Disconnections (Yang)

(I am writing two posts on disconnections, which are meant to be read in tandem. The other is here.)

The most jarring experience I have on a regular basis is the trip I take into the virtual world of education bloggers and tweeters.

Most days, I take leave of my physical presence on the 2 train or in my apartment, and enter a conversation with thousands of teachers and other education-minded folks around the world. It’s usually a thought-provoking conversation, but sometimes when I enter back to the reality of my Bronx school and classroom, the distance between the cyberworld and the real one in which I teach seems insurmountable.

In the cyberworld, there is a seemingly blind faith in social media being the foundation of a “21st century education,” whatever that means. There is faith that through blogging, Facebook, or Twitter, students can learn more, teachers can become better professionals, and we can accomplish true “education reform,” as opposed to the model being put forth by the Klein’s, Canada’s, and Rhee’s of the world. I enjoy my time in cyberworld; I get great ideas to bring back to my classroom, and hope that in return I provide some for others.

This past weekend, cyberworld became reality for a day in the form of EdCampNYC, an innovative new model of professional development for teachers. It’s called an unconference, though the term states a position of opposition rather than a description of what really happens. At EdCamps, which have started popping up across the country in the past year, any teacher can present, and teachers are free to move between sessions. The originators of the idea and the organizers of the NYC conference should be praised; it is a good idea and the past weekend was a great event. Some wonderfully and accurately positive accounts of the event can be read here, here, and here.

I think though, some humility is necessary, amongst those that think this represented a revolution in professional development. The unconference model seems to be one of diminishing returns. This year’s was great and something different, but will next year’s push things significantly further, or will it just rehash the same topics that are batted around cyberworld on a regular basis? There were great people at the conference, but though the conference was held in Manhattan, of the 50 or so people I interacted with on Saturday, only a few were urban public school teachers, thus creating a disconnect between the methodologies discussed and the student population who are actually subject to “reform” efforts. Let us not forget, no one on the national level is trying to reform suburban or private schools.

The conversations that happen in cyberworld and at places like EdCampNYC are important, but they only gloss the surface of what actually happens in real schools that serve more challenging populations of students, and they focus more on classroom activities than actual pedagogy and planning. At the first session I attended on education reform, nearly every idea suggested by the largely suburban teachers to deal with something frustrating about their school is something that is already happening at my Bronx school (common planning time, alternative models of assessment and planning, small schools, etc). I remind the participants that they could get everything they wanted, and that still wouldn’t be enough. The second session I attended on Standards Based Grading was great and an idea I’ve pushed forward in my classroom, but it’s probably the 15th most important thing I do for my students. I led my third session on Project Based Learning in History Classrooms, but even I need to admit this won’t help a teacher who can’t get over the fact that just because students might read and write on a 5th grade level in high school, doesn’t mean they can’t think like a high schooler.

I had a great time last Saturday and left feeling engaged and energized by the experience. But when I walked back into my classroom this week, where the Savage Inequalities of education once again reared their ugly head, my EdCampNYC experience seemed like nothing more than a dream, sadly disconnected from the problems before me as a teacher and school leader everyday in the real world.

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5 thoughts on “Disconnections (Yang)

  1. greta, thoughtful post – i tend to agree with your sentiments, though i don’t think my post can be said to laud edcamp as a “revolution”…it’s a good model, a template – the characteristics i discussed had more to do with organization and delivery – that the topics and attendees are the “same old,” is a legitimate point of contention (and maybe my less critical positivity arose from it being my first unconference – i haven’t had the opportunity to see the “same old” get rehashed) that has been touched upon by dan and others, but one that needs broader discussion…as does the almost religious quality of some of the tone of the “cyberworld” – i strongly agree that reality (whether low-tech, no planning time, or issues more specific to your school’s needs) often mitigates the applicability of so much of what’s out there (i’ve actually tried to bite my tongue a bit in this regard and take what i can use, lest i be labeled as one of those negative nellies in the dreaded teachers’ lounge…and because i’m aware that my cynicism/realism/sarcasm/revolutionary angst/frustration at daily inefficiencies could use a bit of unfiltered positive hope now and again) – BUT here’s the thing: since edcamp IS sooooo wonderfully democratic (self-deprecating sarcasm about my post), now that we have a few people on the same page about perceived needs, WE can include something we see as necessary at the next one – in other words, WE can shape the sessions to include something that might start to bridge the type of disconnects you discussed here…no? – thanks for the thought-provoking post

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  2. Brian – I like your point about the democratic potential of this. In the best case scenario, I hope this will be the case so that sessions move beyond “How to use cool new tech tool X in the classroom” and “Progressive response to education issue Y”. As a fellow Frierian/Marist, I know you’ll appreciate that the tools we teach with don’t matter, but rather it’s the power relations we produce and reproduce in the classroom. Perhaps this is our joint session next year…

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  3. (As you can see by the date of this comment, I’m a little behind in my reader.) I, too, enjoyed edcampnyc, and share some of your restlessness about the content of the sessions.

    I think we hear so much talk about how to use tech in the classroom because that’s where many, many teachers, administrators, etc. are. You can’t think about tech & education at more conceptual (wrong word, but I’m rushing) levels unless you are somewhat comfortable using tech tools yourself.

    How using tech shifts power dynamics in the classroom is a significant aspect of tech integration that doesn’t get talked about enough– if at all. Yet, when I talk with experienced educators, one of the things that scares them is that they’ll “lose control” of the class. There is a whole level of re-envisioning the teacher-student roles in the classroom that needs to happen as well.

    I want there to be more conversation about how we educators can use tech tools to shift/expand our *thinking* about pedagogy & our big-picture planning, units, semesters, years….

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  4. I am just reading some of the fine reflections on EdCamp NYC – three months later. I agree that any conference has the possibility of becoming the “same old, same old”. As Stephen pointed out, the positive thing about this model is that you can plan a topic that would fit a more urban audience. I’m sure the session would fill up quickly. Thank you for your post.

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