Archive for February, 2007

Explanatory Note

Feb 26 2007 Published by under borderland

I ran an upgrade to WordPress 2.1.1 from 2.0 – a geeky announcement that shouldn’t mean anything to the average person – except that when I went to look at it, the page didn’t load properly in the browser. At least the site still worked! After abandoning the hacked theme that I was using, I tried one with a bare-bones nearly blank style sheet, and perversely considered using it, as was.

I was showing my daughter my style-less look when I went to demonstrate the old broken theme for her. And, naturally, it corrected itself. So now I am back to normal – if that’s what we’re calling it. If it looks broken, sorry. You might try clearing the cache if you can’t see through the brown murk. I hate it when things break and get better and I don’t know how or why. I’m glad that blog failure isn’t life threatening and I don’t have to figure it out now.

The prospect of finding a new blog skin got me curious. There are a lot of skins to look through.

11 responses so far

Belief and Doubt

Feb 24 2007 Published by under borderland

The teacher/union bashing from Steve Jobs is just one of many recent examples of critical statements about teachers as a class of people. I’ve long – since the beginning of my teaching career – been acutely aware of my inadequacy in meeting the needs of all my students. That some kids get left behind is nothing new to me. Conventional explanations, however, are uniformly unhelpful. James Herndon noted our institutional limitations in his pithy Explanatory Note #4, The The Dumb Class.

I don’t know if my dismissive remarks about certain kinds of criticism gave the appearance of smug self-satisfaction. I didn’t mean to leave that impression, but my last post was a little rushed. I’m self-critical and circumspect by nature, and so I’m often reminded of the Jackson Browne lyric…Don’t confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them.

I told my wife this morning that it feels like I’m buried in a media feeding frenzy around public schooling. She said that I internalize too much of it, and I should remember all the kids and the parents, and the other teachers, who appreciate what I’ve done…..This is a pep talk that I hear more and more from her.

I’ve been reading the blog of a teacher who posts at Daily Kos. He blogs as teacherken, and writes from a political/ethical perspective. He’s a Quaker, and I find his point of view refreshing in a media landscape that is rife with propaganda and prejudice, marketed as news. He wrote a diary there today called I don’t belong here, that resonated with me. Especially this:

To me teaching was less a transmission of facts than it was an empowering of capability – of thought, of writing, of perceiving, of belief in oneself, an internal valuation not dependent upon the opinions of others. Call it intrinsic worth. And because I knew I really didn"™t belong, I became less concerned with how others might perceive how i approached my teaching and how my students reacted – was what i was doing something that was reaching them? If not, then it was up to me to change, and because I didn"™t belong even to the teaching profession I did not feel any compulsion about turning on a dime to find a connection with a student that made a difference for her.

His post is about the need to listen, and the difficulty of doing so when we have passionately held beliefs. He asks:

The meta challenge is this – how does each of us act to ensure that when the one who is different, who perhaps is irritating or annoying, who does not belong, speaks the words that would benefit us, that we will hear? How can we ensure that we are capable of listening, even if it be an uncomfortable truth?

This is a problem now, and it’s one that affects me as much as anyone. Like teacherken, I feel out of place – and always have. I’ve had teachers who made a difference for me, and it was not because of what they taught me – but who I became as a result of knowing them.

I do find value in the views of others, often unexpectedly. I’m influenced by little things that are said or done unconsciously, without a calculated intention. Character speaks to me. I respect nobility, and generosity. I’m suspicious of certainty. Commitment to particular methods is an obstacle to growth. The power of personal connections, trust, and genuine interest are powerful beyond the measure of any set of technical procedures or scientific principles.

Christopher Sessums reflected recently about a book that I’ve had on my shelf for a long time. The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer, was tucked away and forgotten. But I dug it back out today and found a section called Ground Rules for Dialog (p. 150). Palmer talked about how, in academic settings, competition and opposition are the rhetorical forms that are customarily used to challenge the assertions of others. He said, “The conventional [social] norm of “making nice” with each other, folded into the professional norm of competition, creates an ethos in which it feels dangerous to speak or listen.”

