Thursday, September 2, 2010

Can This Job Go Over Seas?

Can This Job Go Over Seas?

Click here and please listen to this story (August 24, 2010-Morning Edition)

To be honest, I think the job of "remote caregiver" can go over seas. But this story from NPR begs a couple questions. Are we as educators preparing students for a growing job like "remote caregiver?" Is it easier to build relationships with people from our own country? If I say yes, am I xenophobic? With the aging of the baby-boomer population, will the technology of wired homes help our economy or hurt it?

I heard this story the other day and just thought it was interesting. A few years ago there was much talk about "preparing students for jobs that have yet to be created." Well, the job of "remote caregiver" was not around 10 years ago. What do you think about the questions I have raised?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is It “Us verse Them” in Your School?

Is It “Us verse Them” in Your School?

I refuse to perpetuate the “us verse them” mentality that I have encountered all my previous 7 years as a teacher. It is not always possible to break the “us verse them” mentality or cycle but where ever possible I try. I also refuse to perpetuate this mentality in my current role. I am co-principal at BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Service) Summer School at Wellsville Central School in Wellsville, New York. Currently, I am a graduate student at Niagara University and attempting to become a future school leader. As part of my internship I have given myself the humorous title of Co-Principal. It’s humorous because, Dan Denner, the other Co-Principle has been the principal here at summer school for 4 years, been a summer school teacher 8 years and has been teaching at Whitesville for 12 years.

We have about a dozen students that smoke across the street, off of school grounds and before school starts. The law is actually pretty clear about under age smoking and loitering around schools, but that is not a direction I really want to go in. I think for some school administrators I’m taking a “different” approach by trying to get to the bottom of why they smoke. I am trying to build a relationship with the students and it seems to actually be working. I often go across the street to talk to them. I affectionately say while crossing the street “Good Morning young lung polluters.” I often say, when I leave, “you young lung polluters have a great morning.”

As co-principal, I’m not sure what to do about it. Calling the police for loitering or underage smoking will, in my mind, not accomplish what I want. Getting the kids in trouble will basically continue the “us verse them” mentality and make them more untrusting of adults. Allegany County is the poorest county in New York State and many of these students have some financial difficulties. According the Ruby Payne’s research, “the only thing that can break the cycle of generational poverty is a caring relationship with an adult and education.” I have tried to create a rapport with the students who smoke and I’ve made efforts to try to guide them into caring about themselves on a very general level. We have also suggested to students about calling their parents and basically the students say “go ahead, cause that’s how we get them [cigarettes].” Nothing seems to work so, last Thursday I took the matter a step further. Near the smoking area I stapled signs to a telephone pole. Actually, they were just little fliers that had pictures of healthy lungs and smoker’s lungs. You could see the black asphalt lung compared to the red, vibrant lung very clearly.

I spoke to a summer school teacher, who is a teacher from Wellsville. I asked him if there is always a group of students who smoke before and after school and he said “yes.” I asked him why he thought they did this. I asked him if he thought it were just students making poor choices. He said no. It is different than that. He stated that it has to do with people not wanting to be told what to do. I agreed with his point. He said that no one likes to be told what to do and that may not be why students started to smoke but it is probably why students continue to smoke.

This morning (8/11/10) I asked multiple students why they smoke. Many of them mentioned that their parents smoked. They also stated that their lives are very stressful. I continued and asked, “what is so stressful about your life?” One student said he has school and a job and his job is stressful. He works in a local restaurant where the kitchen is extremely hot. I did say that other people have stressful lives and they don’t smoke. I also told this particular student about the concept of reframing. I stated that you should try to find something that you enjoy that is healthy and substitute that activity for smoking. So, when you get the urge to smoke you should maybe listen to music, eat raw carrots and read an extreme sports magazine, as a possibility. I gave them an example that is near and dear to my heart. My mother, Susan Weinberg, smoked and she is actually a cancer survivor. I went on to say that my mom smoked and I don’t smoke. I also talked about my own addictions with food. Basically I weighed 30 pounds more than I do now, and there are people all around me that eat foods that I want to eat but I make health choices much of the time.

