted from the 1995 and later summits.
You need a real-time, face to face forum for Washington so the new tools can be made real for the politicians and policy makers.
Scott McLeod says
FYI, we’ve had two national ed tech plans since the first one:
The message of the latest one that educational technology was critically important was undercut a month later by the Administration proposing to zero out the E2T2 budget…
Carolyn Foote says
I wasn’t trying to write off the meeting, and actually agree that contact is good and definitely a point for starting discussion.
I was just saying (in my first comment) that perhaps the conversation was somewhat divergent because the purpose for the conference call wasn’t entirely clearly established and there were so many diverse players involved for such a brief time.
I agree with Scott also about the myriad audiences that Congress plays to, and the complexity of the policy world, etc. and needing to participate in that. Another thing influencing all this politically that we should be aware of is the bill filed regarding NCLB today.
Ian Stuart says
Technology, by definition, is a tool, something we work with but what a tool it information technology is!
I actually agree that we should be teaching kids what they need to know. (No matter where in the world they are)
What they need to know is how live, work and prosper in the 21st century.
Technololgy is now a basic skill they require.
Scott McLeod says
Ian (and others),
Thought you might be interested in my post today:
sylvia martinez says
I think it is a personal decision to “be in the game” as Scott says. It’s a risk to dilute your own message and compromise your beliefs by trying to reach consensus with others. It’s a commitment of precious time spent in meetings instead of working directly with teachers or students.
You may decide that by reaching even a handful of teachers who start blogging projects, this has the opportunity to influence lots of kids. And opening a door to just a few of those kids that might otherwise be closed to them is worth more than all the committee meetings, summits, and press releases in the world. One inspired teacher, one inspired kid–it’s a chain of events that can change the world.
OR – you can envision a future where many more kids lives are changed by some improvement in the educational system brought on as a result of a law that you helped shape.
I don’t think these are right/wrong choices, but choices that suit your personality and temperament.
There’s no harm in trying. Opportunities are rare and needs to be grabbed the moment you see it. Loosing it doesn’t mean you can’t go on. Nevertheless, you did your best. It’s good that you stood up.
Almost everybody said what’s in my thought. But it’s good to know that you did your best in standing out for the group. Eventhough it was difficul, yet you did your part.