Palmer observed that when someone does manage to name a real problem, they are met with a “fix-it response” which almost always leaves the inquirer feeling unheard. He developed a set of ground rules for dialogue that come from his experience with Quaker community. “It’s a time-honored process that invites people to help each otehr with personal problems while practicing a discipline that protects the sanctity of the soul.” Essentially, the method that Palmer developed is to build dialogue around open and honest questions, encouraging the inquirer to discover wisdom within.

Bertrand Russell: "œThroughout the long period of religious doubt, I had been rendered very unhappy by the gradual loss of belief, but when the process was completed, I found to my surprise that I was quite glad to be done with the whole subject."

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher"™s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

7 responses so far

A Blog’s Life

Feb 23 2007 Published by under borderland,commonplaces

Christian Long’s Stop Blogging Because You’re an Educator caught my eye the other day

STOP BLOGGING BECAUSE YOU’RE A TEACHER (or educator, administrator…)! …Because in a few minutes, days, weeks, months, years, it won’t matter. The pool will be saturated with edu-bloggers. Not just a few hundred. But a few million. Far more than any of us can filter or listen to or blog link or comment on or care about.

Christian’s post made me stop and think about what I’m doing here. It happens. Well, he didn’t, you know, make me do that. But he did touch on something I’d been thinking about. Isn’t that how it works?

I have a like/hate relationship with blogging. Mostly like. But I get wrapped up in a bunch of controversy, which doesn’t really suit my temperament. To my ear, arguments about nearly anything are a waste of energy. It would take me a long time to go around the internet straightening out the whole blog world, and by the time I got done I’d have to go back and start over because they’d all be off track again. So I leave that noble work to everyone else. Every now and then, though, a public minded citizen checks in and sets me straight. I should be more grateful. So they say.

To me, the blog is about discovery and reflection. Not so much about passion. It’s a lot like beachcombing. I read stuff that people write.

I follow links, and follow links from links, heading off in all directions at once. I find stuff and I think, Huh? Where did this come from? Cool. I save it in It’s a weird obsession. Then I try to make sense of this muddle by writing about it. It’s a system.

Christian’s post triggered some comments about whether passion is a necessary or sufficient quality for blog authoring. Controversy. I don’t know. But the post also grabbed Eric Hoefler’s attention. Eric wondered about why he is blogging and whether redundancy was a problem that he needed to think about. A good question, I thought.

Update: So, I was working on another computer, not my normal one. I thought I saved this piece for publishing later, because I almost never just sit down and write something in one motion. But…I hit the publish button by accident and let it out before I was done. What follows is a rather rushed attempt to button this one up.

Timothy Burke wrote about the life of a blog in a reflective piece prompted by the retirement of Michael Berube’s blog. He wrote:

Mostly blogs ebb and flow with the life rhythms of their creator….However, I think there"™s also something about the form itself that poses a problem, and that the problem has gotten more acute as blogging has evolved as a practice. A self-aware blog writer eventually starts to recognize static or repetitive patterns in their posting that threaten to devolve into schtick. Readers may not object: in fact, the larger and more stable a community of readers a blogger has, the more they may in fact come to rely on the blogger to merely convene or spark a rolling conversation among commenters, to be the rhetorical equivalent of comfort food.

For anyone hoping to sharpen and complicate their own writing, or to use a blog for exploration and discovery, however, this repetition and cumulative expectation can become a problem. I"™ve talked here before about how much I find my sense of humor drains out of me when I"™m writing here, because I"™ve gotten trapped by compulsive reasonableness. When I write in this format, I find that my humor is sharpest when it"™s snarky and a bit cruel (I don"™t think this is true in person), so I often put it aside. There are times where that and other self-imposed limits and expectations frustrate me as a writer and even a thinker, however.

