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Link Roundup: State History, Technology, Hillsborough, and Book Reviews

linkie linkie!

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the discussions that have gone on at this site – and in the larger blogosphere – over the last week or so:

How much importance do we place on teaching state/local history?

This is an excellent discussion that comes from three different – and at times very different – perspectives. I think we’re getting somewhere.

How do we go about using blogs in education?

First, I want to thank David again for participating in such candid discussion. It’s worth noting when a professional is willing to engage in difficult debate, but I suppose that’s one of the many reasons why he’s an authority in education technology. I had a great deal of respect for David and his work before this exchange – and that has only increased.

Second, this volley is, in my opinion, pretty good stuff. We’re addressing difficult issues on an emerging and potentially valuable technology. You should weigh in, too.

… and what in the world is happening in Hillsborough County?

I’m going to think for a day or so before responding re: Hillsborough.

In the meantime, check out recent reviews of John Pearson’s “Learn Me Good.” and Linda Perlstein’s “Tested.” When you’re done with those two, don’t despair; next week I’ll post a review for Dennis Fermoyle’s “In the Trenches.”

It is Labor Day weekend… you should have time to read all these links because hey, you’re not working!

Making Sense of the Hillsborough County School Board Tension

school leadership isn't personal

[Disclosure: I have no personal or professional relationship with anyone associated with the Hillsborough County Schools. Any opinion expressed here is the direct result of disinterested inquiry.]

The Hillsborough County School Board has gotten some publicity over the last few days – and not the good kind.

With a new school year underway, HCSB held a teamwork training session this week for its members. The activities were meant to develop the professional relationships that, in theory, make a school board a cohesive governing body. It went sour.

Letitia Stein of the St. Petersburg Times sets the stage:

School Board member Jennifer Faliero told colleague April Griffin to change her style and “learn to swallow your medicine.” If not, Faliero said, she’ll become a maverick on the losing end of votes.

As other board members chimed in concerns about her defensiveness, Griffin retorted, “I’m not buying what you’re saying.”

“Then you need to resign,” Faliero shot back.

Amid cries for a “time out,” Griffin stormed out of the training exercise.

Griffin was especially bothered by a call for her resignation from a Board member who, as I’ll explain later, is no stranger to a contempt for the law worthy of resignation herself.

But this is more than an emotionally-charged spat; it’s an instructive example for how to think – and how not to think – about school district governance.

The Hillsborough Board, from what we can see and read, has further separated into two camps following the evaluation of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. Griffin and Susan Valdes were critical of Elia’s performance; the other 5 members, including Faliero, weighed in with overwhelming support. The problems here, however, are less political than with members’ differing commitments to serving the district.

Take a moment to glance at the recent 8-page evaluation of Elia’s performance [Adobe PDF, 8 pages, link opens in new window]. It consists of a scoring rubric on various elements of her leadership, then a collection of board members’ comments on those elements. Though Faliero has cried foul and subtly characterized Griffin as a mean-spirited rogue, the proof is in the PDF.

The comments for “Standard VIII. Values and Ethics of Leadership” demonstrate not only Griffin’s commitment to moving beyond finger-pointing to solve a problem, but also the indifference of other board members:

[Jack] Lamb: You know where she stands and why.

[Doretha] Edgecomb: The Superintendent models leadership that is ethical and acts in a professional manner that demonstrates a respect for others and an understanding of statutory standards that must be adhered to for operating a responsive, ethical and caring district.

[April] Griffin: The School Board has “…any power except as prohibited by law…” (F.S. 1001.32 (2)) and may adopt policy or procedure (F.S. 1001.43 (10)) while the Superintedent’s powers are either to advise or recommend to the Board (1001.49 (2), 1001.49 (3), 1001.49 (4), 1001.49 (5)) while providing “general oversight” of the district operations in order to identify problems so that the Superintendent may make additional recommendations as needed (1001.49 (1)). F.S. 1001.51, in describing the Superintendent’s duties, continues the trend of not providing discretionary decision-making authority, instead vesting in the Superintendent’s power and influence in her ability to advise and sway the Board. Based on numerous conversations and “events” I do not believe that MaryEllen shares this interpretation of Florida School Law. I find this most troubling as I believe that this misalignment is the source of many of the challenges that I have cited in this performance evaluation.

