Thursday, December 29, 2016

Moving away from a dichotomous world to a vision of wholeness

If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one,  look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, look at the one and forget the ten.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
What we focus on will come alive.

The concept of living a dichotomous life is one that I have been reflecting on lately. I grew up a blended story: Always the rhythm of my father's culture beating in my veins. Always the inquisitive call of my mother's people pulling me forward. Between my Anglican and Quechua roots I was always in motion, even if I was still. Always seeking, dancing, feeling, moving between the different chords of sounds, tastes and visions my parents' cultures gave me. So the idea of choosing one, emphasizing one, is not something I ever felt impelled to do. If you saw me, spoke with me, engaged in a little time with me, my father's culture would initially jump out. I remember consciously nurturing this culture within me and seeking it out - primarily because living in a society whose dominant culture is White middle class, my mother's New England culture was not hard to find or grasp. It was my father's culture, that kept eluding me as I tried to find it in the world around me. But when others looked at me, immediately I was pegged: Latina. 
The author, Ymasumac

I remember once sharing this struggle with both my mother and aunt, who were born and raised deep in the heart of New England in the Northeast corner of the United States. I felt this struggle strongly; every syllable I shared held the emotion of this tension within me. My aunt, in an effort to soften my feelings said, "But Yma, you're White." I immediately shot back and said, "Aunt J, nobody looks at me and thinks White girl!" I didn't mean to be so direct, but that was it. The world defined me by my appearance and nothing else. So I was of one hue.

There have been many moments that define my position of not choosing sides; this was definitely one of them. My aunt was right. I was a White girl from European-ancestry-some blue blood-some gypsy  and very much a Latina-Indigenous-Daughter of an immigrant girl as well. So I have embraced both and move through them consistently and with purpose, grateful I have a walk that refuses to choose sides. This has permeated my world view and all that connects to it. 

It is for this reason I was pretty excited when I saw that Hampshire College has chosen to move away from one of the most stressful, isolating and often expensive experiences of moving into higher education: standardized tests. In the article I read from the Washington Post it states that Hampshire College has decided to refuse to accept the SAT or ACT as part of their admission process! Priceless!
Commons area of Hampshire College
These tests carry such a narrow scope of reality and thinly slice a student's learning into one small point. Most universities state this is only "one" facet of the entire application they look at...but if as a society we are known to view things from a dichotomous position, how can it not narrow our vision when we see a high, or worse, a low score? All else becomes a blur. Like me, everything else about me falls away if all I say is, I'm Latina or White, which I'm not allowed to anyway because of my physical appearance...another illusion - it dismisses the Quechua in me that held such strength and courage, it ignores the curious and inquisitive nature of my European ancestors and the countless amazing women on both sides who held life together in a strand of love when the world told them they were of lesser value.
We are all a make-up of our ancestors. We cannot slice them into bits and dismiss those parts that are not part of the physical illusion of who we are. What the eye can see is not always true. We have to dig deeper and perceive the wholeness in all things.

Hampshire confirmed this idea that every time we focus on one area with too much emphasis, others can become minimized. According to Hampshire College, when they no longer had the SAT or ACT to filter the student's application through, "...every other detail of the student’s application became more vivid."

Learning is this way too. We cannot slice learning into parts and say because of one slice being deficient, the whole will not succeed. I have watched my youngest son, a boy of incessant curiosity, who excels in all endeavors that interest him - academically, sports, piano - as well as carry a spirit of service in these efforts, struggle intensely during standardized tests. They demoralize and handicap his thinking about his potential because he is not able to demonstrate the breadth of his learning. We work with him continuously to continue to look at the whole. This is difficult when society, and especially our educational structures that reflect society, look at the world in parts and give value and weight to these parts differently. For example, we give an A for excellence. But what does this mean exactly? Excellent in what?  Does excellence have an end?  Do we finish the quest for excellence? How can we quantify something when it is a continuous expression and acknowledgment of growth in areas of exploration? This also opens up the discussion of whose filter are we looking through that determines "excellence"?  Suffice it to say that when it comes to the dominant culture in our society, the filter of our educational system is most always White middle class, eliminating whole swaths of humanity.

Children are born naturally as active agents of their own learning; we cannot continue as a society to stifle this natural desire in them to explore the world they live in. It is not enough to blame the educational system, when as parents we direct so much of the learning as well in our own home learning environments. Or as a society we build the structures and spaces for engagement and innovation. Blame will not bring about the exploration and change we desire. We need to rethink what learning looks like and how we will quantify learning - at school, home and in our working environments.