I"™ve also hit a point where I"™m frustrated by the rigidity of discussions across the blogosphere. …We"™ve gone past the point where many conversations had the plasticity to go in unexpected directions. We"™ve gotten instead to the point where many participants in the meta-discussion are defending fixed terrain, sometimes terrain that they"™re paid to defend by institutions with a largely instrumental interest in blogs as extensions of some larger project.

This quote really moved me to think about the various motivations for blogging, and to wonder if there isn’t a natural lifespan for a blog that exhausts itself like any other project a person takes on. I read widely, and I’m reading beyond the teacher blogs more and more. I don’t know where this blog is going. I’m following an evolving set of interests.

Apologies to all who read my earlier, less considered post. I spend a lot of time in revision mode – and that wasn’t the whole of what I wanted to say. I was shocked to see that it was published when I logged in today. Ah well…

10 responses so far

Reality Check

Feb 23 2007 Published by under borderland,commonplaces,education

Even though days in the Far North are longer now, with longer sunny afternoons, we’ve had a cold snap this week, and nighttime lows have dropped to the -40s. That’s not a wind chill value. It’s dead calm weather, bright and sunny, and bitter cold. Most places, that kind of cold would be newsworthy. Here, we plug in our cars and go on about our business. Late winter setbacks like this are not unexpected.

A friend of mine reminded me recently of something I once said about how winter in the subarctic is reality, and summer is an illusion. He’d seen a quote from Willa Cather’s, My Antonia:

The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify–it was like the light of truth itself. When the smoky clouds hung low in the west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a kind of bitter song, as if it said: `This is reality, whether you like it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.’ It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer.

I don’t see winter as a punishment. The subarctic would be cruel to anyone who believed in seasonal retribution.

Northern summer daylight has a joyous ethereal quality. Winter, on the other hand, is quiet wakefulness. It’s a stark reminder of the frigid reality parked nearby, on the other side of just a few miles of atmosphere. Cather’s view of winter was colored by the expectations of someone who depends on solar benevolence, inconstant though it is.

Extremes of cold and hot are impossible for the nervous system to grasp. I’ve had experience with this. Dumping a canoe on a river in midwinter flood was remarkably painless. So was accidentally running an acetylene torch across the back of my hand – initially. My reckless foolishness taught me that both cold water immersion and steel-cutting flame both feel like nothing. Lacking a physical signal, understanding the gravity of such events requires imagination.

This cold wave and my friend’s Cather connection reminded me of a story about a guy who didn’t really “get” what cold was all about. In To Build a Fire, the man was in a situation he didn’t understand. He missed all the signals. He didn’t know the value of experience. He was a fool.

…the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all–made no impression on the man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a new-comer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.

The man’s story is a cascade of successive blunders. Little, seemingly insignificant mistakes multiply into a very large and ultimately fatal consequence. We don’t feel sorry for him. He had it coming. His story reminds me, again, that having information isn’t the same as knowing what to do.

“The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.”

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In Unsane Places

Feb 15 2007 Published by under borderland,education,politics

“Jesus, I must be crazy to be in a loony-bin like this.” Randle Patrick McMurphy

An article from Science (Jan. 1973), On Being Sane in Unsane Places, (also at Susan described an experiment in which eight sane people volunteered to be secretly admitted to psychiatric hospitals to find out if hospital staff could distinguish them from patients with legitimate diagnoses. The author, David Rosenhan, asked whether characteristics of insanity are located in the patient or in the contexts in which observers find them.

If the sanity of such pseudopatients were always detected, there would be prima facie evidence that a sane individual can be distinguished from the insane context in which he is found. Normality (and presumably abnormality) is distinct enough that it can be recognized wherever it occurs, for it is carried within the person. If, on the other hand, the sanity of the pseudopatients were never discovered, serious difficulties would arise for those who support traditional modes of psychiatric diagnosis.

Rosenhan argued that a failure to discover the sanity of the imposters would mean that “Psychiatric diagnoses…are in the minds of observers and are not valid summaries of characteristics displayed by the observed.”

