Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
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Thursday, October 18. 2007
[Things influencing this post:
David Warlick's K12Online Keynote
Tom Hoffman's -- On Modernism
The words of the students of SLA]
For a bunch of years at Beacon, I taught a senior English class called "Connection and Disconnection in the 20th Century." It was a semester-long, reading intensive class that really was a survey of some of what I thought the major literary themes of the modernist and post-modernist movement were and are. The class was reasonably analog, and despite that, some of my favorite moments of classroom teaching happened there.
This is one of the intro letters from the class:
To the students of Connection and Disconnection in 20th Century Literature:
(In retrospect, yes, I would love to redo this class with all those short pieces and the major pieces as blog entries. I remember toying with the ideas then, but I didn't have a specific audience for the pieces in mind, and at that point, it had been my experience that student blogging without an audience was not that productive. We did use the class forum extensively, and I had many a midnight IM chat with kids about the texts... but I digress.)
I was thinking about this class and its many conversations today after watching David Warlick's K12Online keynote, after spending two days at the T+L conference in Nashville, and after continuing to reflect on the words of the SLA kids when they spoke to a world-wide group of educators. And I think about our rush -- and I certainly implicate myself in this -- to create our global networks. I look forward to my every-five-minute twitter blast. And yes, many of our colleagues are right when they say that our kids are connected all the time. And yes, we all now check our emails when we're out to dinner with friends, or we call our friends from the baseball game to tell them that we're there. And there is much that is good about all of that. Indeed, I wouldn't give it up.
But, I think of the conversations of those classes with my seniors. I think of all the texts we read of people disconnected from the world around them. I think of Eliot's words in "The Wasteland" and Eliot's lament that the modern world, in its rush, in its industrial revolution, in its teeming mass of humanity, had lost its connection to that which makes us human, had lost its connection to that which ties us to the earth and each other.
And I think of what we've lost in our generation. Yes, the students are texting on their cell phones as they exit the bus, but they don't necessarily notice the sunset. And yes, David Warlick's son could carry on a conversation with friends while walking the campus of his new college, but over the two days he would spend with parents before embarking on a new chapter in his life, he was distracted from the company of his parents, and we don't even notice that that might be strange or wrong. And in our classrooms, in our meetngs, in our lives, we have given up the now, the immediacy of our experiences to record it, write it, share it, all the while pulling our attention away from what we do.
And I think of all of us, trying to sum up our worlds in 140 character tweets, joking -- but living -- the idea that "If it didn't tweet, it didn't happen."
And I think of our SLA kids, all with their facebook and myspace and AIM accounts, but all -- to a person -- when asked about what makes SLA special, talking about the immediacy of their relationships. And I think of the richness of the connections that exist. And I think of my old classroom, when we talked about these issues, no laptops, just a wonderful text, some great questions and a community of people debating our small 'a' answers.
I love our tools, and when we use them to enrich our connections, to deepen them in ways that matter (like the midnight IM conversation about the meaning of "The Wasteland"), they are powerful and deep and rich. I love that I spend my downtime in my life listening to people and talking to people, rather than surfing for something entertaining and mindless on TV.
But I also remember that there is nothing gained without something lost. And I miss the now. I want Jakob and Theo to be able to live enough in their moments so that they notice the details that we miss when we walk to work, headphones on, cell phone out, text-messages at the ready. Jakob is three, and when we talk or drive, he notices everything. He sees things I miss, whether it's a broken taillight of a car to the outfit that someone is wearing. He lives in his moment fully, and I miss my ability to do that.
As teachers, we learn the value of wait time in our classes, we learn -- and it's one of the hardest things I had to learn -- to value silence in our classes, to be o.k. with it. And yet, in our own lives, we are rushing to fill every moment of silence as if it were something to be feared. And, as we rush to embrace connectedness, as we rush to fill our classes with the world, we need to also teach our kids to appreciate and embrace the moments they live in -- even the quiet moments. We need to help them live in the now -- and we may need to help ourselves remember it as well.
The literature of the 20th century was filled with writers trying to make sense of a changing world, of a world where every traditional societal institution and norm was challenged and threatened and changed. As we talk about the education of the 21st century, let's learn from their struggle, and help our students embrace new and old, connectedness and the now, and let us always try to look at our own immediate worlds -- our present and our past -- with the awe and wonder with which we look at the future.
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This is my first comment here. Please bear with me here as I pull out four quotes from your post:
"We did use the class forum extensively, and I had many a midnight IM chat with kids about the texts"
"I look forward to my every-five-minute twitter blast. And yes, many of our colleagues are right when they say that our kids are connected all the time. And yes, we all now check our emails when we're out to dinner with friends, or we call our friends from the baseball game to tell them that we're there. And there is much that is good about all of that."