When a respected institution, like Hampshire College, takes a bold step to eliminate such an archaic form of assessing learning and success, such as the SAT and ACT in their application process - we must ask ourselves, how will we respond to these forces around us and support the outliers who are creating change and new avenues of thinking?

I for one will continue to reflect on my own learning environment that I co-create with others. I will also encourage my son to apply to Hampshire College and be a part of innovative change, as is the desire of his heart.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Consumerism as Opium to the Human Soul

True prosperity, the fruit of a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life, will recede further and further out of reach as long as consumerism continues to act as opium to the human soul; that justice, as a faculty of the soul, enables the individual to distinguish truth from falsehood and guides the investigation of reality.  - Baha'i Teachings

I've been reflecting on this quote a lot lately and I suppose it's no coincidence that as we enter a season of vast materialism, consumerism comes blaring to the front of my social media. It's
disheartening to find this intense drive and focus on areas of so little worth, when the soul of our country has been ripped into pieces and discarded along the side of our collective conscious.

When I think of consumerism acting as opium to the human soul, I think of the choice word opium. Some thoughts on opium are: 

"Although the side effects of opium that are felt short-term such as euphoria or sedation may be comforting, as tolerance develops, even these side effects will diminish and the negative aspects of the opium use will quickly begin to set in."

And what about the impact to the soul?

"Reason showeth that smoking opium is a kind of insanity...opium fasteneth on the soul, so that the user’s conscience dieth, his mind is blotted away, his perceptions are eroded. It turneth the living into the dead. It quencheth the natural heat"- 'Abdu'l-Bahá

Performance art by the BuyMoreStuff Campaign on Black Friday


These both seem like apt descriptions of consumerism, in particular in the United States and most definitely during the time of November and December. Though at every turn, there seems to be an opportunity to exploit more celebrations in the name of consumerism.

To me opium is equivalent to any substitute than a willingness to experience the fullness of one's humanity: all of it! We have just been through a thoroughly painful election period in our country where people were placed in two camps: Good-Bad, Right-Wrong, Democratic-Republican, Moral-Immoral. In Western society we have a tendency to separate our world into dichotomous categories that seemingly cannot co-exist. So after a sundry of events that left the nation feeling spent as a whole - what do we do to create some space for understanding...we continue the parade of us against them and look to materialism to give validation. After all, this is how we view success in many cultures - the level of financial wealth and the show of material prominence. It is hard not to - this material world is a world of illusions and it begs to be seen.

So how do we move forward when feeling so tired?

Whether you feel tired individually or collectively: breathe. So many ancient traditions remind us the power of breathe to center and calm the heart. And from this centered space, seek oneness. Cross divides, reach out to our seemingly opposites and find our mirrored selves. Until we attain unity, peace will not be ours. We see this aspect of unity in the micro to the macro. At the most microscopic level, we see nature demonstrate perfect unity and oneness in its interactions and absolute reliance on each other. The plant's reliance on the sun to create the opportunity for photosynthesis and our reliance on photosynthesis for oxygen...a needed element for our survival.

At another micro level we see this aspect of unity in our own personal healing work. The healing of the body to that of the spirit. Fortunately, many non-Western traditions do the exact opposite than create false dichotomies in healing - they seek a unified vision to help make a holistic diagnosis and prescription. We know we are of dual nature while on this planet...we have a physical self and an animating force that brings life to this physical self. The relationship between these two is intimate and cannot be discounted. There is much to be said about the impact of emotions on the human body which can be discussed at a later time. For the purposes discussed here, we are beginning to see in Western society the incorporation of traditional healing practices like meditation and song as part of a prescriptive response to illness.




Everyone has a song. God gives each of us a song. That's how we know who we are. 

Charlie Knight, Ute



So on a macro level, we too cannot discount the importance of seeking unity to move forward as a people. To ignore the anger and rage being expressed on social media during and after the elections on a macro level is equivalent to ignoring these being expressed within ourselves on a micro level. If our response on a micro level is get over it than this too will be our response on a macro level. Unfortunately, for the short term what this will do is stifle emotions...but it will not bring healing and peace: either on a micro or macro level.

So what to do? Seek justice. In the true sense of justice. Seek truth. Investigate the truth of our reality. Again, on a micro level what is the truth of my reality? How do I participate in the division of us as a people? How do I avoid feeling my emotions, whereas if I did, I could allow them to pass so I can come back to the truth of who I am? And ask these same questions on a macro level.

This exploration of justice may just be more important than that sale on black Friday...or any day for that matter.