I can here the “other side of the coin” arguments about my philosophy centered around student smoking in my head. Kids should be held accountable for their consequences. The law is the law. I understand this as well. I also know that when kids continue to smoke around me that it damages my authority. I realize that I am sacrificing my authority to build relationships with these kids for a greater good with the hopes of positive decisions down the road when these students become adults. I would also like to make it clear that this is in no way a cultural issue with the school or the town of Wellsville. I believe that the issue around smoking is deep ceded in poor economic conditions, living environments where this behavior occurs and a misunderstanding of actions and one’s health.

I mentioned previously how people don’t like to be told what to do and students are no acceptation. The issue that I am having internally is the idea of “us verse them” and students learning that people in the future will tell you what to do. Students also need to realize that every time someone tells you what to do, it is not always “us verse them.” With that said, no matter what job you have, and there are different degrees of politeness, future employers are going to tell you what to do. A part of me thinks that students need to get used to people telling them what to do or they will never keep a job.

Let’s face the facts. These students are not going to quit smoking at noon today because I had this conversation with them. Really that is not my point. I am hoping that someday, maybe 10 to 15 years from now, that one of these students say “hey, remember that Mr. Weinberg? He was interesting. Do you remember the pictures of lungs he put up?” And I hope that after all the things they heard, seen or experienced pushes them over the edge and my efforts contribute to them making the tough decision to try to stop smoking because someone cared and made an effort.

I would love to know your thoughts on this matter.

If you are a student answering, just leave your initials, or at the most, your first name only. All comments are moderated before they go up on this blog.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Are the Very Nature of Organizations Shifting Too?

Are the Very Nature of Organizations Shifting Too?

Up until now, we really had no good way for two way, back and fourth, communication. Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everyone makes you think about the implications of seamless two-way communication. The book is really about “organizing without organizations.” The idea of “flash mobs” not only as a type of art form but as an unstoppable and unpredictable tool for political protest is discussed. The first chapter goes into great detail about how a woman lost her phone in a cab and a nefarious person used it and would not return it. The police would not even charge the person with theft even after they knew who had the phone and was using it illegally. Charges were not filed until a friend of the woman who “lost” her phone helped put pressure on the thieves and the police. This whole first chapter is deeper than just the use of social networking tools for justice. Chapter one talks about our new forms of communication, race and right verse wrong.

Chapter four of this book is titled “Publish, then Filter.” This chapter discusses the whole shift, whether good or bad, in the concept of how media has changed. It used to be that media outlets decided what was news and then publish what they felt was important. Now, it seems with the advent of many web tools that publishing and then filtering is the norm. This chapter and subsequent chapters goes on to talk about the amateurization of professions that were once done by only professionals. Take journalism for an example. Every blogger is a journalist in a sense. Even during my short and sporadic “career” as a blogger, I too have been accused of being that amateur. I was told that I may not be taking jobs away from other people but I was part of the narcissistic communicators who blogged and that thought they had something to say. Just by my blogging I was some how taking away from others who actually had real things to say. I am paraphrasing.

Many of the shifts in how media works today comes down to cost. The word cost is used but does not entirely refer to finances. All organizations, whether it is Little League Baseball or Ford Motor Company, have costs that occur due to being organized. Just the enforcement of rules, scheduling and the shear need to stay organized costs money. Not only does it cost money but staying together or organized is priority one, which, in turn, means that goals and objectives can be no higher than priority number 2. According the Shirky, these organizational costs are called transactional costs. When an ad hoc, grassroots group gets together to work on a project and has no need to organize, the group can put it’s main purpose as it’s number one goal. Many familiar with technology can compare Shirky’s ideas with many open-source software projects, which he does clearly in this book. Many tools now-a-days can allow people to work on a goal without ever meeting one another or organizing, at least in a traditional sense.

Journalism, movie rentals and publishing are causing a domino effect of changes on every industry involving these mediums. It is easy to see how the changes in publishing are changing school text books and libraries. Technology and social media are spearheading these changes. With many of the points that Clay Shirky makes in his book the face of organizations are changing. Not before reading this book, did I ever consider the idea of an “open-source” organization. I’m not sure we totally know how the change in communication and technology will shape the future of organizations. One thing is certain, if organizations become increasingly a thing of the past, educators well have to take a greater role in teaching students to be entrepreneurial or at the very least help students acquire the skills to be their own boss.

