Thursday, December 20, 2007

Canons II: How Do You Know That They're Loaded?

Continuing from the last post, why had no one heard of Susanna Centlivre when she was in regular repertory throughout the 19th C in England? When David Garrick had given his farewell performance in one of her plays? When she was known (until that time) as the second woman of the English stage?

This point, for those of you who have just tuned in, is certainly arcane. But it is a good example of the ways in which canons are constructed.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Virginia Woolf did women writers a great service by writing A Room of One's Own. In it, she created a space that has been broadened yearly for women to be recognized as artists equal to their male equivalents.

Women, Woolf says, require the same independence as men in order to create high art. How can anyone (man or woman) create anything of note if their time is divided among changing diapers and cooking meals -- without peace, quiet, and solitude to think?

All anyone needs, Woolf says, is 50 pounds and a room of one's own.

Not So Fast

If this were all, I'd be right behind Mme. Woolf. However, there is another requirement for women's art to rate. It must be transcendent.

Transcendence in Woolf's terms are really that of TS Eliot -- no everyday sorts of activities unless they are rendered symbolic in some way. That leaves 99% of women in history out of the ball game. Their lives were made up entirely of quotidien responsibilities, behaviors, and results.

In short, "transcendence" is gendered masculine here -- only those with particular educations and public lives could write about life outside the home.

An Example

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, a 17thC noblewoman, lived as public a life as was possible at that time. Only Aphra Behn, Restoration playwright and spy for Charles II, had a broader life. However, Behn's life made her notorious and Cavendish remained in society, even if she was considered a bit eccentric for her intellectual pursuits and writing.

Cavendish visited the Royal Society and saw Boyle do his experiments, and she made attempts at philosophy and poetry. However, her crowning achievement was a volume of 20 plays that are more modern than anything before the 20th century.

Cavendish's vision doesn't suit Woolf's. In fact, Woolf dismisses her in A Room of One's Own as the Mad Woman in the Attic.

In this way, Woolf buried Cavendish and her work for 4 and a half centuries. I wrote about her (and many other literary types who also saw the Virago volume) because she belongs in the history of remarkable women writers.

Soon, she'll be back in the canon. Officially. When a book comes out called The Great Book of Women Writers Through History or The Norton Reader of Women Writers -- or another such explicitly authoritative sort of name.

Well, people will say, it's in the book, so it must be true.

That's how canon's are fired.

And there's an even a more explicit example in the next post.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Taking a Shot at a Loaded Canon

I took a long walk with a good friend, and the subject came up of the ways in which canons are constructed. Is there such a thing as transendence in art -- some aesthetic representation that are universally moving?

TS Eliot certainly thought so. As it happens, so did my very famous and well-respected friend.

But is the rest of art more than a wasteland?

The Back Story

I wrote my dissertation on four playwrights that I had found in a volume published by Virago entirely by chance when I arrived early for a lunch appointment.

The playwrights are Susanna Centlivre, Mary Pix, Catherine Trotter, Mary Delariviere Manley, and Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle.

I had a feeling that if I hadn't heard of them, very few other people had either. So I decided to see what there was to know.

True But Not Clever

The short version is this:
Male critics had taken these women out of the cannon because of disdain for their sex, their plays, or both.

There was much more information from feminist critics. The problem is that they had also taken the playwrights out of context to lionize them. It was a mixed bag -- 19th C critics who had run out of road projected 19th C theories backward on the 18th and 17th centuries. Their history was bad, and the conclusions were just wrong. 20th C feminist critics projected contemporary literary theory on drama and drama history.

The whole thing was a mess. I decided to simply put these plays back in context to see what happened. Seemed so obvious, really.

Who Knew?

This work was full of surprises. One of the playwrights, Susanna Centlivre, had been performed in regular repertory in England until the end of the 19th C. David Garrick had done his farewell performance in one of her plays. She was a woman of letters yakking it up with the likes of Jonathan Swift.

Why hadn't anyone ever heard of her?

More in the next post.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Spelling: The Sequel

Dictionary Evangelist

Erin McKean is a lexicographer and entertaining conference speaker.

When first I encountered her two years ago at GEL, she began her talk by addressing a common misconceptions about her work.

"People often think that lexicographers prescribe meaning and keep the language as pure as possible. In fact, we research the way language is used -- in all sorts of media -- and we chart how language changes."

With this in mind, Erin's views on spelling are generous. See the last post for details on how to let yourself off the hook, regardless of how often others wince at the way you put letters together in writing

When Last We Saw Our Hero . . .

Erin is working as an independent assessor for CAGSE's Latin programs in primary school. The success of the pilot, running in 15 schools across London, will be measured both by her and by another independent assessor and former head of the Primary Trust, Peter Frost.

The first rule in business: If you haven't measured it, it never happened.

And So

Erin and I had supper at Carluccio's (for those of you who visit London occasionally -- there are quite a few, and the food is consistently good without being expensive).

I was interested to hear about her day in the schools.

We got on the subject of spelling and spell checks.

"Spell checks are terrible," said Erin, "and even if someone were to design a good one, people wouldn't use it anyway."

I asked why. She explained it thus:

It's very similar to the way a smoke alarm goes off every time you make toast. How many times has such a device been dismantled, never to be seen again?

The spell check is very much like a smoke alarm that demands attention every time one writes anything. It's annoying. So you ignore it.

Happens to be true for me, and I'm a lousy speller.

So Why Are Those of Us Not Blessed With the Spelling Gene So Bad At Catching Mistakes, Even When We Try?

Erin has given this a lot of thought. "Fixing your spelling requires that you know that you don't know how to spell a word (which means checking a lot of false positives from your spell checker) ... how often do you know that you don't know something, when it's something you're not good at in the first place?"

And the alternative?

"I think we need two things: better spell checkers (no false positives) and more leniency for typos/thinkos/spellos."

Leniency for Spellos. I'd vote for the person who ran for president on that ticket (Why do you hate freedom?).

So many jokes I could make about the thinkos of the White House's current inhabitant, but it's just too easy. I'm just not that kind of girl.

More in the next post on spelling, dictionaries, and the enlightenment.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"A" is For Apple (And Also for Adapt)

Spelling it Out

There have been debates in education at least since the 1960's over whether or not demanding proper spelling will block children's creative impulses.

One side posits that children should write in whatever form they like without reference to grammatical or linguistic standards practiced by (some) adults. In what other time of life is it possible to be free to express feelings, thoughts, ideas without fear of censure from authority?

The other side of the argument says that without enforcing spelling rules, children don't learn self-discipline.

The Dictionary Evangelist

Erin McKean, Dictionary Evangelist -- and lexicographer for Oxford University Press -- feels that good spellers have made life unnecessarily uncomfortable for those without the same talent.

"It's genetic," she told me at dinner, "like being able to roll your tongue or bend your first knuckle back."

Erin's concern is that that those with this genetic gift -- or (worse) those who have beaten into submission without benefit of it -- have created an unrelenting sense of morality about getting words right. This peculiar zeal (and the opinion about spelling that is its source) are apparently only apparent for those who evangelize about English.

"There's a sense that if you misspell a word, you're being lazy or just don't care."

And how many of the seven deadly sins will then collect in such an atmosphere of sloth?

The demand for fortitude extends to moralizing about spell checks. Spell checks are dangerous because they encourage slovenliness of mind. They clean one's dirty laundry that would otherwise be hanging out for everyone to see. And we should clean our own laundry, by gum.

I couldn't help wondering if these puritans of metaphor had ever hired cleaners for their homes.

How consistent are these religious principles anyway?

Discipline Shmiscipline

Erin suggests that that spelling is really only one discipline among many. If good spellers took their argument to the logical conclusion, it would be absurd.

"Should we say shoes are immoral, too? That if we were just disciplined enough to toughen up our feet, we could all walk around barefoot?"

According to Erin, language changes as people need it to change. Dictionaries do not prescribe meaning but instead describe the ways in which words have transformed and are used every day.

So those who sniff at new and alternative spellings when they see them in their OED are simply hardened reactionaries, condemned to a life of mounting disappointment and increasing despair.

More in the next post.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

For Those of You Who Love Language, A Treat

Erin McKean, a consultant assessor for our Latin programs in State schools, has a most wonderful blog called Dictionary Evangelist.

Subscribe if you love language -- it's consistently a lot of fun.

Transition Year Challenges: Mapping the Journey

Continuing from the last post . . . .

I spoke to an arts organization in London's East End, and they are interested in working with CAGSE on a mapping project for transition-year children we work with in our storytelling program. This program I've designed and implement with a professional storyteller called Sarah Mooney.

The Program

The Storytelling program does a number of things, all at once:

1. Raising children's awareness of how they think, how they feel, and the relationship between the two. This allows them to be responsible for the choices they make -- once they understand how they make them.

2. Offering children ownership over creative efforts that are often prescribed.

3. Giving children practice being more observant. Most people get lost in the process of analytic work somewhere between observation and drawing conclusions. Heighten sensitivity to the world around you, understand the importance of looking closely at detail, and you're less likely to take short cuts. This alone develops habits for more rigorous analysis of problems and makes it more likely we'll solve them in a satisfying way.

3. Offering teachers ways to enhance their own good work through somatic learning strategies. If we learn best by understanding concepts in different contexts, why not get the information in to the body as well as through the ears into the head?

4. Offering teachers ways new ways to approach subjects that are hardest to teach -- critical thinking, grammar, and writing, citizenship, and self-esteem.

We offer this program to schools to put in a literacy slot within the curriculum. It both develops literacy skills and works towards the requirements of the SEAL program currently being rolled out for the good of children's emotional development.

Getting the Program on a Map

It's likely that in January CAGSE will be working with Chris Nold to do emotional mapping of neighborhoods around a school through intergenerational walks -- within the school as well.

If Chris's and our past work is anything to go by, the project will give children and parents (or grandparents) a bigger context in which to see themselves as individuals, their relationship with school, and their place in the physical environment at home and in and around academic work.

Sarah and I will then build the storytelling work around negotiating identity within families, within schools structure, and as children move on to secondary school from the comfort of a familiar primary school environment.

More in the next post . . .

Friday, November 23, 2007

Emotional Cartography: In and Outside the Classroom

Continuing from the last post . . . .

I met with Chris Nold a week or so ago to discuss the possibility of working on a project within the storytelling work we do at CAGSE.

Most learning challenges for children are emotional rather than intellectual. What if we could help kids learn better by visually mapping the way they learn?

The Order of Chaos

In the creative process, there is always a point at which one steps into unknown territory. Writers often call it a block, but everyone knows that feeling of frustration when you've walked out of what you know and are not yet where you want to go.

Most of the time, this state causes anxiety, stress, and despair. It doesn't matter how many journeys of this kind we've made -- somehow, each time, we believe the state of not knowing will never end.

Once acknowledged, adults have the cognitive resources -- both intellectual and emotional -- to remind themselves that they've done this before, to remember the moment when they last found their way, and that no one exists in a limbo of uncertainty forever.

In other words, adults have the reasoning abilities (and one hopes, the practice) to know that change is inevitable.

What if there were a way to help children understand and remember this as well? Would this allow them to be feel comfortable with more risk and be more creative?

More in the next post.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mapping Order from Chaos: Chris Nold

Pop Tech

I'm not sure how many of you have seen Kate Bulkley's article on Pop Tech in Guardian, but it's certainly worth taking a look. Of all the pieces I've seen, this one gives the closest picture to my experience of the conference -- both in content and energy.

Chris Nold

One of the most impressive speakers spoke the first day -- Chris Nold, who does emotional mapping of cities. Chris is interested in cities: what -- essentially -- is a city? What makes one city different from another? What makes one neighborhood stand out in one way while others don't?

It's not the buildings alone, Chris contends. It's the relationship between and among people and the environment.

Mapping It

Chris has created a machine that measures adrenaline as people walk around a neighborhood. Get enough people taking the same walk, record what they say, and you can map the overlaps and differences that make that neighborhood unique.

If this explanation is too abstract, please look here.

The results are extraordinary. More in the next post.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Speaking of Latin (and in it) . . .

The CEO of CAGSE, Dr. Richard Gilder, contends that the reason Classics are no longer taught in schools is the way they HAVE been taught to date.

There are plenty of academic torments we endure that have no immediately apparent application to day-to-day life. In fact, of all of these academic abstractions, Latin has the clearest relevance of all -- knowledge of it can faciliatate communication and understanding in whichever Romance language you speak.

And it works in English, too.

There's nothing that I can post that will match the blogs of the primary school kids with whom we work. These are all pupils who would not ordinarily have access to learning Latin, and through CAGSE have begun the language as a new adventure.

See what they have to say.

Spelling Out Enlightenment

In the last post, I discussed a conversation with Erin McKean, lexicographer and assessor for the CAGSE Latin programs in literacy.

Erin accuses good spellers of brutal moralizing -- using particular fixed meanings for words to instill shame and (they hope) submission and conformity to their points of view.

Erin thinks that good spellers have got their talent from one of their genes -- much in the same way that some people find it easier to do sums or match colors. Or they've been beaten and repressed so much that they want to impose the same treatment on others.

So Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Frankly, I blame Samuel Johnson.

As the first dictionary writer, he inevitably set a trend for those with a fear of change. Let's face it: Johnson believed in right and wrong. All of his epigrams, witty as they might be, inevitably moralize.

I mean really -- if a London dispatch rider is tired of London -- the smoke, the traffic, the congestion charge -- is he really, necessarily tired of life?

The Alternative

It's important to remember that Johnson wasn't the only 18th C thinker publishing like mad (and being read). The 18th C was one that was defined by an overarching argument about what it means to know.

There are those, like Johnson, Pope, and that crowd who defied change in meaning -- of custom, in fashion, and all the other things that went into building and maintaining the British Empire by force.

Then there was the other set -- Swift, Sterne, Susanna Centlivre and others -- who believed everything that one knows is defined by perspective.

Wouldn't advocacy of sort of play argue for a creative take on spelling and meaning?

And have you noticed that all (Western) arguments always come back to Plato and Aristotle?

More in the next post.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Media Discretion: How to Use the Phone

Everyone uses the phone for business, but how?

As someone who worked in Silicon Alley in the early 90s, I felt quite sure that I understood online trends. I even wrote about them for a large consulting firm.

Clued in, me.

However, somehow I forgot all this when it came to training a high-level employee, very smart, but very young.

Young here doesn't mean immature: instead, it indicates a digital divide.

And I'm supposed to be an expert.

What Happened

From the first meeting I had with my employee (call him Joe) and our client, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. He had exceptional instincts.

Joe's job: new business development within educational communities.

In person he is an excellent communicator, and has good judgment about timing (when to say what to whom to greatest effect).

However, when I left Joe on his own, what I neglected to take into account in a majority of cases, he sent email rather than having real time conversation with new clients.

I'm talking voice here, of course, not text.

Lesson 1: How to Use the Phone

One day, I got four angry phone calls from three different people involved in the project. Every one of them seemed to be very upset about something entirely different.

Then I figured out that the common problem was none of the specifics explicitly stated in loud, angry voices.

It was email.

This Might Sound Obvious to Us (Not Even That Much) Older Folk . . .

At the root of every mess was the assumption that email 1) conveys transparently the intended meaning of the sender, 2) is read immediately, and 3) is the most effective way to communicate decisions.

It never occurred to my young executive to pick up the phone and find out what was going on.

We Lost the Client

Ultimately, it's my fault for not anticipating this problem. In fact, I've never trained anyone so young.

There was nothing wrong in the email in terms of what was said -- it was the fact that an email was sent at all.

I assumed that this sort of relationship management would be common sense to someone with Joe's flawless in-person communication skills.

But how would he learn media discretion if he only talks on the phone when text was unavailable?

Back to Pop Tech in the next post.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

More on What (Not) to Say: American Education

Say No More

I read a provocative blog post this morning that talks about the criminal code in the US that (this blogger claims) has an effect on our personal relationships:

EVERYONE who lives in the USA knows that "we have the right to remain silent." That little prayer is from something called the Miranda ruling by the Supreme Court. If you get arrested, the cops have to advise you that you have the right to not testify against yourself, which is protected by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The "Miranda warning" typically includes something like, "Anything you say can be used against you in court."

Bush and the Patriot Act seem relatively recent, and the widespread fear of being watched, held, saying the wrong thing in the US seems relatively recent.

However, I'd never thought about the Miranda Rights' potential influence on the American psyche, particularly when teaching children what's possible. American crime television and cinema often ends with the crook being caught with this particular mantra heard over a din (and it is chanted like a mantra).

After the British press yesterday reported that interventions in primary education have failed and testing is not useful (is anyone who isn't a politician surprised?), it's clearly not only Americans who need to encourage children to know what they think, say what they know, and not be afraid to see what others don't.

For Americans (and Viewers of American Crime Drama), What Alternative?

The idea wouldn't seem quite so provocative if it weren't for this question: what common chants encourage us to say what we think without threat of recrimination? And what implications does this have for kids who watch TV for much longer (and often much earlier) than they read?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Woman Mentor, Anyone?

For Those Who Missed Having a Woman Mentor

Continuing from the last post . . .

Betsy Myers is the woman mentor I wish I had had -- in fact, I had many strong male mentors who gave me similar advice as she in the following passages but without the understanding of the differences between the way women and men think. For those of you looking for the entire piece, see Women and Leadership, p.67, this week's issue.

Here's what she said:

No one is going to invite you to the table; you have to take the initiative. That means you have to have a thick skin. Ninety-nine percent of the time it isn't personal. People aren't sitting around thinking how they can exclude you.

Some of it is common sense:

Do your homework. Know your issues. Know them better than anyone else. Study. Listen. Show up on time -- preferably early.

The Rest No One Ever Told Me (And I'm Not Alone)

When I interviewed a good friend who is also a high-ranking female executive, she told me she had to learn the following on her own -- I did, too, as did all the other women I know of my age:

Don't think you know everything. No one knows everything. Don't act like you know everything. Don't be afraid to ask questions and to be comfortable with what you don't know. Get experts to brief you and guide you on what you don't know. Your ability to get things done . . . is all about relationships. Our reputations follow us throughout our lives, so how you treat others will be remembered.

The piece ends with an a call for rewarding and praising a team when they deserve it because it is an underrated skill. This, along with the focus on relationship, has always been gendered female.

If It's Gendered Female, Why Say It?

The assumption for women of my generation -- and perhaps those after -- is that women have to do everything on their own or they will be seen as less capable than their male peers. So although most women might live their lives in one way outside the office, they are forced to relearn these precepts once they got to work.

Of course, some women aren't trained to be gendered female in the first place. But it's good management nonetheless.

On Meetings

How many people you manage follow this advice?

. . . don't think you need to be in every meeting. People make the mistake of thinking that if they're not in a meeting, they're not important or they're going to miss something. But if you go to every meeting, you don't get any work done. . . .

Don't talk in a meeting unless you have something to add. A lot of people think if they sit in a meeting and say nothing, people will think they don't know anything. And then say something that's not relevant just to participate.

Shorter and fewer meetings, anyone?

On Email

One skill I've spent a lot of time teaching women I manage (but not men) is how to write an email. I wish I had had these words to sum it up succinctly:

Don't send long, flowery e-mails. To be taken seriously as a woman, you have to understand how men's brains work. Be succinct in your response and very clear about what you're asking in the email.

Finally . . .

Perhaps my lack of female mentors makes this article resonate for me disproportionately. However, the fact that Myers talks about herself as a woman executive to other women -- without either condescending or pulling punches -- than seems very unusual to me.

What do you think?

Lessons in Leadership: Newsweek?

There's so much more to tell about Pop Tech, but first, a note on an article on everyone lips when I got to New York after the conference.

It's been a long time since so many people I know have read Newsweek and were discussing it in extremes. It's not a bad publication, but let's face it -- it's not exactly the first magazine you'd expect the digirati to be going on about.

I Usually Don't Pick Up Magazines Before Getting on a Plane (Airport Prices . . . )

. . . however, I picked up a Newseek on the way from London to Maine for the Pop Tech conference because it promised to reveal the principles by which women leaders do their thing.

Most of the articles spoke in platitudes, so I looked hopefully to the piece in which women speak for themselves.

The Political Becomes Personal

Betty Friedan wrote an article for the New York Times a few years ago about the death of feminism. OK, the word itself seems dated and has come to represent individual stridency rather than political necessity. But for Friedan, "individual" was the key challenge for post '70s women: problems that so recently had been seen as political are now being internalized by women as personal. There's no sense that a collective

Unremarkable, then, that almost all gave their parents at least some of the credit for the confidence to pursue paths untried. Equally unsurprising, each focused primarily on individual autobiographical details that set them apart from other men AND women. Women mentoring seemed more an anomaly than something one should expect. The political has become personal in all but format.

However Betsy Myers made me feel I had got my money's worth. More in the next post.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pop Tech: Slow is Good

I'm at Pop Tech in Maine, and I had the pleasure of meeting Carl Honoré, one of the speakers with whom I seemed to agree vociferously -- in particular, on the benefits of going slow.

I told him I'd share in more depth some ideas we began discussing last night. But first, a brief review for those who have not yet visited my planet.

Where Does the Time Go?

Last year, I consulted to the Thought Leadership group (as they call themselves) at PricewaterhouseCoopers to break down the essentials of what they do. For obvious reasons, I didn't mention the name of the company (although Carl and I had a word on it as well).

The information I posted about grown-ups comes from work with kids (who are really just children in uneven ways. Makes them very complicated students).

For Carl, I hearken back to those posts for a quick summary -- and at some points I'll try to find him some links.

The Point

For PwC, I posted extensively on principles of learning, blocks to learning, and thought leadership (if you'll pardon the expression) so that one member of the group had references with which to persuade higher up's of changing direction.

The Gist

Curiosity, is like hunger or thirst for a child, propels them to forward when fear or other emotional blocks would otherwise stop them from. Pursuing ideas for their own reasons can be frightening -- or worse: might not even occur to them as an option -- if very tall people in charge seem to be expecting you to read their minds. Fast.

What's Wrong With This (Other Than the Obvious)?

For novices and experts alike, fast is bad. The latter could probably use this lesson more than the former.

In attempts at problem-solving or analysis, most people get stuck somewhere between observation and drawing conclusions. We're an answer-based culture that designs schools in which kids feel they do not own their own educations.

Instead of exploring ideas with a sense that they might have new ideas on an old subject, kids more often get the impression that the answer pre-exists them walking into a classroom. It's their job to conduct a kind of scavenger hunt.

(To be fair to teachers, they have unreasonable goals to meet -- it's not their fault. But that's another post).

So What Happens?

Kids begin at a young age dissociate from what engages them and about which they are curious. Instead, they try to guess the answer that will please the teacher. Observation of the facts is rushed, and conclusions are drawn by short cuts.

The only way to make something else happen is to slow down the process of observation. It's essential to practice - and get feedback - on the results of observing what's in front of you.

Then comes the tricky part -- observing your own thought processes. Once you understand to look carefully at your own intellectual reactions, emotional reactions, and the relationship between them, that you have at least a shot at knowing what you think.

This requires slowing down for long periods of time. Always, if possible.

Why Bother?
This cuts to the core of the Big Picture reason for education: f children don't know what they think or how they arrived at their conclusions, how can you take responsibility for their convictions?

For businesses, this is no less important an issue when everyone is looking for innovation:

Without employees ability to observe both what is in front of them and the ways in which they process information, they'll continue to come up with what you already know. The unknown might be uncomfortable, but spending time in that space is essential to develop new ideas.

In other words, use known data points, and there's no way to come up with anything new.

From Kids to Corporates

As I mentioned, I've written many of these posts (sustainable curiosity, for example) explicitly for a corporate (or older child -- say, 40). All of these ideas come from children of the ordinary age.

More after today's sessions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thoughts Before Pop Tech

Pop Tech: The Conference

For the uninitiated who would like to know, Pop Tech is a much anticipated conference on the impact of technology on the people. The website goes on to say we're here to talk about technology's "human impact."

It's more than that, however -- at least as I have understood it.

Pop Tech is a forum for people with remarkable experience and perspectives to share ideas. In other words, people come here to get recharged for their own missions, to learn other directions to go (sometimes, better), and to get inspired for the next long haul of doing whatever it is that they do.

From the Sublime . . .

This might sound a little mundane on the eve of an inspiring three days, but I can't help asking:

Why Camden?

I flew in from London to Philly, then from Philly to Portland, Maine. Not wanting to drive after that much time on planes, I took a taxi service to Camden where the conference is held every year. $215 later, I check into one of the pricey places in this very charming (but expensive) town.

It's not a lot better, even coming from the East Coast. I was talking to a fellow who traveled from Baltimore to Portland and then rented a car. The car was more expensive than the flight, The trip took forever.

Why Is This a Problem?

Pop Tech is devoted to changing the world - in fact, Andrew Golli, the curator, has begun several projects himself that can have real impact and next year is bringing 50 Fellows at no cost to help in this mission.

However, at the same time, Pop Tech has become so expensive and difficult to attend that only those with a lot of money -- or fame - can attend.

The cost is prohibitive for most independent consultants I know (even past speakers have told me that they can't justify the money to return as attendees). Starting next year, tickets are $3500. My boss will pay for it, but what of all the independent thinkers who could contribute who can't possibly afford the price of admission?

What's more, the conference is tied to the Camden Opera House that seats something like 400 people. This means, like Ted, if you aren't on the inside -- you either haven't already attended the conference or don't know when tickets go on sale -- you can't attend. There simply are no tickets left.

The value of the community work -- and of meeting the individuals who attend -- should be offered to people who are neither stars or wealthy (or "in"), particularly given the stated (and real) effect of the event -- inclusiveness of contributions from those with new perspectives.

It was a great experience, and I feel lucky to have attended, but this all must be said.

More on why people work so hard to get there in the next posts.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Painting Stories

One of the most remarkable storytellers I know is Fanny Rush. Fanny is a portrait painter who began as an art director and taught herself to paint in Brazil.

Fanny's work is quite, quite beautiful -- and in addition to the stories she tells with the portraits about the sitters, her website tells stories of her process. Fascinating stuff.

We recently sat at supper with two other friends, and the subject of -- well -- subjects (of portraits) came up. Fanny suggested that it annoys her when the first question about a painting that someone asks is about the identity of the sitter.

I had asked about the sitters in a painting in her studio just a week before. And another friend at the table said it was her inclination as well.

I admitted to being nosy -- I look into apartments in NY when I pass by if the shades aren't drawn (I call it apartment neck). I like seeing the inside of other people's houses, particularly in my neighborhood or in my apartment block. Everything about it interests me.

But I don't think I'm so unusual. Before all else, the minds of most people I know are drawn to narrative. We non-specialists rush to know the story behind whatever we see or hear, or we create one to fill the void left by inadequate information. It happens so fast that we're not even conscious of it.

Fanny, on the other hand, sees her work as a painting first and foremost. But then she already knows more of the story than we will consider.

Is this the issue? Or is it a question of different ways of seeing?

All ideas are welcome.

Critical Theory is for the Birds (Although They Wouldn't Be Interested Either)

Continuing from the last post . . .

No listener, especially if he or she is a child, needs to be told the lesson of the stories of Red Riding Hood (either the traditional one or the one written about 15 minutes ago on this blog).

That's the beauty of a good story -- they make us feel, think, and draw conclusions without the work of theoretical analysis. The choices a storyteller makes place the listener in a position where he or she is persuaded of either justice or injustice of a situation or action, depending on how the characters a listener likes act and the consequences of that action.

No discussion necessary to draw conclusions. But if you don't know why you think what you do, how can you take responsibility for your choices?

Telling Our Own Stories: Taking Ownership of Our Place in Them

So -- what if we look at the choices while telling a story? What if we change the choices and explore the differences in what we feel, think, and assume?

The CAGSE storytelling program begins by asking the children to create a story as a group. They use theatre games, writing exercises, and performance, and they choose the setting, events, characters, and outcomes.

Throughout the year, each child adds to the community story by creating new pieces from local environment or imagination. At the end of the year, we see the variety of choices and the implications of those choices on the way we think and feel about the story.

More explanation of the kinds of work we do -- and why -- in the next post.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

When Last We Saw Our Hero . . .

. . . I had arrived in London but was not posting. Too much to do to set up CAGSE LLC UK (and US).

Happily, I can announce that after two and a half months, we have a full Latin program in place in at least three boroughs -- in primary schools, years 5 and 6, every week -- and a Storytelling program ready to launch.

Classic Approaches to Learning Along with the Classical

Latin is a bit more straightforward than storytelling as a course within the primary school curriculum. Furthermore, CAGSE's unique approach to Latin has already been discussed, so it's time to give the other program a go.

Storytelling and interpreting stories are no less rigorous activities than learning Latin. They sound like fun, and are. They also provide serious skills that run across the curriculum.

Here's why.

Tell a Story, Make a Choice

Every story, every situation within a story, every character is the result of a series of choices. Every choice works with the others to persuade the listener (or viewer) of a series of values and attitudes.

Sometimes the choices have explicit implications (eg Martin Luther King marched on Washington to protest racism) and sometimes implicit (eg Cinderella's sisters are ugly and bad while she is lovely and good -- ergo, sue me if you don't agree -- or at least the writer of the tale).

Hear a Story, Make a Choice

All stories situate characters in and hold them to ethical standards. For example, if the wolf eats a nice girl in red, he dies. He is punished for choosing to eat someone the listener likes.

The story simultaneiously situates the listener within the same ethical standards by attempting to persuade the listener that the standards are absolute to which the characters are held.

Who could like a wolf who eats someone with whom the listener has empathy when that same wolf seems to have no redeeming characteristics at all?

The wolf SEEMS to have no redeeming characteristics because the storyteller CHOSE to deny him any. That way, it's hard to side with him and easy to think him deserving when killed by a local hunter.

If the Wolf Had a Family . . . .

What happens if you tell the same basic story but make other choices?

Say a storyteller gives Red Riding Hood's wolf a name (Peter) and a family -- Mrs. Loop de Loup, little Romulus, and his baby sister who they affectionately call Pup.

The listener hears that the Loups have been hungry for weeks. We hear of Rommy's and Pup's weakness and see them fading from lack of nourishment. Deforestation and propagation of human suburbs will soon completely destroy their homes, and the homeless, particularly of the canine variety, are rounded up and put in pounds where they await execution.


Say Red Riding Hood's family historically has been active in the National Rifle Association and the Loup Klux Klan, believes that killing is fun, and, in particular, that killing baby wolves is a real hoot because a hunter can watch them die slowly.

Now whose side are you on?

More in the next post.

Friday, September 07, 2007

London Calling: Time for a Chat?

Moving Experiences (The Other Kind)

I've officially settled to London and am surprised to love the weather. New York is fabulous, but the summers are horrific.

As many of you can attest, I'm sure, moving, especially out of the country, isn't much more fun than New York summers, but I'll leave that for tips on what not to do if ever the urge arises to become an expat.

When Last We Saw Our Heroes . . .

CAGSE had hooked up with The Iris Project -- an excellent effort in two classrooms to teach Latin in one school and a very good classroom Classics magazine. It grew as its founder joined CAGSE, and with the company's help, grew into a full-blown program in 20 schools -- possibly, now, 21.

Lorna Robinson, our director of Latin programs, two weeks ago decided to go her own way and leave CAGSE. She will continue teaching in Hackney, and we wish her well.

News From the Front

Happily, however, we have found someone we think is even better suited to CAGSE's highly creative and adaptive strategies. Rich Scott, and actor by training, spent last year teaching year 5 children Latin in highly innovative ways. He has agreed to come onboard as our new director and with our CEO, Richard Gilder, hired 7 teachers in a field with a reputation for scarcity. The key? Our teachers come from widely different backgrounds and formal schooling -- from anthropology to history to classics to theater.

It's these differences that have made our program so much richer than if we had left the job only to post-graduates in Classics. Along with Richard's teaching strategies -- tested for 22 years on students from primary through post-graduate school -- we have no doubt that these classes will demonstrate that Latin is an effective vehicle for teaching the kind of transferable skills every school (and business) cries out for.

Follow us as the year progresses and see what happens.

Meanwhile, Somewhere in Central London . . .

We have gained many other remarkable staff as well in the past two weeks for whom we are grateful.

Sarah Mooney, an independent consultant and professional storyteller, is working with me on programs to integrate critical thinking into coursework.

The journey involves uncovering biases and challenges lurking beneath all narratives -- from newspaper articles to fairy tales. Children use familiar structures to tell their own stories, to critique them, and to find their own voices in the service of self-expression across contexts.

Sarah has a magic about her that all wonderful storytellers do. You can't describe it any better than you can the magic of a great teacher. But it's there.

Natalie White, a consultant who specializes in behavior management, is working with us to put together an assessment of the soft skills that the Latin, Learning Lab, and critical thinking effect and influence.

Natalie is also creating a citizenry program for an under performing school in Essex and has generously asked me to contribute some work on thinking and writing. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Henrietta Barnes has taken over the management of our website, and we will continue posting information about programs and bio's of our remarkable staff as we get them. Hen is one of the fastest studies and funniest people I've ever met.

Pippa Salmon, a PhD in Physics and mother of two wonderful kids, is working with us as a strategist, project manager, and general problem-solving consultant. There might never have been someone as overqualified for a job as Pippa is for this one, but she, like the rest of us. are dedicated to help change the way people think about education and of what all children are capable.

And there will be more.

Anyone Up for a Chat?

This is not an attempt at marketing. CAGSE is currently running at full capacity with three pilot programs in three different London boroughs.

I'm posting today to ask for those involved in similar work to get in touch.

Do any of you implement diverse programs -- as vastly different as learning the Latin language and having kids work with industry -- for the sake of developing the same sorts of skills in each?

If you're in the US rather than the UK, what have you found? If you're in the UK, where do you operate, and what do you do?

I'll continue posting this year about what we discover.

Anyone up for a conversation?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Proof of Concept: Following from the Last Post

. . . I just watched a play about the Minotaur in a school where the children are categorically not considered Gifted and Talented (literally).

The actors made the project interactive -- lots of standing up, screaming out, and playing roles.

At the Q & A part of the morning, the kids' answers were much more interesting than the questions the actors asked them.

And they all could answer in Latin.

Friday, August 31, 2007

An English G&T (The Other Kind)

Notes from A Broad

I've been looking at the politics of schools in England over the last week, and in some ways they are very close to those in the US.

For one thing, teachers have the habit (from training) of standing up in front of kids and talking. The children listen, or don't.

There is a category for those who are seen to shine. This group is called "Gifted and Talented."

All Children Are Gifted and Talented. Period.

Richard Gilder, CAGSE's CEO, had a wonderful analogy: potential doesn't mean what we say it does. All atoms have the potential to split, but they need the right force for it to come to pass.

For the right explosion, you need the right ingredients. Gun powder on its own is just dust.

The G&T kids (as they are dubbed for short) very well might be both gifted AND talented (although the moniker seems redundant), but the real distinction between these kids and their colleagues is their level of accomplishment.

(Americans, don't get smug -- we have the same sort of system. It just doesn't sound like a cocktail.)

Why Some Kids Go Farther

Here's a shocker: It's all down to test scores. Therefore, the teachers teach to the tests, certain kids do well, and the rest are deemed less intelligent (or G. or T. or both).

The kids don't like it, and the teachers don't seem happy with it either. My research is anecdotal here rather than scientific.

However, friends in America, does this not sound familiar?

What We've Found at CAGSE

For those who just tuned in, I am now the Director of an organization called CAGSE. It stands for either Curriculum Articulation for the Global Support of Education or for the Subversion of Education.

To a certain extent, these alternatives have become the same thing.

CAGSE doesn't Support existing structures of education, unless they work. So often Subversion is the only option to support learning.

Lorna Robinson, our new Director of Latin Programs, began the Iris Project on her own. She left her independent school job teaching Classics in order to work with kids who wouldn't ordinarily get the same opportunities as wealthier children.

Lorna picked Hackney, or Hackney picked her, and off she went teaching Latin in schools considered to be some of the worst in the country.

Short Digression for Americans

In England, it must be understood; Latin is only taught to the best and the brightest. It's considered a privilege. It's considered the province of classes well above the kids Lorna teaches.

Lorna found that the Hackney kids, considered neither G nor T by anyone else, love the challenge of being stretched in a new subject. They enjoy Latin, and the skills are giving them confidence and a better understanding of English as well. English is a second language for many of these children, and their first languages are Asian, not Romance-based as in the States.

And So?

Lorna came to work for CAGSE because there were many other schools in the area that wanted Latin as well. We're raising the funds to support now 20 schools -- 20 schools from an original 1, then 5, then 12.

The politics around Latin here are fierce. Don't ask. So much that is based in academia suffers from this problem. Lots of talk, lots of meetings, and sometimes tiny territorial issues leave the work undone and factions fighting.

CAGSE is going under the radar practically (although the powers that be certainly know about us). The opportunity is here, now. Enough talk. Enough meetings. Enough lobbying for particular texts (the sales component is fierce here, too).

CAGSE's program uses no single text for teachers, and absolutely no textbook in the classroom. We're talking to the kids -- not the texts -- and certainly not the tests.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Jargon, Silos, and More Fish Metaphors (In That Order)

Babble in Babel

One of the reasons I began this blog is to persuade experts in particular lines of work to acknowledge and consider the ideas of those in disciplines other than their own.

Business people call these divisions "silos." It's proof of concept really. Those with MBAs of found jargon to exclude everyone else from the conversation, especially, I suppose, from anyone with a different education, like those on farms, from whom the word was most likely taken.

My idea is that if you round up all the people who have the same goals for people in their charge -- which, according to my interviews, seems to be almost everyone -- and come up with a common vocabulary, people would learn what they need to know from the time they start kindergarten through the time they retire.

Once Upon a Time . . .

I told a story about a year ago about attending a conference for primary school teachers to learn to teach writing. Everyone in the room had some colleagues in common -- except me. When it came time to introduce myself and what I wanted to get out of the day, I explained that I had taught at Brown and wanted to know how my kids knew what they did and were so weak in other related thinking skills.

The shock to me: I was the only university teacher any of these people had met other than their own.

Teaching to a Standard

How can primary, middle, or high school teachers teach to a standard if they don't know what it is? In fact, how can any of these people get their students jobs if they haven't also consulted with industry?

The only sort of person who connects each stage of learning for a child (and adult) is an administrator. From school to school, from school to university, from university to industry, we've got administrators screening people about how they learn.

And how one learns was the number one priority of every person I interviewed -- from teachers to policemen to C-level executives.

Shouldn't the principal stake-holders -- those for with whom these kids will learn the next stage of thinking -- have a say in all this?

But I Digress . . . .

My name is Annette, and I am a recovering academic.

I was never your ordinary academic, however, and that's probably why I no longer dwell in the Ivory Towel (as my mother calls it). There is a large group of us who were interested in what is true rather than what is clever, although the latter is always fun when the former is the priority.

I had a conversation with a non-academic friend of mine two days ago (let's call him Sam), and he couldn't understand why the university people with whom he was negotiating a deal to build their technical infrastructure were so nasty to him.

Sam stopped formal schooling with a BA. When asked by academics if he has a PhD, he replies that he has a Masters and Johnson. From what he tells me, most of the people in the room usually don't get the joke.

That Smarts

Sam is one of the brightest and most creative people I've ever met. He also gives others credit for being as curious and excited about new ideas as he.

Then Sam started working for institutions of higher learning. He found that not only would professors not admit they didn't know what he was talking about, they'd insist that he was wrong.

Sam is from the practical innovation side of business. A babe in the woods when it comes to scholarship (even what has become known as business scholarship). In other words, he acts on ideas rather than writing them down.

Now please believe me when I say -- I'm not generalizing about all academics. Just the very insecure ones and those who give up common sense in favor of cleverly worded nonsense. These categories are certainly not mutually exclusive.

Academics as Bottom Feeders

My explanation is that the profession itself has become so distorted that, particularly in the liberal arts and social sciences, academics have been forced to become bottom feeders.

In order to survive, teaching can't get in the way of publishing.

This is what the highest standard of education has become.

Any idea, no matter how inane, is fair game, as long as no one has found it before and it can be defended, even by the most fantasical series of arguments.

Living in the depths, where there is hardly any light, sight naturally dims and visual field narrows. After a while, turning on the lights can be painful. Also, once it's clear that the fodder for publications consists mostly of left-overs, university dwellers can feel pretty embarassed.

Not surprising that they would want to bite the hand that flicked the switch.

Back to the Point (What Was It Again?)

To come full circle here (I'll bet you didn't think I could), the way one discipline thinks about another -- and each about itself -- has got to change.

It all comes down to language.

Get rid of jargon, and you've got transparency. Once you can see what's being said or done -- in terms of other things that are being said or done in other fields -- priorities will shift.

Would become the leader in his field (as happened in the 80s) by making a huge career out of pounding out book after book on gender casting in Shakespeare?

Would he have a top job if a theater historian would reveal that his premise is all wrong? That in Shakespeare's time, casting was part of the joke and not part of some obscure counter-culture revolution?

Imagine all such academics without the protection of jargon, without the ability to obfuscate, examined by people who actually know what they're talking about.

Imagine these poor souls being forced to find another job, a more useful pursuit, like, say, digging ditches or trying to cure cancer.

And imaging those at university learning from mentors who were not intellectually opportunistic and who were genuinely interested in their students' development.

So What to Do?

In order for real innovation to happen and be recognized, for someone in one discipline to either collaborate or expose the frauds in another, each has to be able to understand what the other is saying.

Imagine what a shift would happen if this same principal were applied to a more lucrative field -- say, business. What might happen to the stock market if every genuinely innovative mind had the vocabulary to converse with every other?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Musings on Schools -- of Fish, and Others

Richard Gilder, the CEO of CAGSE (the consultancy for which I now work), wrote a most insightful note on adolescents.

He says,

Adolescents (and many young[er] adults as well) are in a constant battle with what they perceive as two diametrically opposed desires:

to be their own person;
to be part of a group. . . .

Self-confidence comes when adolescents realize that they fit into a group not in spite of, but because of, their independence.

In everything but relationship between pronouns and verbs, there must be agreement all round.

What Does It Mean to Learn to Be Your Own Person?

Going back to past posts, it is impossible to consider the learning process as an entirely intellectual exercise. Cognition involves a web of both emotional reactions and more abstract analyses.

What is inspiration but a meeting of intellectual and emotional insight? And can anyone develop an idea without first being engaged in other ways as well?

Yet by the time students in school are old enough to write persuasive essays or research papers, they no longer use "I" or any reference to feeling at all. The fashion dictates that both erode credibility.

Eventually students become dissociated from their feelings, their likes and dislikes, their own impulses -- themselves. Academic fields define the methodology as creating an objective voice in writing.

Circular (Il)Logic

If being objective means being able to argue all sides of a question, then clearly engagement is a necessary component. There has to be an "I" who knows, writes, talks, and so on. To disallow the pronoun is just windowdressing -- and can be downright dangerous.

True, the students who stop learning by cutting themselves off from their own inner resources often succeed academically because, with no inner compass, navigate by saying what others want them to say in the way they are asked to say it. They also might succeed in social groups (that I leave to Dr. Gilder), but then it might be the kind of group you don't want to join because it would have someone like you as a member.

Later on, the danger increases when these successes choose careers because it's what they feel others think they should do for a living (hence the invention of the mid-life crisis).

And So . . .

Emma Gilding once said to me that every school constitutes its own ecosystem. Social, academic, political, and emotional tides rise and fall and crash against each other while the both the adult and adolescent inhabitants develop habits to help them survive.

How hard must it be to stand the pressure?

I'm not against trying all sorts of writing -- why not? But it seems to me that some of the time, the least a teacher can do is allow kids to have their say. And to claim the ideas as their own with any pronoun they like.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Good Idea Takes Off -- A Bit of News

Latin Appeals

Regardless of the run-of-the-mill attitude that Latin is a luxury -- or worse, irrelevant in a modern world -- there are now thirteen schools in London interested in giving classes next year. There are ten primary schools in Hackney, two secondary schools (into which the primaries feed), and one in Kilburn. There's also one secondary school in Preston near Manchester.

That's a lot of interest after Lorna's one class for one year of teaching in an underperforming school.

And So, An Appeal for Latin

CAGSE, in conjunction with Boris Johnson, MP, will be holding a fundraising event at the House of Commons on June 26th. No money will be raised there exactly -- it's really for people of means and interest to see if they'd like to fund the programs for next year and for later discussion.

The Learning Labs are another set of programs in which underperforming schools have shown a great deal of interest. Geraldine Walkington, our Director of that project, has done quite amazing work with twelve-year-olds in Preston.

More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What Can Latin Do For You?

Lorna Robinson, Director of Latin Programs for CAGSE for which I am Executive Director, is a tremendously talented teacher. I had the luck to sit in the back of a class of nine-year-old's in Hackney in London. Hackney is one of the lower performing school districts in England.

Learning Environment

The day I sat in, Lorna had the kids learning the imperative tense in Latin by making signs telling someone -- or some people -- to do something. The idea was to get the spelling and endings right.

Lorna buzzed around the room answering questions while the regular classroom teacher kept order in a highly marshal manner that seemed almost reflex. The contrast between her strategy and that in which the Latin was taught made it clear how lucky the kids were to have Lorna, even if they learned no Latin at all.

Remarkable, Ordinary Kids

On the white board were conjugations, just as in any language class. There were no special guides for children -- no illustrations that often accompany text in books for kids of this age.

The children focused on their signs, correcting them as Lorna answered queries. My favorite was a boy who told his peers "Don't Eat Cats," although he had to correct one of his word endings to make it correctly plural.

The most remarkable moment, however, came when the sign-making was almost over. "That's an object, Miss," he said, without hesitating, in response to a query from Lorna at the front of the room.

Way Ahead of the Game

When I taught at an Ivy League school, my students had never learned the parts of speech in English. I very much doubt most of them knew them in Latin.

However, the Hackney kids had none of the advantages -- or experience that comes with age -- that my students had. Yet these nine-year-olds know their grammar because they interact with language in creative ways, rather than by memorizing rules.

Why Latin?

English makes very little structural sense when compared to many other languages.

Latin, on the other hand, is much more regular. As a root language no longer in use, it's immune from the kinds of changes that happen over time to the languages that derived from it.

There's another reason in England why Latin is such a powerful tool in a place like Hackney. The class system, no longer as visible as it once was, nevertheless has prevented Latin from being used in the schools in poorer areas. There are a variety of reasons for this, lefty reverse snobbery from the districts the least of them.

Consequently, the kids feel special when they can learn a language and a history that is usually not available. They also get special attention by having an outside teacher come into the classroom and stay all year, even if it's only for two hours per week.

Furthermore, most Latin teachers will tell you that Latin as a language changes they way one thinks just by the way one formulates meaning. In fact, the other teachers at this school have noticed a difference between the way these children's approach language, although they haven't articulated exactly how.

This is our theory, anyway, and it seems clear from observation alone.

Can We Prove It?

What's the difference between a rationalization and a business case?


In order to demonstrate the outcome we've observed in ways that are persuasive to those who make high-level decisions in the educational community, we've got one assessment this year -- by Cambridge University. This is for one class of students.

Next year, we'll have many more classes, and consequently, much more data. We'll also have another assessment by Cambridge, one for leadership skills from a representative of the Duke Business Consortium, one by a lexicographer and linguist who edits an Oxford University Press dictionary, and one by the University of East London (where these kids would end up if they went to university at all).

Stay tuned, and let's see what happens . . . .

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Picking Up Where We Left Off . . . .

In the months between this post and the last, I've been helping to set up a business. The details aren't important per se, but it's now up and running.

New Horizons for Old Territory

I'm moving to London to spread the kind of educational spirit and strategy for which this blog was originally begun. As Executive Director of an organization called CASGE LLC, I will coordiante and develop an American educational consultancy whose focus next year, strangely enough, involve schools in England.

The Americans just weren't interested.

CASGE's Programs

Currently, we've got two kinds of programs going. The first is critical thinking across subject areas. Within this purview, I and my colleagues, particularly Geraldine Walkington and Sarah Mooney, will be working with teachers to integrate new ways of learning into the set curriculum. These include workshops for teachers, workshops for students, and a program named for the same Danish think tank as this blog -- The Learning Lab.

The Learning Lab offers students the opportunity to work with designers in industry, and we define design very broadly. Information design counts as does costing and arranging flowers. The idea is to give students confidence (Spar supermarkets chose three flower arrangements for Mother's Day bouquets nationally, for example) and to offer ideas of careers with which they might not otherwise be familiar.

Critical Thinking Through Classics

The other set of CASGE programs involve innovative thinking through the learning of Latin.

Those who haven't seen the program -- and know little about Latin -- find the focus a bit narrow and arcane. In fact, the results indicate a sharpening of the broadest range of skills, linguistic, creative, and analytic.

So far, Lorna Robinson has taught one program in one school in Hackney for one year. Two months ago, we had interest from five schools in the area. Next year, as Director of Classics Programs, she will be teaching in and helping to coordinate 23 classes in 12 schools.

More on this program in the next post.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds: What Can Be Learned?

Continuing from the last post . . .’s Goals is a joint project with They share the costs of hiring a professional editor and skeleton staff to manage the site.

Newsassignment was designed as a research project to ask the questions:

--What can be the consequences of investigative reporting – the core of journalism – when with falling costs for people to find each other, share information, and create value? What are the effects on what’s published?

--Can a publication take one trend story, break it up into parts, develop the parts online, distribute them to citizen journalists within the community, and publish the best of what results? What is the quality of the resulting news?

--Can a story be written with the contributions of hundreds of writers rather than two or three?

Jay Rosen suspects that an open source business structure would push forward a platform of a new kind of reporting. This open source reporting would have more value than the traditional competitive model that relies on individual insights.

Rosen decided to establish this project because the cost of learning is so low that it made no sense NOT to try it.

Journalism 1.0

Rosen calls blogging journalism 1.0. “Dan Gilmore did a great job to get individuals to do their own thing,” Rosen says, “Who DOESN’T have a blog, and how long did that take?”

However, Rosen says, what blogging doesn’t promote is the process of working together on one story. In fact, blogging is almost antithetical to such a practice. “You get a reputation for your individuality, your unique perspective, your attitude – and you can link to others who agree with you. But it’s rare to collaborate.”

Journalism 2.0

Rosen calls what’s happening now Citizen Journalism 2.0 because he feels that crowd-sourced information creates not only a better product than that of mainstream media but it also goes after articles that papers like the Washington Post would never attempt.

2.0 require fact checking, and so it’s not necessarily a cheaper journalism, says Rosen. “But it’s a better journalism that comes up with bigger stories and bigger truths.” The example Rosen gives is the Sunlight Foundation’s request to find out which members of congress employed his or her own family members. The question was posted on a Friday morning, and the results were published in edited form on Monday morning.

Rosen warns that it was not entirely citizen journalism because the foundation did thorough fact checking during the process and after. However, there were very few errors. Rosen feels that this vindicates the speed, breadth, and reliability of crowd-sourced work.

The Implications?

Regardless of the web’s impact on the last election and of Rosen’s convictions, the real implications of newsassignment’s process will not be clear until the public assesses the quality of the results. Perhaps crowd-sourcing is useful in some cases but not in others, perhaps mainstream media could take advantage of specialized firms to expand their reach, or the perhaps whole project might be too unwieldy to handle.

More on the results of this experiment after the presidential elections.

Learning Through Collaboration: Citizen Journalism

But First, An Apology

I have been working on developing Atra Luce and projects both in England and New York. Please forgive the lapse in posting.

Social Media Club

For those of you who have not yet encountered the Social Media Club, it's worth a visit. If there isn't one in your city at the moment, there will be soon -- or could be if you'd like to start one.

In the wake of WAAAC and NYNMA and all the other meet up's that have fallen by the wayside, there remains the Tech Meet Up (in New York, it's impossible to get into) and Social Media Club. It's good to have a place to gather and discuss Big Ideas about best practices online.

The next post will cover an event I attended last week.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kindergarten at MIT

For those of you who don't know about Lifelong Kindergarten, take a look. Although it isn't meant to replace the name "lifelong learning," it would be a much a better way of expressing the same concept. It implies freedom to experiment, play, and a desire to learn because it's fun.

The papers are worth perusing. For those of us interested in network analysis, check out "Who Knows Whom in a Virtual Learning Network?" listed second or third. I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

But Wait, There's (Always) More

For those of you who are already persuaded that new languages come with new perspectives, or for Classics teachers looking for an unlikely use of dead languages, here's a site where you can get podcasts of current global news in Latin.

More on Latin and Why It's Big Stuff

Continuing from the last post . . .

So if Latin provides more than an exercise for intellectuals to learn about ancient culture and literature, how does it work? As important, will it work for the average teacher?

Road Tested

Metamorphosis can offer a program in Latin for teachers to enhance their lessons in any subject because its founder, Dr. Richard Gilder, has experienced the way it's changed the atmosphere in classrooms. In addition to offering workshops across the US, he currently teaches at Tuxedo Park School and City University of New York.

For those of you unfamiliar with New York, you couldn't get two institutions further apart in membership. The first is an expensive (what Americans call) private school, and the second is a state university with a diverse population of students -- most of whom don't have the money for (well) a posh, expensive alternative.

There's also a great deal of interest at schools in the South Bronx from teachers who want to show their students patterns in all sorts of data -- from language to the relationship among course areas.

Back to Grammar: through Latin More than Just Word Order, Vocabulary, and Punctuation (Which Really Should Be Enough)

Richard teaches Latin in relation to English. Whatever he demonstrates in Latin is practiced in English first. Through the exercises, the class explores variations of ways to express themselves in particular circumstances. Then they learn to recognize patterns in English that offer sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, logic behind the differences.

Why is This Fun?

Richard treats language like a complicated machine that can be taken apart and put back together again like a car engine -- or a computer. Sometimes language is more like a creature with both predictable and surprising behavior, the logic of which can be understood regardless of its movements.

This car engine, computer, or creature is one with which kids are already intimately familiar. It lives in their bodies and connects them to every person, object, and idea in their lives. Understanding how this works is fascinating to them.

And the Latin makes the lesson impossible to forget.

Latin for the Masses (And More than Even the Catholic Kind)

Continued from the last post . . .

Atra Luce is still in the process of transforming itself. It will offer several sorts of grants -- some of them are in coin and some in kind.

Both are under discussion, but one program has already been clearly articulated: using Latin to explore language in general and English in particular. The target market comprises schools where children struggle with achieving high standards in many subjects.

Why is This Unusual?

The study of Latin is generally considered to be an elitist pursuit. Most students in English-speaking countries choose French or Spanish -- and sometimes German -- if given a choice to study another tongue.

After all, who has time or use for a dead language other than those with no need to be relevant in this century? Even most Catholic schools dropped Latin as a requirement after Vatican II declared that religious services could be offered in the vernacular.

So What's the Problem?

Increasingly, teachers in English-speaking countries are not teaching students the grammar of their native language.

Many teachers to whom I spoke don't feel comfortable teaching it because no one taught it to them. Some told me they were taught to diagram sentences and found later that it (strangely) helped them very little to do anything other than -- well -- make diagrams. Still others had been forced to memorize rules that they couldn't remember because the logic had never been explained.

There is also the school of thought that students should learn to write without regard to structure in order to encourage them to feel comfortable in the medium. The premise is that once engaged and writing regularly, students will pursue the nuts and bolts of precision in future life.

Unfortunately, this doesn't often happen. Grammar doesn't sound like fun to anyone in traditional education. Furthermore (and maybe consequently), most of the teachers I spoke to -- from university through primary school -- blamed their predecessors for their students inability to recognize a sentence.

Why Does This Matter Anyway?

An understanding of how language works involves more than following rules. It makes one aware of the way we think as a culture and as indivduals. This awareness changes the way we perceive ourselves, others, and the rest of the world in which we live. This is big stuff.

More on this in the next post.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A New Educational Foundation: Atra Luce

It's been a month since the last post -- and now I'm proud to tell you about a new foundation of which I have become executive director.

It's called Atra Luce.

Atra Luce: What Does it Mean?

Atra Luce means "dark light" and describes the effect on a fury's torch when it hits the human seat of understanding. The furies transform men into poets this way -- as with any kind of learning, probably not very comfortable. But better than the alternative.

Here is the mission statement:

Atra Luce
The Foundation For Transformational Learning and Teaching

In Nova Corpora

The Mission of Atra Luce is to identify, encourage, support, and foster engaging, effective, transformative approaches to learning and teaching beyond the traditional educational curriculum.

The richest learning and teaching experiences are transformational. They challenge preconceptions, engender reconsiderations of old material, encourage consideration of the new. Such experiences are instrumental for intellectual growth in breadth and depth; they result in an on-going redefinition of limitations in an ever expanding circumference. Experiences of this ilk can spur a learner/teacher to take a different path - or make a new one all their own.

Atra Luce's Mission is to provide the opportunity for those experiences to happen.

For information on how to apply, please keep an eye out for coming posts.