Monday, July 4, 2016

In a world driven by love Part II

I have been reflecting on love for the past few years...so many moments in which love has been stressed in my life - almost like the strength of love was being tested. How is love tested? In my experience love is tested by those you give yourself over most completely to. For me, this happened first with my children, husband and sister. And when you give yourself over to love, it is leaving your heart open forever. This is a powerful decision. I remember once hearing Elizabeth Stone reflect this out loud so perfectly: "Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." This mirrored my sentiments exactly after having my children, especially once they grew up into young adults and I watched them exercise the power of choice.
It was humbling and it was then I realized the power of love. Love is stronger than any force I can imagine for it can contain and hold together when everything else fails and yet, it is tender and gentle. What a power love is!

So naturally, I was excited to see one of the keynotes at my favorite conferences - ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) not only be a personal friend of mine, but speak on love in the context of technology, equity and education - good stuff!
Ruha Benjamin, in her keynote Set phasers to Love Me elevated the conversation around technology asking educators in the audience to think more critically about the vast changes we are experiencing as a society and to reimagine the drive behind the design of our society. When we reimagine our learning spaces as laboratories where equity is the norm, then every child's unique qualities are realized.

Unfortunately, children today live in parallel realities where some are crushed and others are realized. So where do we start in our effort to create change?

Imagine According to Ruha, there are competing imaginaries. So how do we empower all voices to participate at the table when decisions are being made? As Alex Rivera says, The battle of real power tomorrow, begins with the struggle of who gets to dream today. This is why I am such a strong believer of ensuring diversity is always present at the table - every table:

  • The table of administrators who decide what is important to carry forward in a classroom and who set the goals and vision for schools
  • The district office table that decides what is needed to focus on in schools to ensure all students are successful 
  • The table at the county and state education offices where policy is created that will impact teachers and students' learning spaces 
If the only people at these tables are from the dominant culture, then only the needs envisioned through the filter of this culture will be viewed. If all students are to be served, then we need a diversity of voices and cultures at the tables of decision making.

Ruha reflected out the importance of considering design by who and for what end she would ask. Of course the question of design, is not one to consider just in education - though it's important to ask who are policies serving and who is creating them?
The design of any creation is filtered through the belief system of the creator. The example Ruha gave was of the design of benches. Who designed them and to serve who? In many cases, they are designed to deter transients from laying down on them.

So how do we hack into the default settings that were created as tools to hold and control people in place? For example, the code of rape: We train women in these "Please don't rape me" trainings as if it were their job to not get raped! As Ruha reminded us, racism and sexism are coded into our society and instead of code switching - we need to just rewrite the code!

Too often in education we do not want to have the conversation about the racism our students or teachers of color experience because of fear that people will be offended. Who will be offended? In many cases, those who will be offended are either Anglo-Americans or those who believe in the dominant culture and believe racism no longer exists. We are also not comfortable with conversations that bring up strong emotions. As a Western society, we are not good at understanding emotions. This is a discussion for another post, though it's important to note as part of why we hesitate to have these crucial conversations.
Jesse Williams gave a powerful speech at the BET Awards in which he stressed, "the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander". We cannot sacrifice our students - all students - because we are afraid the bystander will be offended. When one student is sacrificed, all students are sacrificed. The Mayan have an expression that sums up the belief of who we are: In Lak'Ech: Tu eres mi otro yo - You are my other me. We are one body of energy as a people, when one person or group of people are stifled, we all are stifled. The right hand will feel the effects of the left hand being cut off.

We are in a society in which racism has become institutionalized and is coded in the very fiber of our society: There is research showing the amount of negative images of people of color vs white people, women naked vs men in media, etc. and the impact this has on our values and belief system as a society.
Ruha raised this issue and how it shows up in technology when you do a Google search of three Black youth vs. three White youth. The difference in images that come up are called algorithmic discrimination. This can be fixed, but takes time and we are not very good nor thoughtful in our society of taking this time. Again, we need to look at the design behind these algorithms and who they serve. These images, this story serves the dominant culture.

It is important we tell our own story and those in the dominant culture give space for all stories to be heard. Until that time, we need to continue to retell our stories again and again to keep stressing the dominant culture. In her final thoughts Ruha shared a quote from the Baha'i Writings that give us cause to pause and reflect on where we are headed and how we are getting there:
"Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess. They bear the seeds of the character of future society...They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity...Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or to leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose."

So what will drive our story? What has always driven our story: Love.