How did the sane people in Rosenhan’s experiment prove they were, in fact, not insane? They acted normal. They cooperated with hospital staff. And they were never discovered! The label, insane, clung to them despite their best efforts to appear normal. Reasonable and compliant behavior, though genuine, did not signal sanity. Instead, they were each eventually released as “schizophrenics in remission.”

Interestingly, many of the other patients insisted the imposters were perfectly sane while none of the professional hospital staff ever considered the possibility. Some of the patients even suspected that the observers, who took notes, were checking up on the hospital, while the nursing staff reported “writing behavior.”

The power of labels to influence our perceptions is enormously important, and the resultant depersonalization of those who are labeled is the source of monstrous injustices. Racism, and all forms of bigotted intolerance are exercises of power based on categorical discrimination.

What does it mean to be sane? To be competent? Most people probably assume being sane or competent simply means that we aren’t insane, or incompetent. But is there a more positive way to view sanity? Based on the outcome of Rosenhan’s study, I think we should wonder.

S.I. Hayakawa explored what a sane person might look like in “The Fully Functioning Personality” from his book Symbol, Status, and Personality. He believed it would be worthwhile to think of sanity in terms of what he called the “genuinely sane individual,” referencing the work of both Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Hayakawa was attracted to Maslow’s description of the secure individual as a person who was comfortable with disorder and ambiguity. He saw this as dynamic security, a form of confident resourcefulness, as opposed to the security we gain from defensively building walls.

Hayakawa noted that “these sane people are not, in the ordinary sense of the term, well-adjusted.” The sane person does not conform, and does not fit in with the goals and ideals of a society that he finds himself in opposition to. At the same time, he does not stand in open rebellion. The genuinely sane individual, according to Hayakawa, wears conventionality as a cloak that is easily cast aside when conditions warrant it.

People with fully functioning personalities are concerned with social realities, rather than appearances. They are aware of their own feelings, and are not misled even by their own beliefs about themselves. They are creatively open to awe and innovation. And finally, their behavior is guided by an unwavering ethical compass.

Teachers should think about this because high-stakes pressure from federal regulation paradoxically pushes us to race through curriculum content, while leaving many children behind. It’s all about raising the bar and says little about helping the jumpers. That is supposed to happen from some kind of black box process called effective teaching. The professionalism and competence of teachers is being scrutinized under a new regime of accountability, which makes contradictory demands on the professional work force in schools.

accountabalism whispered two seductive lies to us: Systems go wrong because of individuals; and the right set of controls will enable us to prevent individuals from creating disasters….by overly formalizing processes, accountabalism refuses to acknowledge that people work and think differently. It eliminates the human variations that move institutions forward and provide a check on the monoculture that accounts for most disastrous decisions….While claiming to increase individual responsibility, it drives out human judgment. (David Weinberger) -from Where the Blog has No Name

The release of the Aspen Commission Report (pdf) on NCLB’s reauthorization has been called NCLB on steroids by FairTest. It makes me wonder what they think we’re doing. Call it “teaching behavior.”

“… But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.” Ken Kesey

Current policy revisions are an attempt to standardize educational outcomes. High stakes consequences promote false security through assurances of certainty. We would be better served by a program that encourages diversity and flexibility instead of standardization. The monoculture which would come from long-term standardization will be vulnerable to sudden obsolescence in the face of rapid technological development. Furthermore, schools have increasingly become racially segregated, undoing the progress made by civil rights activists 40 years ago. The current standards movement’s narrow focus on work preparedness will breed resentment and hostility among students who stand to gain the least from its dubious promises.

To develop fully functioning personalities, we need to honor the natural creative impulses in our students and allow children the freedom to build self concepts that spring from their own fertile imaginings. Human beings are symbol makers, and we must honor our symbolic, as well as our functional needs. Teachers, especially teachers of young children, would do well to emulate the simplicity and naturalness of their students, for these are qualities of the truly sane individual. We teach who we are more certainly than what we know.