This has far reaching implications for education. Basically, education is free now. With MIT and schools like Stanford publishing all or most of their courses online a student can avoid the debt of college. All the “none formal school” attending student has to do is prove that he or she has the skills to do what it takes to succeed in his or her desired profession. Here Comes Everyone says to me that we really no longer need to organize into schools and in many ways we are wasting tax payer dollars requiring the public to pay for transactional costs. I know that there are teachers out there that will fear this. They should not. There is absolutely no reason that the same teacher that fears their job being taken away by an online teacher cannot become the online teacher.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Water in the Soup and Tighten Our Belts

Tough Times in Paradise

Let's face the facts. Times are tight and we all need to cut back and "tighten our belts." Schools, too, must add water to the soup and find many ways to save. In Hawaii, a place of great tropical beauty and climate, times are also tough. Hawaii is in the middle of a $1 billion budget short fall. Hawaii is the only state in the United States that has only one school district. To make up the $1 billion dollar deficit and tighten the belt, the school district contracted with the faculty to take unpaid days off. If a teacher worked in Hawaii for 10 months a year they had to take 17 Fridays off and if a teacher worked 12 months, they had to take 21 Fridays off. Here is the real problem. There is another contract involving the state of Hawaii. The contract is the IEP. Students with special needs and learning differences are required to get certain amounts of services per year. The teacher furloughs would effect these services.
Many Hawaiian parents of children with special needs are concerned and some have contacted lawyers. The lawyer many have contacted is Eric Sietz. Mr. Sietz is the same lawyer who argued on the side of parents of children with special needs in 1993. In 1993, a judge found the state of Hawaii in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. It was ruled that Hawaii was not providing mental health and other services to children with disabilities. Seven years after the initial judge's ruling, Hawaii was found in contempt of court because there was little improvement in services to children with special needs. In May of 2001, after Hawaii was found in contempt, $1.4 billion was spent to ramp up mental heath and special services to children in need. Sietz is a perfect and logical choice for parents in this current issue in Hawaii involving teacher furloughs.
The ironic things is that I am sure the $1.4 billion spent to revamp, increase and provided much needed services to special education children must be contributing in some way the the current 2009 budget crisis of $1 billion. What seems to me will happen in this new teacher furlough issues is that if the Hawaii school district does not find a way to provide specifically laid out accommodations and services for special needs children, Hawaii will be sued again. I am sure, since Hawaii is already budget short a $1 billion, another lawsuit is not going to help. Another lawsuit will defeat the purpose of budget reduction furloughs trying to solve deficit in the first place.

Monero, L. (2009). Hawaii parents may sue over furloughs. Honolulu Observer, Retrieved from

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Geography Does Make a Difference