[ed. - Comments from other Board members did not appear in this section of the document and, presumably, were not submitted.]

Though one may not agree with Griffin’s criticism of Superintendent Elia, there is no question that her reasoning has a solid foundation; she demonstrated that by explaining herself in full and citing relevant statutes to support her argument. This is what we expect from our elected officials: clear, transparent views supported by evidence. Board member Carol Kurdell accused Griffin of “disengaging” from Board meetings, but Griffin’s comment above – and plenty of open, honest admissions on her website – demonstrates both purposeful engagement and a sound commitment to problem-solving.

We expect that an elected Board member overseeing a district with 203,000 students and over 25,000 personnel would provide a full explanation for his or her actions. We don’t expect a single, incomplete sentence better suited to a comment on a Myspace profile than to a public, District-wide report for a major school system – and we certainly don’t expect to see no comment at all.

One need not be on this Board to understand how these differences in accountability, transparency and “vision” – one of the things Tuesday’s teamwork building episode was supposed to heal – could manifest itself into real tension.

Valdes commented to Faliero that the call for Griffin’s resignation was, “below the belt,” to which Faliero responded:

“I don’t feel it was below the belt,” Faliero said. “I feel it was a candid comment based on an assessment.”

“You’ve got to earn your way,” Faliero added. “You’ve got to earn your respect and you’ve got to learn how to work in the system.”

Griffin fired back that she wasn’t elected to “go along to get along.”

That’s because April Griffin understands that she was elected to serve a large school system responsibly, a mission that can’t be clouded by a selfish, immature focus on emotional outbursts.

Faliero needs to realize that, as a recent self-help book advised readers to remember, “it isn’t all about you.” Disagreement and contentious debate – which sometimes can become angry – isn’t about the individual personalities involved. It’s about those 203,000 students, 25,000 employees and the nearly 1.2 million who make up its taxpayer base. Public servants in municipalities as small as Cooperstown and as large as Hillsborough County need to commit fully to their constituents – and that means realizing that their individual sensibilities are far less important than the community that you serve.

If one needs an anecdotal Hollywood example of this principle in action, consider the scene in Lean on Me in which Dr. Frank Napier argues ferociously with Eastside High Principal Joe Clark. What follows the highly emotional argument? “Alright, let’s go get something to eat.”

If Hollywood understands that school leadership isn’t personal, members of the Hillsborough School Board are certainly capable of understanding, too. As education technology specialist Scott McLeod has asked, “Are we doing what is best for our students, or are we doing what is convenient for us?” Words like “comfortable” and “easy” can be substituted for “convenient,” and the simple answer given to that question would speak volumes about a Board member’s attitude toward school governance.

In short, Faliero needs to grow up and act like the secure, professional adult that she was elected to be. And secure professionals who are devoted to their constituents don’t have unhinged outbursts.

But I can understand how Jennifer Faliero’s skin might be thinner this August than in years past. Last week the St. Petersburg Times reported that she had moved from the Hillsborough district that she was elected to represent as a result of her divorce – an allegation that she initially denied:

Faliero, who has enrolled her daughters in two of south Tampa’s best-regarded public schools, initially denied she was living there when questioned by the St. Petersburg Times.

A day later, she decided to share the details of a situation she acknowledges having tried to keep “under the radar.”

“My intent was not to leave the district, but I really had no choice but to find other places to live,” said Faliero, 44.

Faliero’s attendance this summer for Board meetings and functions has also been sparse:

Faliero has been notably absent at School Board meetings this summer. From July to mid-August, she missed five meetings and workshops – half of the last 10 scheduled.