David L. Rosenhan, "œOn Being Sane in Insane Places," Science, Vol. 179 (Jan. 1973), 250-258.

Hayakawa, S. I. (1958). Symbol, status, and personality. New York: Harcourt,Brace & World.

23 responses so far

An Inconvenient Truth about NCLB

Feb 09 2007 Published by under borderland,education,politics

Marco Polo left a comment, saying:

…if the arguments against it [NCLB] are good, then surely they should be made clearly. What is so fascinating and disappointing, is that the two "œcamps" seem to find no common ground, not to be able to speak the same language. I think it is important that they communicate.

Marco is right. Communication about important things is a worthwhile goal. NCLB is part of a big, many-sided debate, and it touches on deep-seated beliefs and values. I think most teachers in the US aren’t talking about it much because we believe that complaining leaves us open to charges of incompetence or, worse, whining.

Other similarly troublesome arguments we could tackle include The Death Penalty, Abortion, Atheism, or Evolution. Instead, teachers deal with more immediate situations, like who knows how to change the toner cartridge for the copy machine.

If there is any non-swampy common ground fit to occupy, we might want to map it to see what lies just past the edges of both camps. The question What is NCLB about? might be seen as a list of unresolved tensions:

  1. Teacher accountability vs teacher autonomy (trust);
  2. Student and family roles vs institutional functions (responsibility);
  3. Objective high stakes assessments vs anecdotal records (standardization);
  4. Education for social mobility vs education for participatory democracy (mission);
  5. Rigor vs accommodation (standards);
  6. Competition and free markets vs publicly funded institutions (fiscal policy);
  7. Maintenance of cultural norms vs cultural diversity (cultural values);
  8. Equity vs class differences (social justice);
  9. Education research vs practical knowledge (methodology);
  10. Knowledge as a received commodity vs constructed understanding (epistemology).

This list describes the social-political matrix we usually call The Classroom. Positions at the extreme edges of the issues describe imaginary worlds that lack the inconvenient limitations of space, time, and individual differences. One of the reasons that it’s hard for teachers to talk about NCLB is that finding common ground demands a common physics to define what is and is not possible. And there is no such thing as a generic classroom.

Can we find common ground there? In our dreams. I like the idea that school could help someone have a better life. But building a program of reforms around a slogan like No Child Left Behind won’t make it so. My clearest and simplest argument against NCLB is this: It won’t work.

A paper called Proficiency for All: An Oxymoron (Rothstein, Jacobson & Wilder, 2006) argues that

…the conceptual basis of NCLB is deeply flawed; no goal can simultaneously be challenging to and achievable by all students across the entire achievement distribution. A standard can either be a minimal standard which presents no challenge to typical and advanced students, or it can be a challenging standard which is unachievable by most below-average students. No standard can serve both purposes "“ this is why we call ‘proficiency for all’ an oxymoron – but this is what NCLB requires.

Rothstein acknowledges that while the goal of closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged and middle class kids is laudable, it also means eliminating achievement differences within socioeconomic groups, which ignores the obvious limitations of individual differences.

In the meantime, while we are arguing (or whining) about the methods and techniques of instruction and measurement, the merits and demerits of rigorous standards and standardization, who’s worthy and who isn’t, and all the rest, we have this impossible target set for us.

It does nothing to further – and even impedes – the cause that it was apparently set up to promote. To serve this mandate in practice, there is pressure to push through curriculum goals whether kids are ready or not, and to devote more time to skills development while neglecting content area studies like science and social studies, focusing our efforts on the tested performance standards. Disadvantaged kids are further disadvantaged.

Short of scrapping the legislation (I did sign the petition), which appears unlikely, I support the NCTE recommendations for changes to the law:

  • Multiple assessments;
  • Professional development;
  • High-need students should have the best prepared teachers;
  • Re-examining the definition of "œscientifically based reading research;”
  • Adoption of growth models to track increased achievement.

