Self Government and Education

I missed the chance to see Obama’s victory speech on the day he won the election, but I went back and watched it two days later, and I’m glad I did. I immediately searched for the transcript and copied it into a Google Doc so I could mark it up. I found a few passages particularly meaningful… and relevant to our mission as educators, particularly in the age of social media.

I often appreciate and respect the president’s realism, which may not be something his opponents consider one of his strengths. I think it is important to temper the “hope” and “change” (which are vitally important) with a more realistic (sophisticated and nuanced) view of the world if anything is going to actually get done – and if hope is not going to be lost in the face of difficult challenges. Incidentally, I think this is true for educational technologists (and perhaps educators… or people… in general) as well as for political leaders. In any case, I think we see an example of that philosophy from the president here:

Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight — and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

I also think this last point is important in our field. We can be grateful that we get to have the arguments that we do… which device, which policy, which pedagogy. And as much as we may grow tired of our opposition (and resistance to what we see as positive change), at least we’re in a position where the argument is a meaningful one and we do actually have the power to make the future a better place for our students.

I believe one of the president’s other strengths is challenging Americans to see a bigger picture. I think it’s why so many people who oppose his efforts feel he is bringing about an end to “their” America. I’m not one who thinks he is selling out our country to the UN, or Europe, or socialists (or whatever), but if the US needs to one day give way to something greater (perhaps in the wake of the UN), I am unequivocally all for that. A meaningful global government (that allows for great diversity in many arenas) will be a good thing for humanity, and this planet. I think the day has already come when we need to not see ourselves as Americans first, but as Humans… and not as “from America” but as “from Earth.” Sometimes the president’s frankly political rhetoric falls short of this vision… and sometimes it moves from the politically correct toward what ought to be. I saw that here:

We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world; a nation that is defended by the strongest military on Earth and the best troops this world has ever known — (applause) — but also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.

We believe in a generous America; in a compassionate America; in a tolerant America…

I was proud to hear these words coming from our president. And again, I think this perspective is also important in our field… though I would take it an additional step. If we are a generous, compassionate, tolerant America… perhaps we should be working toward educational systems and tools that not only might benefit the 50 million American k12 students, but perhaps the 750 million k12 students world-wide. And there certainly are people and organizations working toward this aim. As I’m writing this I even find myself feeling a bit proud that I’ve been working increasingly on international professional development events… carrying our message face-to-face to educators outside the US. That being said, I know our team is only scratching the surface… and so far is mostly serving international and private schools with more resources than their local public counterparts. One step at a time… hope and hard work in the face of challenge.

Speaking about this change in America, the president touched again on the theme of hard work hand-in-hand with hope (both are necessary for real change to happen in any meaningful pursuit, especially on a national  – or global – scale):

…progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus, and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.

Also in keeping with this theme was this next segment, in my opinion the most important (and perhaps most audacious) of the president’s speech:

The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America has never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.

In the context of our work in education this means at least two important things to me. First, it means that we can’t complain about the government’s approach to education (at least not unless we’re actively working to change it). It is our government. In a very real way, we are the government. And, things will not change for the better in education (or in any particular direction at least) until we the people rise up and make it so. This can happen at the local level. School boards have a tremendous amount of power, freedom, and flexibility to do as they please locally… and it is rarely exercised… but most boards serve at the pleasure of the voters – you can have it another way if you can craft a compelling vision and organize support for it. This can also happen at a larger level at the state departments of education (states still maintain a high degree of independence when it comes to education, though they too exercise it less and less), and at the federal level. In short, if we want something radical, like, say, a constructivist educational technologist as a secretary of education… we have to make that happen.

