Thursday, August 26, 2010

Move Over, Gutenberg by Shannon Falkner

Today I'm thinking about technology; I'm considering the ways in which technology both links and divides us. I'm not thinking specifically about social networking sites (though I am sure that many a psych Ph.D. dissertation has been written on just that topic in recent years), but instead I'm thinking simply of access to (or lack of access to) information and what that access or lack thereof means for human society.

This afternoon, my sister and I met her husband in mid-town Manhattan for lunch and then decided to enjoy some ridiculously delicious cupcakes in Bryant Park. As we sat at a table chatting and enjoying our indulgence, a gaggle of teenagers paraded by us, cell phone cameras a-flashing in the direction of one teenager in particular who seemed to be being crushed by his throngs of adoring fans. My sister's husband asked one star-struck fan who she and her crowd were following, and she responded (with obvious annoyance at our lack of celebrity knowledge) that they were following Timothy Delaghetto -- just like that, all one word. Hmmm, we thought. Are we in the presence of some wildly famous person that we are too uncool to know about? Immediately, my sister's husband used his Blackberry to google this Timothy Delaghetto, and we discovered that he is an up-and-coming "Asian hip hop artist." Ok then.

While it would be difficult to argue that having instantaneous access to this sort of basically useless information is going to give us some kind of leg up on the rest of human society, I think that having access to information of any sort does, at the very least, separate people into categories: those who can be in the know and those who can't. I am wholly convinced that 90% of the apps available on the iphone basically give useless information -- where the nearest Starbucks is located, the title of the song currently playing on the radio (Shezam!), who the best-selling Asian hip hop artist is (ok, I don't know if they have an app for that, but I'm willing to bet it's out there or soon-to be, judging by the apparent popularity of Mr. Delaghetto). However, it's that 10% of useful information that iphone/Blackberry/Droid users can access immediately that does give them that leg up, such as when the next train leaves Port Authority or which way is west -- I needed both of those pieces of info today, and, as I am smartphone-less, I was forced to do the old-fashioned thing and Figure It Out. So, one way that technology separates us now is into People Who Can Find Out Faster and Easier and People Who Can Find Out Still Within a Reasonable Stretch of Time and With Only Slightly More Effort -- not such an enormous difference, in my view.

But, while smartphones may still be luxuries that not every human must have to survive, I think that internet access at some point in the day is a mandatory requirement for full and successful participation in our society today. After our cupcakes in the park, my sister and I headed over to the mid-town branch of the New York Public Library this afternoon (the place where Carrie and Big were supposed to wed in the first Sex and the City movie! Ahem....I mean, the place where one can find access to 15 million books and visual media and witness stunning architectural design and feel intellectual power pulsing through the air). Here, we got to see one of the 48 surviving Gutenberg Bibles, which was on display with a plaque noting that scholars generally agree that Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440 was "the greatest achievement of the second millenium." If the printing press was revolutionary because it allowed wider access to information, how do we even begin to understand the impact of the worldwide web?

I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, her account of an undercover assignment as a low-wage worker in America's restaurants, hotels, and Big Box stores. She paints a moving portrait of what it means to live hand-to-mouth and work 70+ hours per week, but because she did her investigative reporting in the late 90s before internet access was a staple in every middle-class household, her book doesn't touch on what it means to be without internet access. I'd love to see an revised edition in which she comments on this huge difference that separates 1998 from 2010. The other day, as my husband spent hours comparing NJ car insurance quotes online, and I spent hours researching my choices for a primary care doctor, I wondered how on earth someone would one go about finding affordable car insurance or setting up one's healthcare plan without the internet? I realize that the telephone still works for these tasks, but the hours on hold alone would be enough to drive even the most bargain-conscious shopper or the most health-conscious individual to just sign up with one of the first two or three organizations found. So, technology also divides us into Those Who Have Options and Those Who Take What They Can Get With the Time They Have to Get It.

I think the coolest thing about the New York Public Library is that any library card-holder can borrow a laptop for several hours at a time and get free internet access within the library. While borrowing a laptop to use within the confines of the library is not as convenient as owning one and having internet access in the home, at least it's a start. It's a recognition by a well-respected public institution that the division between Those Who Have Options and Those Who Take What They Can Get With the Time They Have to Get It is one that is just too big to accept if we want to continue to call ourselves a democratic society. There are certainly civil rights issues at stake within the issues surrounding access to technology, and I can only hope that more schools, city halls, courthouses, and other tax-payer funded institutions follow the Library's lead.