The intent of raising these issues isn’t to embarrass Faliero or to exacerbate her difficulties in life. Any competent leader – and any competent follower – realizes that there are exceptions to rules. Extenuating and unfortunate circumstances happen. Faliero isn’t the first to undergo an unforeseen restructuring in her life and she won’t be the last. Even so, she does, as an elected public servant, need to be held accountable for the way that she handled the situation.

I have trouble imagining that anyone would punish Faliero for a temporary move based on the circumstances, but she had no reason not to be candid about her situation. A responsible leader is proactive and honest when such things arise; real leaders don’t sweep them under the carpet. As Pro on HCPS summarizes, Faliero moved discreetly, denied it to the press, admitted the truth when she was caught and then suggested that another Board member resign.

The Hillsborough County School Board has enjoyed easier times. As this scene plays out, Board members must remember that they are held accountable by their constituents and need to behave like responsible, professional adults who put the community first in their commitment to serving the District. Griffin has done this; hopefully others on the Board will follow suit.

To Ms. Griffin, I say, “Onward, Christian soldier.

And to keep the theme, I’ll deliver to Ms. Faliero a piece from the Gospel of Luke:…Physician, heal thyself.

UPDATE at 08.30.07, 9.41pm:

Stephen Downes has posted a lengthy response at his site HalfAnHour. I’ll respond as soon as I get some time to put my thoughts together.

The Wall, an unofficial blog designed to provide a forum for Hillsborough County School District employees, has posted a take on Faliero’s conduct. 

Book Review: Learn Me Good by John Pearson

Learn Me Good by John Pearson

Learn Me Good, John Pearson

211 pages, 2006; ISBN-13: 978-1-4116-6589-7

Jack Woodson isn’t your typical elementary school teacher. First, he’s a man; second, he’s not an idealist fresh out of college; and third, he “has forty children, and all of them have different mothers.”

But that’s education blogger John Pearson’s identity in Learn Me Good, an irreverent, anecdotal look at life as a first-year elementary teacher.

Jack Woodson was the unfortunate victim of job cuts at Heat Pumps Unlimited. Faced with finding a new job that made use of his engineering credentials, Woodson decides to take a hard right turn into the world of third grade mathematics. What he discovered, endured and laughed about during that first year in the trenches is the basis for Learn Me Good.

Woodson would want you to know that in those trenches he’s a Lieutenant commanding a platoon of rag-tag 8 and 9 year olds, all of whom are armed to the teeth with four-function math skills. Oh, and he’s got the weirdest case of trenchfoot anyone has ever seen. Who knew that graham cracker crumb residue could manifest itself into an infection? At least it’s a sweet-smelling infection…

Such is the style and tone of Woodson’s e-mails to former colleague Fred Bommerson, greeted throughout the book as F-Bomm, Fredster, and Big Poppa Heat Pump, to name a few. In e-mail after e-mail, Woodson describes classroom scenarios that cause him to shake his head, drop his jaw, laugh out loud and everything in between.

The supporting cast of characters in Learn Me Good give Woodson plenty of opportunity to reflect on the quirks of teaching in an elementary school. There are adult oddballs like the district employee who checks Woodson’s students for vision problems – but not before selling the third-graders on the coolness of glasses by proclaiming, “I think glasses are SEXY!” Though Woodson takes the surprise in stride, he can’t help but tell Fred that it was awkward and nothing short of “airing a commercial for Bacardi rum in the middle of an episode of Sesame Street.”

But Woodson doesn’t just pluck the low-hanging comical fruits. He humanizes – or is it humorizes? – students like Esteban, an energetic kid who enthusiastically yells answer after answer without stopping to think whether they’re right [he also has a penchant for filling in test bubbles randomly]. And even the terrors such as the “clinically insane” Chandra, whom Woodson affectionately nicknames “Lucifer,” are regarded no worse than “bad data points” when they clearly have earned the status of a public school urban legend.

It’s not all humor and pop culture references, though. Pearson exposes his energy, command of pedagogy, and curriculum on nearly every page. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. His blood pressure is largely stable. He isn’t political, doesn’t wail out diatribes on No Child Left Behind and isn’t out to reform the American education system.