Second, it means to me that we need to prepare our students for a life of self-government. I mean this on a personal level of course… in that students need to be able to govern themselves (it’s a key to success in any field – and in life), but I also mean this in terms of participatory government. We need to prepare students to take things into their own hands… to craft compelling visions and organize support… to demand something different from their local, state, federal, and global governments (in all areas, not just education of course… kids are concerned about the environment, human rights, and civil liberties – and we should empower them take their government into their own hands to improve things in the ways they want). And, in this age of social media and participatory media – with the internet in everyone’s pocket (or glasses!) making widely distributed easily scale-able participation almost ubiquitous (among those who have access), it is not unreasonable to think that these technologies can and should make it possible for more people to participate in government more often. I would never imagine everyone voting on everything; we’ll need representatives for the foreseeable future. But there is no reason more people can’t be involved in organizing and lobbying… and no reason more people can’t be authoring, editing, or otherwise contributing to legislation… and no reason we can’t have voters vote on some more issues. Our government should be far more participatory – and far more transparent. There’s no reason a significant overhaul of our government shouldn’t be forthcoming in the wake of these technological changes… despite all the challenges and hard work (and mistakes) this will inevitably entail. Incidentally, I believe we should prepare students both to be more involved in their government no matter what new technologies bring and to help bring about the technologies to make self-government more of a reality in this country… and around the globe.

Perhaps this is a tall order, but I think it’s the cause we take on as educators (or at least as educational technologists). We have the power to make this happen. I believe we will. And I can’t wait. :)


Reaction to Candidates Education Policies

I started blogging in part as an effort to share the things I was already writing for work and for school. For two years this meant I often was posting to my blog responses I had written for the my class discussion forums as part of my already underway Ph.D. program. Then I was done with classes and spent the next two years completing KAMs and working on my dissertation. For the last year or so, though, the University has created online “classes” for students with the same mentor. There are very few discussion requirements in these “research forums” but one of the last things I needed to finish this quarter was a response to the following question… and since it’s relevant to what I discuss on this blog – and to politics in this country in general – I thought I’d share it here.

The Prompt:

I was once told that two things that are never discussed in a bar are religion and politics. Since we are not in a bar (at least I hope we aren’t…who knows what goes on in e-learning behind closed doors…lol), we are going to venture into politics this month. Review the educational stance of each candidate (McCain, Obama, and Clinton), especially any positions taken on NCLB, and discuss. I stress discuss, be objective and gentle. No flaming and no arguments. I don’t want to know who you are for, just want you to discuss the issues, something that it seems no candidate is very good at nowadays. Enjoy!

My Response:

Hi, all. I’m coming a bit late to the party, but here’s my two cents as an educational technologist. I’ve focused my response solely on the positions stated on the candidates web sites, thus giving them the benefit of judging them by the message they want to be judged by.

I suppose it will come as no surprise to any of you that I found McCain’s position to be the least robust. He supports “excellence, choice, and competition.” Sadly, other than a nod to equity, his position doesn’t address excellence. Five of the eight paragraphs in his position address choice and competition, which go hand in hand for him. It’s clear he supports changes that will make it possible for parents to choose the school their child attends and for schools to compete for parents’ “business.” I suppose some sort of voucher system might make this possible, but his site does not address the specifics. Also, from my perspective, the issues I would care about are not addressed at all. There is no discussion of preparing our students for the 21st Century, of innovative teaching, or of educational technology in any form.

Clinton’s position focuses on “improving our schools.” She provides much more detail on her background, especially with respect to handicapped education and after school programs. Regarding K-12 education, she plans to end NCLB (a stance that ought to be popular with educators if my experience is any guide). Other policies that caught my eye were her positions on creating “green” schools, multiple pathways to graduation, additional after-school programs, and opportunities for internships or job programs. These strike me as plans that might include some innovative teaching or educational technology, but sadly these things are missing from her position as well.

Obama’s position focuses on “a world class education.” (Personally, I find this phrase tired – and can’t help wondering what it means to the people that use it.) He hopes to reform and fully fund NCLB. His reforms would include new types of assessments (he suggests that teaching to standardized tests isn’t working) and solutions that would support rather than punish struggling schools. He explicitly supports math and science education, but I suspect that isn’t nearly as important as teaching more right-brained skills to our students at this point. He also supports additional after-school and summer learning programs, which again might support more innovative teaching or educational technology. Regarding teachers, Obama describes plans to recruit, prepare, retain, and reward teachers. Again, the issues I am most interested in are absent from the message he puts forth on his web site.