As my father told me when I was fifteen...Don't you know hijita why your grandmothers sacrificed and never gave up even though the conquistadores raped them and sold their children to slavery? For you hijita, so that you would be here. 

Now that's love.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In a world driven by love Part I

If you have ever been in a relationship of some kind - so that's all of us - then you know that love is complicated. I mean love is simple and profound and it is complex and riles up all other emotions stretching parts of our being we never knew could be stretched so far. And still we participate, again and again, in this experience of love. I often wonder if we do, because we are energy beings made from and of love. I know this can sound sappy...but after a quarter of a century of my life parenting I know what love can do. Love has driven me to be more, to stretch myself out in ways I didn't think possible, to re-think belief systems I held deep within, to hold to hope and faith in ways that are beyond my limited capacity for understanding. Love has asked me to re-imagine life again and again and it has not done this quietly. And love shows up differently. For me, love shows up in the conversations I hold with my children, the time we take to dive into deep topics of import and when we hash out problems together trying to find a common understanding. For my husband, love shows up in his steadfast hand at work, his disciplined way of ensuring he has done his part to provide for our home, and in the careful choices he makes when he calls a day off to volunteer for our kids school activities knowing he will lose a day of pay. Even our budget is made of love. We make careful decisions about how we will spend our money, choosing to use it on those things that reflect our values and beliefs. These are all driven by love. 

So how does this understanding of love show up in the world? 

At the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference the opening keynote speaker, Michio Kaku, spoke about the fourth wave of wealth creation in our society: technological advances.
I listened to all the exciting advances being made from the internet on contact lenses, digital wall paper and flexible screens you can unravel from your phone to human ears being digitalized and grown from human cells. One has to wonder, what drives all of this innovation...what pushes us forward to learn more, to know more and to desire more. 
There is a natural curiosity that is innate in children and we seek to find out the why of life. As we become older, life becomes more complex, and unraveling the why can be harder to do. In Western society we like answers that are concrete and seem finite. The more challenging the questions in life, the harder it can be to find the finite answers. But we persevere, like in our relationships, we persevere, when we discover something new we change our belief systems. Why? I argue, science is also driven by love. There is a desire to know and to seek to understand, to solve complex problems of the life of matter. Maybe these waves that Michio Kaku talks about are really waves of love that are just showing up differently in our world. What is wealth anyway, if not abundance? And abundance is a quality of the spirit, in the world of matter it shows up as wealth. When I think of the fourth wave that Dr. Kaku talks about in these terms, then we are entering a time when love is exponential! If love is a force, an energy - which I believe it is - then what an explosion of love we are seeing in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum physics. And love will do what it does - it will stretch us and demand more from us! Is it any wonder that we are being challenged to question those things which we have always held dear: What does communication look like today? What does it mean to be connected? How do I understand all the information that is coming at me? 
So this fourth wave of love will demand more of us - as Dr. Kaku says, it will ask us to be more creative and more innovative in our thinking. After all, robots are just adding machines and because of their speed they create an illusion of intelligence.  Robots, do not have that animating force within each of us that binds and connects to each other...asking, by simply existing, that we be more. 




Sunday, June 26, 2016

Shifting learning spaces...start with culture!

Needs of today's learners are changing the needs of space

I like it when presenters, facilitators, people in the conversation of creating change start with the why! Sometimes the conversation around change, especially in education starts with judgement and ignorance: 

We have to change the way we teach because children and youth today are tied to their technology, that's all they know.

Kids these days have so many distractions with their game consoles, so we need to make learning entertaining. 

These are shallow understandings of the exponential changes taking place in society and in our global learning culture. 

In many circles that I am engaged in - alternative healing and health, Baha'is and other people of Faith, environmentalists, indigenous prophecies and communities - all agree there is a shift of energy taking place in the universe that is causing people to awaken and move energetically from a different place of being.
I know - this is intense talk for some folks to take in - but our children and youth get this naturally and are ready to move at this rhythm, as a matter of fact they cannot help it. Our indigenous elders prophesied this time and said any decision should be made with the 7th generation in mind since the impact of any decision we make will reach out that far. 
And though for many there is this quantum shift happening globally with a clear understanding as to why, for others there is confusion and they are not sure why these rapid changes are happening so quickly. A great unifier of this discussion is technology. Everyone can latch onto the realization that technology is shifting our world dramatically and we need to think of how we are responding to this shift. Technology is a great way to engage this discussion and ask these questions:

  • If smartphones are small computers and are in every pocket, is there a better way to maximize them to support a culture of learning everywhere?
  • Does everyone know the capacity of the mobile devices they carry? 
  • If the time of Big Data is here, how do we maximize this capacity to support a more sustainable lifestyle? 
  • Since I can connect with anyone, anything, anywhere, anytime...shouldn't I be able to maximize this potential in my work and learning environments?
  • Are work and learning environments different today?
There are so many great questions to ask about our learning spaces today and recognizing that learning spaces are no longer - well they never have been - just in the classroom. Access to information and our technology have blown this concept out! So how do we help people cope with these changes? 