Woodson wants to understand the quiet ones, the Spanish speakers and the hyperactive-but-harmless. He just wants to teach and love his kids the best he can and he’s going to do it with a smile.

Purists of the written word may lament the e-mail structure of the book. Pearson avoids a novel-like progression and goes with a unique schema that, while fresh and surprisingly effective, lends itself to reading in short bursts instead of chapter sessions. A particular omission in that structure is the lack of replies from Fred Bommerson; though the character of Woodson sums up Fred’s reactions in the beginning of his e-mails, a few notes directly from Fred might break up the series of familiar blueprints.

Learn Me Good has a place on shelves in all levels of the edusphere from the boiler room to the penthouse in the Ivory Tower. Policy wonks will find that it cures frequent heartburn related to frustration, albeit temporarily; parents will be refreshed as they read candid reactions from a teacher who they’d want to befriend in real life; teachers with this book on their desk will find that its good-natured but relevant anecdotes will invigorate even the most atrophied smiling muscles.

But there’s a caveat to those teachers: be prepared for the longing you’ll feel en route to the teachers’ lounge when you think, “Why can’t I have a Jack Woodson at my school?”

John Pearson’s Learn Me Good is available for purchase at www.amazon.com.

Welcome to The 134th Carnival of Education

The 134th Carnival of Education

Cooperstown, NY is a busy place in the summer. Every week 96 youth baseball travel teams [and their families] come to the Cooperstown Dreams Park to play a week-long tournament; just a few weeks ago The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2007 Induction Ceremony dragged over 70,000 more into a village of 2,000; this weekend the National Soccer Hall of Fame in nearby Oneonta hosted 5,000 who welcomed Mia Hamm’s enshrinement.

I thought I’d host the Carnival of Education once all this summer hoopla died down. After committing to the 134th Carnival, I realized that I was in direct competition with the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

We have 44 booths in this edition of the Carnival of Education – here’s hoping we draw more people than Wednesday night’s Hilary Duff concert at the Fairgrounds.

And now for the Midway…

  • Trials and Tribulations of the New School Year

Mrs. Bluebird spent a chunk of her third full day of school outside the building. Fire drill? Nope, real emergency.

Frumteacher gives us a solid first-day report: what went right, what went wrong and what to improve on tomorrow.

Mister Teacher at Learn Me Good has sent home a ‘welcome’ letter to parents. It’s got tips for a successful year and a few ground rules; my favorite is, “Dogfighting, convenience store robbery, and “making it rain” will not be tolerated.”

Siobhan Curious has a thoughtful submission regarding discipline at the beginning of the school year. Maybe you can help her decide… should she be “Mean ’til Halloween?”

Mamacita of Scheiss Weekly picked up her instructor’s ID today. She appears to have come to a harsh [and probably undeserved] realization.

  • Movers and Shakers in Curriculum

JD2718 has banned FOILing in his NYC classroom. You know, that tried-and-true method for multiplying binomials? It sounds radical, but he’s got plenty of reasoning behind his decision.

Terrell at Alone on a Limb tells us about the interaction between a nonagenarian and a class of 10-year olds. This article runs the range from funny to touching – it’s a must-read.

Henry of Why Homeschool read Ben Franklin’s autobiography and muses on an American institution important both then and now: the library.

Jacque at Seeking Rest in the Ancient Paths has been researching pioneer life and can’t help but ask, “How did pioneer women do all of this?!”

Shay at Life Without School tells us about how sailing was a part of her childhood. She’s passing that knowledge – and more – on to her daughter.

Jocelyn, blogging out of Lothlorien, is writing her own e-book called “How to Build a Hope Chest.” She wants to know why you have a hope chest and what it means to you.

Darren of Right on the Left Coast has to teach geometry this year from a textbook he hasn’t used. Other teachers have, so he can use their lesson plans… right?

Denise at Let’s Play Math is hooked on writing to learn math. She’s put together an excellent list of resources to help you explore math journaling.