However, unlike the other candidates, Obama also includes a link to more details, a 15 page PDF expanding on the plans he describes on his site. In this, it is clear that some innovative teaching and learning – and some educational technology – plays a role in his plan. For instance, this excerpt struck me as important:

“This [plan for reforming NCLB by improving assessments] include(s) funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas. These assessments will provide immediate feedback so that teachers can begin improving student learning right away.”

Though I’d rather see him start from scratch with NCLB, this strikes me as the most substantial and attractive thing I saw on any of these sites. Unfortunately, throughout the rest of his more detailed plan, technology only appears in his discussions of math and science education. Given his general message of hope and change, I would like to see more of each in his education policy. The focus on STEM education is primarily a fear based response to changes in the world. I would rather see a candidate put forth an education policy that strongly advocates major changes in education, including a focus on creating a creative and empowered population of life long learners. But what I would like to see would be a different (and longer) post altogether. ;)

Ultimately, I think the sad truth is that all of these candidates are far removed from the realities of the classroom – and even further removed from the sort of best practice that is supported by research and by the innovations of our colleagues in the field of educational technology.

I also recognize that politics can be a touchy subject, but at this point I’d love to hear responses from any of you as well – I imagine most of you have also given this a lot of though, perhaps even considerably more than I have. And, as my classmate’s responses revealed there is a lot more available regarding the candidates positions than is shared on their websites, and I’d be grateful for anything you all can share here.

Obama Speech: ‘A More Perfect Union’

YouTube – Obama Speech: ‘A More Perfect Union’ This is important and I think you should watch it, whether or not you are an Obama supporter, or a Democrat. Watch it because you’re an American – or because you’re a human being that cares about what happens in this country and the ramifications it might have on the world. Watch it because you understand that sound bites can’t possibly tell the whole story. And watch it because this speech will be in the history books and it’s worth 37 minutes of your time to know what was really said.

Yes We Can – Barack Obama Music Video

YouTube – Yes We Can – Barack Obama Music Video (Via Mike Porcelli.) I’ve opened this video a few times from Twitter links, but at Porch’s urging I finally watched it this morning. I loved it. Vote today if it’s your turn.

UPDATE: I think the following email may be important to pass on here as well, at least for Californians.

Mark —

Californians have reported problems voting as “Decline to State” voters, commonly referred to as “unaffiliated,” “independent” or “non-partisan” voters.

Please read this email for clarification of how “Decline to State” (DTS) voters can vote in today’s election for Barack Obama. Even if you’ve already voted, please make sure this information gets to as many voters as possible.

DTS voters have the right to vote for Barack Obama in the Democratic Presidential Primary.

DTS voters must identify themselves as DTS or non-partisan voters and ask to vote in the Democratic Presidential Primary when they arrive at their polling location. They will get instructions from a poll worker on how to vote in the Democratic Primary. If a voter gets into the voting booth and finds that he or she does not have an option to vote for Barack Obama, the voter should not cast his or her ballot. Instead, he or she should return the partially filled-out or unmarked ballot to the poll worker, and ask the poll worker to seek clarification from the supervisor at the polling location or from the County Registrar of Voters.

In Los Angeles County, DTS voters will be given a non-partisan ballot which they must take into a “Democratic” booth. They must mark both the “Democratic” bubble and the bubble for Barack Obama.

If you or anyone you know has any problems voting today, please contact the local County Registrar of Voters or one of our election protection hotlines at:

Los Angeles:

San Francisco/Bay Area:

Oakland/East Bay Area:

San Diego:


Thank you for your support.

Buffy Wicks
California Field Director
Obama for America
P.S. — Please share this information with your friends and family as soon as you can. Help make sure everyone who wants to vote for Barack in California has the opportunity:

A Message to Barack Obama: Break Free of NCLB

I received an email from the Obama campaign that was soliciting ideas. I love that the campaign is so… participatory. In any case, I this is what I cracked off in response. I didn’t put a lot of time into it, and didn’t want to be needlessly detailed. Have I gotten the message across? Or have I missed the mark in my enthusiasm?