"And I think of our SLA kids, all with their facebook and myspace and AIM accounts, but all -- to a person -- when asked about what makes SLA special, talking about the immediacy of their relationships. And I think of the richness of the connections that exist."
"I love our tools, and when we use them to enrich our connections, to deepen them in ways that matter (like the midnight IM conversation about the meaning of "The Wasteland"), they are powerful and deep and rich. I love that I spend my downtime in my life listening to people and talking to people, rather than surfing for something entertaining and mindless on TV."
I think what you're describing is Leisa Reichelt's "ambient intimacy." Sure, it's possibly just another buzzphrase, but read her definition:
"Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight."
That's just the first paragraph of her description. I think she makes some great points and she also makes it clear that each individual's interest or tolerance level for "tweets" and "pokes" and "streams" is different. These tools are not necessarily for everyone and not due to their age, but due to their personality.
-her presentation at the Future of Web Apps Conference
-a summary of the same presentation from Suw Charman
-a small collection of links related to the subject that I have been compiling
Here's one final thought if you're still with me. Quoting you again:
"I want Jakob and Theo to be able to live enough in their moments so that they notice the details that we miss when we walk to work, headphones on, cell phone out, text-messages at the ready. Jakob is three, and when we talk or drive, he notices everything. He sees things I miss, whether it's a broken taillight of a car to the outfit that someone is wearing. He lives in his moment fully, and I miss my ability to do that."
To me this is a strong case for most kids starting school (of the academic variety at least) at six, seven, or even eight years old as is the case in Finland (and I think Switzerland as well). Then even at those ages, we should be careful about how much time they are spending waiting, focusing, and marching to someone else's drum. The later they are exposed to "rushing to fill every moment of silence as if it were something to be feared," the better chance they have at stopping to appreciate the here and now when they are older.
Thanks for the spark.
Very well said, sir. Perhaps we need to dictate another one of those elusize 21st century skills being "knowing when to shut it all off and disconnect".
I had coffee with one of my professors yesterday, and he is all of 32 years old, and we were discussing Twitter. I joked saying he should get involved and he balked at the idea, saying that it takes him a good while to get ramped up mentally when he's writing (I might liken it to being in the "zone") that a tweet distraction would wreck that.
Is that what's happening to us? Partial attention? Sometimes I feel like I'm constantly working towards the "zone" but never quite getting there anymore. I keep going back to Twitter to see what folks are up to..
I instantly clicked up this comment box to defend the relationship between my son and his parents. But there's no need. It's not your business, and by that I mean the readers of this or any other blog. I'm comfortable with it and I revel in it.
More important than that is my happiness that the story of my son's texting added to this very important issues of "smelling the roses," of going off line from time to time, and perhaps even more important, being off-line
on some level,
in some significant way,
every minute of the day.
So excuse me while I walk over the the window and watch a magnificent sun rise against the Rockies.
Great post, my friend!
Amazing post, Chris.
We who are immersed in these connections and have young kids look at them and wonder, "My Goodness...what will be?" I do, at least. And when Tucker is outside kicking a soccer ball against the wall for an hour, or Tess is napping on the trampoline, I smile the hardest, because I know how difficult it is for me to get into those Zen moments "outside" anymore. And I want desperately, as you do for your own kids and students, for them to always have that, the stillness of mind, the just being.
The kids at your school, Chris, are immeasurably lucky. When I listen to you talk about what is important for them and for your school, I want to move to Philly. That you struggle openly with your own balance is precisely the modeling that your kids, my kids, the SLA kids and others need but too often lack. And it's not something that I think most schools can provide. Which in the end, leaves me more discouraged about the state of schools. It's not about technology.
Yet, these technologies are transformative in many ways. And yes, there is a feeling of loss on many levels that comes with them. But some of that is generational. And some of that is who we are. And some of it is silly. And our kids will surprise us, Chris...we'll learn from them too. But the now is always now, whether it's falling in a pile of leaves or writing a comment on a blog post. And both can be fun and stimulating and Zen. What I hope I help my kids understand is that being present is what matters. Honoring the moment. Accepting it for what it is, and giving right effort to it. That's the ultimate connection, and that's all of our struggles in the end, technology or no.
Thanks for the effort.
For 35 minutes this afternoon, 13 month old Beckett wandered our back yard in search of the world's perfect stick. He came close, several times. Nearby, both of our dogs gnawed on tree limbs almost the size of my son. Sitting nearby, I let my eyes (and mind) wander towards the tree canopy overhead, rocking gently in the warm October breeze here in Texas. Life was gentle. The afternoon delicate with possibility and awareness.
I've been aware of more and more of such delicately charged moments over these past 2 months as I've intentionally unclicked from the blogging hamster wheel (or express lane, depending on your desire) I reveled in for more than the last two years.