Amanda at The Daily Planet shares her fiction reading list that ranges from Jane Austen to Lord of the Rings. If her forthcoming non-fiction list is as good, we’re all going to have to pencil in some more reading time.

  • Policy: For Better or Worse

Dave Saba of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence website spent a day on school beautification in DC. He came away with some first-hand insight on the state of DC public schools: he’s got evidence, albeit anecdotal, that some things have improved and others haven’t.

IB A Math Teacher has a problem with his state’s ruling that Algebra I won’t count toward 3 required years of math.

Matt Johnston of Going to the Mat thinks that Maryland’s murky allowances for “test-taking anxiety” to bypass the MD high school exit exam isn’t much different than social promotion.

Old Andrew at Scenes From the Battleground details the muddled philosophy and practice behind teaching civics/politics in tough British schools.

The Education Wonks are dismayed by falling reading scores in the United States. They want to know what happened and how we might fix it.

NYC Educator lays out 6 steps to solving that pesky teacher recruitment problem.

Thespis Journal respects the coverage of Dayton-area schools, but he can’t help but feel that public education has been reduced to simplistic statistics and rankings.

Bill Ferriter at The Tempered Radical takes on a very interesting question: Should spouses and relatives of teachers be allowed to vote?

Education Notes Online has identified a pattern in NYC: clueless officials who don’t know how to fix the system blame the teachers and close the schools. Re-organize. Rinse. Repeat.

Maria Marien knows that music makes our kids smarter. She’s compelled to ask: If so, why aren’t we committed to providing it?

Batya at Shiloh Musings doesn’t think much of Yuli Tamir’s education reforms in Israel, and she tells you exactly why.

  • The Ever-present Money Issues

Finance is Personal reminds us what student loans are for – and what they aren’t for.

Millionaire Mommy Next Door is worried about an epidemic that plagues even our children: Affluenza.

Dave of Friends of Dave runs some numbers on the cost of school supplies at the household, local and state levels. He should feel lucky, says Staples, but he doesn’t.

Saving Advice delivers a must-read on how to save money buying school supplies. If you’ve already gotten yours, read anyway – there are excellent tips to keep your kids and classrooms well-stocked on the cheap throughout the year. [And, as much as you may not want to hear it, there's always next year.]

  • Technology, Technology, Technology

The Homeschool 2.0 Blog took advantage of two free web applications to help her daughter collect and analyze survey data on all 50 state governments. Was it effective? Well, just ask the Wall Street Journal – they reported on it Thursday!

Sylvia at Generation YES takes some lessons from a recent study about McDonald’s, marketing and children and applies them to technology.

Tom Kim has a well-considered, comprehensive plan for implementing blogs in his English classroom. I like what I see.

  • Teaching and Classroom Management

Right Wing Nation has updated his excellent, easy-to-follow guide on how a teacher can use basic statistics to evaluate curriculum, tests and compare classes.

What It’s Like on the Inside considers grading policy, implementing student/teacher contracts and “help” in completing assignments.

30PlusTeacher offers 5 sage tips for classroom teachers looking to avoid clutter.

dy/dan shares a quick, easy and cheap way to make gigantic posters for your classroom.

Jose Vilson reviews Gary Rubenstein’s Reluctant Disciplinarian and then adds 10 disciplinary lessons he’s learned.

Ms. T. at Lasting Peace tackles the complexities of childhood belonging, a child’s relationship with parents and how she manages everything in between. She isn’t comfortable with how her CIs are handling the kids, but I have a feeling she’ll be the last to lose hope.

  • The Electives in That Liberal Arts Degree

Chanman had to dust off his anti-aircraft guns to deal with a helicopter parent attack on Buckhorn Road. She escaped this time, but he’s not too worried if she comes back.

Joanne Jacobs is skeptical about Harvard Business Online’s answer to the question, “Is College Necessary?”

Eric of Secondhand Thoughts is a retired soldier, full-time student and future history teacher. He tells us why he loves history and why he wants to teach it.

The Brain Fitness Blog offers up 10 Habits of Highly Effective Brains. I have a feeling we can all use these tips.

