The Importance of Education

11/11/2005 01:30:00 pm

Last Friday I had the good fortune to attend a presentation by Alan November here in Winnipeg; "The Emerging Culture of Education." I always enjoy Alan's presentations because they serve to do two things:

(1) Showcase a variety of technologies and how they can be strung together and employed meaningfully in an educational context.

(2) The emphasis is not on the technology. It's on how the technology facilitates powerful learning experiences. Alan refers to this as "Infomating" rather than "Automating" -- accessing, sharing, distributing and internalizing the necessary skills to work with vast quantities of information.

I was caught a little by surprise when Alan asked me to step up to the front of the room and showcase some of my classroom blogs. I hadn't planned on presenting that day. ;-) It was fun though and the people in the room seemed genuinely interested in what my classes are doing. Later, I felt a little awkward when someone raised their hand to ask a question. Alan stopped to let them speak but the question was for me. ;-)

We had a chance to chat briefly afterwards and Alan invited me to do a podcast with him. We'll be skyping each other some time soon to set the date and time. I'll post it here when it's done.

Alan always tries to stretch our thinking a little. He likes to present ideas that "are good enough to criticize." This time he reiterated something I've heard him talk about before -- that the family has to get involved in teaching and learning. He had a really good idea from a school in Northern England (I forget which one now). The teachers got together and made instructional videos on writing. They sent them home with the students to watch with their parents as homework. The response and results were dramatic. Parents who had never come out to parent/teacher interviews were calling the school asking for more of these videos. The school went from being the lowest performing school in literacy in the district to being the highest performing school.

I think this is a bigger issue though. In the context that I teach in I have some tough questions that need answers:

  • »What about our growing ESL population whose parents speak a different language? (I think we have over 50 different languages spoken amongst our student population.)
  • »What about our growing refugee population who not only lack language skills but are suffering from culture shock? (A student told me he couldn't understand how water was coming out of the wall when other students put their heads down but it wouldn't work for him.)
  • »What about kids whose parents feel their kids are a burden and can't be bothered to have anything to do with them? (A colleague called home about a student's absenteeism. The parent said: "Tell someone who cares.")
  • »What about our kids coming from underprivileged homes?

Let's define underprivileged: no food in the fridge, bed is a mattress(?) on the floor, parents on welfare spend the monthly check on cigarettes, beer and lottery tickets, sometimes drugs. How do we get these parents to buy into the importance of education?

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  1. The issue of parent involvment and all the external variables students bring is certainly a big concern today. What I'm coming to realize is that while some of our initiatives to get parental support can be helpful, ultimately we'll never reach many of the parents you refer to. That's the reality of our world. Too many times, teachers use this as an excuse and while it obviously has an impact for student learning, it's beyond our control and we might as well face that fact and move on.

    I suspect that many of the things you do with kids in terms of connecting and moving your classroom beyond the walls of your school, sends a clear message to kids and parents about your committment and opportunity that you provide. You might not reach them all but you're certainly making it possible.

    PS. I'm working on a workshop this week for a full day on the Rip, Mix and Learn theme. I'll post it to my workshop blog

    Monday or Tuesday, I hope you can check it out and give me some pointers.