Thursday, May 3, 2007

Enough is Enough

Despite the fact that the teachers here in Louisiana are some of the nation’s lowest paid, there have been surprisingly few job actions over the years. Consequently, I was very surprised and taken aback by the negative public criticism which was doled on quite thickly over a recent rally we had at the state capitol in support of an education funding proposal being considered by the legislature. After two days of this barrage, I was motivated to write an e-mail to one of our local radio talk show hosts who also happens to be an acquaintance of mine. The text of the letter follows:

Hi Bo,

I've known you for a while now (we've ridden motorcycles together on a few occasions) and I've also followed you around the radio dial through some career changes over the years. So it was with more than a little consternation that I reached for the "off" button on my radio after hearing you and Rob, for a second morning, rake the teachers over the rally in Baton Rouge yesterday.

Bo, you and Rob of all people should know that "squeaky wheel gets the grease" is not just an old saying in Louisiana, it's the way business is done here. Louisiana teachers have been playing nice for years and years now, and we've listened to practically every politician who runs for office say that they support better education and higher pay for teachers. But the result is we are among the lowest paid educators in the nation. Coincidentally, we also have one of the worst educational systems in the country. And if you don't think there is a correlation, find the states with the best educational systems and check their teacher pay rates. There's another old saying that comes into play here: "You get what you pay for."

I heard a couple of comments yesterday from parents calling the station, angry because there was no one to babysit their kids, opining that the teachers "Aren't acting very professionally." My reply to that is that they aren't being paid very professionally either. Wouldn't it be nice if the state would come up with enough money to hire someone who could actually teach their kids something as well as babysit them? Why isn't this anger directed at the politicians who made us feel like this drastic action was the only way we could get anyone's attention.

To be a teacher, one has to do a minimum of about 5 years of college, take (and pass) at least two batteries of the National Teachers Examination, and satisfy a number of ongoing requirements of the NCLB act to maintain what is described as "highly qualified" status in order to be eligible to teach. I have no problem with these requirements and in fact think they should be even higher. But the thing is, you can't go down to a used car lot and pick yourself up a sweet deal on a '92 VW Beetle and then place a minimum top speed requirement of 130 mph on it. If your standards are going to be that high, you'd better be prepared to thin your wallet down a good bit more in the process. Fact is Bo, a growing number of the real teaching professionals have already gone somewhere else where they can make decent money.

Even the present proposal before the legislature, which is far more generous than anything proposed in a very long time, will (if passed) only bring us up to the much bandied about "southern average." And if average schools are what your after, then I guess that's a pretty good mark to shoot for. One thing for sure though Bo, you'll never build outstanding schools on the shoulders of bargain-basement teachers.

Well anyway, there's a lot more I could say and if you're interested get back to me and we can discuss it. But, if I'm going to have anything to listen to now on my way to work in the mornings I'd better get to figuring out what I need to beef up my CD collection.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

March of the Luddites

Are teachers technophobes? Something I read in Dave Warlick's blog yesterday really got me thinking. He wrote about a friend of his who opined that many of the teachers she works with can't even do an e-mail attachment. Dave countered that he just didn't believe that teachers were that far behind the curve. I'm not sure I can agree.

In my job as a Technology Facilitator, I'm often amazed at how many of the teachers of my generation (I'm a boomer) get down right uncomfortable when it comes to doing anything on a computer. My office is housed in the parish (county) career center, and you'd think that if there's anywhere in the system you could find a technically minded faculty, it would be here. But, to the contrary, I can cite endless anecdotes illustrating aversion to anything more techie than a mechanical pencil.

I can only imagine how overwhelmed some of these teachers would be in a one-laptop-per-child teaching environment. I honestly think some of them would opt to resign rather than deal with it. It would surly make realizing my (and many others) dream of an OLPC school system a mixed blessing.

Could this phenomonon be the true underlying cause that's stonewalling the implimentation of Web 2.0 techniques in today's classrooms? Would so many school systems have blocks on MySpace and YouTube if there were a concerted outcry from teachers to remove them? We as teachers are quick to blame our technological stagnation on administrative roadblocks and funding, but maybe we share more of the blame than we're willing to admit.

Monday, January 29, 2007

My Social Networking Article

OK ...I've been tasked by one of our Principals to write a brief article on the "dangers" of MySpace for their school's newsletter. I think she may be a bit disappointed that I'm not willing to do the hatchet job she's expecting, but I did try to give both sides of the issue and write it in a positive tone. Anyway, thought I'd post the article here and hopefully get a little feedback from the blogging community.

Is Web-based Social Networking Safe?

By G. Douglas Arnold

Perhaps you have heard some of the recent stories about minors who have been victimized on internet social networking sites. Some of these sites, like MySpace and Yahoo 360, have become more popular than the mall or the movies as a gathering place for teens. Many concerns are now being raised as to whether these sites are a safe way for our kids to spend their time.

So do social networking sites pose a real threat to the young people who use them? Well, for those not aware of the risks, they can. Even though some statistics claim that only about 1 in 40 occurrences of sexual predation take place on the internet, the web can potentially be a dangerous place for kids.

Parents should not give their children free and unsupervised rein on social networking sites any more than they should pitch the car keys to their newly licensed 15 year old and tell them to go have a good time. In either case, a determination needs to be made as to whether your child is responsible enough to engage in the activity without endangering themselves. Also, a few well thought out ground rules are in order. Kids need to be made aware of the potential dangers of online socialization and then need to be monitored to make sure they are heeding the guidelines set out for them.

Ultimately, whether a teen is allowed on a website like MySpace is a decision which every parent should make consciously and proactively based on an awareness of the risks involved. If care and common sense are exercised, online socialization can be a fun way for teens to interact with their friends, but just as safety-conscious parents are more reluctant than past generations to let their kids go out into the real world unsupervised, that same concern needs to be applied to the Internet.

A few social networking dos and don’ts:

Dos (for parents) -

  • Do try to be familiar with who your kids are “hanging out” with online.
  • Do show an interest in what your teen does online and actively monitor them.
  • Do get your child to show you their MySpace/360/etc. site if they have one.
  • Do explain that everyone can see the information they put on the internet; not just their friends.

Don’ts (for kids) -

  • Don’t put personal information (address, phone #, etc.) anywhere on the internet.
  • Don’t assume that just because you’ve met someone online that you know them; imposters are everywhere on the net.
  • Don’t participate in online bullying.
  • Don’t forget to use common sense when interacting with other people online and never trust strangers. The internet can be a dangerous place.

For more tips on how to keep kids safe online go to:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Net Neutrality

I know many of you are quite up-to-speed on this issue, but for those of you who aren't, there is a media and lobbying campaign being waged by the large telecom conglomerates trying to convince people that "Net Neutrality" is bad for the internet. The arguements that they offer seem logical and convincing, and admittedly, the changes and legislation they are asking for probably would stimulate advances in access and bandwidth that have heretofore not been seen. But at what cost??

If the net is to continue to be the platform for the free exchange of ideas that it has been and should continue to be, big business and big government must be kept out of it. It should instead be allowed to grow and flourish through grassroots initiatives like the one instituted in the town of Layfayette, Louisiana. Instead of depending on the telecoms, Layfayette formed a coalition of local representatives to float a bond that would fund their local utility co-op in developing a fiber optic system that would serve every household in the area. It worked, but not before BellSouth and Cox Cable ground the operation to a halt with litigation, delaying the installation by a year at an additional cost of $125,000. Furthermore, as a result of telecom lobbying (40 million plus), 14 states now have legislation making it impossible for their municipalities to do what Layfayette is doing.

If companies like Cox Cable and BellSouth get the federal legislation they are now seeking, they will have the power they need to put an end to competition that would prevent them from getting a stranglehold on the net. We recently had a near miss in the form of HR5252, a House bill that was defeated despite heavy lobbying by the telecoms. But you can bet more is on the way. It's time for us all to get informed on this issue and help get the word out before they slip one by us.

Friday, December 8, 2006

$100 Laptop

If you're a techie, you've probably heard the scuttlebutt about this new $100 laptop that's coming out. Well...I've picked up a couple of posts off my feeds saying that they are indeed here at last. Developed by MIT and manufactured in Taiwan, the machines run Linux on an AMD Geode processor, and each one is also a fully functioning wireless router.

I know there are a lot of folks out there who (like me) have looked enviously at schools that are instituting whole-school one-for-one laptop programs and asked " Man, how could we ever afford anything like that?" Hey, if these laptops prove to have the necessary functionality and durability, they just might be the answer.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Classics In Danger?

Despite being a huge proponent of technology in education, I’m sometimes fearful that the Internet will do for classical literature what pop has done for classical music. Will we soon see a time when that “stuff” just isn’t read anymore? I think we’re well on the way there already.

On the other hand, if we can use the net to get kids reading again, maybe they will eventually yearn for something more absorbing than the expedient fluff they are barraged with online.


Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Are We Losing Our Language?

Having long been what I consider to be a student of logic, I became aware early on of the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. Consequently, it was to my dismay when the word of the day at the school where I teach was ‘deduce’, and the sentence given along with the definition was a clear example of inference rather than deduction.

When I later mentioned to the person who compiled our school’s word of the day list that even though the terms deduce and infer are commonly (and often improperly) used interchangeably, they do have their own specific meanings and really don’t describe exactly the same thing. The response I expected from a colleague was, at the very least, a mild interest in getting it right. What she did instead was abruptly pull out a tattered copy of the nth edition of the Joe Whatsizname Thesaurus, and stated authoritatively, “According to this they’re synonyms”. Seeing where this exchange was going, I dropped the subject and moved on.

More recently, I happened across an article on language usage by the late Professor R. L. Trask in which he offers that the “correct form” of English is whatever form English-speakers are using, and states furthermore that “there is no higher court of appeal.”

Well, needless to say, as one who considered it blasphemy when they started putting the word ‘ain’t’ in the dictionary, I was aghast. Have we reached a point in cultural evolution where the intricacies of our admittedly complex language are to be trashed in the interest of simplification and expediency?

From a historical perspective, it’s easy to see how many of the compromises or dialects of a language came into being. Before television, radio, telephone, rapid forms of conveyance, or even the printing press, the concept of global communication did not exist. It was difficult to communicate effectively with the next village, much less beyond. But in today’s technological environment, one cannot blame one’s linguistic shortcomings on lack of good example. One has only to turn on the TV to hear the best (and worst) of the Queen’s English. That, combined with the guarantee of a free education for all, would create the expectation that we should now be at the very pinnacle of semantic art.

But in reality, our modern culture seems to be rushing toward a language in which our vocabulary is losing its nuance. Instead of striving to select just the right wording to impart the intended hypostasis to a phrase, now days it's: any old synonym will do. Is this a product of poor education? Just plain laziness? Can we do anything about it? Should we?