Geography Does Make a Difference

In a law class I took in the fall one of my focuses was religion and education. I am at many schools in our region and what is acceptable here during the holidays, I am sure is not acceptable in other places. I am fascinated by how religion is treated differently depending on the location of the school in American and the cultural make up of its students and faculty.
On September 10, 2009, on a webpage of a Kentucky television station a story was posted. The story that circulated around the country was about a football coach who took 20 of his players to his church and 8 of his players got baptized. The players and the coach went for a steak dinner and to hear a motivational speaker from Texas. The students play football for a team in rural Kentucky in Breckenridge County. The coach even payed for the gas that was used in the bus. The coach claims that parents were informed about this trip. The Superintendent, Janet Meeks, who was a member of the same church and attended the same service as the students, defended the coach. She stated that no students were punished for their voluntary decision to either attend the trip to the church or not. This trip was voluntary and the students who went chose to go. The problem is parents are furious and may sue the school. A parent of a baptized child, Michelle Ammons, said that she had no knowledge and did not consent to the trip or baptism.
When I first heard about this story I automatically assumed the school was in the south, below the Mason-Dixon line. I was right.
The first college I went to was Delaware State College, which is now called Delaware State University. Delaware State is in Dover, Delaware and not a school that I would consider as in the "south." But every group event Delaware State started began with a prayer. I was always confused by this since Delaware State is a state school. The culture of the school was very southern. Delaware State was started as a national land grant college basically designed to educate poor African Americans. Many of the students are from the south and many of the administration of the school are also black. Interestingly enough, a huge majority of the professors are white.
Just last night I was reading about Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which is another fascinating case about public school and, what I call, a hiden religious agenda. Basically in Kitzmiller the Dover Area School District (Dover, Pennsylvania; not Dover Delaware) voted to have a statement read in 9th grade science that there is another option if you choose to learn about it on your own which is called Intelligent Design. The statement also emphasis that Darwin's Theory of Evolution was just a theory. Eleven parents brought a law suit against the school district. The school district lost the court case and was forced to pay just over $1,000,000.
In the Breckinridge case, Author David Waters states "How long would it have taken the entire community of Breckinridge County, Kentucky to run the coach and the superintendent out of town on a rail if they had taken players to a mosque or a Hindu temple or a Wiccan magic circle?"
My advice to anyone who reads this is two fold. You never know what is going to "blow up" in the public eye and become a huge issue. The second piece of advice is if you are not sure what is going to happen and the issue involves religion at all, stay away or tread with extreme caution.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wifi on a Bus

An email went around yesterday and everyone loved the concept in the hyperlink from the New York Times. I even liked it at first. It is about a school district and bus 92. Bus 92 is a wifi enabled bus that allows students to access the Internet from every seat. Like I said, many of the colleagues, friends and acquaintances I respect thought the concept in this article was cool, and so did I. Something came over me. I felt the need to offer a different perspective.

I am going to offer a different perspective. I love the fact that when I go to the Pediatrician's office and they have signs on the TVs that say "do not touch" as Barney or Elmo blare away. What's funny is the American Pediatric Society says that television for children under two years of age is not, lack of a better term, "a good idea." The problem is Doctors and Nurses in the Pediatrician's Office do not want kids crying away and they want them to be distracted.

My wife and I still limit our children to 1 hour a day of "screen time." This is becoming trickier with my son getting into James Patterson books on an iPod Touch. Although the one hour a day of screen time rule is not hard and fast, we try our best to stick to it.

I get a bit concerned when we have a society when children can't easily entertain themselves without an electronic device. It may be hypocritical for me to be saying this, especially for anyone who knows me. I tend to use my phone for emailing, book reading, fact checking and other forms of communication. Even I have suggested lessons on iPods for bus trips for students.

More and more the environments for face to face conversations are diminishing. This may be good or bad. I, just two weeks ago, told a group of 60 college students at an event called Backpack to Briefcase that students sitting in their seats, in the near future, may be interviewing for jobs in environments like Second Life. In an age where libraries, music stores, books stores, movie theaters and other things become, in a way, things of the past. So too are the face to face conversation places and the opportunities for this spontaneous conversations to happen. Time, technology and inappropriate uses of technology are huge contributors to the demise of the face to face spontaneous conversations. Yesterday, I saw two young ladies discuss whether Dracula was immortal. They compared and contrasted Dracula from Bram Stoker's time to what they have read in modern times with the Twilight series. I had to say to myself "I get it. This is what the library is for" and the stereotype of the "shushing" long skirted librarian and the chain around her glasses is antithetical to what a real "learning space" like a library should be.

Kids should not hit each other or make fun of people on the bus. I was both a culprit and a victim of this type of behavior. I also believe that a technology bus should not be so infiltrated with technology that meaningful "Dracula" type conversations don't happen.

The 21st Century skill of communication is critical and it is the number one way we tell people we are credible, ethical and competent. We primarily do this by articulating it orally. Also, our speech, the content of what we say and how we convey our ideas is the number one way we "promote our brand." I see younger generations losing some of their abilities to be articulate and I am sure not having a great way to assess oral presentation or communication on a state examination may be a contributing factor.

I just hope for a day that it becomes clear that the goal of technology is upper level thought and not placating the masses.