Approach: The door you enter, when you want to create change it can open up conversation or shut it down. Today, at the ISTE Conference, folks who are finding an interesting door to enter this conversation. Fran Siracusa and Jennifer Williams are using an approach that is today globally accepted and understood: Start-up culture! This is not to say people really understand start-up culture, but we do as a global society, recognize the power of these start-up groups/companies as holding real potential for creating something powerful and unique. Fran and Jennifer, along with others, are exploring the culture of start-ups as one way to create powerful learning spaces for students. 

So when we think of creating a new dynamic and shifting learning space, we want to start with culture. The culture of start-ups are a great place to start:

  • It's an authentic space without attempting to be something, they are looking to do what has never been done before
  • It has it's own personality and everything in that space reflects this
  • It is agile, willing to move as needed to accommodate it's purpose
  • There is passion that is palpable in the start-up culture
If this is not what we are asking our students to do, then I'm not sure what is! THIS is a learning culture and it's exciting!
So how do we replicate something like this in our learning spaces? Here is a brief list of steps to begin thinking this process. For further detailed ideas, reach out to Fran and Jennifer! 

  1. Change the culture Flatten the hierarchical structure of our educational system. I know this sounds huge, but if we are serious about meeting the needs of the 21st Century, then the learning space of our students needs to reflect these needs. In start-up culture they want to hear everyone's voice - what is working, what isn't - and make changes immediately! The teacher can go to the superintendent with ideas and they would be heard and considered valid. The goal is to create something dynamic, unique and useful! 
  2. Be Purposeful Ask students what they want in their learning space. Consider spaces for different purposes: one that invites reflection, another that asks for creation and ideation and still another that allows for brain breaks - start-ups understand we need to play to be able to create and innovate more effectively.
    Giving spaces for play in a learning space comes from the culture - if as educators (this includes parents) we trust our students as active agents of their own learning, then we will trust them to know when they need a brain-break!
  3. Class Identity What is your class identity and does the learning space reflect this identity? Your class identity should shape and show up in your classroom.
  4. Finally, Physical Space There is a long list of resources and ideas for furniture in changing learning spaces - I would only add to consider re-purposing old furniture. Low-long bookshelves can become standing desks with shelves being used for each students personal working space as one example. 
One of the biggest challenges any organization faces when it is trying to embrace new ideas is change. What I find challenging about this struggle in K12 or Higher Education is these are learning organizations! Learning is about change - so this is what we do! Still, change can create fear. This is why, learning the elements of a learning culture like those in start-up cultures is so important! The one that stands out for learning organizations like ours is agility: the willingness to move as needed to accommodate it's purpose. Our purpose is learning. We serve our students. Change is not an option. We cannot sacrifice the future of our students. We must move - now.



Saturday, June 25, 2016

Remembering what we know, but forgot: Learning about limitless learning


Like a lot of folks, I LOVE toddlers. They do what we are inherently meant to do and then forget or are taught to forget: We were made for limitless learning! Unfortunately, between misguided - albeit well-meaning - parenting and teaching, we teach kids not to trust their intuition, not to follow the call of their heart, not to explore and mess up and make mistakes. What happens when a toddler spills the milk when he grabs his cup? Or when the 5-year-old wants to pour her milk in her cereal and gets it all over the place? We are frustrated, we tell them what they did wrong AND we tell them how to fix it! This can create the false assumption that there is a right answer and they need to learn it. Rather than letting them figure out what went wrong. Rather than guiding with questions of inquiry to see why what happened, happened. A line of inquiry for learning with a young child of 5 who just spilled their milk, might go something like this:
Oh no, the milk spilled. How'd that happen?
I don't know, I was just pouring it.
Well, what should you do now?
Uhm, I can get something to dry it up?
Okay.
They get a cloth or something and start drying it up.
Now what should you do?
I can try pouring it again.
Okay try it. What happened last time when you poured it? How did you do it? Maybe we can figure out what went wrong?
Uhm...I held it like this and then poured it...but it came out to fast.
Oh maybe that's the problem! How do you fix that?
Oh, oh what if I hold it more carefully and go slower?
Okay try it!
They try it and with a few drops spilled are successful.
You did it! Now what do we do with the dirty towel?
Yes, this takes time. But so does learning. If children are not given a realistic experience of the learning process - trial and error - then they become in danger of feeling bad about "not getting" things like others do as they get older. This is so important if we are going to encourage children, youth, adults to be global learners, to be innovators and new idea makers!
Limitless learning means developing new lines of inquiry, thinking in divergent ways and asking meaningful questions about what we already know and what we seek to know.  These are ideas that need to be held and nurtured within a culture of learning. There may be elements of these ideas in our learning cultures, but often by mistake. We need to be purposeful about creating these opportunities. If we are to develop new ideas and continue to make discoveries and break new ground - then we need a learning culture that has the conditions to create innovative learners.