I'm going to end this post by recounting, to the best of my ability, one side of a conversation that I overheard on the bus today, which amused me greatly, but also made me a little sad. I sat behind a guy of about my age, obviously coming home from a long day of work who was talking on his cell phone:

Guy: Yeah, Ma. I'm here.

Guy: Alright, it's on? Good. Ok. Now click on Firefox.

Guy: It looks like...a fire fox. Like a fox on fire.

Guy: No. It's orange. Maybe blue too.

Guy: Yes. That's it. Now click on it.

Guy: Are you double clicking?

Guy: Like, click-click -- real fast. With your index finger.

Guy: No -- the other one. The index finger that's on the mouse. Click-click.

Guy: Try it again.

Guy: Ok. Now click on the link on the homepage. It's in blue.  It has a lot of funny letters and numbers at the a long line of funny letters and numbers.

Guy: You gotta work with me, Ma. Tell me what you see.

Guy: I'm not getting mad. I'm not...

Guy: (exhales deeply) My voice isn't annoyed, Ma.

Guy: No, it's not. I'm just....Don't get frustrated now, Ma. Why do you sound all frantic?

Guy: I'm not! I'm being completely calm,Ma!

Guy: Ok. Try it again.

Guy: Ma, listen to me. It might take a minute. It has to download.

Guy: What, 'download'? It's like retrieving information from another site.

Guy:  A site is a webpage. Like one page of the worldwide web. The Internet.

Guy: Well, not exactly like a book. But maybe kind of. Anyway, you don't need to know that now, Ma. Did it download?

Guy: Christ.

Guy: I'm not mad, Ma. I'm not mad. It's just that these are like the basics. Like stuff everyone knows.

Guy: I know! That's why I'm helping you!

Guy: Hello? Ma? Hello?

Guy: Damnit.(hangs up)

So, technology also divides us into Those Who Know How and Those Who Need to Know How. Unfortunately, this divide seems to fall along age lines, which is sad. This guy and his mom could be sending each other funny forwards or Youtube videos, sharing pictures and music, and generally connecting in more ways, but they aren't. Instead, they're fighting. Maybe I should have told him that the New York Public Library also offers free weekly technology-related courses, such as "Email I" and "The Internet I: The Basics!"

Teachers, like me, are constantly bombarded with pressure to "use technology in the classroom," and we are given so many instructions as to how and when we should use various sorts of technology with our students. The one question that never seems to be addressed, though, is why. I think there's sort of this circuitous logic at work that people are afraid to question: we should use technology because people use technology. For most people, though, this argument is not terribly compelling. Talk to us, however, about equal access, civil rights, generation gaps, and saving time, and we'll be all ears.

Monday, June 7, 2010

For The Love Of The Game by Rick Reilly

We live in a world where Peyton Manning walks off the Super Bowl field without shaking anybody's hand. Where Tiger Woods leaves the Masters without a word of thanks to the fans or congratulations to the winner. Where NFL lineman Albert Haynesworth kicks a man's helmetless head without a thought.

So if you think sportsmanship is toast, this next story is an all-you-can-eat buffet to a starving man.

It happened at a junior varsity girls' softball game in Indianapolis this spring. After an inning and a half, Roncalli was womanhandling inner-city Marshall Community. Marshall pitchers had already walked nine Roncalli batters. The game could've been 50-0 with no problem.

It's no wonder. This was the first softball game in Marshall history. A middle school trying to move up to include grades 6 through 12, Marshall showed up to the game with five balls, two bats, no helmets, no sliding pads, no cleats, 16 players who'd never played before, and a coach who'd never even seen a game.

One Marshall player asked, "Which one is first base?" Another: "How do I hold this bat?" They didn't know where to stand in the batter's box. Their coaches had to be shown where the first- and third-base coaching boxes were.

That's when Roncalli did something crazy. It offered to forfeit.

Yes, a team that hadn't lost a game in 2½ years, a team that was going to win in a landslide purposely offered to declare defeat. Why? Because Roncalli wanted to spend the two hours teaching the Marshall girls how to get better, not how to get humiliated.