Over the last few weeks, I've been asked to keynote or be a major presenter for 3 wonderful events around the country, all of which are curious about where the "future of learning" is headed. Where a few months ago I was hard-wired to ramp up the "oh, my" side of the "watch what's coming" meter for my audiences, clients, and colleagues, I find myself drawn more and more these days to a much more vibrant "human" message as I accept such speaking offers.
My audiences/colleagues do not need to be in "awe" of what is coming, nor do they need to take down a "must-get/use/evangelize" list of technology applications. They simply need to be given honorable permission to rekindle the love affair they once had or currently have with the ever-evolving teacher/student relationship without geeking out about or fearing the changes afoot. I'm absolutely convinced that our collective technology change-agent voices are a mere blip on the radar screen of what truly matters to the kids and teaching colleagues we are blessed to spend our time with these days.
Yes, we must be aware of what is unfolding in front of our eyes. Some of it is truly "awe"-some. Some of it truly transformative. But most? Most of it is merely bird seed in a world already far more interesting than even the most stunning 2.0 applications that may forest fire race through the Twitterverse for a few seconds here and there.
Sitting here as "just a teacher" once again, I must admit that I am humbled by what I learned these past few years and the opportunity to be just one tiny voice in a stadium full of energetic chatter about what every widget and app might mean. But if I were given the choice right this second between a day in the woods with a handful of students talking life or a classroom full of front-edge technology that promises "flat" classrooms at every digital turn, I'm choosing to follow my little Beckett's footsteps...and looking (with my students) for the world's greatest stick. Without hesitation.
Chris, a few years ago I spent 4 late winter weeks traveling over 2,800 miles across the country with 8 high school students in a rented RV with no map.
Better yet, we had no cell phone or laptop (although both were available to us). It was a potential blog-dream come true, but as I look back on it...I remember how many "moments" we allowed ourselves to get lost without apology. There was no audience; there was simply an community discovering itself along with a country that defied easy definition. We carried weathered copies of Pirsig's "Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" with us and read word-for-word aloud all of Whitman's "Song of the Open Road" each morning no matter where we were. I'm certain we may have created a remarkable tribe of well-wishers, allies, and virtual colleagues had we taken such a trip through a blogging (et al) format, but I am more convinced than ever that we would have been far less vested in the "now" and the "moment" if we had taken the same trip on the "front-edge" of technology.
Chris, do you ever get the impression that much of what we are fighting for in terms of the transformative effect of current technologies is simply dressed-up fancy-talk for what happens innately in toddler questions and "kindergarten" curriculum in a world that knows little about embracing creativity, conversation, and curiosity in the educational arena?
Of course you do. You let Dewey's voice resonate too often to not. And I doubt you'd blink an eye of hesitation if the machines turned off and you were "forced" to return to days discussing Prufrock's love affair and coaching your b'ball and ultimate frisbee teams again at the dawn of the day. Dewey would be the anchor. Not the iPhone on the hip.
Perhaps I'm already too far behind after 2 months "away". Perhaps I'm just admitting how tiring it was to be constantly "on" these past few years. Perhaps I'm just reveling in the irony of it all. Perhaps "Lord of the Flies" doesn't need a 1:to:1 connection to matter where it matters most.
Or perhaps I'm, just like my little guy in the backyard does without hesitation, once again falling in love with the simple touch of a stick in the lovely light/breeze of a fall afternoon day as I look forward to an upcoming week of camping with nearly 80 of my 9th graders.
Give Jakob and Theo our best. And tell them to keep on keepin' on with noticing the beauty of what lies everywhere around us!
Cheers to you, fella (as always!). Perhaps we oughta strike up a Pirsig reading group for good measure one of these days. I'm sure he'd approve even if we had to Skype our thoughts (wink). Christian
"As teachers, we learn the value of wait time in our classes. Value silence in our classes, to be fine with it. And yet, in our own lives, we are rushing to fill every moment of silence as if it were something to be feared. And, as we rush to embrace connectedness, as we rush to fill our classes with the world, we need to also teach our children to appreciate and embrace the moments they live in; even the quiet moments. We need to help them live in the now; and we may need to help ourselves remember it as well."
Well said, and I agree with you 100%. But we should be careful about how much time they are spending waiting and focusing. The later they are exposed to "rushing to fill every moment of silence as if it were something to be feared," the better chance they have at stopping to appreciate the here and now when they are older.
This is all very interesting and provides a lot of insight on the subject. But, doesn't it all boil down to balance? And then, when it comes to our children at least, isn't their balance dictated, or at least guided by us, their parents? After all, I think of all the hours I would have spent in front of the TV had my mom not told me, "Turn that thing off and go outside!"
I'd like to add one other concern to you beautifully articulated thoughts. I'm worried that we are fostering a disconnect to the social ills all around us by encouraging our students to embrace and commune through these new mediums. Our students seem to view the struggles of others through the filter of entertainment. Case in point, the University of Florida student who was recently tasered at a John Kerry speech. He was not a threat to others, and the reaction of the police seemed out of bounds. Someone sat and filmed it. Others sat and watched. No one seemed to object. The clip has been viewed almost two million times on YouTube, and when I ask my high school students about it, the most common reaction I get is laughter. This leaves me feeling unsettled. As we move into a world where information and ideas are valued about authority and influence, where does the simple act of physically reacting to the world around us fit in to this new hierarchy (or lack of hierarchy)? I still believe the most effective mode of change is to stand up--not simply passing news/accounts along the social networking chains, yet our students seem to value the latter more than the former.
I humbly admit that I may be missing something and welcome the response of you and your readers. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.
I wish I had a better response, but I think you make a really interesting point. Activism is more than joining a facebook group. The good news is that I do know many, many kids of this generation who are activists and scholars and athletes and who live in their moments in powerful and wonderful ways.
Great post. And that syllabus looks great as well. I'd love to take that course, or to teach it. But if I were to offer it today at my school, it wouldn't fly. I can guarantee that with 450 students at each grade level, we wouldn't get enough kids signing up to fill one section.
I teach a (required) full-year course for sophomores that has been running for eight years now. The first year we read All the Pretty Horses, Like Water for Chocolate, Jamaica Kincaid's At the Bottom of the River, John Gardner's Grendel, The Poisonwood Bible, and The Merchant of Venice; and we used a very fine (but expensive) literature anthology, Literature Without Borders. It was a great course, and I loved teaching it, but the number one complaint, from other teachers as well as students, was that there was too much reading. So we dropped the literature anthology (although we still use shorter excerpts from some of the readings) and ATBOTR. The next year, in response to more complaints that there was too much reading and not enough time to do it, we dropped LWFC and Grendel. Two years later, we dropped All the Pretty Horses. Now we're down to two major texts, one each semester, supplemented by a variety of shorter readings, none longer that six or eight pages. And you know what the number one complaint is? "Too much reading."
Of course, what the students mean is that there is not enough time to read and to stay connected. Time for reading, if it comes at all, has to come at the expense of all of the other things that they might prefer to be doing: watching television, listening to music, surfing the net, talking on their cell phones, IMing, watching YouTube videos: all the things that contribute to the "rush to embrace connectedness."
You say: "I love our tools, and when we use them to enrich our connections, to deepen them in ways that matter, they are powerful and deep and rich. I love that I spend my downtime in my life listening to people and talking to people, rather than surfing for something entertaining and mindless on TV." I certainly agree with that. But the students aren't just missing the sunset. They're missing the time to read and reflect and ponder and write and converse. Their default modalities of interaction are immediate and abbreviated. And the less they do read, and do ponder, and do write, the more laborious and painstaking those activities become, and the less they are inclined to even attempt them. I worry about that, a lot. I worry about kids who can't read because they don't read. And I worry about kids whose brains are so wired toward horizontality that they have no sense of how to go vertical, how to drill down in one direction until they hit a gusher.
A senior student was describing in class the other day his experience working as a TA in a summer session of a tech-enhanced class with middle school students who had laptops in class with them. The senior felt that at least 50% of the class seemed to be suffering from ADD. They were easily distracted, unable to follow directions, more interested in immediate opportunities for chatter than in making any progress in the work at hand. He is worried about what's going to happen to those kids when they are his age. Seventeen.
I love the way you pose the challenge, which is to "help our students embrace new and old, connectedness and the now, and let us always try to look at our own immediate worlds -- our present and our past -- with the awe and wonder with which we look at the future." I just don't think the job is getting any easier.
At this hour of the morning, I don't even know where to begin. Not being a digital native (or even close according to some checklists), I am enthralled by the level of discourse provided in these posts. I came to this site because I had the pleasure of hearing Chris speak at the T&L Conference in Nashville. And because I happened on Chris' blog, I have experienced reading the thoughts and experiences of people that I probably would never had come in contact with except through the use of these interactive technologies.
Do you suppose that educators of old reminisced and lamented the loss of skills and appreciation for the arts, sciences, and yes, even reading that many of you have shared here? I agree with those of you who have expressed concern that we may lose our balance and thus lose some of our connectedness to the world around us. However, I am also amazed by the students who become challenged to make the world a better place using the interconnectedness of the technology in ways that I could not have even imagined as a child. This shouldn't be the only way to communicate and interact, but it certainly is powerful! And if used in meaningful, relevant lessons and projects students (and their teachers) have opportunities to have their voices heard beyond the borders of their classrooms and communities. Students must continue to read and develop effective communication skills. Hopefully, through the use of technology and "real" experiences students will remain balanced. Ultimately, teachers make the difference through their planning, vision, and relationships with their students.
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"The future will belong to those who have passion, and to those who are willing to make a personal commitment to make our country better"