In the long term, improving and modernizing America’s global image, policy, and military will be a function of our education system, which itself is in great need of improvement and modernization. Barack has shown great courage in standing up against the politically correct thing in favor of the right thing… and the people have responded positively – and gratefully. We need a leader who will do the same thing when it comes to education. Though it was well intentioned, the No Child Left Behind act is not well loved by educators… whether or not they misunderstand the law is hardly the point… it is perceived as a burden – and it is. Free our teachers and our system to meet the needs of individual students – as people, not as statistics. Then support the teachers and the system at integrating the newest technologies and techniques. Explore, experiment, and benefit from taking those risks. Consider how Barack’s campaign has benefit… as an educational technologist I can tell you that teachers and students would benefit even more. Sadly, America has more barriers to the use of educational technologies than many other “industrialized” nations – and too many teachers have had the fight (and the humanity) drummed out of them. This campaign (and an Obama presidency) can help. Step out against standardized testing and accountability and stand up for a flexible 21st century educational system.

Oh, here’s the message they asked me to pass on. It includes links for you to share your stories and ideas, too. :)


Maybe you’ve traveled abroad and seen firsthand how in a few years George Bush has squandered the goodwill America earned over half a century. Maybe the decisions George Bush has made has sent your friend or family member into a war that should have never happened in the first place.

Barack Obama wants to know why a new direction for our foreign policy and restoring America’s moral leadership in the world is personal for you.

The more voices and ideas we can raise the better.

Share your story with Barack Obama by clicking here:

Share your idea with Barack Obama by clicking here:

UPDATE 04/24/07: Ironically, it looks like my post was somewhat timely… check out this article from this morning’s eSchool News.

Quote: What can, should, and will be done?

I was trying to remember this quote the other day and I came across it in my notes just now, so I’m posting it here… to be able to find it in the future and to share it with others. I think this line of thinking is critical to actually effecting the sort of organizational change educational technologists aim for:

“Seymour Papert wrote that when it comes to learning, what can be done is a technological question, what should be done is a pedagogical question, and what will be done is a political question.” (Shaffer, 2006, p. 191)

I guess I need to track down the original Papert quote, so if anyone knows where that is, let me know. :)


Shaffer, D. W. (2006). How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. | Where We Stand | Where We Stand. This is exciting for me. Barack Obama is more or less tied with the front runner in terms of dollars raised (shattering records from previous elections), and he did so “without taking any money from PACs or federal lobbyists.” By every other measure, particularly the number of donors – and the number of online donors, his campaign has blown away the competition. This feels to me very like a 21st century grass roots effort. Follow the link to learn more.

PS: These numbers include my first ever contribution to a political campaign. ;)

Will Hope Trump Fear in 2008?

This is something of a breakout post for me. I don’t often write about politics here, and I’m not often comfortable allowing politics into my teaching.

In a similar way, I’ve been uncomfortable taking a dogmatic stance on the old PC versus Mac debate and I rather like calling myself non-denominational in that respect… and I’m quick to note that I use all three operating systems (meaning Windows, OS X, and Linux of course – and, yes, I know there are many more out there).

I also registered as a libertarian when I first registered to vote. (This is the political equivalent of using Linux I suppose.) Unfortunately, the party leadership (and literature) turned out to be embarrassing.

Through most of the nineties my espoused voting philosophy was to choose the candidate that would be the most entertaining, since that was the only benefit my peers and I seemed to receive from any politicians. In this respect, Ross Perot would’ve been great… and Clinton sure panned out.

At any rate, I have a feeling this may be changing for me. Over the last several months I’ve really been enjoying Senator Barack Obama’s podcasts… so much so that I just bought his audio books on iTunes, The Audacity of Hope (What an amazing title!) and Dreams of My Father (a much more personal book). Listening to him speak and hearing his story has been moving, and though I can’t articulate just yet how it has effected me beyond that, I have a sense that I am receiving an education as I listen (a rare thing for me these days).

At one point I actually emailed Obama’s office some feedback pointing out that his podcast did not allow comments (or two-way communication of any kind)… and I like to think his comment inviting listeners to email him at the end of his next podcast might have been a reaction to my feedback. At the very least, I’ve been happy to discover a politician who seems to “get it.”