As a Western society, we have stated for a long time that parents are students’ first teachers. If this is true - which we know it is - then by default, their homes are the first learning spaces. Today, this is more true then ever. What we may not have really reflected on is that these learning spaces - whether at home or in a classroom - all carry a learning culture. The learning culture carries within it the belief systems of that learning group (i.e. parents, teachers, etc.) Because of the transformational advances that push and stress the dominant cultures we live in, we can no longer afford to think of a learning space as static or linear or even that one way is the "right" way. Learning has become global and dynamic, ever shifting in what it holds to be true depending on who or what is present. This has always been true, but because up until now we were able to live in a somewhat homogeneous group in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, etc. it is not something that necessarily landed on our doorstep. Even today, this is not always a welcome knock on the door. With smartphones in every pocket, the learning space is now mobile and the conversation is constantly stressed by global participants entering our personal learning spaces.
We know education is being transformed significantly by technology. Anywhere a human being exists a culture of learning is present - we are learning all the time. Today, with the access to information so readily available, learning is exponential! Learning does not only take place at a desk and in a classroom. Our learning spaces have shifted dramatically and we need to ask ourselves are we giving students and ourselves the opportunity to shift in this global learning space? Can we continue to assume a learning culture that says there is one truth and one norm: ours; is today valid?
Today I'm at the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Denver, Colorado. I always look forward to this conference as a lover of learning, ready to dig in, knowing it offers participants the opportunity to test their mettle as learners by stretching their belief
systems to what is possible, to what challenges us, raising our consciousness to the global enterprise we are engaged in as educators. The conference is often set in cities that are also trying to engage globally, emerge as technologically savvy, with drastically shifting cultures that try to embrace all things new and innovative:
  • Sustainable living
  • Gender neutrality
  • Art integrated purposefully in work and living spaces
  • Alternative modes of transportation
  • Blending of science, food and technology

I am excited to see how all of these experiences will lend to the learning opportunities and possibilities facing learning communities today. What it will do to stretch me and my colleagues to go back and dig in deeper. To identify what needs to be done in this powerful work of education. To create learning spaces that allow for the opening of truth held within each student, teacher, learner...in other words, all of us.
 

We need to go back to what as a toddler we inherently knew to be true: we are limitless beings and today we are ready for limitless learning!
 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Is Technology Driving Us Apart: Part III - The Fear Factor

For many folks technology has quietly become a part of life . But if you’re a parent, it has arrived screaming at your door. Kids are wanting smartphones very early on - kindergarten is pretty common now for a smartphone. For various reasons parents buy into the technology drive and get their kids smartphones. At any age,  parents wanting to get their kids smartphones is really the parents’ business...I’m more interested in if they know the door they’re opening and ready to take that walk with their child/ren?

Any decision we make is a step toward a path and a walk away from another - that’s how it goes. Sometimes this is conscious - I decide to go to college to become a teacher is a definite and conscious decision that will take me down a clear path, still with unknowns, but others have walked it and can leave guideposts for me to follow. Some decisions we make without really knowing what we’re getting into, either because it’s spur of the moment - like when I heard of a last minute Prince concert that was just added to the House of Blues at 1am and decided to go - or because it’s a new idea and few have embarked on this path - it is often this way with technology.

Technology has opened up a whole new path for parents that NO generation before ours has had to wrestle with ...kids having access to the world at any age! So how do we walk down this path when there is no history for it, especially when in parenting, we often use past experiences and learnings from our parents to guide us?!

Like all new information that comes our way, there is a steep learning curve and with technology it is on many fronts. Not only do we need to learn the technology tools, once we learn the interface of the tool, there is also understanding the virtual world it opens up and how to navigate this world.