We need more good teachers, fewer tests, and flexibility to meet students’ needs as they are presented. But I’m not a policy maker. I’m an agent of the system – a witness to what it intends and what it actually does.

7 responses so far

The Tao of Leadership

Feb 05 2007 Published by under borderland,commonplaces Alaskan Husky

I’m not leader material. I don’t want to motivate or change people. I don’t try to persuade anyone to think differently. I’m a worker, an inventor and a problem solver. So how do I answer Kimberly Mortiz, who tags me with this question: "œWhat are seven qualities we don"™t know about you that help you be a leader?" which was apparently started by Miguel Guhlin?

People may be familiar with the concept of the lead dog in a dog team. What sets the leaders apart from the other dogs is their willingness to run out in front. The pressure of having 10-15 dogs on their tail is intimidating to most dogs, who’d rather chase than be chased. But the lead dog is fast and sets the pace. The leader is the brains of the outfit. The leader knows the gee/haw steering commands and makes good decisions when the trail is hard to find. Without a good leader, a musher can end up on an unscheduled camp-out along the side of the trail.

There are other jobs for the dogs in the team, as well. The two dogs that run directly behind the leader are called swing dogs. They help turn the team and maintain the pace. The rest of the dogs are team dogs. Their job is to keep their tug lines tight and contribute the raw dog power.

There’s still another position, though, that interests me. It’s the dogs that get hooked into the gangline right in front of the sled. Those two dogs are called wheeldogs. Wheeldogs are like football linemen. They’re generally the biggest and strongest. Wheeldogs are the dogs with the power to turn the sled around tight corners, and to break it loose when it gets stuck or mired.

I feel a special affinity for wheeldogs, and I don’t know why. To me, they represent a certain facet of leadership that’s often overlooked. It’s probably part of a martyr syndrome, but this isn’t about my Catholic upbringing. Most everything I believe about leadership can be found in the Tao Te Ching.

I was given a copy of this little book long ago. It’s now dog-eared (pun alert!) and taped together. Some people may consider it trite. But I’ve found this little bit of 2500 year old thinking valuable over the years. Not only that, it’s the best I can do right now with Kimberly’s question.

Since I can’t think of seven qualities, what follows is the partial result of a text search for the words, lead and rule.

Sound old rulers, it is said,
Left people to themselves, instead
Of wanting to teach everything
And start the people arguing.
With mere instruction in command,
So that people understand
Less than they know, woe is the land;
But happy the land that is ordered so
That they understand more than they know.
For everyone’s good this double key
Locks and unlocks equally.
If modern man would use it, he
Could find old wisdom in his heart
And clear his vision enough to see
From start to finish and finish to start
The circle rounding perfectly.

A leader is best
When people barely know that he exists

Other similar references in verses 20, 30, 37, 39, and 58.

You get the idea. This is all good in theory, but classrooms don’t often work like this. In the classroom I’d like to be more supportive and less directive (Who wouldn’t!), but those groups are rare. These aphorisms represent little bits and pieces of an ideal. They say a lot more about my attitude and expectations for myself than my actual practice. My students each get a leash that’s only as long as they can manage, and for some, that’s only about this long. I shocked them all today when I told them that I’ve loosened up over the years! And I have.

I may not be an out-front leader, but that doesn’t mean I’m without influence. I see that noticing and encouraging often motivate and move kids as much as telling and explaining.

Leadership, as I see it, can be a number of things – most of them not very attractive – but I’m grateful for anyone who cares enough to demonstrate it.

Thanks, Kimberly, for thinking of me.

Anyone else want to tackle this question?

updated 2/06: didn’t know there was a book with this title – same source.

5 responses so far

How to Blog in Your Native Land

Feb 04 2007 Published by under borderland,commonplaces,technology

Every blogger should have a code of conduct. Four laws of the land from Alaska’s gold rush era are the bedrock principles of my blogger’s manifesto.

  1. Self preservation: Work, play, eat, sleep, study, love.
  2. Common sense: Passion is beautiful. Restraint is commendable.
  3. Fair play: How would you like it?
  4. Good manners: Apologize when shit happens. Link back to your sources.

-with gratitude to James Herndon.

2 responses so far

On Blogging Good

Feb 02 2007 Published by under borderland,education,politics

Teacher bloggers who haven’t spent half (the waking half) of their lives on the internet might not realize that there are mean people out there who can leave foul comments on their blogs and write unkind things about them elsewhere. Elementary teachers, though they spend vast amounts of their day teaching children to be nice to each other, might be surprised to see how frequently those lessons are disregarded when their students mature.

So what should we do when someone dumps on us on the internet? There is no easy answer to this question. If we are confrontational and judged rude in return, we condemn ourselves to additional derision. We feel lousy. We may even want to quit blogging. If we ignore the affront, we face a similar outcome. It is difficult to respond to mudslinging without getting a little bit dirty also. I’ve not worked this part of the problem out. I apologize to my regular readers in advance.

When this situation presented itself to me a while back I was not prepared for it, and I still feel that I handled it poorly. But I was heartened by the support that I got from the other bloggers who I’d come to know and trust. I realized how alone and emotionally vulnerable we are without friends who will stand with us when things get ugly. This tribal loyalty is dismissed as an echo chamber by the opposing camp, who believe that theirs is somehow composed of real noise.

This unpleasantness recently occurred on the blog of someone who has come to be a frequent correspondent of mine. She is a dedicated and responsible person. And she wrote a heartfelt lament about the effects that current education policy was having on her classroom. Her remarks were not directed at any person. Yet someone who she did not know took it upon himself to criticize her in roughshod fashion.

This treatment, I know, can have a chilling effect. And to demonstrate my solidarity, I stand with Sarah and any other teachers who simply want to tell their stories.

I responded to a comment at When the hurly-burly’s done. I said, I haven"™t read your blog until today, but I want to say that I appreciate your awareness of the harm that toxic rhetoric can do to productive discussion. I"™m proud to count myself among "œSarah"™s back-patting cronies”…

Once Dan figured out who I was talking about, he proceeded to get everything else wrong.

Sarah…displays model emotional truthfulness "” the heart"™s out on the sleeve there "” but dismal intellectual honesty….

And I"™m to honor her "œmere frustration?"

Meanwhile, I drafted Biggie Smalls (a title which embarrasses me more the more grossly it"™s misinterpreted), with each revision attempting to excise the florid, incendiery prose that made Sarah"™s rant such a disappointment to read. Your reading of my post indicates that I want to "œsilence opposing points of view," a reading which is selective at best.

I make it clear from the first paragraph that it matters to me less "œwhat you believe on NCLB (whether to scrap it or keep it), rather why you believe it and how you go about believing it."

….I could only conclude that your reading of my post represents your own sympathies much better than it does the post itself.

At the end of Biggie Smalls, I ask for an elevation of discourse. That post was carefully constructed to critique the delivery of an ideology rather than the ideology itself and I can"™t work up much regret over it.

Since Dan has anointed himself spokesman and style monitor for the “ cross-section of eager, hardworking young teachers“… I say,

Do not read on. It will disappoint you. As you can see, I live in an echo chamber. I live in an echo chamber.

NCLB is manifestly pseudoscience.

I don’t care what or why Dan believes anything (to paraphrase him). But I do care how he chooses to engage people who have my deepest respect. All readings are selective, and I read Dan’s “lack of regret” for attacking a teacher over a disagreement about education policy as a demonstration of his self absorption. He chose not to read Sarah’s intent, and instead focused on her delivery. Meanness has never elevated a discussion.

A deeper commitment to better listening is essential in order for technology to fulfill its promise of bringing the world together in real terms.

We can make a difference in the world by learning to listen better and by telling others about better listening. But only if they listen. (Michael Webb)

Dan might need a time-out to think about this.

18 responses so far