"The Marshall players did NOT want to quit," wrote Roncalli JV coach Jeff Traylor, in recalling the incident. "They were willing to lose 100 to 0 if it meant they finished their first game." But the Marshall players finally decided if Roncalli was willing to forfeit for them, they should do it for themselves. They decided that maybe -- this one time -- losing was actually winning.

That's about when the weirdest scene broke out all over the field: Roncalli kids teaching Marshall kids the right batting stance, throwing them soft-toss in the outfield, teaching them how to play catch. They showed them how to put on catching gear, how to pitch, and how to run the bases. Even the umps stuck around to watch.

"One at a time the Marshall girls would come in to hit off of the [Roncalli] pitchers," Traylor recalled. "As they hit the ball their faces LIT UP! They were high fiving and hugging the girls from Roncalli, thanking them for teaching to them the game."

This is the kind of thing that can backfire with teenagers -- the rich kids taking pity on the inner-city kids kind of thing. Traylor was afraid of it, too.

"One wrong attitude, one babying approach from our players would shut down the Marshall team, who already were down," wrote Traylor. "But our girls made me as proud as I have ever been. ... [By the end], you could tell they were having a blast. The change from the beginning of the game to the end of the practice was amazing."

Roncalli High School's girls' softball team demonstrated true compassion to Marshall High.

Roncalli wasn't done. Traylor asked all the parents of his players and anybody else he knew for more help for Marshall -- used bats, gloves, helmets, money for cleats, gloves, sliders, socks and team shirts. They came up with $2,500 and worked with Marshall on the best way to help the program with that money. Roncalli also connected Marshall with former Bishop Chatard coach Kim Wright, who will advise the program.

"We probably got to some things 10 years quicker than we would have had without Roncalli," says Marshall principal Michael Sullivan.

And that was just the appetizer. A rep from Reebok called Sullivan and said, "What do you need? We'll get it for you." A man who owns an indoor batting cage facility has offered free time in the winter. The Cincinnati Reds are donating good dirt for the new field Marshall will play on.

"This could've been a thing where our kids had too much pride," says Sullivan. "You know, 'I'm not going to listen to anybody.' But our kids are really thirsty to learn."

And they are. Marshall never won a game, but actually had leads in its last three games. In fact, it went so well, the players and their parents asked if they could extend the season, so they're looking to play AAU summer softball.

Just a thought: Major League Baseball is pulling hamstrings trying to figure out how to bring baseball back to the inner city. Maybe it should put the Roncalli and Marshall girls in charge?

Anyway, it's not an important story, just one that squirts apple juice right in your face. And who knows? Maybe someday, Marshall will be beating Roncalli in the final inning, realize how far it has come, and forfeit again, just as a thank you.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Celebrating Social Justice_April Poetry Month

Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kim just sent us this great link to a recent article and video that Linda Christensen (author of our study group book) updated on the NWP site....below you will find a link to both resources:

Linda Christensen: Social Justice, Teaching Writing, and Teaching Teachers

"We teach our students not only by what we say in the classroom but also by what we do in the world," says Linda Christensen, director of the Oregon Writing Project.

Big, Bigger, Biggest Fish Protocol

Big Fish Bigger Fish Biggest Fish Protocol

Complex text can offer many ideas and issues, but sometimes we need to address the foundational ideas, warrants of arguments, assumptions underlying a text, and make connections and take on those over-riding concepts.

Set-up/Identify - Time :

Read text, marking issues and concepts which seem to be, represent and/or imply the most important, controlling ideas and/or underlying assumptions.

Focus/Evaluate - Time:

Mark one or two ideas you think seem to include or subsume the others that address conditions or possibilities of teaching and learning.

Discussion/Critique & Synthesize - Time:

In small groups, ideally no larger than four, share your ideas and then prioritize or put into a hierarchy according to encompassing, critical or foundational idea.

Optional: create an illustrative poster showing your collective thinking and rationale.

Share/Social Critique - Time:

Each group explains their thinking: the Biggest Fish and their rationale.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Our Student Work Site

I've posted the new student samples that we received from Janet today to our site.

Please feel free to upload your own student work to the site anytime:

Student Art Collaboration with Victor Ochoa

Thank you to Callie for sharing her student's collaborations with artist, Victor Ochoa, at MAAC: