Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dennis Taylor: Who Should Shape Technology in WV?

Today was the closing of the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. And whatever your preconceived ideas about the state (and about Appalachia in general) you should understand that West Virginia ranks at the top of the heap on any meaningful measure of the use of technology in schools.

Dennis Taylor was the conference's closing speaker. His speech was entitled, “Through the Looking Glass: A Decade of Technology Lessons.” Head of a Charleston law practice, Taylor has a long list of impressive credentials and experience with education policy and technology in West Virginia. So I expected something visionary. I was disappointed.

Don't get me wrong. Taylor's speech was thought provoking. But I developed the impression early on that Taylor wasn't actually talking to me - that he was talking over my head to (or at) policy makers. A decade ago I was working in another state and hadn't given much thought to teaching in West Virginia. As I looked around the room I had to guess that a quarter of the audience was in high school a decade ago and perhaps half the people listening hadn't gotten their first teaching job yet. Taylor talked about past events in the state's technology history as though they were common knowledge to the people listening. They weren't to me, and I doubt I was alone in that.

A couple of things about the tone of Taylor's speech bothered me. I've already pointed out that I didn't feel like he was there to speak to the audience in front of him. Taylor obviously felt like he was dealing with serious issues that could devastate West Virginia's economy and education system if handled incorrectly. I don't question that analysis because, well, he's right. But his approach was to use Alice in Wonderland as a reference point or allegory for the current situation. As someone not completely familiar with the issues, I thought that was distracting and that it reduced audience’s perception of the seriousness of the issues.

I was uncomfortable with the way that Taylor used the term politician as though it was a derogatory term. He tried to sound like a populist and got a round of applause for saying that technology decisions should be left to the educators and not made by politicians. My problem with that is this: many of the "politicians" in the state legislature are educators (or at least used to be), and I thought they did a damn good job when faced over the last few months with a demand from the Governor to make significant changes to the state's education laws in a big hurry so that we could chase after Race to the Top funding. I'm not honestly convinced that the people at the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Department of Education have much more claim to the title of educator than do members of the legislature or of the Governor's office who deal with education law and policy. I'm an educator because I teach kids. The bureaucrats at state agencies who haven't turned in any lesson plans in the last decade aren't much closer to being actual educators than a member of the House of Delegates who serves on the Education Committee.

Taylor wants bureaucrats to make the technology decisions, and for us to think of bureaucrats as educators. After years of state control my county, and after watching the WVDE push for education reform issues in the legislature that I lobbied against, I find it difficult to stand up and clap when someone advocates more power for the bureaucracies.

Dennis Taylor made me think. I like it when someone does that. I'll read his blog now. But today's speech left me feeling a little used, and perhaps patronized. The issues he brought up are of great importance. I worry that many of the real educators in the room may have been sucked into his conclusions about how the issues should be resolved…

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sean Tuohy: Christmas Everyday

Just finished listening to Sean Tuohy, opening speaker for the WV Statewide Technology Conference. Good speaker.

Tuohy and his family are the subject of the movie The Blind Side, and his message was simple: give cheerfully. Christmas (according to Tuohy) is the best time of year because people do just that - they give cheerfully. And if we could just learn to do that constantly, we'd have Christmas everyday...

Tuohy was both enjoyable and inspirational. That's a good combination at the start of a tech conference.

The End of Summer

Summer always seems fleeting, and this year it actually is a little shorter than in years past. In many ways it was typical: we spent some time at the beach, visited Gatlinburg, mowed the grass, took the dog to the park, planted tomatoes and watched them grow, went to see the in-laws...

As a teacher, I suppose I measure summer differently than most people. But maybe not. The concept of summer is shaped by your local school calendar in most of America. I think most of us listen to the local meteorologist announce the coming of the summer solstice (June 20th or 21st) and think of it as trivia. Weather trivia. By that time summer's two weeks old.

And by the time the weather person gets around to talking about the autumn equinox (September 22nd or 23rd) marking an official end to summer, I'm already up to my neck in lesson plans and content standards, and I'm starting to wonder whether we'll have any snow days before Christmas.

Today I'm in Charleston at the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. I'll be here until Thursday. Friday starts a four-day weekend, then it's off to my county's teacher academy for four days. And even though we will almost all have been at those training sessions, August 16th is considered the first teacher "work" day.

When I got in my car and left home for Charleston, summer ended...