Judy at Consent of the Governed weighs in on the prosecution of two hardcore criminals – or relatively normal 7th graders with, well, 7th grade bad judgment, depending on how you look at it.

And, finally, Matthew K. Tabor reviews edublogger John Pearson’s literary debut, Learn Me Good.

Not enough? Thirsty for more? Feel free to sate those desires in the Carnival of Education Archives.

And a quick note regarding next week’s Carnival:

Next week’s carnival will return to home at The Education Wonks. You can email your posts by 11:00 PM (EDST) to owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] com or you can use this handy submission form.

It’s been a pleasure handling this week’s Carnival. Any thoughts, suggestions, criticism or errors/omissions? Just send an e-mail to mktabor@gmail.com and let me know.

Don’t Ask This Question, Part IV: Evidence Examined

sad but true

The “Don’t Ask This Question” series between David Warlick and myself has taken on an interesting life. What started as a discussion of blogging’s place in professional competency has become a broader evaluation of the value of blogging in education.

Here’s a quick genesis:

David’s latest piece starts with an admirable, transparent admission resulting in some strikethrough editing of his original post. It demonstrates one of the strengths of blogging: we can go back, edit and leave traces of our thoughts. I appreciate his kind words regarding this website and would like to echo the sentiments; I also appreciate the time he has given to this discussion.

As I said in Part III, one of the most important elements of determining the value of a technology is comparing it to what it’s replacing and what other solutions we’re foregoing. This is basic opportunity cost analysis.

Consider the case of University of Washington communications professor Kathy Gill. Last semester Professor Gill used the newsblog website Newsvine so her students could publish their pieces, read their peers’ work and react to it. Using blogging tools allowed Gill and her students to meet the need to collaborate in a cheap, easy and effective way. Gill identified a need and then chose the solution that fit best.

In the UW case, students researched and wrote pieces on a broad range of issues. Using the Newsvine format, they created a private group and posted that content for consumption by Newsvine users who were free to react. It not only gave Gill’s class a central space to read content and critique it alongside the public, but also provided a clean system to collect and track submissions.

Newsvine gave the UW Bloggers a combination of logistical utility, collaboration/review and exposure. Other technologies could not have met all these needs: A wiki would provide collaboration and tracking but not exposure or outside review; a forum gives the possibility of review, but would largely go unnoticed and would create some hurdles with forum/user administration; social networks like Myspace would not have provided an adequate format for review and discussion, etc.

Blogging provided Gill’s class with clear utility that other technologies couldn’t deliver. This, however, is a rare case; few classes focus wholly on the creation and management of digital media and the use of the systems being discussed. I invite everyone to detail in the comments here other cases in which blogging met an educational need when other technologies couldn’t – it will help us further define blogging utility.

But if we’re to evaluate and choose a proposed solution properly – just like Gill – we need to be fair about the comparison.

Warlick relays an anecdote about a math professor for his graduate studies:

The program director for my graduate degree was brilliant. She was a mathematician. Although she had never taught in a K-12 classroom, she had a fair handle on our challenges. However, she taught entirely from the writings of great education thinkers and from juried journals. I learned a great deal from her. I respect and revere her. But I have to say that what I learned during those years from the listservs and newgroups I was reading at the time, written to by other practitioners like me, was AT LEAST as valuable to me and my work as what I learned in the data-oriented writings that we read and were tested on in graduate classes.

It sounds as though she was a competent teacher and I agree that it doesn’t necessarily matter that she didn’t have direct K-12 classroom experience [as I wrote earlier this week, one need not be an everyday practitioner to be an authority]. However, as Warlick points out, she relied entirely on education theorists and scholarly writing, an approach that would be categorized by any serious educator as sub-optimal.

In order to determine the real value of technologies like listservs, newsgroups and now blogging, our comparative analysis can’t use the low-hanging fruits that are sub-optimal practices. We need to identify the most effective approaches and then determine the value of technologies when implemented. There’s no sense in putting a blogging band-aid on poor practice; our efforts are better spent shoring up the practice than building on a shaky foundation. We can’t justify the value of blogging when we put it up against bad practice.