Then, when he announced last Saturday his candidacy for president in the 2008 election, he also launched a new website and my feeling that he “gets it” quite soundly affirmed. It seems that John Pederson felt the same way: Hey Kids, Get Involved! Oh Wait… (Via pedersondesigns.)

Even Will Richardson noted how remarkably Web 2.0 (and Politics 2.0) the new site is: (Via Weblogg-ed News: The Read/Write Web in the Classroom.)

Robert Rozema also noted it, and honed in on some of Obama’s education policy: My Barack Space: Social Networking Gets Useful (Via Secondary Worlds: Teaching, Technology, and English Language Arts.)

Though there were some bugs at the site on the first day, I signed up right away. There were already 3 people in the Orange County for Obama group. A few hours later, after the bugs were worked out, there were around a dozen. I’ve already gotten emails from the list-serv of members asking questions and others answering. All of a sudden it was immeasurably easier for me to actually “get involved” in politics, something I’ve never done before. I have no doubt this technology is working to Obama’s advantage. The election is a long way away, though, and I suspect he will not be the only one playing in this new space and connecting his supporters in this new way… and if he becomes just one of the many, then this is that much more exciting.

Meanwhile, I do think his campaign and his message are different. Actually, I suppose that “different” is his biggest strength as a relatively new politician. I especially appreciated this portion of an email I received from his campaign:

In announcing his candidacy, Senator Obama said this campaign can’t only be about him. He said, “It must be about us – it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams.”

Obama’s message of hope (and empathy – and a middle way) is contagious. Of course, as Henry Jenkins suggests at the end of The Only Thing We Have to Fear… (Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins), it seems that fear “always” trumps hope. This same dynamic is what drives DOPA and gets web 2.0 services blocked by IT departments in schools. But if Obama can offer and advocate a message of hope in American politics, we can certainly advocate for the same thing in education.

This will be interesting… he’s already taken flack for his policy on Iraq (though that might work in his favor according to recent polls) and there is a lot of time for opponents to attack his campaign… but this will be interesting, if for no other reason than this time I care.

UPDATE: It turns out this is what I was really driven to write about tonight. As usual there is much else I’ve read that I want to respond to and pass on, but the posts on the read/write web, Google, 1:1, and social change will have to wait… as will my second “Geek to Teach” post. Now, I’m off to bed. I have a plane to catch in the morning.

Won’t it be great when, oh, a year from now, I’ve finished my dissertation and learned not to over-commit to work even though I’m self-employed? I look forward to more discretionary writing time… that is, until kids. :)

Obama takes first step in White House bid

Obama takes first step in White House bid | Chicago Tribune In a brief break from the usual content of this blog, I thought I’d share that I’m excited about this news.

Now back to tech planning with the Palm Springs Unified School District…

UPDATE: A Message From Barack – Video | Obama Exploratory Committee Obama released a video statement of his intentions… via YouTube.

Review – The Audacity of Hope (Via This Is Not News.) Meanwhile, Dave Thomer reviewed Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.

In Patient Pursuit of the Possible

I have a new favorite Bruner line. I first came across this and dropped it in my outliner months ago, but rediscovered it as I wrote tonight. (And I’m happy to report six pages of draft completed tonight). From my outliner:

“The political process… is slow, perhaps, but is committed to the patient pursuit of the possible.” (Bruner, 1966, p. 23)

I’m often less than thrilled by the political process, especially with respect to education, but I am sympathetic to Bruner’s perspective. It does, after all, sound quite a bit like Bono’s perspective. (With respect to his two careers, the rock star turned political advocate has said that U2 is about the impossible, while politics is about the possible.)

Primarily, though, I fell in love with the sentiment of being in patient pursuit of the possible… a feeling that I think often gets educators (and educational technologists) through many of the rough spots. It’s also not a half bad philosophy for someone pursuing a dissertation. I was even tempted (for a moment) to change the tag line of this blog. :)

It would even make a good title for a blog… or a book. Hm.

In the meantime, perhaps it will make a good way to sign off at the end of a post or an email.

In patient pursuit of the possible,



Bruner, J. S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. Cambridge, Ma: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.