Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Rant

This past week the wwwedu discussion list has been hopping with some fightin' words. Moderator Andy Carvin just posted a great summary of the discussion, with quotes from a few contributors, including me, on the new blog he is writing for pbs.

Contributing to a list is hard work for me, compared to brogwriting. I feel like I have to choose words so carefully.... So, rather than add to the wwwedu discussion, I just added the following comment (also easier to write) to Andy's post:

Yes Andy, that was one good rant and discussion. I hope readers remember that the feelings behind Jeff’s rant continue there still - and are shared by many, myself included. Just speaking the problem does not solve it, make it go away, or lessen the feeling that produced it.

And yet I wonder what those just tuning in on this discussion think about all this? Are those ranters really a bunch of loose cannons, spurred on by some wild hair of a crazy idea? I think it would be pretty easy to think that, if you’ve not been involved in the discussion. Don’t schools have computers? Aren’t they connected to the Internet? What’s the problem then, for goodness sake? Just settle down and keep the kids safe.

So I do worry about that. I think those of us waving our arms around so wildly at times at this or that windmill need to remember the most powerful change agent in the US - public opinion. I hope we are not shooting our cause in the foot, adding, in our passion, to the fear that may “overtake the Internet’s potential…”

Thanks for the thoughtful and kind remarks Andy. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. - Mark


Jeff Cooper said...

Hi Mark,

I chimed in on Andy's blog and thought I'd stop by here as well. I fear that public opinion is so far in the wrong now that there is little hope that the Net will begin to reach its potential in K-12 classes for years to come.

Mass media portrays the Net as a predator stomping ground (see all 12 Dateline episodes for proof). Have you ever seen any mass media news show in praise of educational uses of the Net? DOPA represents politicians playing on public paranoia (how's that for alliteration?).

When the media begin to do hour long specials on Takingitglobal, Nabuur, Tapped In, Global Schoolhouse, NASA for Kids, PBSKids, Starfall, etc., in other words safe and socially responsible places for kids to learn online, then I'll stop ranting.

Trouble is, the "voice in the wilderness" really isn't being heard by anyone; along with the falling tree in an empty forest, these words go unheeded. Why? It's not for lack of a sanguine argument, or the fact that paranoia regarding myspace and other social networks may be alleviated by calm discourse. Take a look at Danah Boyd's Interview regarding social networking. Although you and I (and Andy and a handful of other educators) will read it, when will it shake and move the American public? When will it show up on the 11:00 news?

My rant, and Ted's follow-up bring back a little of the passion that I'm sure stirred all of us to become educators in the first place. I believe that most of us wanted to change the system, not just become a cog in the status quo.

Unfortunately, the forces for change in education must now face an entrenched system intent on maintaining control at all costs. In this case, the cost is the unwillingness of the system to bring education into the 21st Century. That means loosening control and giving students the freedom to become individual engaged learners, not automatons regurgitating standardized facts which mean something to NCLB high stakes test, but little to students.

Can I make change happen? I don't know, I doubt it. But somehow my little rant has taken off a bit, and certainly gotten the virtual ball rolling around the Net. Who knows? Maybe Oprah will pick it up and I can debate alongside Andy (or you, or Ted Nellen, etc.) against Richardson and Kirk about DOPA.

I mean, it's about time that they heard from some educators on this, don't you think?


Jeff Cooper
Education Technology Support Specialist

Mark Ahlness said...

Jeff, thanks for your comments! I'm with you 100% on skewed media coverage of the Net.

I was so happy to see your rant on wwwedu, because it seems the list culture has been relatively quiet in expressing this kind of outrage. Relatively quiet compared to the blogosphere, where impassioned rants like yours are heard on a regular basis. So thanks again for getting it out there for all those (passive by comparison) list folk.

And thanks for pointing out Dana's interview. I've read her stuff before and been blown away.

I think the mainstream is beginning to hear noises about the potential of the Net in education - hey, how about Andy having a blog on PBS?! This I think is very exciting. I only worry that the public, when they finally hear from educators about all the new potential - will be put off by some of the screaming passion - and not understand what it's all about.

But, I ought to worry about that when the word starts getting out there. In the meantime, I'll be looking for you on Oprah!

Take care - Mark