Interestingly, with technology the driving discourse for parents is underlined with fear, and with fear comes a whole host of other elements: a need for control, judgment, push-back, retreating, etc. Often when I am invited to present to parents about technology I start with this idea right at the beginning. I know they are afraid. We are raising a generation of children who have access to a world we don’t understand and we don’t know where to find the key to enter this world. This is something that often eludes us - no wonder we’re scared! And to top it off, we have no parenting blueprint to help us navigate this world.



Thankfully there are folks who have ventured out into these parenting with technology waters and learned a few things, and when they came back to share, what they shared mattered less than how they shared. Many parents have gone to presentations, especially from law enforcement, where the speakers share with parents all the deep concerns they should have about the use of technology by children and teenagers. They tell them of sexting, cyberbullying and predators waiting to harm their children...all of which is part of the digital realm. It’s also part of the physical realm or “real world” as well. When you know little of a subject matter and hear about it from a position of fear, it can only serve to develop a negative perception. I discuss perceptions in depth in previous posts.

So I try to start with a positive perception when talking about technology. We’re already afraid of it and hesitant to use it. Worse, our kids are already using it and because we don’t understand it, we stay away and then really don’t understand what our kids are doing - good and bad - and have very little tools with which to guide them. Or we don’t just stay away from technology, we keep our kids away as well, and that in the long run can have negative consequences since health care and the tech industry are the jobs of the future.

Sometimes it’s helpful to think of technology as a pool. If in every home there was a pool - whether we wanted it or not - what would we do? We’d probably start by putting up a gate around it while we learn everything we can - to protect our kids especially. So now, while they are safe we begin by getting in the water slowly and learning how to move in the water. Maybe we take beginning swimming lessons, either by ourselves or with our kids. We learn how to maintain the pool and keep it in good health. And then, we get in the pool often to practice these new swimming skills and as the kids get better, maybe we take advanced swimming lessons. And the gate comes down, the kids know the rules for using the swimming pool and we know that at each age the rules are different and the guidance is also different. Maybe if we treat technology the same way we would move through it a little quicker and in the process, help our kids more effectively!

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I try to take this position when talking about technology: yes, there are dangers and it’s important to know what they are and how to handle them, but there are oh so many benefits as well! And I show people what’s possible with technology - I share with them apps that I use in my everyday life right off of my phone that have helped make my life easier! Wunderlist to share grocery lists with my family before I go shopping. Waze to help me identify which is the fastest route to where I’m going using the awesome crowd sourcing tools it has. WhatsApp to communicate daily for free with my father who lives in another country. And Lyft when I need a quick ride somewhere and don’t have my car. Because I work in education, I also show them what students are doing with technology - using documents in the cloud like Google Drive to collaborate on projects. And by the way, because I have Google Drive on my phone for when I’m in a meeting and need to take notes unexpectedly or at a conference and want to capture the great ideas I’m hearing, I show people how I use these tools too - right on my smartphone! I show them VoiceThread and Padlet and the list goes on and on...their kids are creating and contributing to the body of knowledge in the world and it is exciting!!

When I think of parenting and technology, this is where I start...start with the wonders of technology...they’re already scared, I don’t need to scare them more. I want parents to feel empowered when they’re done talking to me - to know that parenting today is a humble path of learning and to know they too can become important contributors to this body of knowledge that is ever increasing with the diverse voices that are continuously streaming in!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is Technology Destroying Society - Part II

Before and After Prince...the conversation continues...for those who are willing to engage in the clash of ideas until they find the spark of truth

Working in educational technology I have an opportunity to engage many people from all walks of life in a conversation about ed tech. Inevitably there seems to rise into the conversation a message of fear and distrust. It goes something like this:

Oh, so you work in technology?

Yes, educational technology - I teach people how to use technology in their learning.

Oh. Don’t you think there’s too much of it?

What? Learning?

No, technology. Don’t you think it’s driving people apart? Everywhere you turn you see people on their devices. Nobody talks to each other anymore.

And as soon as I hear that, I begin to wonder: Do they understand technology? How it’s used and can be used? Do people understand the power of the small computer in their pocket called a smartphone? I realize more than likely they don’t. Nor, it seems, have they experienced the power technology has to connect us to each other!

So I tell them a story. A story about chocolate milk and a runner.