Warlick continues:

“You see, I was a real teacher.”

“I taught real 7th and 8th graders in a real classroom.”

“I taught in a real community and I taught real curriculum.”

Each of my students was different. There was no other classroom exactly like mine. The community that I taught in was unique and back then I determined the curriculum that I taught. Real teachers face new situations every day. Every child has a different story, a different frame of reference to build on. Every classroom has its own tools to use, or lack of tools. A real teacher has to be resourceful, inventive, tenacious, and absolutely critical to success is a community of other real teachers and conversations.

The emphases are his, not mine.

The assumption that theory necessarily deviates from reality is flawed. It doesn’t have to. The frequent use of the world “real” to differentiate value between two things is synthetic and largely hollow. I’ve told countless students that there is no such thing as a difference between school and the “real world” – there are just people who have isolated themselves or not applied themselves beyond the normal curricula. If you’re a 22-year old college graduate who’s excited to jump into the “real world,” you most certainly haven’t made use of the past four years.

It’s also important to note that “real” isn’t easily quantifiable. Neither are invention, tenacity or conversations. They’re relative intangibles that depend on anecdotes for their justification and stretch or contract as needed.

Anecdotal learning – not to be confused with experiential learning – isn’t enough. We don’t just learn anecdotally, and anecdotes make for inefficient process. Would you take someone seriously who said, “You can learn a lot by getting a degree in physics, but I learned a lot by talking to physicists?” Would you rather a teacher enrolled in a summer enrichment program teaching scientifically-based practices or would you rather he stayed at home and surfed the web?

One can learn by talking to others, but it isn’t remotely scientific and there’s no real quality control; the content might be right, it might be wrong, it might be harmful. It feels good to communicate with other professionals and it’s useful to read about the practices of others, but are 500,000 unique blogs the ideal media to transmit that?

Warlick continues:

I know that conversation is a vague term, but the conditions that real teachers work in are shapeless and unpredictable.

This is terribly misleading and nothing short of a cop-out. Yes, conditions change – no class will ever be the same and every kid deviates from the mean in his own way. Though there are tens of thousands of tree species in the world, all of them have trunks and roots. And remember: if a kid in your class is one in a million, that means there are 1,000 kids exactly like him in China [and another thousand in India]. The point is that there are plenty of basic, common traits in all classrooms and we can use that knowledge to teach better.

Conversation is indeed a vague term, but it’s one that proves difficult to define. Let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that conversations have a clear meaning in blogging: person A publishes content and interacts with persons B through Z in a series of comments. Let’s also assume that these conversations are of great value and critical to the education of all involved.

If conversations are so important – and really, web 2.0ers hail conversations as both the means and the ends of social media – why aren’t comments indexed, searchable and tagged? Many times the wordcount of comments dwarfs the original article and the real meat of the discussion cures in the threads. When considering the immaturity of the blogging medium and the incompleteness of posts, David said:

But, it is what’s not said that leads to conversations (like this) where fuller understanding and even new and valuable ideas can be found or even grown.

The context suggests that this understanding comes in the conversations generated by the original content – conversations that are archived but inaccessible compared to other web media.

Gary Stager made several important points in a comment on David’s In Defensive of Education Blogs article. He points out that commenters – those other parties in the conversation – can’t edit their work as Warlick did in his post. He also mentions the problem of fleeting discussion; blog posts too often influence a brief moment in time to which we seldom return [yes, there are legendary threads with staying power, but they make up an infinitesimal percentage of the blogosphere]. And, if such an effect is desired, a blogger can bury a topic under new material at his discretion. In short, writers can manipulate the conversation and readers/commenters – again, the real meat of the conversation – are largely powerless.

These points are problematic on several levels from utility to basic communication theory. Blogs are useful as a cottage industry thought farm and higher-level blogs are useful for culling the best of the crops, but we’re far from proclaiming that blogging has educational value that can compete with its communicative profit.

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