It's about Vision

It's about Vision

in response to:
@Viewpoint 2.45 7/11/97

On to your recent @NY Viewpoint:

Always good to read one of your @NY articles that raises a few points near and dear to my heart: The New York City education dilemma. I was nearly in tears the other day when I read that very depressing news about the Board's plan to waste another $2 billion dollars on yet another ill-conceived technology plan to bring the Internet to the whole of NYC education. How can computers bring students to the net when we don't have the wire or the connectivity yet? It is another BOE fiasco in the making.

Do first things first. Get a vision and then wire the schools. Provide teachers with laptops and a stipend equal to the money they would waste on teacher training and inservice workshops. Now while teachers are training themselves over the year from home the school is figuring out its wire thing with asbestos and this and that. Wiring isn't hard, but it isn't a universal thing conceived at the Board. It is local. That is each school figures out its own plan. And don't let the BOE help in the thinking, they are centralized thinkers, they are one step at a time thinkers, they don't see the big picture kind of thinkers, they are not even on the same page with other kind of thinkers, they haven't been in the wired classroom kind of thinkers, they haven't looked at successful models kinds of thinkers. If they were, they wouldn't be doing it this way.

Their design is wrong. Non-teachers making pedagogical decisions like room design and educators making technical decisions like wiring. I would suggest they think point to point and scrap the T1 concept. Don't let asbestos get in the way, work around it. Create creative think tanks, not the same old administrative education think tank which hasn't gotten out of the box in a century. Just look how it is still operating and tell me it is ready for the 21st Century. I think not. The most successful educational endeavors in the BOE are those mavericks who have defied the box and have done it without the BOE. Every successful endeavor in the BOE has come from without and not within. So we are supposed to get all excited about this new idea from the BOE. Yeah right. The BOE is the place where administrators have a T1 on their desktop and the schools are still without one for their students. When students do not come first how can any BOE succeed?

When you say one or twice a year volunteers get together to wire a school, I'd like to see some names and schools on this one. Now we have 1700 schools in this city. In how many schools has this actually been an event. Last NetDay I counted 3 and only two of those got any press. The NetDay organizers put all their efforts into 2 schools. NetDay activities are not responsible for the wired schools in the Virtual Enterprise community or the NASA community or other specialized outside efforts to wire schools. The problem is that the City has yet to set a goal or a solid purpose. It is doing it because it has heard it is important, and yet has been stumbling trying to find a purpose. There are a few purposeful efforts out there, but they are not BOE directed.

I agree wholeheartedly that all this wire and hardware is useless without the teacher using it. But here again is where the BOE falls flat on its face. How many times have we seen teacher training sessions in reform times fall flat. The BOE is doing the same old thing once again. It is doomed for failure. Rethink how we train or better yet prepare our teachers for the new classroom. One method I have yet to the BOE embrace and that is USE KIDS TO TRAIN TEACHERS. What are you crazy Nellen!!! I'll say it again, quieter. Try using kids to train teachers. It works. I have conducted teacher training sessions for the past 13 years in my computer classroom with little or no success. I don't know one successful computer teacher who graduated from an inservice workshop; whereas all the computer teachers I know either taught themselves or learned from a kid, their own or a student in their class. I abandoned that and started using kids. Bingo I have had 100% success rate. Give teachers computers and time and a stipend to work it out themselves and they will get it. Do we have teacher training workshops to use new textbooks? AV equipment? grading rubrics? No! So what is it with all of these inservice get togethers with computers. Useless absolutely useless, a waste of time and money of which we have too little. Perhaps one day of press this button to turn it on and press the same button to turn it off and then let them work through it themselves with students as teachers. By the end of the semester you will have a cadre of teachers ready to use the Internet, by the end of the year you will have a faculty.

The BOE is drafting curriculum. Again with the top down stuff. How can we be creative when we have a few dictating for the many. Their curriculum does not suit my plans in my class. They don't get the nature of the Net. It is a very protean environment. New sites appear, old sites change, sites disappear, sites move. You can't create a curriculum in a central location. Haven't the folks at the BOE been reading their history books? Oh and who is doing this training? Assembly line training for a constructivisit environment. What a hypocritical topsy-turvy mess.

Are you beginning to see why I was crying when I read this plan? The best plan in this system right now is the Virtual Enterprise and it will be in only 19 NYC schools in September. This is a great model and it isn't BOE conceived, it is European. But the BOE is trying to contaminate it. Thank goodness the right people are running this operation. The BOE just isn't looking at outside models very carefully or too few people at the BOE are doing this. I say this because if they were they wouldn't be acting in this manner. Fire their advisors and start again.

Now when you speak of parent involvement, you have hit a very big and important nail on the head. Again we only need to look at the models out there in the hinterland to see success. Many of my kids' parents are wired at work. They share email. As one parent told me on parent's night, "She and her daughter are communicating for the first time." I cried with joy. We look at the Net with the same old tired educators eyes, rather than with clear new born eyes. The BOE has an policy and number one is NO SENDING OR RECEIVING OF PERSONAL MAIL which means we just broke a rule set down by the BOE. They want parent involvement, but then they make a stupid rule which prevents it. Do you see what I mean when I say they aren't thinking clearly at the BOE? Involving the community is easy, I've been doing it for years, it is called TELEMENTORING. It is easy, cheap, quick and very effective. The rest of the country is copying my idea, but NYC has yet to hear of it. Why is that? Lead with the kids, not the parents. It is the kids who are bringing the parents to the Net. And stay away from the commercial junk like Disney and such. What are you thinking about. Don't turn the Net into yet another commercial entity. We fought off Channel One now you want to bring in commercial websites. Go for other school websites, educational websites which don't have a commercial affiliation. They are far better.

One point you don't make and that is the Internet is interactive. It is not to be compared with other media. The user chooses what and where he or she goes. The Info is not rushing at the user. If I choose to read the NEW YORK TIMES I know I will get one viewpoint, but on the web I can get many viewpoints more quickly and efficiently than reading many newspapers and too many are not available at the local newsstand. There are no couch potatoes on the Internet, but if the BOE and some commercial entities had their way they would figure out a way to couch-potatoize the web.

Now if you are really interested in seeing the proof of the pudding, just go downstairs in your office building at 55 Broad Street and see my kids doing stuff the pros can't do. Speak to John Gilbert and Warren Hegg about these kids in the Digital Clubhouse. That is the vision of which I speak, that is the future and the BOE fails to embrace success, otherwise it would have already instead of recycling a tried and true failure. There is no new vision at the BOE on the matter of the Internet and that is why I am crying.

This new initiative is a travesty, an insult, and ill- planned. And who will catch the blame, the teachers and not our ill-prepared unknowing leaders. The teachers will be like William Callay, the goat of My Lai. It's not about computers or wiring or teacher training; it is about vision. And it is sadly lacking in high places of the BOE where it counts.

As always a pleasure to read your stuff.

Ted Nellen