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I have four kids and as long as I’ve been raising kids, I’ve been pretty health conscious. I became a vegan at 13 and radically changed the way I ate and saw food. So when I had kids I was even more conscious of what I made and what they ate. Which is why it really surprised me when my 15-year-old son - the third child - said to me one day when we were shopping at Trader Joe’s, “Oh, I’ll be right back. I’m gonna go get the chocolate milk.” I had my phone out, since I use the app Wunderlist to grocery shop. It’s a great app that allows me to create collaborative lists with my family - that way they can add items to the grocery list anytime, anywhere!

I stopped, looked up and laughed. “Boy, I have been raising kids for 22 years, and have never bought chocolate milk for my home. Why do you think I’m going to start now?” And he answered simply, “It’s good for runners.”

You see my son is an athlete. A runner, specifically, and he is also very curious. Always ready to find out new things.

This time I just looked at him in amazement at his audacity and laughed. “Right. Good for runners.” And he quickly whipped out his smartphone and said, “Okay. I’ll prove it to you. I’ll find three research articles, vetted from universities with research, that say chocolate milk is good for runners.”  And in that moment anyone walking by will see me looking at my phone and my son standing in front of me looking at his phone. What perception could they have? What story could they create?

Wow, how sad - look at that. They can’t even put their phones away when they go grocery shopping.

Look at that. Even grocery shopping they can’t talk to each other. So sad. Families today.

What is unfortunate is that the reality is exactly the opposite. In that moment my son and I were probably the most connected we’d been the entire grocery trip. So why does this matter? Aside from the fact that a false judgment is laid on me and my son?

Perceptions and beliefs are very closely related. Research tells us that perception is created through the culture one lives in, one’s belief system and one’s experiences. When it comes to the rapid changes we’re experiencing in technology, our experience with these new tools is limited. Therefore our beliefs and cultural information around technology continue to shift as we learn more.
Unfortunately, all of this is in our subconscious, so we are not aware of the crashing of belief systems going on inside of us. So with little information to go on consciously, perceptions about communication and closeness are created with the information we do have - face-to-face experiences. Face-to-face experiences are something we have had lots of experience with, and we are in a culture that says when people talk in a verbal face-to-face exchange and certain body language features, they are close and it is associated with a positive relationship. If we do not see these expressions of communication, then we’re in danger of assuming the opposite: this family has no communication. And when technology is present, it is a stranger at the door...we don’t do well with strangers in Western society...so it must be the culprit. Especially since we know so little about it. Compounding this further is it picks up on the other false belief we have: Kids. They have no respect. Not like they used to be. We see the use of technology as something the “young” do...kids these days...teenagers, you know how they are...and not as something we could all relatively embrace, utilize and make meaningful in our lives!

Again, why is this important? So people don’t like technology. Why is that a problem? These perceptions can drive people to reinforce a false belief that technology is bad and creates separation among families and society. The problem with this false belief is not only is it based on little information and experience, it is keeping people from engaging in the positive benefits of technology. It also serves as a distraction - we can focus on technology and not the real reason why kids may or may not be communicating with their parents. Chances are if there are problems in the home now with technology and relationships, it existed long before technology arrived at the door: Technology only enhanced the problem. Maybe that’s why we don’t like it.

Yes, technology is rapidly changing how we do things - all things. So while there are drawbacks to technology - information once released into the internet is irretrievable, mistakes are more difficult to erase from the public view, bullying (which has always existed in some form) now has a public platform - there are also infinite benefits! Families from around the world can communicate relatively cost-free or over wifi using apps like WhatsApp. Students can collaborate with peers from around the world on projects using tools like Google Docs. And now students in elementary school are learning to code using free programs like code.org and CS First.

We are also beginning to see where students have an opportunity to engage in a class that is either fully online or blended (where they are partly online), and every student’s voice is heard. Unlike a traditional classroom when many of my generation went to school, only some students’ voices were heard - generally those brave enough or smart enough to raise their hand. Today, with Learning Management Systems like Haiku or Apps like Slack, students can engage in a conversation with peers, guided generally by an idea posed by the teacher, although students can pose questions also, creating a much richer learning experience where they are active agents of their own learning. Or students engage in online discourse, driven by a question the teacher posts and to which all students must respond. All students. All students’ voices are heard! That is exciting!

Technology is radically changing not only how we engage with each other, but how we are living.

This video from Corning shows a view of how the not too distant future could look. What’s exciting about this video are the possibilities for learning, engagement and connection it offers to the family and the world.

If our perceptions don’t change about technology and how we engage with technology, we are in danger of falling behind and more importantly, not supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs as they explore, make mistakes and learn using the tools of their generation.   Why tie them to the tools of our day -  pen and paper, which are so one dimensional - when they have the world ready to hear their voice and to learn from and with them.